Hello Everyone,

I am Justanothersurvivor.  I am on several web sites for people who have been sexually abused as a children A couple of my favorite sites are Malesurvivor.org and Dailystrength.org.  Yes I am a survivor and in the course of my recovery I wrote a book about my abuse and recovery process.  The book is titled Whole Again and is availible at Amazon.  However,  I did not write my story for financial gain.  In fact anyone who has written a book about their abuse will know just how hard it is to profit from such a book.  So yes it is for sale for those who want a hard copy.  The intent of the book was two fold.  First and formost to aid in my recovery and secondly to help others.  To this end I have published my book in its entirty in this blog for everyone to read free of charge and to discuss or answer questions about my recovery or any part of the book.  Your feed back is important to me for personal satisfaction and to improve the book.  It is my hope you find my story an inspiration for yourself and I hope it helps you heal a bit or become aware of what child sexual abuse can do to a child.  So please pass the word and make comments.  Obviously, my work is copy writed and should not be copied for financial gain.  So please enjoy my story if that is possible.  It is not an easy read and is intense but honest.  Did I recover. I sure as hell did.  To see my life today as compared to what is was is nothing less than amazing.  It is a miricle that is well within the reach of all survivors and is deserved for all.  I put myself on the road to recovery and it was one hell of a trip.  Please enjoy Whole Again and please pass the word.  United we stand and divided we fall.  We can make a difference one survivor at a time so spread the word.

Whole Again

JAS

JUST ANOTHER SURVIVOR

Whole Again

JAS

JUST ANOTHER SURVIVOR

Copyright © 2012 (JAS) JUST ANOTHER SURVIVOR

All rights reserved.

ISBN: 481848860

ISBN-13: 978-1481848862

 

PREFACE

Whole Again, is a book about my  recovery from child sexual abuse.  My screen name is Just Another Survivor)  While there are some very good books about recovery for men who are in need of recovery, there are not nearly enough.   Whole Again is one man’s story of transforming from victim to survivor and ultimately finding peace with my life.  It takes the reader through the recovery process and much more.   Whole Again is a story of determination, challenge and inspiration.  I bring the reader into my world from the age of 8 to 18 and then through recovery starting in my early fifties.   While not a “how to book”, of which there many, Whole Again is the real story seen through my eyes; of how I stepped out of denial and followed a path to recovery.  It is neither clinical nor forensic in nature.  It is raw truth.  But it is a path that was well worth the trip.  My wounds are healed and I have found peace.

It is not a story for the light hearted but it is a truthful representation of what a child goes thru and how the abuse affects everything in a victim’s life until the wounds are healed.  And in my case a life lived as a lie.  Adult males have been the lost society of child abuse.  We grew up in society with blinders on and a mentality of “Just get over it”, and no one knew our names.   Whole Again demonstrates how flawed and damaging this mentality has been.   Through intense research I discovered the real truth of what can happen to the brain and mind of a child who has experienced severe emotional trauma from sexual abuse.  And yes there is very real physical damage done the brain.

Whole Again is a book that was never intended to be a book.  It evolved from my intense journaling used in the process of recovery.   About a third the way thru my recovery (about one year) I realized I have many hundreds of pages in several journals.   While Journaling proved invaluable, I decided it would be more advantageous to my recovery if I organized the material into a book format.   Organizing my material in this way forced me to look at the whole picture instead of little snippets from my journals and thereby giving a more cohesive understanding of where I had been, how much I had accomplished and how far I needed to go.  Even at this stage of recover Whole Again was never intended to become a book.  It was simply a tool for my recovery.  Therefore much of Whole Again is written during my recovery, which can at times make the transition from past experiences to the present day affects a little challenging to clearly write.  During my recovery I was in a pure state of inspiration.  It was this inspiration that ultimately lead to writing a formal book for publication.

I have been asked many times, how long did it take to recover?    It is a difficult question to answer but if I had to put a time on it I would say three years.   It took that long to get through the bulk of the wounds.  However, from day one I experienced steady and measurable progress.  There are no magic wands or miracle pills; it is a commitment to oneself and a lot of painful but enlightening work.  In reality recovery from emotional trauma is a lifelong process and state of mind I developed early on in my recovery.  So there is no time limit and I suspect it is different for everyone.

Writing this book was an extraordinary challenged and an amazing adventure that took about 2 years beyond my recovery to refine and publish.

