Just Die

I couldn’t help but notice Bill Keller’s article recently criticizing a female cancer patient for documenting her ‘fight’ for life in her popular personal blog.  It addresses a difficult question.  When faced with mortality, do we fight the disease or do we accept it?  Yet, the survivor-advocate part of me immediately connected with the subtle message Keller was selling in his piece.  Just die.  Just be quiet about it and deal with it.  Have some dignity.  Be. A. Man.

It’s difficult to judge any person’s path to death.  I wouldn’t do it.  It’s not appropriate.  In a world where society is perpetually offering unsolicited and uneducated opinions how could one be taken seriously on something so intensely personal as one’s end?

What we do know is that male-dominated forms of cancer receive very little funding compared to female-dominated cancers, such as breast.  Much like male victims of trauma are a blip on the radar compared to much better funded and much more publicized scourge of domestic violence against women.

Why do you think men get the shaft in attention?  Is it our ‘quiet dignity?’  Our ability to be a man and suffer?  Women ask for help.  They talk about their troubles.  They expose their vulnerabilities, no matter how ugly and undignified, and they receive a response.  Support.  A sense of community.  Solace.  Relief.  All of the things men need too.

The science is in.  All of the good that comes with sharing your trauma extends lives, leads to lower blood pressure, anxiety levels, lower rates of depression and suicide, you name it.

But it’s not a man’s way.  It doesn’t support the propaganda beaten into us since we were boys.

When I had the opportunity to take part in Oprah’s two-part special on male child abuse, it was no surprise that it took a strong women to bring all of us men together.  It was a gift to us men.  She was willing to do what us men wouldn’t do for ourselves.  It was messy.  We confronted this life-altering trauma that we have harbored our entire lives.  All the men who attended just couldn’t live with it.  Being a man just didn’t cut it for us.  And it shouldn’t for you.

Vulnerability is a type of courage that is foreign to men.  It goes against all we have been taught from childhood.  Yet, if we are to heal we must show it.  We must find others like us.  We must open our hearts or nothing will ever change.  We will never overcome our circumstances.  We will die in ‘quiet dignity.’   Though in cases of mortality and trauma, I’m not sure what is all that dignified by silence anyways.

The Holidays

Thanksgiving is the time for family.  Regardless of how we feel about holidays we are inundated with the holiday spirit.  It’s almost as if you don’t spend time with your family you are in the wrong.  Yet if you are survivor of abuse from family members or family friends, you have a difficult choice to make.

Your abuser may be a father, mother, brother, or sister and they may be at the family gathering.  Do you want to put yourself in that situation?  Will you even be able to enjoy it?  Even if your abuser isn’t present.  The presence of judgmental or defensive family members could make it a tense situation.  If your abuser is someone close to them, they may take the opportunity to defend your abuser.  They may attack your character.  They may reiterate how they don’t believe you.  They may blame you.

What is supposed to be a time for celebration with those we love the most can often be a tense ordeal filled with seething anger and resentment.  This is why survivors isolate during the holidays.  We aren’t getting together with family, even the one’s we want to see.  Thanksgiving and other holidays seem false to us.  Their promises feel hollow.  You turn on the television and you are hit with commercial after commercial reminding you of everything that the holidays aren’t in your life.  Even walking down the street and seeing all the houses with their holiday lights can be overwhelming.

The holiday season pushes many of us to deal with issues we aren’t ready for.

Getting together with family is compelling and when we choose not to we are judged and questioned.  We feel outcast.  But there’s something you should know.  There are millions of survivors out there just like you, feeling the same mixed emotions.  We just don’t talk about it.

I am a survivor of abuse and an advocate for others.  I have the same choices to make during this time of year and they never are easy.  I try to focus on who I really want to see.  I focus on who can support me emotionally.  The people that know my truth and accept it.

You do have a choice.  If it means sharing a turkey dinner with that one true friend who stood by you in tough times then you are truly lucky.  If you brave that get together knowing your abuser is there, no one should judge you and the choices you make.  If you end up alone on Thursday evening, don’t be so hard on yourself.

Surviving the holidays is about getting through to the other side.   Try your best.  You and your well-being matter most over any holiday.

If you know a friend or family member who has a difficult time and isolates, give them a call.  Your call may be the one that matters most.

We wish you a healthy and supportive Thanksgiving!

