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

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.

Domestic Violence Awareness

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  This month is the time to remember all the victims who passed over because of acts of domestic violence.  They remind us why we are doing this.  It’s also time to remember all the women, men, and children currently living in fear that they will be physically violated at any moment.  How many are out there now experiencing this?

Think about how it feels to be in a scary place and not having the power to leave it.  Think of all those who escaped the violence, in our free democratic country and all the countries who are not so free.  When it comes to domestic violence, we know freedom is a relative term.  Know that countries protect and support abusers, both in public and in quiet.  Know that the silence of our representatives speaks volumes.

Moms and dads, look into the eyes of your children and remember that they are watching us always.  They see us when we speak out.  They see us when we choose to be quiet.  They also see acts of violence and are victimized every day, in every country.

The domestic violence awareness month is a time to remember.  It also is a time for action.  If you are capable of educating, supporting, and protecting victims of abuse then you must.  It’s a time to bear witness.  To seek out what is happening.  Not to shy away and pretend it doesn’t exist.  Statistically it is hard to be a person who has not been affected by abuse, either directly or indirectly.  So this month is for everyone.

Use this month.  Seek out local seminars and events.  Then use what you learn for the other 11 months of the year.  Honor the victims.  Embrace action.

What To Say

One day someone may approach you. A friend, spouse, child, parent, cousin, or coworker. You may not realize it, but they chose to tell you. They were abused and traumatized at their most vulnerable moments in life. It may have been last week or decades ago, but the trauma felt in the first disclosure is a form of reliving the abuse. That is why you must be ready to embrace them fully. Without judgment or bias. You have the power to heal or revictimize. If they come to you, here's what you should let them know:

  • I believe you.

Their greatest fear is that no one will. If you know and love the abuser then it may further complicate your own ability to 'be there' for the victim. What you must know now is that the victim chose you for a reason. It is one of the hardest choices to make, to reveal that, to you. So believe them.

  • It wasn't your fault.

This is most often what victims believe, especially if they were abused as children by a trusted adult. They believe it to survive because they often have to live and continue to rely on their abusers. For adults, women are often treated as if they invited violence by their choice in clothing. We still find it hard to believe an adult male could be forced sexually to do anything. Yet they are every day. They just are too ashamed to disclose it. They just couldn't stop it from happening. So they were to blame. Never.

  • I'm sorry this happened to you.

The gravity and effect of trauma is life altering. Honor the struggle of a friend. Not with pity. Just a simple and powerful acknowledgement that you care. You feel sad that this trauma has caused so much pain in their life, including all of the isolation, fear, and shame that came with it.

There are alot of other good resources on how to be there for survivors. Seek them out for futher guidance. In the end, keep it simple with the three simple tenets of first disclosure. Every survivor needs to hear those words from a friend like you.

 

Trust

One of the hardest things to cultivate once it’s been lost in a child is trust.  Most child abuse occurs from a parent or trusted adult.  Our frame of reference for how we deal with the world, and all those in it, is from mom and dad.  A profound betrayal for a child is in knowing that those that we trusted the most, on an implicit and instinctive level, turned their back on us.

For those who work with trying to recover that trust again in children the task is monumental.  It will be the hardest thing children and adults will ever have to do.  Yet, what predators look for are kids who have been abused.  They show tell-tell signs and are especially vulnerable to multiple abuse throughout their lives.  This difficulty in assessing safety and healthy personal boundaries can stay with a victim for the rest of her life.

This is what makes early intervention crucial.  But you can’t intervene unless you recognize the problem quickly and act on it.  So advocates have multiple layers to address to create meaningful change in our communities.

None of this can happen without adults.  Early intervention of adults means younger adults, who are ready and willing to embrace new ways of doing things.  This is what makes getting the message on college campuses crucial.  The energy and ability of young adults to make educated decisions and to act on a massive level is necessary.  Our college kids hold the potential tipping point  for dramatic reforms.

However, It all goes back to trust.  Can we rebuild a child’s trust?  Do we see and understand this issue?  Are we willing to provide the resources necessary to act early and emphatically?

There’s no real way to count the kids we save.  To create a nice, glossy bar graph showing how we turned a child’s life around.  The statistics always seem to come later on.  In the death count and the police reports.  That’s what we pay attention to.  It’s a lost opportunity not to pay more attention to the end that counts.  The end that predicts the result.

A child’s trust often remains broken.  It is severed from that parent or trusted friend.  It continues in all of the broken relationships and get’s passed down to that child’s children.  The cumulative effect of abuse on this world IS the story of our collective dysfunction in all other aspects of our existence.

Abuse is a problem we don’t deal with effectively on a massive scale.  The solution won’t come from your government.  Not from a politician.  It won’t come from one person helping 60,000 children.  It comes from 60,000 people helping just one child.  Maybe two.  Maybe three.

When are we going to trust that we are the solution?  It’s simple and cliche and so deadly accurate.  But there’s a difference in retweeting a quote and in trying to live up to the spirit of the quote.  We believe in what we see being done, not in what is said.  As do children.  They will never trust your words because they understand the consequences of the words that were broken.

If you care about our future then you will save the trust once so freely given from a young child’s heart.  There is no one else but you.

Turn The Car Around

A couple of years ago, I remember driving home from a camping trip.  There was something in the middle of the road.  As we came closer I could see that it was a deer.  It didn’t move an inch as our car came closer.  We circled around it and kept driving up the road.  As the road curved I took one last look in the rearview mirror at the body and right as the deer came out of view, it lifted it’s head up from the ground.  It sent chills down my spine.

We didn’t go back.  We had all kinds of reasons not to.  We had a long drive to get home.  The area was too remote.  Someone else will stop and help it.  We didn’t have a gun or a knife to put the deer to rest.

As the miles accumulated between our car and that poor dying deer I felt tremendous guilt well up in me.  It’s just an animal.  It’s probably already dead.  Right?

When I first heard about the allegations of abuse against Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky the first thing I thought about was the deer.  A graduate student saw him sodomizing a 10 year old child in the showers.  He told Joe Paterno, the winningest football coach in college football history.  The longest tenured and most influential figure on the campus and in the community.

Joe reported the story to a Penn State official.  Then he moved on.  Jerry Sandusky continued doing what he had been doing for years.  Grooming little boys and sexually abusing them.  Joe wouldn’t have known of course, because he did the bare minimum to keep himself out of trouble.  Maybe that was enough to assuage any guilt he would have had.

I understand Joe.  After driving 100 miles, I had my friend pull to the side of the road.  I got animal control on the phone.  Reported to them that I saw a deer on the road which seemed to be alive.  I told myself that I did my best.  It is now in their hands.  What more could I do right?  I did my part.

For some reason, I have never been able to forget that split second.  Seeing that scared and vulnerable creature lift it’s furry head off of the bloody concrete.  In that moment we made a choice.  Keep driving.

It was a choice.  Much like Joe.  If there was anybody on that campus who could have put a stop to Sandusky’s horrific exploitation it would have been Joe.  You don’t say no to the biggest man on campus.

He never followed up.  He never made sure the police knew what was going on.

He didn’t turn the car around.