The past year – has been a roller-coaster – and I HATE roller-coasters! There have been highs and lows, but even more significant – there have been the long, slow, labored struggles to claw my way to those far-apart peaks – and then sudden, stomach-clenching drops that seem to have no end and no bottom to hit. But as I look back, I have made a surprising amount of progress. I spent a few hours going back through old posts that I had written and made the following summation:
When the year of 2012 began, I was staying in someone else’s house and grateful for the distraction of being obligated to spend time with other people because it provided a cover and distraction from having to deal with my own issues and relate on too deep and honest and vulnerable a level with my wife. Our relationship was shaky. She had repeatedly assured me that she would not leave me – if I got help to try to get better. I was doing all I knew to do – reading voraciously and trolling the MS website and forums at every opportunity. I was still very insecure and fearful of disclosing more of my past. I was certain that the truth would disgust her to the point where all the promises, vows and assurances would be meaningless, null and void. I was sure that I was irretrievably broken, irredeemably warped, unforgivably dirty and damaged, unacceptably worthless, disgusting, loathsome and contemptible. I was consumed by fear, shame and the anticipation of inevitable rejection and abandonment.
The memories had begun returning several months earlier and I had several times thought that there couldn’t be anything more to remember – but each time I was surprised and shocked that this was not the case. Time and again I would be jolted by a newly-discovered event returning with fresh emotional trauma to be experienced as if for the first time.
One by one I realized that:
What I experienced at the step-father’s hands was INCEST – even though we were not related by blood – but qualifying because he was filling a parental role.
By her refusal to recognize, admit or prevent her husband’s actions, my MOM WAS GUILTY as an accomplice as she provided silent acquiescence to his abuse.
That the authoritarian and abusive CULT I joined as a young adult was a search for a strong and benevolent father figure and my willingness to submit to the extreme control was caused by the CSA conditioning.
That my sexual dysfunction and confusion was the result of abusive events that produced both psychological inability to perform and SSA - and not because I was “born that way.”
That my acting out with P & M was an attempt to re-cast, re-write and CONTROL the past events as positive and pleasurable ones in which I had the power to become strong and exercise choice and be an active and willing participant rather than being the passive victim.
The SANDUSKY trial and BOY SCOUT perversion files release were huge triggers that brought back memories of events that were more serious than I had previously thought and I realized that the BULLYING I endured in school locker rooms and boy scouts was actually PEER ABUSE.
That the HYPERSEXUALITY that I was suddenly experiencing was an obsessive backlash from years of repression and denial and a delayed result of the CSA.
That the three periods of SUICIDAL feelings I had survived were all directly related to the CSA – even though I didn’t fully realize it at the times.
That the TRIGGERS caused by child protection seminars, a boy who was cutting, suicide of a friend, and an on-campus abuse investigation were revealing areas of my history that I still needed to work on and that I could overcome.
As these shattering discoveries came along, I also began to learn about myself and how I had been trying, with varying degrees of effectiveness, to cope:
I read Mike Lew’s book, “Victims No Longer” during the Christmas-New Year holidays and found it a revelation – especially the repeated descriptions of symptoms and effects that I recognized and had experienced. I felt no longer a unique freak, but understood.
MS Forums – I became virtually addicted to them and laughed and cried as I discovered kindred spirits, relived old memories, and forged friendships as I learned to strip away fears and defenses and confess my deepest, darkest secrets.
Talking about it – telling what happened – seeing my therapist – helped me immensely to help figure things out – what happened, cause and effect, how events fit together in a timeline, how I feel about it – why I think and feel and act the way I do.
Emotional literacy – before, I felt no identifiable emotions except for anxiety and stress. Next I was subjected to tidal waves of confused, intense, chaotic emotions that eventually started to separated, define and make sense. I now can usually name the emotions I am feeling – if not while they are present, at least soon after
Writing – I churned out reams of auto-biography, journaling, poetry, forums discussions and PM correspondence. Fighting to put intangibles into words helped me to recognize, identify, define, and admit events and emotions.
