Negotiating recovery from alcoholism in the context of the Canterbury earthquakes : a thesis submitted to Massey University in fulfilment of the requirements for a Master of Philosophy, Massey University, February 2014
This study employs narrative inquiry to document participants’ experiences in relation to
maintaining sobriety while living through the Christchurch earthquakes. Eight women and one man
were recruited via purposive sampling. Of the 9 participants, 4 were in stable recovery (greater than
5 years), 2 were in sustained recovery (between 1 and 5 years) and 3 were in early recovery (less
than 1 year). Qualitative data was gathered using semi-structured, in-depth interviews utilising
thematic analysis and incorporating an abductive logic.
In the process of recovery from alcohol dependence previous life trauma, environmental conditions,
uncertainty about the future and limited resources can be both barriers to recovery from alcoholism
and growth opportunities after natural disaster. For some of the participants who contributed to
this research, memories of early childhood abuse were recalled and symbolised by the seismic
activity during the greater earthquake period. Participants in early recovery or relapsing continued
to experience traumatic stress through re-victimisation or trauma re-enactment. Some participants
in active addiction identified the earthquakes as both a hindrance and a help with their drinking and
self-harming behaviour. For others, a sense of deep personal loss was felt when viewing the
devastation of the ruined city which mirrored and reminded them of their life in active addiction.
The research findings extend and complement existing theories of ambiguous loss and Post
Traumatic Growth (PTG) within the context of addiction and recovery capital. This research also
adds to the addiction, domestic violence and disaster literature that is currently available.
Narratives of participants in short or long term recovery, suggested that ambiguous loss, and
associated grief stemming from both situational and cumulative trauma, surfaced when viewing the
earthquake damage. Living through the earthquakes was a time of adaptation and resourcefulness
for all but for alcoholics in recovery extra resilience was needed to attend to addiction recovery
within the larger picture of daily disaster coping. For all participants post traumatic growth was both
an outcome and a process creating a more robust identity at individual levels, post disaster. Findings
indicate that trauma can be instrumental in creating alcohol abuse and dependency and that
recovery from alcoholism after natural disaster is a complex process requiring personal, community
and political interventions.