CONTENTS

1

The Search Begins 5

2

A Slow Awakening 18

3

Life in the Abyss 33

4

Ernie the Visible – Invisible Man 48

5

Parents and Family Life 53

6

My Plan for Recovery 58

7

Recovery: The Beginning 63

8

Shame the Great Silencer of Innocents 71

9

Denial 87

10

Anxiety 89

11

Anger 96

12

Depression 105

13

Who Had the Power? 111

14

Sex and Sexuality 113

15

Relationships 119

16

Self Esteem 123

17

What was the Damage Done? 130

18

Epilog 133

1 the serch begins

 

So long ago, distant memories, a life of disillusionment, sadness, disappointment and at times great joy.  We all have a story, so why is this one any more important than someone else’s, I do not know.  Perhaps, because it is my story, or maybe I am looking for an absolution that can never come.  Or maybe it is just another attempt at putting my life in some sort of perspective.  I really do not know.  What I do know is I am compelled at the age of 55 to write this story.  It is time to face the 40 + years of denial and face the horror.  To face it and finally put it behind me and walk in the light of truth about my life, what has happened and what it has cost, not only to me, but to so many others.  My time has come to realize I need to heal.  Something I never understood until now.  It only took 40 years, and an introduction to my own mortality to do it.

To heal, I need to accept that I will need to go through some sort of recovery.  In many ways, this is the first day of school for me, and I know nothing of recovery, or how to begin.  What I do know is this; I can no longer live my life as a lie.  Events over the past few years have caused a torrent of realizations about my life and me.  Moreover, how the abuse has molded me and bound me in a state of life that is no longer acceptable to me.

Living behind a mask of shame and guilt, has left me lost and empty.  I have lived behind this mask of shadow beliefs, only now, so late in life, realizing just how blind I was to the damage done to me.  A mask that kept me separated emotionally, never allowing the true me to shine through, a mask of lies, and false truths.  Lies told only to me by me. It took 40 years to discover this cryptic demon and how clever its disguises were.  A mask that shielded and separated me from the truth of the damage and hurt done to me by so many, with only a couple of them as the catalyst for the others.

I hope, as I make this trek into enlightenment, that when it ends, I will find the answers to questions I have yet to ask.  Maybe I will find some purpose or meaning for myself and my life?  And maybe, I will find peace.  Whatever the end result is, I do hope my story will help to enlighten those who do not understand, and others who may be of a kindred spirit, to heal a little bit.  If nothing else, I hope my story will help create awareness, enough to make a difference for another innocent child and perhaps keep them from perdition’s flames.

Whatever my reasons turn out to be, the process will no doubt challenge me.  I suspect it will challenge me in ways I can only hope to be able to deal with alone.  At least recovery will be interesting.  One thing is for sure, I cannot deal with the past without putting myself in harm’s way, emotionally, and that is a terrifying prospect.

I never dreamed life would bring me to this point in time, this state of mind, or so far behind where I wanted to be.  It is a time when the running must stop and my denial be dissolved into prevailing truth.  A time, that will no longer allow me simply walk in the abyss, but forces me to look into it and find out what I am made of, an old cliché for sure, but a very true one.  And who knows, somewhere in the darkness maybe I will find me, I hope.

Welcome to recovery from the world of sexual abuse; child sexual abuse, a hideous crime against our most precious.  It is a world of deceit, decadence, lies, emotional abuse, physical abuse, trauma, confusion, betrayal, and loss; a world of suffering.  We didn’t ask for it, we didn’t want it, but it happened; and it is happening now and all for the want of power, control, and primal pleasure.

Sexual abuse happens far more often than most want to believe.  The perpetrators are the scum of the earth, the spawn of the devil, the mentally ill and dregs of society.  They are your mother, father, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, friend, priest, pastor, rabbi, teacher, and anyone else you can think of. They are everywhere.  Many times, they are the people you love deeply, only to learn to hate them equally.  And others are those who, with clever and insidious cunning, make you feel they are your friends, who love you and only want the best for you, only to realize they are the worst of the worst.  This was my world, a dark place for sure, a world where my very identity was taken and toyed with, for no reason other than complete and absolute selfishness; insane selfishness.  It is place where you are completely taken over by these terrible people.  People you believed you care deeply about and do not want to hurt, even if they are hurting you.  And sometimes, they are people you don’t know.  My point is a simple one.  Sexual abusers come in all shades; it is sad but very true.

While it is true that most people are not abusers it is important to understand the small percentage of people who are abusers can be anyone, and many times, they are the people you want to suspect the least.  Keep in mind that the percentage of abusers is very low when compared to a population as a whole.  However, one only needs to check the sex offender registry for your area and you will be surprised how close your children are to danger.  And these are only the abusers who are caught and registered.  I have read estimates that claim more than 90% of abusers are never caught or reported.

