Some of you, as well as my own wife (not an MS participant), have raised the question over the months and years to us as male survivors of sexual abuse why it is we’re so hung up on spending time on this site. In the words of my wife from a couple of years back:
That’s all you ever do. You sit there and talk to your friends. What about me? What about us? What about our relationship? What about the family? What about the things that need to be done around here like cleaning out the garage or the leak in the roof that needs to be fixed? I may as well be living alone. In fact, I think that may be a good idea.
Well, you raise legitimate concerns. Yes, you do need attention from your man. The roof does need fixing. All those things and issues need to be taken care of. I won’t make excuses for my failure on any of it. I’m wondering though if you realize the extent of the damage done to your husband or boyfriend and what this process of recovery looks like from his point of view.
We have coped all these years doing the best we can at so many things. We’ve even been good at some of it, but the impact of the abuse has been festering away deep inside of us for decades in some cases. We’ve been in denial for years telling ourselves that the abuse, if we thought of it as such, or even remember it, had no lasting impact on our lives, that we’re over it, it’s in the past.
In reality however it’s taken its toll on us and those we love. We’ve been angry and taken that anger out perhaps on you or the kids. Maybe we’ve only taken it out on the clerk at the supermarket or the boy who pumps our gas (Oregon only cuz the rest of you have to pump your own!). Maybe we’ve never had a backbone and always allowed others to walk all over us. Maybe we’ve acted out over the years, engaging in clandestine sexual encounters with other men or women. Maybe we’ve had an affair or been addicted to pornography.
Maybe we’ve been all of the above. The point is that the sexual abuse messed us up in some very vital areas of our life and we’re now coming to understand that. At some point in the recent past we suddenly realized that our life was a mess and that if we didn’t do something, our life as we have come to know it will be gone forever.
We looked for help and we found this place. Perhaps we stumbled onto it by accident. Perhaps it was recommended by our therapist following a session or two in his office. Whatever the case we are here, we are in therapy, and we are working on this, but to be quite honest it is nearly overwhelming us. The emotional pain from the flashbacks and flooding memories, the realization of ALL THE WASTED YEARS is nearly more than we are able to handle and it WON’T GO AWAY! We’re on the edge and barely hanging on. We buried it for years or decades and now it’s all rushing out in a massive, paralyzing flood.
We’re now realizing that our way of responding to life is flawed in certain ways. Our lives, our masculinity, our courage, our sense of self, such as it is, are all called into question. Everything we’ve understood as the norm for so many years is now unfamiliar territory. We don’t know which way to turn or what problems to address first.
But we’ve found hope, small though that hope may be. We’re here on this site because for the first time in our lives we understand that we are not alone. There are other men who have traveled this path ahead of us and who understand what we are going through. They have become our friends, but more than that; right now they are our lifeline to sanity.
For many of us even something so decidedly masculine as making love to our sweetheart can be problematic. We may feel we need and even desire that intimacy with you but when we attempt it the memories of the abuse and the abuser push their way in against our will, making it next to impossible for us to function sexually.
We spend our day just making it through and even at that, perhaps our boss is on us because of our lapse in attention or our poor productivity. Many of us find ourselves in the restroom stall crying at different times throughout the day. We come home, and we know there is someone who understands just a click or two away. We need to go there. We need to discover the answers because we know they are there. We know that this member or that one will have some good advise or a new way of looking at a particular issue that we’ve never thought of before.
We understand you need us too. We truly do, but right now this may be all we’re capable of doing. Think of it this way. Let’s say your husband was in a terrible auto accident. He was all broken up and has been in a coma for many months, then one day he opens his eyes and looks at you. That’s all, just opens them and looks. Would you celebrate or would you berate him for not walking and talking and earning a living?
In a way, that is what has happened to us as survivors of CSA. We've been wounded and our eyes are finally open but we’re still terribly hurt. We realize it. We want better for our life and for our life together with you. Right now we don’t even know how to get there. We’re in the care of our therapist and we’re in the loving care of the men here who know how it is with us, and we’re slowly getting better. We are unable to undo years of abuse and the resulting denial, anger, and acting out in a few short weeks or months.
There is also a physiological reason behind our concentration on recovery as well. Without going into detail as to how or why it happens, men have only a few connecting nerves linking the two halves of their brain, while women have many.
One therapist I know put it this way:
“Women have several nerve freeways connecting the two halves of their brain while us men only have a couple of nerve dirt-bike paths.”
What that means in practical terms is that us men are very task oriented. We see something that needs to be done and we set about to accomplish it. We get it done and look around to see what comes next and move on to that. In short, we’re linear thinkers.
Women, on the other hand, have “the big picture” in mind most of the time. They’re taking care of the baby, talking to mom on the phone, remembering supper on the stove, thinking about the client they need to touch bases with first thing tomorrow, and letting the dog back in the house all at the same time, and all the while thinking about how much they love their husband, or how much they despise him because he’s not helping!
While you are seeing the big picture, we’re looking at the task at hand, which for us at the moment is recovery. We know it’s necessary in spite of how badly it hurts and we’re goal oriented. There’s no way it will leave our mind, even for a second. That is not because we’re obsessing over it, but because it’s like the elephant in the living room. It’s stepping constantly on our heart and it constantly hurts, which keeps it at the forefront of our mind 24/7.
We want to get this fixed and we understand that it will be a long time before we are able to feel “normal” again. We also understand your need to set some boundaries. We actually need you to do that, but nagging us isn’t going to work. It will only make us feel controlled. Being controlled by another person is something we unfortunately are very familiar with, which means you may have to get lovingly creative in your boundary setting in order for it to be effective.
It has been said many times on these pages that our women are also victims of the abusers as well. That is another reason this is so painful to us because we see what it is doing to our family. We’re working on it. We really are. It’s just that it doesn’t look like you think it should and you are feeling abandoned and neglected. We get that.
Though we can try, we cannot discontinue our recovery. Many of us were out of control when we decided to embark on this journey and to stop now would condemn you and us to more and worse out of control behavior than what has gone before. Pandora’s Box has been opened and can never be shut. The only way past this thing is straight through the middle of it, which means we’re going to be pretty much focused inward for quite some time to come.
The good news is that the further along this path we travel the better it becomes for us and
you. I began my recovery journey close to five years ago. I began therapy just over four years ago, and found this website coming up on three years ago. I am only just recently getting to the place where I don’t feel this compulsive urge to be here every waking minute of the day.
Yes, I still spend lots of time here, but I am increasingly aware that there is another world out there; that I have a wife who needs more attention from me than I’ve been able to give for a very long time. Thankfully I am increasingly able to give her that attention without the demons raising their ugly heads to interfere with the love I have to offer.
Finally, I’d like to ask each of you to remember that our recovery does not necessarily mean that we will become your model of what you want us to be. Recovery gives us many good things to enhance the life of the great men we already were, but we are still distinctly us. We are individuals and our recovery may take us in directions neither you nor we ever dreamed of. We hope you will not be disappointed in or resent the changes in our lives brought about by our recovery. That is why it is advisable for each of you to pursue your own journey of discovery, recovery, and even therapy along with us. Let’s face it, when your husband or boyfriend goes through therapy and recovery, changes will take place in his life. You may end up feeling threatened in some way by those changes unless you, too, are ready to grow along with him.
There is evil afoot in the world, yes, but there is a lot of goodness as well. This site and the men who come here are living proof of that fact. It is terribly unfortunate that any of us ever had to suffer the kind of things we did but, as our brother and former moderator Brian says in his sig line, “Recovery is possible”.