***** POSSIBLE TRIGGERS *****
"The best way out is always through.
And I agree to that, or in so far
As that I can see no way out but through -
Leastways for me."
- Robert Frost, "A Servant to Servants", 1915
It's now past my 100 day mark on MS and I've yet to post anything about myself. The main blockage for me is that I minimize my sexual abuse and always have. I'd come to the conclusion that whatever happened to me is insignificant compared to what others have endured. It's also been difficult for me to identify the unique psychological effects of the CSA because the physical and emotional abuse I experienced as a child have always been much more prominent in my memory. They've seemed to explain most of the difficulties I've had throughout my life. And, for sure, different kinds of trauma share a lot of common after effects.
I've been recovering from my childhood and adolescence for over 20 years. When I first walked into an AlAnon meeting in 1989, having finally been brought to my knees by the long reach of my dad's alcoholism. I had no idea how much pain, sorrow, confusion, shame and self-loathing was packed inside me. Had I known I would have offed myself there and then. Another reason I didn't kill myself was that I also had no understanding then of what recovery would cost me in time and sweat and tears. But I can tell you now that it has been a remarkable journey -- one that has morphed from a brute struggle into a way of life -- a pilgrimage with no clear destination except the increasing freedom I've gained to be myself.
As a kid my family life was nearly empty of affection. Emotional connections with anyone in my life were shallow and fleeting. My dad was a functional alcoholic who never missed a day of work but was always completely wasted by the time he crawled up the stairs to bed. My mom was in and out of depression, often withdrawing for days at a time to her room, and unapproachable. My older brother was rage-filled and brutal -- a constant menacing presence throughout my childhood and early adolescence. He beat me regularly from when I was 8 to about 15. The beatings got worse with time as his own alcoholism and drug addiction took hold. My parents were too wrapped up in themselves to do anything to curb the violence. About all I could do was curl up in a ball and just try to survive.
I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools from grade 1 through graduate school. I was regularly shamed and slapped and suffered several brutal beatings from nuns in elementary school. Nonetheless, as a young kid I gravitated more and more to the Church as a surrogate family and spent more time in the priests' residence than in my home. I was an easy target. I became an altar boy at age 9 and it was shortly after this that the first instance of sexual abuse occurred. I have only sketchy memories of the details. I can describe the room where it happened to me, where the priest was sitting and where I was standing, but I cannot remember his face -- it's like it's been photoshopped out of the image in my brain. I do recall undoing my pants and pulling them down, but after that I can't remember anything other than walking home. I never even thought about telling anyone. You didn't talk bad about priests, and who would believe me anyway?
The second instance was around age 11 in the same place with the same priest. Again no memory of his face. This time he undressed me and I remember feeling ashamed and trying to cover my genitals with my hands, and him roughly grabbing my hands and pulling me toward him. I remember the heat of his breath on my face and his saliva on my cheeks, but little else. A few days later I had a nightmare that I will never forget. In the dream I was in my bed and a horrible looking man climbed up a gutter pipe and in through my bedroom window and repeatedly stabbed me in the stomach. It seemed so real that I could feel the wetness of my blood soaking the sheets. It took my mother and grandmother hours to calm me down. It was many months before I wasn't terrified to fall asleep, but less than a month after this I quit being an altar boy because I never wanted to see that priest again. At this time I also developed a profound stuttering problem that persisted through all of high school and most of my college years.
That same year a boy from my school who was two years older than me sexually abused me and his younger brother (9) together several times over a period of about 6 months. My memories of this are very clear. I would often stay overnight at his house and the three of us would sleep in the same bed. One night I awoke to find him masturbating himself with my hand on his penis which was fully developed. Over time this went further into him sitting on my crotch and ejaculating onto my chest and face. In all of these instances his little brother would mostly watch, but I also remember the older boy penetrating his brother with his finger. Another time we were all three of us in the bathroom getting ready for bed. We were in and out of the tub, laughing and joking, but then the older boy forced me to perform oral on his little brother and also to lick his brother's asshole. This whole bizarre series of events culminated in me waking up one night in his parents' bed with him, his brother and his parents, and all of us naked. I don't have any memory of what had happened, but I do remember getting out of the bed while it was still dark outside, quietly getting dressed, sneaking out the door and walking home. After that I never saw him or his family again.