Stockholm Syndrome – I found understanding in researching this phenomenon and began to figure out why I was so obsessed with one of my abusers and how I could distance myself from that unhealthy attraction.
I identified with Body Dysmorhic Disorder (not diagnosed, but seeing lots of similarities) – coming to the understanding that my self-image was warped physically as well as psychologically and emotionally.
Finally I was able to start believing that God loves me – in the Suffering Servant passages of Isaiah, Psalms and the Gospels accounts of the Passion, I identified with Jesus as an abuse victim – and realized that my suffering did not mean that God did not love me – since Jesus had endured far worse.
Struggling with Father issues – trying to disentangle the abandonment I felt from my real father’s death, the abuse and rejection from my step-dad and the false image I had constructed from those two impressions as well as the poor models of religious leaders from the truth of God as a perfect Father.
Anger, denial and admission – owning and letting go of the anger I first denied and then acknowledged (though never felt – just recognized!) towards so many for the abuse and their complicity in it.
Owning/disowning – one of my T’s mantras – before you can disown something, you must own it.
Bars/Spaces - a book I read encouraged me to look not just at the bars but at the spaces between the bars – and at what lies beyond – not just at the negatives – but at all the possibilities and alternatives and potential choices and freedoms.
Self-acceptance/Trust – this seems to be a catch 22 – I don’t know which comes first or is the result of the other. Maybe it is simultaneous? As I begin to accept myself more, I am able to trust others more – which leads to stronger self-esteem, prompting more trust...
Inner child – I prefer to call him my younger self – not like a separate person but another version of me – but one that I was out of touch with. Still don’t totally understand how it works or what I’m supposed to gain from it – but I have connected with him a little and now feel compassion and empathy instead of contempt and rejection for him.
Triggers management – I’ve learned not to be disabled and sidelined by triggers. My T taught me that triggers can be beneficial when they force us to face up to our fears, come to terms with them and move beyond. I now have strategies to use when I anticipate a trigger or when one surprises me so that I can dial it down and keep functioning.
Taking ownership of my fault for the dysfunctional aspects of our marriage, trying to communicate better, reveal my past more honestly, and be more emotionally accessible and expressive.
Making amends for the emotional pain I inflicted on others – especially my wife, asking forgiveness and trying to repair the damages.
Safe Touch – my wife and I successfully participated in a series of exercises intended to de-sensitize me to the triggering effects of casual, affectionate, and intimate touch.
Bullying – I was able to articulate what I had experienced and identify it as abuse, and also speak to the faculty in a stqff meeting to help them understand the seriousness of our students’ treatment of one another thus begin to repair my damage by trying to prevent bullying of others.
Disclosure – I was able to tell a friend who had previously known nothing of my childhood the basic outline of what had happened to me face to face – including physical, verbal and sexual abuse. He was empathetic, understanding and supportive.
Couples counseling – after several months of weekly meetings with my T, my wife and I both began meeting him every one or two weeks, which has been very beneficial to both of us in handling my issues – as well as uncovering some of hers and working on them as well.
“Normal” sex – we now can and do have regular and satisfying intercourse with very minor and infrequent triggers that don’t interfere much – if at all. And I am no longer so preoccupied and uptight with the topic of sex in general, but more relaxed and can put it into a more appropriate context and proportion.
What “Recovery” looks like – when I asked about it my T suggested I write out a description of what it would mean to me. I’m working on that. At first it seemed impossible to even imagine. Now it is looking more and more possible. And even better – I can see that I am no longer so far off that it is inconceivable. One of the surprises is that I am not applying such an impossibly high standard of perfection to myself. My expectations are more realistic, accepting and forgiving.
"That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. . . What will your verse be?" Robin Williams as John Keating in "Dead Poets Society"