Case in point; when I first heard of the Sex Offender Register I decided to check it out.  This was shortly after returning home from Colorado and at the beginning of my recovery.  I don’t remember the exact number of offenders there were within a ten mile radius, I believe it was 37.  What was more important was the number in the immediate one-mile radius of my girlfriend’s apartment, where I spent a good deal of my time.  She has three surviving children, three boys, Jonathan, the youngest at 6, Taylor and Charles in their mid-teens.

There were five registered sex offenders within a two or three mile radius of us and one living in her apartment building.  There are only nine apartments in her complex, and this guy was living there, right under our noses and he had on occasion talked with the kids.  This was a real shock and wake up call for both of us, and very concerning for me because of my own history, and because I am like a father to these kids.  I have known all of them since they were babies.  What pissed me off was, when I called the property owner and explained the situation he was already aware there was a convicted child molester living in his apartments.  The landlord also explained he was fully aware of the guy’s history before he moved in but didn’t consider him a threat of any kind, because he knew his mother.  I do not know what the landlord was thinking because he understood there were children in the apartments.

My girlfriend and I sat the boys down and explained in detail to the older boys why they needed to stay away from this guy.  The youngest one was too young to understand any details so we simply let him know he was not to go near the man, no matter what.  And we explained to all of them what to do if this man tried to talk with them.  I do not believe my story is an exception of any kind.  I think many parents would be shocked if they viewed the sex offender registry.

As I begin my trek into the past seeking recovery, I can now see the clear duality of my life, the life of an eight year old boy who was once full of dreams, and my real world of shadow beliefs, denial, hurt and lost dreams.  A world that finds me sitting in another hotel room, alone, ungrounded in anything for the last thirteen years (since my divorce), adrift in life, trying to decide just what I have accomplished or contributed to anyone or society.  Struggling to see where I have made a difference for anyone including myself.  Always seeking and not knowing how to find or what it was I was looking for; a life that always looked to the future with hope as a shield, and despair as an expected companion.  Never keeping my mind in the present, with denial as the compelling force keeping me moving ahead of the past, not realizing that, “The past is the present if we carry it with us,” Sybil.  Only now I am beginning to realize it has always been too painful staying focused in the present.  I believed, to focus on the present meant being too close to the past.  In the present, I would have to deal with feelings that I just didn’t want to deal with.  Consequently, I have always driven myself hard to succeed by keeping myself active with a propensity for burning myself out.  If I pushed myself hard there was no time to think about the abuse.  But it doesn’t work that way.  This has all changed since I started dealing with my abuse.

How disconnected I always feel; feelings matched only by how connected I always wanted to be and always fearing both.  Perhaps this is part of the reason why life has been so stalled.  How shattered I am realizing how much of a lie my life has been.  How does one bridge the void of so many years?  Or rebuild what should have been, but never was?  My father, God rest his soul, always said, “Face your fears, never run from them.”  Oh how clever I have been!  Always giving myself a pat on the back, believing I had done just that for most of my adult life.  I spent my life believing myself to be a person of great courage because I have survived so much pain and suffering as a child and I did it alone.  I am a person who had no problem taking on five thugs who attacked me, and won.  I am a person who fears very little of the practical world or the everyday adventures, fearing only the unknown demons of one’s self.  I had no problem jumping into the middle of a knife fight, unarmed to help a good friend from making a fatal mistake or becoming one.  I had no problem trying to save our neighbors from their burning home, to no avail.  Jimmy, age 6, Ernie age 4, and their mother Cathy all died.  I was eighteen.  And I had no problem swimming into treacherous water to save a friend from drowning when I was fourteen.  Not the smartest thing for a person to do with limited swimming skills.

I never doubted my courage until now.  Now I wonder if I was a coward for not stopping the abuse or stepping out of denial and facing the truth.  Or was I courageous for finding ways to survive?  Was there any way I could not have been so trapped?  These are some of the many questions that haunt me.  My answers will come in time I am sure, but at what cost.  However, in reality, the answers probably do not matter, because I suspect I will find some answers do not exist.  And maybe they are just not important.  Time will tell.

Patting myself on the back and convincing myself I was free of the abuse was another of my very complex and clever defense mechanisms keeping me from doing just that, facing my fears and tending my wounds.

