I don’t understand what coping skills are. I am learning what they are now, but I had no idea for years, okay, my entire life. Coping skills sound like a nice thing to have, but what do you do if you never saw or learned how to have them?
I never was equipped to have coping skills. At least not the better ones to have, the more functional, if you will. And really, abusers don’t want their victims to cope. They want them to continue to live within the victim-abuser cycle.
Coping, I think, involves, amongst other things, having healthy boundaries. There is nothing healthy about abuse-victim boundaries. Nothing. And so, I used very unhealthy, very dysfunctional ways to cope with the world, which at that point was not a pretty crappy place.
“Coping strategies are the behaviors, thoughts, and emotions that you use to adjust to the changes that occur in your life.”1
Unhealthy Coping Skills
I used textbook unhealthy coping skills. It’s one thing that I have figured out. My behavior back then, wasn’t that I wanted to grow up, I wanted to be numb.
I had no way of doing that. Not without drugs and alcohol. I used what I had. Or what I could get a hold of anyway. And it wasn’t much.
I took an unhealthy path. My path is typical of someone who went through the abuse that I did. I am not unusual. I am so usual that it is sad.
Avoidant coping is “characterized by ignoring the issue, often resulting in activities that aid in the denial of the problem (e.g., drinking, sleeping, isolating).”1
I remember the first time I smoked a cigarette. I have no idea why I thought smoking would help. I had just defended one of my friends against a harasser. I was shaking, nervous, and scared. I felt like I couldn’t calm down.
Someone had a cigarette, and I asked for one. I recollect that I didn’t even cough like you see people do in the movies. And it helped me to calm down. It was a win for me.
I think I was thirteen or fourteen when I did that. That started my eight-year smoking addiction.
I smoked A LOT of pot. One of my nicknames was Aqualung. I could clear a six-foot bong in one inhale. That tells you just about everything you need to know about my usage of marijuana back in the day.
Pot made me funny, or I thought it did. Not that I could remember what was so funny the next day. Heck, I couldn’t even remember five minutes later. Such is the world of getting high. But not remembering was a good thing for me then.
When marijuana started to become available for those with a medical need, it made sense to me. Pot helped me with my anxiety and depression. I am not currently using it, I am too scared I will like it too much. Been down that road. I am not interested in going there again.
Alcohol came into my life about that same time as cigarettes. I was thirteen, attending my mother’s company picnic, feeling my usual self-conscious, socially awkward. An adult from Germany gave me my first beer, where he said that kids were allowed to have alcohol.
My mother was skeptical, but she had a crush on him; as a way to show him that she was cool, I got to have a beer. It was AMAZING! That feeling that a whole new world was open to me. One that I wasn’t awkward, I could talk to people, I could be someone else. That would start my lifelong alcohol addiction.
My age slightly stinted my ability to obtain alcohol. I was too young to purchase. So then came the other behavior that was even more dangerous than anything else I did. Finding people, usually men, who would buy alcohol for my friends and me. We had some close calls.
Coping for the Past
Avoidant coping skills are those that we use to ignore or hide from stressors. I had no choice but to do that. I had no control over my environment, i.e., the stressors that existed every day for me. I look back now on those “skills” that I engaged with to deal with my life, and it makes sense now.
I have spent most of my life embarrassed by or berating myself for the drinking, drugs, and sex I engaged with as a younger person. Now I see this as the only way that I could even begin to deal with the daily barrage of abuse remotely. Huh. Plus, you can’t change the past.
Avoiding may not be the healthiest or the best way to cope, but it is what got me, and I imagine many others like me through a hellish life. I felt lost and forgotten. The things that I engaged with were also on the fringes of society, like me. Those activities and the people I did them with made me feel accepted and at home.
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