Friday, October 4, 2013

The disturbing connection between alcohol and domestic violence

Domestic Violence Awareness Month evolved from the first Day of Unity observed in October, 1981 by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The intent was to connect battered women's advocates across the nation who were working to end violence against women and their children. The Day of Unity soon became a special week… In October 1987, the first Domestic Violence Awareness Month was observed.

In recovery, many with the disease of alcoholism come to the realization that their condition is also a family illness, too many times resulting in injury – physical, mental and emotional – to the ones they profess to love.  Statistically, 92 percent of the domestic abuse assailants reported use of alcohol or other drugs on the day of the assault, according to a recent JAMA report. A different study shows the percentage of batterers who are under the influence of alcohol when they assault their partners ranges from 48 percent to 87 percent, with most research indicating a 60 to 70 percent rate of alcohol abuse. Social scientists debate whether there is a cause-and-effect relationship between alcohol and domestic violence. The debate is off when you talk to some survivors.

An outstanding author colleague of mine, Melodie Ramone, courageously shared her personal story of escape with her children from a tragic and terrifying existence.  Where men or women, like Melodie, can find the strength to endure the physical and mental torment that sometimes arises in an alcoholic home is a mystery.  An even greater act of courage comes when, faced with no other options, they leave their homes to find safety for themselves and their kids.

"My father was always drinking to the point of falling down," says Ramone, who adds her mother was the same way.  "I thought that everybody’s family was like ours; loud, chaotic, moody, ever-changing. I was never comfortable at home, but it never struck me that all the 'fun' we had was dangerous or that being physically punished to the point of being unable to move my arms and legs was anything but normal. I was about ten when I realized that all of the violence and insanity revolved around alcohol. As I grew, I found myself in exactly the situations I lived in at home, only with other people who were exactly like my parents."

A small excerpt from Melodie's story that spans abuse from alcoholic parents, then an alcoholic husband...
“My mother left me physically and emotionally early on. She was still there in the house. Sort of. Usually brooding, moody, depressed, unaffectionate, humorless and drunk. She taught me to use a microwave when I was six years old. She was one of the first to have one on our block. “Now I don’t have to cook anybody dinner anymore!” She grinned at my father, kicking back in her chair. She lifted her beer bottle and clinked it to his. By the time I was seven, I was cooking on the stove. By the time I was nine, I was making supper for the whole family while they watched television. My mother, father, and brother, all sat around a television set while I cooked for them. And then did dishes. If I tried to sit with them? “You’re in the way!” “Shut up!” “You ask too many questions!” “Just watch the show!”“Just go to your room! We can’t even watch TV with you around!” “Get her out of here!”

So I did. In fact, I never came out of my room if I didn’t have to. I’d peek through a crack in the door or listen. Were they nearby? Could I make it to the bathroom? If they saw me, what new insult would they have? Or would they find something to yell at me about or make me clean the house? Would I get hit, poked, or shoved? It was better to stay away, better to hide. Better to keep off my brother’s radar and let my parents get so drunk they fell down in the hallway and slept all night there. Better to step over them on the way to the kitchen to sneak food and bring it back to keep under my bed so I didn’t  have to go back out later. Better sometimes to pee into cups and pour it out the window. Better, always, to be alone...

...I moved out of the house when I was seventeen. Unable to support myself, I lived with my brother until he moved out, leaving me with rent twice as high as I could afford alone. There was a boy who was interested in me. I didn’t like him, in particular. He was mean and he drank too much. He reminded me of my dad. But he wanted me and I didn’t want to live with my parents again, so I moved in with him.

And then I married him, even though I hated him. And then I had his daughter. He was mentally cruel and verbally abusive to both her and me.  I wanted to leave him, but I had that child to watch out for and I  did a good job. Like I said, her father was like my father. I kept her away from him. I ran interference between them. When I angered him, he’d break my stuff. He’d threaten me. He’d throw things. He criticized and belittled me. But it was me and not her. Not as much or as often. I had a second daughter two years later and the cycle continued. When she was an infant, he’d say, “Get that thing to stop  crying!” It broke mt heart, but at least he didn’t hit us, I thought, even if he did enough to keep me afraid that he might...”

The story is graphic before and after the short excerpt, but ends well following a harrowing flight to safety.  Ramone says, "I packed our bags, put those beautiful, innocent little angels into the back of a green 1996 Jeep Cherokee, and we ran like hell."  Ramone's entire story, “I Can Live. And Live Well.” is included among stories from other distinguished authors and artists – all survivors – on the Ending the Silence site.

The relationship between alcohol or other substance abuse and domestic violence is complicated.  Alcoholism does not cause domestic abuse.  In reality, some abusers rely on substance use (and abuse) as an excuse for becoming violent. Alcohol allows the abuser to justify abusive behavior as a result of the alcohol.

While an abuser’s use of alcohol may have an effect on the severity of the abuse or the ease with which the abuser can justify his actions, an abuser does not become violent “because” drinking causes him to lose control of his temper. An abuser abuses because of distorted views of power and control.  They think abuse is appropriate, whether drinking or not.

Some research indicates that a large quantity of alcohol, or any quantity for alcoholics, can increase the user’s sense of personal power and domination over others. An increased sense of power and control can, in turn, make it more likely that an abuser will attempt to exercise that power and control over another.

Violence sometimes may be triggered by conflict over alcohol use or ending such use. But often, it is triggered seemingly for no reason other than the victim was born female.  Alcohol only aggravates such na├»ve thinking, escalating to stories of abuse and battery like those shared on Ending the Silence.
-- from examiner (full story)

Scroll down for the replay of the Dr. Jeanette Gallagher show feature with Scott Stevens. Lucy Pireel's "All That's Written" included a feature on Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud called "When alcohol doesn't work for you anymore."  Details on the third literary award for Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud can be found on, plus the interview with Scott Stevens at Christoph Fisher Books.  Mr. Fisher is an acclaimed international historical fiction novelist from the UK.  
SAVE THE DATE:  Scott Stevens will be part of the opening night symposium for the REEL Recovery Film Festival San Francisco.