I have spent so much time and energy hiding and running from my past in so many ways and only now, realizing it was this behavior that kept the past in the present and so much alive.  The actual act of denial became a way of life.  It was all I knew and I was not able to realize or understand there was another way.  Denial is this stranger always tapping you on the shoulder but you refuse to turn and look.  The energy it takes to maintain such a defense has taken a toll on me, emotionally and physically.  It has made me feel old before my time.  My anger which was the silent nautilus part of my life for so long is the cancer that has “eaten” away at me and left my life replete with empty emotional holes.  Yet I am still here, always staying one-step ahead of the demons, most of the time anyway.  Of course, I am not referring to the devil’s disciples.  I am referring to shame and guilt as my demons.

It took a long time to recognize and give names to these demons.  But once I did, there was no mistaking them or how damaging they have been.  Recently and because I have started my recovery, it is apparent to me I have accepted shame and guilt.  I don’t really understand why I have accepted them.  All I know is, I feel differently.  This simple transition seems to have made a difference.  In what sense or to what degree, I don’t know.  I just know it is different.  Different in a positive way I think.  I truly hope it is a positive beginning without end.  I am far too acquainted with short beginnings that did not end so nicely, only to fall into another cycle of unrecognized self-destructive behavior.

Since my divorce, it has been particularly hard for me to take a solid bearing in life.  For many years now, I have been just getting through each day without plans or goals, just waiting for God I guess.  Sure, I have desires, as everyone has.  I know I want happiness, a home, and some stability in my life, friends and so on and so forth.  I simply couldn’t find a path to stay on.  I was caught in the onslaught of life’s tsunami just pushing me along with no real hope of freeing myself from its deathly grip, leaving me with a sense of confusion or disillusionment brought on by a broken and diminished spirit.  As with so much in my life, I simply have no understanding of this.  And yet, in many respects my life has been good, full in ways I could not have done without, empty in ways that shroud me in numbness.  At the moment, I see my life in my mind’s eye, as one of fullness but unfulfilled, a life with great potential, unrealized.

My life has also had so much great joy.  But this has not helped me clarify my feelings about my life and has left me somewhat confused as to the sum of my life, or what it means.  I have many great memories, equal only to the memories lost, perhaps never to be found.  I have always loved people and all they have brought into my life.  I consider each person I have met, a treasure, pleasure and or an experience that has added to the richness of my life, no matter what they brought to me, good or bad.  And for those who I want to hate or should hate, I cannot hate them.  It is not in my nature or Christian faith, and of course, I have become so good at suppressing my anger that I have to question even this simple belief about myself.  I don’t know when I will start working on my anger that I have yet to feel its full measure.  I hope when I do, I don’t find myself hating anyone.  Hate scares the hell out of me.  I have seen so many people be “ate-up” by hate and have been miserable for it.  I have convinced myself no one is worth hating, even if they deserve it.  When you hate, you give too much of yourself to that person and keeps them in control.  Maybe through recovery I will find I am just as capable of hating and not really forgiving.  I hope this does not turn out to be the case because here again, I would have lived a lie about my own belief that I am a forgiving person.  Maybe I have been too much of a coward to forgive and simply shrouded myself in another shadow belief.  Time will tell, but for now, I will accept the richness of my life as the sum of all my life events, both good and bad.  So from this point of view, I have lived a very full life.

So this is my beginning, a place of renewal, self-discovery and a means to forgiveness. Forgiveness?  I thought I understood it but I never did.  And like so many, I fooled myself into believing I had forgiven all who needed it, everyone except me.  But this changed.  It is a time when the future is mine, unfettered from the dictators of the past and a hope for conquest over life-long companions.  Hopefully, a future with friends and family and with no sense of shame or guilt.  This is my nexus, the point in my life when I choose not to accept my life as it has been, a place where I can see my future through the eyes of history and I can choose a different path.

Now, how do I make this happen?  It only took me until I was 53 to get to this point.  Of all the tragedy and losses in my life, of all the emotional struggles, this nexus is the most frightening and painful for me to confront.  Frankly, it is numbing, overwhelming and flat out terrifying to me.  Why?  Because I know the only way to make recovery happen is to heal.  And to heal I must trek back through the events of my life that have defined me.  And this is not all of it.  I am trying to figure out who the hell I am.  What scares me the most is; I may discover my self-perceptions are wrong.  Maybe I am not the good person I think and perceive myself to be.  What if I am wrong, maybe I am the one most responsible for the events of my life.  Yeah, I am scared!  What part of the lie I have lived so long is true and what part is not?  How much am I responsible for my life and how much am I not?  What is the truth?  I guess this is what I am trying to figure out.  But it is not just about me.  It is about all kindred spirits everywhere.  It is about righteousness, healing, and hope.  It is for all those who have lost hope and for an eight-year-old boy who has found a glimmer of new hope.  It is about Love.  Recovery is about all these things, but one rises above all others.  Recovery is about courage to change.  The same nature of courage it takes one to fight a cancer, risk one’s life to save another, face an enemy on the front lines or the courage of a mother protecting her child.  A courage deep seated in the very essence of one’s being.

