You exist

I thought about you the other day. I searched for your name on Facebook and Instagram but it said you didn’t exist. I know you do. You’ve probably changed your name by now. You always dreamed of being a mom. We would talk about what it would be like to have kids, get married, to live in a big house with kids and cats. You never were one for dogs. 
 
I remember the phone call you made to me that night, crying. You’d gotten in to another fight and he ended up punching you in the face. Despite this, he said he was sorry and that he didn’t mean it, that he loved you.  As time went on you calmed down, saying that it was fine and that these things happen in relationships, but your voice just didn’t match your words. I knew you were scared and confused and that you called me for a reason. This wasn’t the first time he’d hurt you, just the first time you told me about it. I lived in a different city from you now, so I missed all of the signs and I told myself that the distance between us was probably just your new relationship. I remembered the feeling I got when you first introduced us….. It made sense now. 
 
I drove 6 hours to your house and when I got there, you were happy to see me but insisted that it was “all a big misunderstanding” and that you were sorry I traveled so far for nothing. It took hours to convince you that what happened wasn’t wasn’t your fault and everything he told you was bullshit. Abusers lie to protect themselves. The gaslighting doesn’t just happen over night, it happens over time and it’s crazy making. You really believed that you’d said something that warranted a punch to the face. I wanted to shake you, but I just hugged you instead. I could hardly recognize you and hated him for making you feel this way. I could see now how isolated you were from all of your friends, that I wasn’t the only one who’d lost touch. We cried a lot that weekend and by the second day I felt like you were in a much better place. You told me that you were going to leave and we started planning. 
 
He showed up at the house unexpectedly and I saw the doubt and conflict awaken within you. Keeping him just outside of the door, embarrassed to have me hear his pleading while still trying to hold your ground. You begged me not to say anything to him, to let him know you were there. I guess I can tell you now that the reason he left was because I made eye contact with him from the window. He recognized me immediately. I was livid. He left and I knew in the exchange, hearing your voice soften at his pleas and all the crocodile tears in his eyes, all gains between us were lost. You would take him back. 
 
Days turned into weeks and I couldn’t get a hold of you. You’d send me a message here and there to let me know you were okay and taking time to yourself. When you stopped returning my emails, I called only to find your line was disconnected. I heard through a friend of a friend that you got back together with him. News was that you had moved to another city and that you were engaged. You were happy, they said. 
 

It’s been years now since we’ve spoken. All of our mutual friends have long since moved on. I have forgotten all of their names but yours. It seems almost pointless to speak about this now, you won’t even read it. I guess I just wanted to write into existence what happened.

I’m sorry that you had to leave without saying goodbye. I hope you are happy and safe and if you’re not, I hope you pick up the phone and ask for help.

 
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call: 
U.S.A. 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
U.K.0808 2000 247
Canada:Click for a regional list of contact numbers. 
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Why Men Need Guns

When I was stationed in South Korea, I had to check my M-16 into an armory each day.  I wasn’t allowed to have them in my room or carry them around on my person on the base or around town in public. It wasn’t treated like a toy or a cool thing to show off and take to rallies. It was a weapon and it required respect, even from a infantryman trained to use it. Even on the most heavily fortified border in the world, where an invasion from North Korea provides only minutes to an hour to respond. We checked in our weapons.

Even while having the skill to fire hundreds of rounds with my fellow soldiers a few feet to the left and right of my firing line, I checked the gun in.

There were very good reasons to check our weapons in. Though we were highly trained we were young men prone to doing the things that young men do on their off time. Drink alcohol. Get into fights. Show off, and maybe do something stupid with guns laying around.

This country doesn’t even require basic training before purchasing a weapon. That alone makes us all complicit. My first lesson with an M-16 was to respect its power and always handle it with care.  There is no respect for the weapon in this country.

Go on social media and it is rife with mostly young, and some older, men arguing for no gun regulations.  They provide every flawed argument that the NRA can think up for them.

