Saturday, December 2, 2017

Three Weeks Ago Today

Three weeks ago today I attended an information session at a local university to learn more about their Master of Social Work program, specifically the mental health and substance abuse concentration. As my friend and fellow ManKind Project brother and I were leaving the meeting, I turned on my phone and was met with a number of confusing social media messages from family that implied something bad had happened. Then I saw I had a missed call and a voice mail from my mother. My blood ran cold. I hit play on my voicemail and was greeted with the news that my baby brother, my best friend, had taken his own life.

Those of you who have been following my blog since it began this summer know that my history of childhood sexual abuse began the day my baby brother was born and that it was his father who was my primary abuser. Many of the choices I made as a child and as a teenager were made in an effort to protect my baby brother from the horrors his father was capable of.

I was willing to do anything to protect and shelter him, to ensure that he had a chance at a normal life. For a while it seemed like I had succeeded. He had a wife, a home, a job he loved, and four beautiful children that were the center of his world. A few years ago that all fell apart due to the selfishness of his ex-wife. My brother was left alone to raise four children because she wanted to live a life without responsibility. There was so much stress on his life and so much love in his heart. I knew that he had it hard and I did what I could to help despite the geographical distance between us. I thought he had a handle on everything. I thought he was coping. I was wrong.

And now I'm left wondering what else I was wrong about. Did I protect him or did my stepfather get to him too? Did I do everything I could to help my brother in his time of need or could I have done more? What does it mean for my recovery from childhood sexual abuse that I will never be able to share my truth with the one member of my family whose belief would have meant the most to me?

At three years old, my nightmare began. I thought the nightmare was over. Three weeks ago today my nightmare began again and I feel so alone with my baby brother, my best friend, not here to witness the someday where I am healed enough to be the man he always said I could be...

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Coming Up For Air

If you have been following along with the blog, you know that The ManKind Project New Warrior Training Adventure was a turning point in my life as it was there this past March that I disclosed my childhood sexual abuse for the first time. It is through the trust I have built with my MKP brothers and the work and tools of MKP that I have begun making progress in coming to terms with my past. Two weekends ago I returned to the site of my MKP NWTA for the first time in over six months. This time around I elected to return as a rookie staff member so that I could support a new group of men in starting new chapters in their lives the way that I had. One of the men was even a fellow survivor who I became friends with through this blog which really lit a fire in my soul to come back and support this work that is making such a huge difference in my life.

In the space of time between March of this year and this month, I have spent so much time diving deep into the darkness of my past as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and the shadows that my childhood trauma created in my life as an adult. Considering the decades I spent in repression and denial, I guess it shouldn't have come as a shock that I would dive so deeply into my recovery once I accepted the need. During this month's MKP NWTA though, something in me shifted. The only way I can think to describe the feeling is that after diving deep into the darkness I was finally coming up for air. There was a lightness in my chest and a genuine smile of joy on my face that I can't ever remember being there. I met up with four of the men that had participated in my NWTA at this one and they all told me they didn't recognize me at first because the man they knew in March didn't have the joy that I moved through this weekend with. I was riding the high of that newfound joy for over a week, and then suddenly I began to feel guilt and shame once again.

I spent decades repressing and denying my abuse and the impact it had on me and my inner child. During the first six months of my recovery, I was deep in the past and the shadows. I was reliving my abuse through nightmares and flashbacks that I couldn't control. Somehow my guilt and my shame convinced me that in my newfound suffering I was honoring the suffering of my inner child, of the little boy who endured a decade of sexual violence. In my service to others at this month's NWTA I discovered a lightness and a happiness I have never known. It felt amazing until it didn't. The guilt and the shame came roaring back attempting to convince me that by letting myself be happy that I was somehow betraying my inner child. In a twisted way, there was logic to this that I had a hard time refuting.

Thanks to my mentor and my brothers in my Monday night MKP iGroup, I was able to process this odd sense of guilt and shame over being happy. My recovery is an ongoing process and I have a lot of healing left to do. There will be times where the weight of it drags me back into the dark and that's okay. It's part of the process. But the reality is that I need to let myself come up for air every once in a while. I need to remind myself that sometimes it is okay to be okay. If I can't allow myself to feel those moments of progress, lightness, and joy then what am I working so hard for? Isn't that the goal of working to recover from childhood trauma, to be fucking happy? I may not have had a choice as a child in what was done to me, but I have choices now as an adult. I choose to continue this work to heal myself and hopefully help others on their healing journey and I choose to come up for air every once in a while and to let myself feel pride and happiness for the man I am becoming...