Facing , “one’s self” is perhaps the scariest trial a person can endure.  And maybe the trip will prove to be the most rewarding and fruitful.  Whatever the case turns out to be, when “the jury is in” the verdict will be what it is and it will have no appeal.  For this reason, a very special courage is needed.  And as far as I am concerned, “Damn the torpedoes” and “Let Slip the Dogs of War” because I have nothing to lose anymore.  Make no mistake; I believe recovery is a war.  Not like the war we survivors have fought our entire lives to simply survive each day, but a war that is fought by my choice and on my own terms.  This is the most important difference.  It is said, “Pick your battles.” I have and I know recovery is a battle that can be won, without exception, if one chooses.  I believe it is a matter of commitment to one’s self, something I have never done.  One undeniable truth for me is, I had the courage to survive ten years of sexual and emotional abuse and now I intend to use that same courage to heal.  To push forward and make a life for myself free of the shame and guilt.  Free to live my life in peace and tranquility.

Having made this proclamation to myself, has made me realize, the first thing I need to come to grips with is how much damage was done to me.  And yes, I know how much we hate this label “damage”.  Unfortunately, it is very true.  The label does not matter, the truth does.  What makes me very angry is the fact, the effects of the many years of abuse has affected everything in my life including the loss of my marriage and the most important person in my life, my wife Theresa.  If this isn’t damage then what is?  I had often wondered what molded my behavior Christmas night 1994, the last day Theresa and I spent together.  How much of my behavior was plain stupidity and lack of responsibility, and how much was from the emotional brain-washing and conditioning  from so long ago, or was it just another form of acting out?  Well, at this point in my recovery, I can only assume I was “acting out” again.  The infamous encrypted cry for help that no one understands, not even me at the time.  I never understood the belief that when someone is acting out is a cry for help.  I have pretty good grip on it now.  It is a very real thing and as real as it is, it is equally as easy to ignore or dismiss mindlessly.  Whatever my reasons were for acting out; I have no excuse and no pain greater or deeper than hurting Theresa.  As unintentional, and innocent as the events were that led to our divorce may have been, does not matter.  That night I could have made a better choices. Why didn’t I?  Was it just another of my many self-destructive behaviors?  I never wanted to go through life with any regrets.  Hurting and losing Theresa is a regret I don’t see myself getting over.  If I wanted to try and find some good in this; I suspect understanding how much the abuse has cost both Theresa and me will help me get in touch with my anger.

There will be no absolution or forgiveness from Theresa.  Her 18 years of severe abuse from her first husband, (I was her second) and her lack of trust in me, has left Theresa unable to forgive anyone for the smallest infractions.  I have seen her willing to walk away from her son, instead of dealing with the issues, and she has walked away from good friends for what I would consider pretty minor issues.  The one thing which is very clear and is a result of her abuse, is she tries to avoid conflict of any type at all cost, unless she feels wounded, then she turns vicious.  Theresa is truly the “out of sight, out of mind” type person.  In fact, she personifies this character trait.  She has never understood how much she has lost because of her keen ability to stick with this mentality.  She has never understood how much she has denied herself or how much opportunity for personal growth she has deprived herself of.  This is why I feel so bad for Theresa; she has lost so much and carries so much inside.  It is unfortunate she never spent one day in counseling for her abuse.  She is such a good person and as with all victims of abuse, she didn’t deserve it.  She is enslaved with the same effects all battered women and survivors of sexual abuse suffer, who have not dealt with their wounds.  Who could blame her?  I was able to stay in denial for forty years, and if denial allows Theresa to live a life she is content with, then who am I to judge?  My only wish for her is to be happy.  I have never missed anyone as much as I have Theresa; and my heart has never stopped aching.  She was everything to me, the nautilus part of my good life.  And I have to bear the guilt of hurting the person I love more than anyone.  I hope she finds a way to step out of her  denial and really understand just how much her abuse has cost her.  I hope she finds peace and ultimately realizes I am not the monster she portrayed me to be.  And I hope she comes to understand how much love there was and is.  Our counselor, at the time of our divorce, told me she was projecting all her hate and wounds from her first husband and her abuse on me; that bomb had been primed for a long time.  All I did was supply the trigger.