 

Steubenville Night Lights

The town of Steubenville was portrayed as one that was hungry for football.  A town that adored and protected their young high school athletes.  Even covered up youthly transgressions.  All to keep their best on the field every Sunday.  Many times it was mentioned how Steubenville was the real Friday Night Lights. 

A funny thing happened along the way.  The media itself participated in the adoration.  More and more was mentioned of the tragic effect that the rape these rapists committed on a unconscious teenage girl would have on their poor lives.  We heard about the estranged father of one of the rapists, who reportedly told his son “I love you” for the first time in his life.  We got to watch one of the rapists break down in court.  Candy and Poppy provided us with all the context we needed for this horrible decision that had befallen the rapists.  They were only kids right?  They had their whole lives ahead of them.  The emphasis over and over again was how “alcohol-filled” the party was. 

More and more the rape and the poor victim receded from view, except in the insinuations of responsibility on her part.  For drinking too much.  For going to a party without any of her friends.  What did she expect would happen?

This is the hypocrisy of a media that would hold Steubenville guilty of football idolatry and commit the same crime in their very reporting of the event.

When Trauma Survivors Visit The Dentist

I remember once when I was a child, the gums in my mouth blew up like an air balloon.  My mother rushed me into a local dentist.  They put me in this chair and told me to relax.  He put this adult-sized mask over my face and told me to breathe, yet I couldn’t.  Then he brought the needle out.  In a medical office you always have the option of facing away from the needle stick.  With dentists, you can’t turn away.  It goes right into your mouth and I got to watch it, front-row-center.  Five times he stuck me.  My mother, an anxious person by nature, was there for moral support.  I still could feel the panic and the tears streaming down the side of my face as they forced my mouth open.  It was a trigger.

I went to see my dentist this morning.  Before the dentist came into the room, I tried to sit deeply into the chair and relax my body.  I took deep breaths.  In.  Out.  Slowly.  Over and over again.  I picked up a magazine and, of all the luck, found an article on child trauma.  When the dentist and her assistant came in and hovered over me I started to lose orientation.  Their hands became huge as they pressed against my face.  Four hands.  They both had masks on.  Who were these people?  

I fear the water hose most of all.  They sprayed it directly into my throat, I drown for a few seconds.  Then they sprayed it again.  Over and over.  Wasn’t this how water boarding works?  I wondered which would come first, whether I would pass out or they sense that I was dying. 

The drill hit my tooth and my entire head vibrated.  The drill hit a nerve.  The physical pain distracted me out of my panic for a moment and I remember to breath through my nose.  Black dots in my field of vision.  The sensation of going into a tunnel as my periphery goes to black. 

I could stop this, but i’m a man, not a child.  So I don’t.  I told myself that they weren’t trying to kill me.  That I knew.  I hold up a finger.  They backed away and the dentist said a few comforting words.  “No problem Chris.”  I felt so stupid.  They saw a child and I felt just like that child.  This shouldn’t happen to me.  Anymore.

It was the trigger.  It took me back to a time when I had no control.  Yet I live in this man’s body so I felt exposed, embarrassed, and vulnerable.  It is something I am constantly working through.  The alternative is to never go to the dentist.  Never see the doctor.  Never live my life. 

I climb steep mountains for fun, yet it’s the routine things that seem to scare me the most.

So many of the routines in life are anything but to trauma survivors.  It is part of the reason I tell others about my trauma.  It makes them aware and sensitive.  It’s a way of telling someone this is not about you.  This is about me.  I may have a panic attack, but that’s just my body reacting and it’s perfectly okay.  Even if it looks like i’m not.  It’s like an ocean wave that needs to pass.

The effects of past trauma can’t be conquered.  You learn to let it flow.  You know what it is.  It goes.  You survive.

Guns or Mental Health…

This is really a time for our country to think.  When so many children and adults are murdered so easily, in such a sacred place, it can spark alot of emotion. 

There will be a conversation on gun control.  We don’t know who will lead it, but the sense is that we need reasonable assurances of safety, and we haven’t had it yet.  But I don’t want to focus on guns today because I don’t want to miss the mark.

The mark is mental health.  A tragedy like this has created an opportunity to put in place functional gun regulations.  It’s an opportunity that many of us have been waiting for for some time.  Yet, I had to ask myself which is more important here.  A national debate on guns or a national debate on mental health?  Which is a symptom and which is a root cause of massacres like this?  Which will have a lasting effect on violence in America?