I don't remember anything of my emotional state following the abuses. As a kid it was pretty typical of me to stuff my feelings. Who was interested in hearing them anyway? I was an expert at forgetting things that hurt me. What I do remember is that around age 12 it seemed that my world was becoming full of perps. The priest who abused me had left our parish and I joined the choir and began to hang out more at the church again, and I also began to have thoughts of wanting to be a priest. There were always guys in their 20's who were studying to be priests around my parish, especially in the summers. They took a special interest in kids thinking about the priesthood. A few of them hit on me around the time I entered puberty and up until I was about 14, but somehow I was able to fend off their advances with dumb excuses about having to be home, or that I had to do my paper route and other stuff like that. As I recall now the grooming processes were so smooth and invisible to me, but when they would put an arm around me or began talking about sexual things I instinctively knew it was time to escape.
Flash forward 8 years when I'm 21 and just about to graduate from college. I'd embraced my sexuality and come out as a gay man thanks in large part to great professors and friends who helped me figure out who I was and also helped me to begin to feel good about myself. I was in a relationship, my first. I was pretty much over my stuttering problem. I'd been accepted to grad school with a full scholarship and my life was on an up-swing. One of my professors, a priest who was my best mentor during college took me and some friends out for beer and pizza a few nights before graduation. Afterward he and I went back to his apartment to talk. A few hours and lots of drinks later I got up to leave, he hugged me, but then suddenly got me into a bear-hug and picked me up, carried me to his bed, ripped off my clothes and raped me. I was paralyzed with shock and couldn't find a voice inside me to say "stop." He was the last person I ever would have imagined could do this to me. I had trusted him without reservation. When it was over I lay there for a few minutes, still in shock, then I got dressed and headed toward the door. He began apologizing, telling me it was the alcohol, telling me that he thought I wanted it. I just kept walking out the door and never laid eyes on him again. I held onto that secret and the hurt and anger and awful sense of betrayal until I began my personal journey of recovery 10 years later.
I wrote earlier that for me recovery has become a way of life. But what is recovery to me? Well, it's about literally recovering myself, reclaiming the me that got buried under a couple of decades of abuse, neglect, trauma, shame and self-abandonment. It's been a process of reaching back through time and having to move through all of the distorted ideas I had about who I was, and feeling the hurt surrounding every one of those. It's been about working through layer upon layer of grief, sometimes unimaginable grief, crying until my eyes were burning with pain, convulsing on the floor with sadness, anxiety, hopelessness and fear. It's been about having friends abandon me because my pain so tickled their own buried hurt that they couldn't stand any longer to be near me. I was active in Alanon for 15 years, I've been in therapy more than not over the past two decades. I spent 9 years in monthly sweat lodges reaching back, back, back through the memories and the wounds determined to get to the essence of who I am, who I am meant to be. If my recovery was a car, it had better have been a Mercedes, because it's got at least several hundred thousand miles on it, and it's still carrying me through my life.
So, after all of that, why am I here at MS? The short answer is that I'm not done. There are still lingering wounds -- ones that I've not yet completely addressed in all the work I've done. These are the wounds from the sexual abuse and rape. It's been less than 2 years since I began to recall the sexual abuse, and even more recently until I've remembered any of the specifics, few as they still are. It was really difficult for me to raise these traumas with my current therapist, as I had only been working with her for a month when the awarenesses began to bubble to the surface. Trust was a major issue, but, again, I knew that to keep recovering I have to walk through these wounds just like all the others to reclaim yet more of who I am.
I felt very strongly, however, that therapy alone was not going to be enough. I said to her one day, "If I could sit in a room with some other guys who've suffered sexual abuse, I know instinctively that I would be heard and understood -- that I would not have to explain to them what is unexplainable -- and that in their understanding I will find the courage to acknowledge and accept more and more what happened to me." The following week she gave me a link to an episode of an NPR program called "Radio Times" that focused on CSA. One of the guests referenced MS.org, and that's how I got here.
In the past 3 months I've learned so much from you guys. As I've read your stories and shared HCs and RTs with many of you, I've been amazed at your courage and astounded by your honesty. After even such a short time here I am standing taller on the foundation of the experience, strength and hope that you share every day with the other men here who are hungry for connection and hungry for healing. I know that I have never healed in isolation, and that the same will be true for this new piece of recovery that I've just begun. In traveling this new stretch of the journey I have with me all I've gained through years of other recovery work, but more importantly I know I have a band of brothers willing to walk this piece of highway with me, and I know for sure that that will make all the difference.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
"Whatever is rejected from the self appears in the world as an event."
- Carl Jung