It made perfect sense to me, her projecting all her inner anger and hurt on me; I did the same to her in a very unkind letter to her.  It was during our separation and my bargaining days.  So, I do know the truth of why she feels as she does about me.  Throw in the fact, I failed her and it is understandable she would hate me.  Understanding does jack for the hurt I feel every second of every living minute, a penetrating hurt so profoundly deep, it wounds my soul.  Being hated by Theresa so much, is an open wound to my heart.  I know any love she has for me is buried so deep beneath the hate, that she will never allow herself to feel it again.  To be hated that much by a person you love must mean there had to be great love at some point in time.  Regardless of her hate, great or true love cannot be destroyed, it is simple put aside.

I never spoke to Theresa about her being sexually abused by her first husband.  And if I did, she would never have considered it a possibility.  The truth is her ex-husband was the pedophile’s pedophile.  He was 26 and Theresa was 15 when he took her over the state line and eloped.  He had been seeing her from the age of 13.  He married his victim, brutalized her, and wounded her deeply. Theresa never understood this.  She was sexually abused as much as I was.  I guess she will never know how much we have in common, and in the end, she considers me worse than that animal.  Try living with this.  I was her hero and she was mine.  I have never lost my emotional empathetic connection to Theresa.  I wonder how recovery can heal this pain.  Fat chance!  I understand Theresa’s denial and I know her heart.  I guess what I find so sad about Theresa’s situation, is she doesn’t understand how much more her abuse will cost her if she doesn’t get the help she really needs.

And so my journey has begun, my awareness is at its peak and I am ready.  I guess a good place to start is to understand just how I see myself.  It is time to put my life, and my emotional state-of mind as it exists today, under the microscope.  Following is one of my early journal entries.  I think it best explains where I am.

It’s 11:20 Saturday night September 17 and I am sitting alone in a motel room, trying to stay focused enough to expose my true feelings while pondering my life. There is something sad about this picture!  Smoking pot has become my major past-time, and it has been since Theresa and I broke up.  This behavior has cost me dearly.  I have finally realized smoking pot is a major escape for me, and a major problem in my life.  The only good thing about this is I know it is ending soon, very soon.  Stopping this self-destructive behavior is a priority in my life and is one of the many self-destructive behaviors I’m becoming aware of.

I have fought depression most of my life but I have been successfully treated with antidepressants.  The antidepressants have taken me to a point where I can deal with life.  Unfortunately, I have to say that I am still depressed.  However, I am convinced this is more a result of what I am doing here with recovery.  I am hopeful it will pass.  The good news is, the doc helped me realize many years ago, I am a high functioning depressive.  Meaning I function normally in everyday things like work and so forth, but it takes real effort to do anything for myself: depression is another source of energy drain.  Living everyday life should not be so much of an effort.

At times, I am perplexed why all this crap has affected me so much at this time in my life.  Other times I am angry as all hell when I start connecting the dots.  As I review my life, I have been able review  my behavior from a point of view of emotional development and how my emotional life and behavior was influenced by the long term sexual abuse, emotional conditioning and brain-washing as a child.  And at times, and becoming more often, I feel hopeful and optimistic about my future.  For sure I am at the Awareness Stage of my recovery.  I can hardly wait for the other stages of recovery to kick in; they will probably kick me in the ass when they do.

There have been other significant self-destructive behaviors beyond the pot. Being financially irresponsible has been a favorite past time for me since my divorce years ago.  I have just now begun to develop some fiscal responsibility again.  Another familiar cycle I constantly find never ending.  Meaning I was constantly aware of my lack of fiscal responsibility while being conflicted about why I have not been taking care of myself financially.  And further conflicted that I knew I was hurting myself but I  had no willingness to change this self-destructive behavior.  And of course until recovery, I was always scratching my head trying to figure out why I did it again.  Until recently, I had always given my money away.  I was always taking care of everyone else and never myself.  I have been this way for as long as I can remember, even as a kid but not so much when I was married.  Helping other people has always been a great joy for me.  Unfortunately, I never learned to take care of myself first and rarely did I do or buy anything for myself.  One of the changes I have made is to take care of myself first.  Focus on me and only me for a while.  And frankly, I have discovered by taking care of myself first, I will be able to help more people in better and healthier ways.