What they rarely ever do is provide us with an honest answer why they want guns.  The truth is our young men are in a crisis.  The gun has become an avatar for male power and virility.  The NRA has marketed gun ownernship to male adequacy and our young men have tied guns too closely with their own sense of male inadequacy. They believe gun ownership will, however misguidedly, restore their perceived lacking manhood.

That’s it. There’s not more to the story.

Invoking the 2nd amendment is not telling anyone why men need to have a toy to shoot things with.  There is a larger issue at play here, and guns are simply the avatar chosen to play this out.

Meanwhile, thousands lose their lives each year for this very simple reason.

Follow The Bubbles

I remember scuba diving many years ago.  It was late in the afternoon.  My air tank was low.  We hit a patch of dark, murky water.  I don’t now when it started, but I rapidly lost all visual sense of where I was.  I felt like everything was closing in.  My heart started racing.  I began breathing so hard that I felt like I was choking.  I couldn’t tell up from down.  I wanted to surface but I wasn’t sure which way the surface was.

This past year reminded me of that sensation.  Losing touch with the feeling of normal.  We elevated the misogynist over a supremely capable female hand.  I have no desire to list everything this man has said and done against women.  My stomach starts to hurt just thinking about it.  There is no reaction left in me.  Only determination to show how I feel.  To let our voices rise over the obnoxious early morning tweets.

We march tomorrow.  The reasons are self-evident.  We are not doing this from our bubble. There is no case to be made for marching against everything this man stands for.  We’ve spent enough time documenting every despicable tweet and every attack on normal citizens from the comfort of his powerful, cowardly perch.

He craves our attention, only when it’s to massage his insecure, easily wounded ego.  There is no pivot.  There never was going to be one.  Donald Trump will remain Donald Trump.  He’s made his message very loudly and very clearly.  He lined his Cabinet with Goldman Sach’s executives and rich partisans who want to dismantle the institutions they have been assigned to lead.

We should have marched long ago.  Now we march out of disbelief that this is happening.  We are swimming in murky water, losing orientation.  Not knowing up from down.  Trump is losing us in his new normal but we can never accept that.

After my panic subsided, I began to look around me.  The water was still murky.  I still felt lost.  Then I saw the bubbles leaving my regulator.  They gently flowed in the direction I needed to go.

A march is like a stream of bubbles, awakening us out of our panic.  Reminding us to find our center.  To move in the direction of life before it is too late.  When I found the waters edge I burst upward, pulled the regulator from my mouth, and breathed fresh air again.  The breathe of life.  So taken for granted until you realize you needed it more than anything.

The time for panic and reaction is over.  Now we march to protect our sense of respect and dignity.  We march for women, but more importantly we march because this is our country and even Presidents need to reminded from whom they exist to serve.

 

What We Deserve

I have had the great privilege to have heard the recounting of trauma survivors from all manner of experience. Some of us had those one or two crucial friends in our lives that kept us from the brink. Some of us had no one. Even now, I can see those survivors clear in my mind, scattered throughout the world. Some know no life outside of the one of abuse. Some found a path out. There are even those poor souls who are entering the cycle of abuse, torture, and confusion. Today all of this is happening. We can’t see it, we can’t do anything at this moment to prevent it, but it all happens in one day, then the next, then the next.

Some say abuse will always occur. It will always propagate itself in the survivors the predators leave in their wake. There will always be predators, there will always be victims. Some may survive. Some may not.

A long time ago, I had a different life than this one. I was so young and took the basic things of life for granted. I use to enjoy running into open fields. This child had fiery red hair, a big smile on his face, usually with a little drool running down one side of my mouth. He loved to run fast. He talked in this manic rhythm. He was too engaged in living that he didn’t have enough time to stop to tie the laces of his shoes.

His rules in life were simple. He had one mother and one father. They loved him with all their heart. He loved and adored them as only a child could. Without condition, without hesitation. Fully. He trusted his parents absolutely.

Whatever they gave him was exactly what he deserved.