Friday, September 29, 2017

Flashback Friday - Full House and I Lose

A word of explanation and warning. Since I first disclosed my status as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse at the end of March of this year, I have spent many sleepless nights and many waking hours consumed by a tsunami of flashbacks to specific incidents of the abuse that have left me feeling like I was drowning. With each successive flashback they feel as if they have been piling up in my mind, heart, and soul in a way that is threatening to consume me. When the flashbacks hit it is not me remembering the abuse, it is me reliving the abuse. All of my senses are transported back to that time. I am not a thirty-seven year old man; I am a three year old toddler, a six year old little boy, or whatever age I was from the ages of three to twelve during which the abuse occurred. I need to get these flashbacks out in order to be able to detach and see these events through my adult eyes so that I can begin to heal. The only way I know how to do that is to tell the stories. If you are a fellow survivor, these Flashback Friday posts are likely to be triggers. If you are a supporter, please know that what you read on Fridays will likely be extremely disturbing. If for either reason you choose not to continue reading, I understand. If you choose to continue reading beyond the image below, thank you for validating my experience by listening to my truth.

I know it's been a while since my last Flashback Friday post and the reason is that this is far and away the worst flashback I've had and the one that keeps coming up the most. I've had a really hard time finding the strength and the words to get this one out of my head and onto the page. Thank you for your patience.

As near as I can tell, this incident of my childhood sexual abuse happened when I was seven or eight years old as we were still living in Metro Detroit and hadn't moved up north yet. I have no idea where my mother or my little brother were. For some reason I was home alone with my stepfather one night when five of his buddies came over to play poker and get drunk. While the other guys seemed to be pacing themselves, my stepfather had a much larger collection of empty beer cans in front of him than anyone. He started getting angry and losing hand after hand as he was so drunk he couldn't concentrate on the cards in his hand. Throughout the night my stepfather's buddies kept making comments about what a cute boy I was. It made me feel good that they all seemed really nice and that they liked me. I wasn't scared that my mother wasn't around because these men made me feel safe. What a naive child I was...

After countless hands of poker and a lot of beer, the night seemed to be coming to a close as one of my stepfather's buddies, a really tall guy with light curly hair, looked at my stepfather and said "You lose Chuck! Time to pay up." My stepfather pulled out his wallet from his pocket and opened it up to show the other men that it was empty and then he started laughing. I knew that laugh and it made me really, really scared. He looked sideways at me and then said to the five men sitting at the poker table, "No worries, right guys? You didn't come here for money. You came here for the tightest ass you've ever fucked!" And with that my stepfather stood up, picked me kicking and screaming under his arm and carried me over to the living room couch. He threw me down on my stomach over the arm of the couch, knocking the wind out of me, and pulled my pajama pants down, spit on his dick, and rammed it up my seven or eight year old anus as hard as he could while his poker buddies cheered.

For what felt like hours I blacked in and out of consciousness as my stepfather and his poker buddies took turns raping me over and over as I lay across the arm of the living room couch with tears streaming down my face. The pain never stopped and I was in agony as each man raped me each more than once. Eventually they all zipped their pants back up and left one by one until I was alone again with the monster my mother called her husband. As I shakily tried to stand to my feet, I could feel something running down the insides of my legs and I thought it was the stuff my stepfather put inside me all the times he raped me before. When I looked down though, there was blood running down my legs from the savage multiple rapings I had just endured.

I have a vague memory of a period of about a week where I kept putting a wad of toilet paper in my underwear to keep from getting blood on my underwear and pants. In light of reliving this event through multiple flashbacks I'm pretty sure that was right after my stepfather's poker night. To this day, I can't watch poker on television and I've lost count of the number of excuses I've made over the years to not have to learn or play the game. Even looking at a deck of cards can trigger a flashback to that night. I know enough about the game to know that a full house is supposed to be almost a sure win in a game of poker. In my case, it was a full house but I lost more that even I might ever know.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Not Mine To Carry

This week the universe decided to teach me a lesson through the actions of a man that I sit in a men's group with and thought was a friend. For whatever reason, something about me triggered this man and he decided the way to deal with that was to dump his issues on me, to make me the bad guy, and to accuse me of something that was proven to be untrue but yet he refused to acknowledge his error. I carried the weight of this for most of this week. I wondered what I did wrong, what I could have done differently. I felt guilty and ashamed. Sound familiar?

I realized after a few days that whatever the cause of the rift between my friend and I, it wasn't my fault. He has his own issues to work through and tried to make them mine. But his issues aren't mine to carry. The confusion, fear, guilt, and shame I carried are his and so I gave them back to him and set myself free from the burden. It seemed like such an obvious and simple response in this situation. Why then is it so hard to apply to the past?

