– Written by Jane Saffles-Granville, Therapist
Many years ago, at a different job in a different state, I had a client who came to my agency with the worst black eye I had ever seen. She had fled an abusive relationship and was homeless in a strange city. Within a few weeks, her partner had come looking for her. We did our best to support her and protect her, but it wasn’t long before we saw them together, holding hands, the bruise having only just faded.
My colleagues and I were upset, of course. We’d seen how badly she had been hurt, how determined she’d been to escape, and how quickly she ended up back with her abuser. How could she, we asked ourselves? How could she go back?
As social services professionals, we knew the answer was far more complicated than it appeared on the surface. The cycle of violence is a vicious one to break, often like the cycle of addiction.
Domestic violence (DV, also known as intimate partner violence/IPV) and addiction often overlap; many of our women are survivors of domestic violence, and drug abuse among partners can escalate physical or emotional violence. Sometimes in group therapy, we talk about how similar they are. Early drug use may feel like falling in love. The drugs make you feel special and important. The drug is your closest friend, your confidant, your lover. That feeling doesn’t last long, though, and over time, it starts to hurt you—but you keep chasing that feeling you knew existed once, that first high.
Or maybe you know you can never get back there to that first high. You know how dangerous it is to keep trying, but getting away is even scarier. It’s the unknown; it’s risky and scary in ways you don’t know how to deal with, and at least you know (or think you know) how to be an addict.
When I make this analogy, I often see recognition in my client’s eyes as they nod, as if to say I know both those things. Clients have come to me, crying, asking both “How can I still love him?” and, “How can I still want to use?” It’s not a perfect analogy, but even though I know the psychology of relapse and the disease of addiction, part of me aches when I ask myself, “How could she go back?” when someone relapses.
From the outside, it seems simple: get away, get sober, don’t go back, but the tragedy of addiction and the tragedy of IPV are often the same. At The Next Door, we exist to empower women—for recovery, for survival, for safety. For many of our women, lifetime recovery depends on breaking both the cycle of addiction and the cycle of violence. Our core values help support this mission and give our clients the love, respect, encouragement, and resources to begin their lives safe and sober.
There’s another heartbreaking similarity between addiction and domestic violence: both are deadly. If you or someone you know might be experiencing abuse, please read more about the signs here (https://www.ywcanashville.com/domestic-violence/warnings/) and call a free, 24/7 crisis line 1-800-334-4628 for help.