What is equally important for me is to understand why I was compelled to do this to myself, (put other people first at my own expense and well-being).  I always thought it was the right thing to do and I genuinely felt good about it.  I considered it doing God’s work.  Now I wonder if I was buying companionship, love, and acceptance, I am not sure.  Maybe I have such low self-esteem that I just wanted people to like me or I needed to feel wanted.  I guess the best I can hope for is, maybe it was a combination of the two.  One thing is for sure, I don’t know!  I suspect, I may have felt I didn’t deserve anything and therefore put my focus on others.  This has resulted in me having very few personal belongings.  In fact, I lost most of what I owned by not paying the storage fees.  It was not necessary for that to happen and yet I let it happened. Why? My belongings ended up in storage because when I was on my way home to New Hampshire from Colorado when my vehicle blew a transmission in Nebraska and the vehicle caught on fire.  I ended up leaving my belongings in storage, fully intending to retrieve them and I took a bus home to New Hampshire.  I was never able to get myself into a position to go and retrieve my belongings.  Of course, I could never save enough money because I was always helping everyone else.  Another time I lost everything was when Theresa and I broke up, I took one plastic bag of clothes and that was it.  I never believed Theresa would not give me my belongings.  What a surprise to me, I lost everything.  She wouldn’t even give me a picture.  I didn’t figure on her hating me, in fact I didn’t think it was possible and I didn’t believe we would divorce.  They were right when they wrote, “hell hath no fury as the fury of a woman scorned” or something like that.

Losing everything is another old companion.  We have walked a long path through life together.  In 1979, when I was finally on my own and living in a house in Chelmsford, Massachusetts there was a house fire that took my home to the ground.  I walked away with the clothes on my back and a car.  And of course I had to rebuild and in the end I lost the new house before I could finish it.  I was rebuilding it by myself and I ended up burning myself out.  It was in the late seventies and early eighties, during a major period of high inflation, and 18 to 24% loans were all that was available, if you could get one.

After the house burned down the town of Chelmsford gave me only two years to start rebuilding.  So on the twenty­ third-month I secured a private loan with a very high percentage rate and not enough funds to complete the construction, or enough funds to have anyone else do the work.  I was between a rock and a hard place, but it was a start.

So I worked my eight hours at Digital Equipment Corp, and then work at least another six to eight hours building my home.  I started in November and lived in a broken down trailer on the site, no heat, I just did not want it for some reason(more punishment maybe).  I worked through the winter and it was tough.  Trying to build a house on your own was a fool’s errand and to do it during the winter was as tough as it gets, but I felt I had little choice.

I have to wonder why I am always finding myself starting over.  Maybe that is all life is, a series of starting overs, the reality is, it was my fault and my fault alone.  I made the choices regardless of the fundamental motivation driving me to be self-destructive.

All of this motivated me to choose to find a path that changes all of this.  Meaning recovery, or not, and regardless of whatever truths need to be faced, or whatever the process brings.  I can choose to let the abuse continue to influence my life by using it as excuses or a crutch or some overwhelming fear that paralyzes my soul, and changes nothing.  Or I can choose to end the suffering and begin a new life by finally giving myself a break and a chance at something better.  Which path would you choose?

To sum things up I can say with confidence I have stopped waiting for God and accepted the fact, I could and want to, live another fifty years.  I have been waiting for God for ten years and now am telling God He can wait.  With this eye-opener, I am committed to letting the next fifty years to be a new life without the millstones of the past chained around my neck.  It is my future and it can be whatever I want.  And I want to be known for the person who looked at his life, didn’t like the hand he was dealt, but played the hand the best he could and in the end won.  I don’t want to be one of those old guys always talking about the past with regret, always telling embellished stories that have little resemblance to the truth.  I want to be an inspiration and a person who will be remembered for overcoming life’s trials and someone who made a difference in some people’s lives.  I don’t want to be remembered as a person who was abused and never recovered.  I would rather be dead than remembered like this.  I am tired of this crap and I am ready to do whatever it takes.  I will endure the pains of recovery.  I am told recovery is like birth or surgery.  It hurts like hell for a while but a new life is born and the wound heals.  Most people who have kids will tell you they were worth it.  I know, in my heart of hearts, recovery is worth the pain and work.  It is worth a new beginning and a new life.  Anyone who has endured the pain of abuse has earned a chance at a better life.  We have the right to be free of the torment and sadness.  We have the right to live a happy and full life.