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I have carried the secrets, guilt, and shame of the abuse for over thirty years. On one level I know that these are not my burdens to carry either. They belong to my stepfather and his friends who sexually assaulted me for years and ripped away my innocence. None of that can be laid at my feet so why am I the one left feeling guilt and shame? Why is it so easy to let go of what is not mine to carry in one instance and nearly impossible when it matters most?

All I can think of is that because I have carried the guilt and shame of my abuse for so long that they are familiar and feel like they're mine, but they aren't. From the day this past March that I finally broke my silence and revealed all of the dirty little secrets that I have been keeping for him, I have been on a journey toward letting go of the guilt and shame, of returning to his ghost what is not and was never mine to carry...

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

I'm Still Standing

There has been a voice in my head for my entire life telling me that I am worthless, weak, pathetic, and unworthy of respect or love. When I was sixteen months old my father took his own life. From the ages of three to twelve my stepfather and his buddies made me their living sex toy. When I was sixteen I left home and never went back. When I was twenty I was shipped off to a conversion therapy camp by my church where they tried to electrocute the gay out of me which resulted in me following in my father's footsteps and trying to end my own life. That voice has been a constant companion. I must be worthless to have no one save me from these things as a child. I must be weak and pathetic to continue to allow myself to be abused again and again.

When I was twenty-nine I had enough of feeling bad about myself for my sexual orientation and came out of the closet. At thirty I started college. At thirty-five I completed my Bachelor of Science degree. At thirty-six I let my walls down long enough to trust a group of men called The ManKind Project and disclosed my childhood sexual abuse for the first time in my life. Shortly after the memories of my childhood hit with a vengeance. For all the strides I felt I'd made in my life the past few years; the memories, nightmares, flashbacks, and panic attacks left me feeling once again weak and pathetic. Reliving my worst experiences brought me to my knees begging for it to stop. Until last night.

Last night I got rocked by yet another full sensory three hundred sixty degree flashback to an incident of my childhood sexual abuse. Once again I let it hit me like a freight train. Once again I let that voice tell me how worthless I was, how weak and pathetic I am. But then it dawned on me, I'm still here. After all of the nightmare shit that life has dished out, after my own mind forced me to relive the worst of it, after trying to end my own life, and being told again and again how weak and pathetic I am; I realized that I'm still standing. I'm. Still. Standing. How can that be? If I really am worthless, weak, pathetic, and unworthy of respect or love then how the hell am I still here? How have I made it this far? How do I have this desire to move forward? How do I have this fire in my gut to make the world a better place? Maybe, just maybe, the reason that I'm still standing is because the voice that tells me I'm weak is a fucking liar. Maybe, just maybe, I'm still standing because I'm strong!

Friday, August 18, 2017

It Turns Out There Are People Who Care

Nearly a decade of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of my stepfather and his friends was a living hell, but what hurt nearly as much was that no one came to my rescue. I have spend my entire life feeling like I was worthless, that no one cared, and that no one could be trusted. That led me to a very isolated and lonely adulthood. That led me down a very dark road of depression.

It's come to my attention that it is obvious that I have been letting that darkness creep back in lately. The big difference this time versus in the past is that when I walked that dark road before no one seemed to notice or care. Since joining The ManKind Project, Adult Children of Alcoholics and Other Dysfunctional Families, and sharing my journey here with other survivors; something has shifted. For the first time in my life I have people asking me if I was okay, offering an ear or a shoulder, checking in, and showing up in my life in ways that astonish me. It turns out that there are people who care in this world.

I am sitting with such immense gratitude for those people. My brothers in MKP, my fellow travelers in ACA, my fellow survivors, and the family of choice that is forming from them all are changing the way I see myself and changing the way I see the world. There is a lot of dark, twisted, fucked up stuff going on in this world; but there is so much love and support that I never dreamed existed. In isolating myself from people to protect myself from more pain, I couldn't see that there were people like me out there. There are people who have experienced the pain that this world offers and who choose to love and support others instead of following in the footsteps of the abusers and evil people in this world. I so want to be, and feel that I am becoming, one of those caring people. If you are reading these words, if you are following this blog, please know that there is love, support, and hope in this world. As terrifying as it is to risk being hurt again, there is so much healing to be found in letting caring people past your defenses and into your life.

Three Weeks Ago Today

Three weeks ago today I attended an information session at a local university to learn more about their Master of Social Work program, sp...