Substance Abuse and Sexual Violence: Charlotte Kasl’s 16 Steps for Healing

Charlotte Kasl, psychologist and author of Women, Sex and Addiction: A Search for Love and Power, has been interested throughout her career in issues such as sexism, classism, racism and homophobia and has written of the connection between sexual assault and addiction, particularly in the lives of women. She has consulted on and contributed as a therapist to many different substances abuse programs throughout her career, and eventually came to create her own 16-step program for addiction recovery. She explains that her program should not be seen in opposition to the popular 12 steps, but as simply another valuable resource for those seeking healing from the pain of addiction.

Substance Abuse and Sexual Violence Interwoven

Substance abuse and sexual violence are interwoven on many levels. In the words of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR), “substances can be used to facilitate sexual violence; victims may have been under the influence at the time of the assault; or victims may be using substances as a coping strategy after the assault.” For victims of sexual molestation or other sexual abuse, substance abuse may have played an important part in the story of what was done to them, and may now play an important part in how they cope with it. Kasl says she does not look at drugs as the “enemy.” She tries to “help people understand that their addictions often started … as survival strategies to deal with pain: food was comfort, fantasies were a relief, drugs were an anesthetic, sex brought feelings of power or pleasure.”

16 Steps for Discovery and Empowerment

Kasl created the 16 Steps for Discovery and Empowerment as a holistic approach to overcoming addiction, one that would address mind, body and spirit. On her website, she writes that, “At its core, this model is based on love not fear; internal control not external authoritarianism; affirmation not deflation; and trust in the ability of people to find their own healing path when given education, support, hope and choices.” Below are the steps:

  1. We affirm we have the power to take charge of our lives and stop being dependent on substances or other people for our self-esteem and security.
  2. We come to believe that God/Goddess/Universe/Great Spirit/Higher Power awakens the healing wisdom within us when we open ourselves to the power.
  3. We make a decision to become our authentic selves and trust in the healing power of the truth.
  4. We examine our beliefs, addictions and dependent behavior in the context of living in a hierarchical, patriarchal culture.
  5. We share with another person and the universe all those things inside of us for which we feel shame and guilt.
  6. We affirm and enjoy our intelligence, strengths and creativity, remembering not to hide these qualities from ourselves and others.
  7. We become willing to let go of shame, guilt and any behavior that keeps us from loving ourselves and others.
  8. We make a list of people we have harmed and people who have harmed us, and take steps to clear out negative energy by making amends and sharing our grievances in a respectful way.
  9. We express love and gratitude to others and increasingly appreciate the wonder of life and the blessings we do have.
  10. We learn to trust our reality and daily affirm that we see what we see, we know what we know and we feel what we feel.
  11. We promptly admit to mistakes and make amends when appropriate, but we do not say we are sorry for things we have not done and we do not cover up, analyze or take responsibility for the shortcomings of others.
  12. We seek out situations, jobs and people who affirm our intelligence, perceptions and self-worth and avoid situations or people who are hurtful, harmful or demeaning to us.
  13. We take steps to heal our physical bodies, organize our lives, reduce stress and have fun.
  14. We seek to find our inward calling, and develop the will and wisdom to follow it.
  15. We accept the ups and downs of life as natural events that can be used as lessons for our growth.
  16. We grow in awareness that we are sacred beings, interrelated with all living things and we contribute to restoring peace and balance on the planet.

Kasl’s program has been offering hope and support to women and men who struggle with addiction, and many who experienced a complicated history of sexual violence. In her work with female sex addicts, Kasl finds many who experienced exploitive, abusive or neglectful early lives. With the creation of her 16-step program, she hoped to add to the richness of the addiction recovery movement, and to offer greater autonomy and empowerment to those seeking to recover from the deep shame and former “powerlessness” of addiction.

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