Wednesday, March 7, 2018

My Healing Journey: Down A New Road

This month marks a year since I disclosed my status as a childhood sexual abuse survivor for the very first time. Over the past year, I have been rocked with nightmares, flashbacks, disassociative episodes, and other reminders of my horrific childhood. At the same time, I have spent the past year as an active member of The ManKind Project and Adult Children of Alcoholics and Other Dysfunctional Families attempting to work through the issues I am facing both as a survivor and in my life in general.

While I have found support in MKP and ACA and met many wonderful people, there have been challenges. When I speak about my childhood sexual abuse in general terms, I am met with great support. It is when I attempt to dive deeper into my childhood wounds that I have perceived a shift in the way these people see me. The reactions I get range from pity to disgust when I go past the surface of my childhood abuse. While I judge that most of them mean well, I am left feeling like a circus freak. I see the looks of horror and pity on their faces and I just shut down and my defenses go back up. I am tired of carrying this weight and not feeling like I have anywhere that I can set it down for even a moment without feeling like a burden on the very people I have been turning to for help.

Feeling like a freak who makes everyone uncomfortable has been my default setting for most of the last year. Luckily for me, there are people who love me enough to urge me to continue to seek out resources and support in whatever form it may take. A fellow MKP member and CSA survivor recently pointed me in the direction of a local domestic violence/sexual assault non-profit that is open to male survivors as well. While at first I resisted picking up the phone to call, I finally did.

This morning was my first counseling appointment with a sexual assault advocate. I didn't really know what to expect. I went in full of fear and uncertainty. The woman I met with seemed warm and genuine, but I was still nervous about telling her my story. Once I started though it all came rushing out. And you know what? She didn't look at me with pity or disgust. She didn't go running out the door. She looked me in the eye and said, "What you have been through is not normal, but what you are feeling and experiencing because of it is normal." I was blown away. Those are words that I have longed to hear delivered in a way that made me believe her.

My childhood hell lasted for nearly a decade and continues to haunt me more than thirty years later, but still I have felt impatient like I somehow should feel better by now. The healing journey I have been on for the past year was a beginning, but I am far from the end. I feel like I am standing at a crossroads and working with this sexual assault advocate is me choosing to take a new path. Here's hoping I'm on the right road...

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Getting Back On Track

Wow. What a roller-coaster the past two months have been. Just before Thanksgiving my baby brother died leaving behind four children and a lot of unanswered questions. Then the holidays hit which always remind me of losing my father between Christmas and New Years when I was a toddler. To top it off I got hit with a handful of particularly nasty flashbacks involving my stepfather sodomizing me with a giant candy cane and then making me eat it. Fa la la la la la la la la...

All of that hit hard. Really fucking hard. I feel like I have been having one long drawn out disassociative episode for the past couple of months. I got lost in my pain and couldn't see past it. I couldn't see the people who loved me reaching out. I couldn't see the pain of the fellow survivors in my life. A part of me wants to beat myself up over how much I withdrew into myself, but the part of me that has been healing since I first disclosed my status as a childhood sexual abuse survivor last March is telling me that I needed the chance to retreat and to grieve. It wasn't out of selfishness that I withdrew, it was out of self preservation and care. I will never stop grieving for my baby brother, my father, or my stolen innocence; but the time has come to stand back up and get back on my journey to heal and to support my fellow survivors in their healing. The time has come to get back on track.

I know this blog has been pretty quiet, but my mind has not. There are flashbacks I need to process. There are resources I need to share. There are conversations I want to start. There are questions I need to ask. To those of you who have stuck with me during the silence I thank you. Stay tuned to this blog for a renewed sense of purpose and, I hope, writings that spark conversations that need to happen.

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...

My Healing Journey: Down A New Road

This month marks a year since I disclosed my status as a childhood sexual abuse survivor for the very first time. Over the past year, I h...