Like it or not, we do have to choose where the energy from a tragedy like this goes.  As much as some don’t like it pointed out, the idea that stricter gun regulations won’t stop violence of this sort has some merit.  How could it if we don’t adequately address mental illness in America?  Mental health is an overwhelming issue and the solutions are not so easily identified.  The gun issue is relatively straightforward once you get past the rhetoric.  That’s why we don’t want to talk about mental health.  It’s not easy.

Restructuring how we deal with our mentally ill is going to be a huge undertaking.  Make no mistake, it’s going to take alot more resources than gun regulation.  Yet all of our energy is spent on the gun aspect. 

Soon the urgency of Connecticut will die down.  The will of the American people will wane.  We will turn our attention back to Kim Kardashian and Honey Boo Boo.  This is the nature of us.  Just think of Gabby Giffords and Auroro, Colorado.  They seem like a distant memory already. 

As impassioned as many of us are about guns on our streets, we have to tack into the wind.  We have to change this debate now, or we will have lost the key moment to change.  Take a moment and ask yourself what is most important here.  

We need a national debate on mental health in this country now.  For whenever a root cause has been dealt with it affects all of it’s branches in the process.

Sugar Ray Leonard Survives

I was watching the video of his presentation at Penn State this past week.  It makes you think of alot of different things.  I thought of the timing of the abuse.  It happened around the time that he was training for the Olympics.  He was a powerful man, a powerful boxer.  As any former Olympian could tell you, training for and getting through the rigors of the trials requires a supreme mental and physical effort.  It requires toughness.  You have to overcome the best amateur athletes in your sport.  Sugar Ray did just that.  He got his gold medal.

In that journey he lost something much more precious than medals and accolades.  He was betrayed by those he trusted the most.  There are few trusts more sacred than that of a student and mentor.  It is especially sacred to the student because the student is exposing all the vulnerabilities to this one person.  For men, there are few opportunities to exhibit our vulnerable side to another man.  Sports is one such ‘socially accepted’ avenue. 

When you take away that sacred avenue it permanently alters our ability to function in the world.  We can’t get that back.  We can build something new, but it will never be what it was.

Ray Leonard, the fighter, was abused sexually.  Not Ray Leonard, the child.  This is the crucial part for society to absorb.  Male abuse has nothing to do with our ability to defend ourselves.  It has to do with trust because when you trust someone you will do anything for them. 

Ray Leonard, the fighter, had a child at home to protect.  He was struggling to pay the bills.  To make ends meet.  To “pay for diapers” as he put it.  He was vulnerable.

This notion that only children and women can be victims of sexual abuse is a lie.  It is perpetrated by a society that fears the vulnerability in men.  Finding that fragile nature within us is the only way to heal our wounds.  It allows us to be truly powerful. 

That Sugar Ray Leonard that took the stage is a strong man.  He told his truth.  Believe it.

Amherst

Recently I blogged about the ‘safety report’ released by the University of Washington and it’s certainly inaccurate assessment of incidents of rape and domestic violence in the UW community.  Inaccurate was putting it lightly.  Not in the stratosphere of reality would be a better assessment of what really amounts to a public relations document.

My entire point is that students and parents just want to know what’s going on in the community that they live in.  Simple.  You and I know that colleges have a phobia towards anything that can adversely effect their vaunted reputations.  So we will never get an accurate assessment as long as administrators are involved in illegal crimes on campus. 

Then the Amherst story blows up.  One brave student tells her story in the school paper.  You may still ask why victims don’t report?  Why reported cases don’t get included in college safety reports?  This is a classic example.  It is so classic it inspired victims from other campuses to come forward because her story was just like theirs.

The prescription for rape on campuses is suck it up.  If you can’t then maybe you need to go elsewhere.  That is the approach of campus culture.  College administrators can’t have too many victims coming forward because then the truth comes out.  This truth is a system that discourages and silences it’s victims.  A culture that has institutionalized revictimization.

We don’t believe you.  If you want to continue down this road then it’s up to you to prove that you were violated here.  That’s the essence of revictimization. 

This takes me back to the UW safety report and the number of reported cases on campus for the 2011 school year. 

7.

Whose reality does that number represent?  It certainly doesn’t represent the students on campus.  In the end, it only protects the rapists, who will strike again.  We know what the administrators will do.  What will you do?