The childhood ended long ago. Swiftly and without notice, the child faded into a wall, becoming a confused, haunted creature. He didn’t have the words in his mind to speak to others, to articulate what had changed in him. He had no one.

Many things have changed in my life. I am very lucky to have found the love and support of a beautiful woman. I am a man who goes to therapy and doesn’t feel like it makes me any less capable as a person. I seek help readily when I need it. It wasn’t always this way.

I think about my childhood, I think of how shattered I became, of the intense fear of not knowing what will be done of me next. I think of it all, and the sun still rose the next day.

The sun always rose, and that was one of my few certainties. It’s not the only thing I am certain of now. I am certain that you and I are the same. We come from different places, different generations, different ethnicities, but here we are now because some things ring true in all of our ears. We feel the same effects of abuse, we ridicule and abuse ourselves, we stay in bed till 5pm the next day, we are drug users, we are alone, we go through multiple relationships, we have HIV, we put piercings in our face, we even wear suits. We hide, we shout out loud to anyone who cares to listen.

I can see myself in an auditorium, with my wife and all of you someday. It would be like the colors of the rainbow. The colors of love and unity, and here is where it begins.

To our men. To those who are survivors, to those who are supportive and sympathetic. We aren’t supposed to talk about abuse. We are supposed to get over it. Men who are abused travel a hard road in this society. We are the victims and we are the predators. We are taught to be silent BECAUSE we are men. It isn’t our function in society to be victims, to be incapable, to be vulnerable. Yet we are.

Our power comes from being the very thing society tells us we should not be. We can continue to be silent, but instinctively we know that this does not work for us. It never truly has. Because we know how it feels to be alone, and we know that every day there are children like us. We see them in the mall, on the street. We see the boys, the girls, the adults who have been abused and raped. We don’t see what happens behind closed doors, but we don’t need to.

It is through our pain that we see that our function in society, as men, has changed.

I have seen the response from our women crusaders, and I see that they are only waiting for us men to stand up, to let ourselves be seen, to stand with them. Many men have, and many more will.

We will put a voice to our pain. Men were not made to be silent. We are survivors. It isn’t all we are, but it is why we are here today.

If we do this now, then little boys and girls will be able to run in open fields without fear. Their rules in life will remain simple.

What they, and we, receive will truly be what we deserve.

____
Reprinted from Issue #1, 2007 WSO Minizine – All rights reserved 2007

More than just a photograph

Chris and myself are doing a 30-day challenge that focuses on letting go of material items in effort to free ourselves from clutter, whether it be physical or emotional. Today brought up some emotions for me that I felt were worth expanding on.

One of my items today is very personal. Years ago, I was at a trauma conference and came across a photographer whose work affected me greatly. She took photographs of the female form and cross-processed them with other images. One in particular was of a woman’s naked body covered in flames. I was immediately drawn to it, and purchased it from her. Through conversation, I learned that the woman in the picture was the photographer herself.  Her self-portraits were a way of reclaiming her body after years spent in an abusive relationship. When she was finally able to leave her abuser, she burned the mattress that he’d raped her on and photographed it. The two photos together were a way to express her pain and release it; to literally burn it away. It’s a compelling image with an even more powerful message.

When I met this woman I was very early in my own recovery, traveling around the country and in the thick of trauma work. I would surround myself with visual reminders that I was not alone, that my pain could not be silenced. I felt like I needed people to see it, to talk about it, to acknowledge it’s existence, my existence.

Today, while I was searching for my items to purge, I came across the photograph in a pile of old pictures and commemorative plaques of the past. It made me both sad and grateful. It’s still a beautiful picture, it stills has meaning. I realize now that I no longer need it in my life as a reminder of how far I have come, or my experience passed. I don’t relate to it in the same way, and I feel that by letting it go, I’m taking one more step towards healing.

Maybe by letting it go, someone else will find it and walk a similar path. Which to me, makes gifting it….invaluable.

photo(90)

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!