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.

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.

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.

 

How Should A Survivor Behave? New Vid Blog!

Some recent discussions have brought to light about what it means to be a survivor.  How should survivors behave?  What is the role of the advocate in helping survivors heal?  What things should we take into account when speaking to other survivors?  Leave comments and questions when you have them.

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.