End journal entry:

So my search for a path to recovery and understanding has begun.  I am not a professional counselor and I can’t afford continuous therapy so for the most part I am on my own.  And it would be unrealistic for me to believe “doing it on my own” has any chance of working.  It is a delusion and another denial trap.  At some point, I will need to work with professionals who can help me.  But for now, I will do my research and begin introspective journey to those dark places in my past.  I will learn, grow, and apply what I learn.  This has to be my minimum commitment to a successful recovery.  No one can do this for me. I have to take responsibility for my own recovery.  I have to do it as intelligently as I can and learn to reach out for help, something I have never done.  Only I can remove the obstacles to my recovery and a better life.  Only I can face the unknown demons that have haunted me.  And only I can make the difference for myself.  I think it will be very important to find ways to measure my progress.  So I will do the easy things first and develop a plan for myself to follow.  By doing some of the easy things first I hope to start rebuilding my self-image.  I believe becoming cognitively aware of how I am feeling and thinking about myself will be a critical skill to learn.  And how I feel should be a good indicator of my progress.

Developing a plan was the next step. (In hindsight this is one of the first tough ones).  I am enthusiastic about it but it is really making me think and is bringing me back.  As I was developing my plan, I found myself feeling sad yet hopeful.  I remember the slow awakening that suddenly erupted into a shower of reality.  The day I realized, just how much of a lie my life has been.  And the moment I realize the door that held the shadowy demons had been unlocked and the shroud of denial that had protected me for so long was gone forever.  And the real sense of sadness and loss I felt was the catalyst for developing a more truthful relationship with me.  My calling had come – it was my time to heal.

This revelation happened one day in Colorado.  I had left my home and family in Massachusetts, some years before, after my divorce.  I wanted to start a new life.  I had visited Colorado during my first separation from Theresa.  At the time I was visiting my brother, and I fell in love with the state.  God sure had a good day when He made Colorado.

For a few years, everything had been going pretty well.  I had finally started settling into an apartment and I had been in love again (or so I thought) and I was going to marry again.  This was a real surprise.  Then it all started turning bad again.  I realized my very wealthy fiancé (her family anyway) had some very serious mental health issues and as our counselor who we had decided to see, told me privately, there was very little hope of Sarah and I having a successful relationship.  Her condition was such that our counselor believed she was very suicidal and had great potential for being very violent.  Her condition has a name but out of respect I will not mention it here.  It suffices to say it is a very serious psychological illness with no cure.

I had never, “lived in sin” with women until Sarah.   I was amazed how things had changed after I moved in with her .  She quit her job, slept all day, and drank all night.  While her family was very wealthy, Sarah was broke.  I was making a very low wage compared to what I was use to, and supporting Sarah really drained me, in many ways.  For the last six months we were together, I was on suicide watch with Sarah.  Our counselor told me he was gravely concerned she could do herself harm.  At this point, my only mission was to find a way to help her and her parents bridge the distance between them, and then move on.  Sarah was in serious trouble and she needed her parents.  Her parents were nice people and church going but very self-centered when it came to their money.  They believed, and somewhat rightly so, their kids needed to make it on their own.  What they failed to realize was how much they contributed to the mental health of Sarah when she was growing up.  It appears they were far more interested in making money than raising kids.  It really damaged Sarah.  I was successful in convincing her parents she needed them in her life and Sarah’s mother took the ball and really went with it.  Her mother really wanted to have a healthy relationship with her daughter and she was a great woman.  I really liked both her parents very much.

Sarah condition was such, I was told by our counselor that she could snap at any time and I could end up with a knife in my chest.  Well, after hearing this and six months of pure exhaustion to the point of audio hallucinations, all brought on by an intense suicide watch; well it was time for me to move on.  I accomplished all I could and I did get her parents involved.  I was truly burned out.  Sarah was one of those, “I hate you don’t leave me” people and I found out she had had a couple of prior finances who also left her.  So why didn’t I do the same thing much earlier on than I did?  Why did I feel obligated to help Sarah and her parents mend their bridges?   Was I again taking on more responsibility than I should have?  Was this another pattern of my life, or was I being a genuine caring person who recognizes a person in need and didn’t have the heart to abandon her as she believed her parents did?  I have never been able to turn my back on anyone in need.  The relationship damn near killed me and yet I hung in there until I was satisfied I could do no more to help her; hubris perhaps, stupid at best, but well intentioned.  I suspect this may be a form of over compensating and may be connected to the abuse.  I have also come to believe there was probably an element of insecurity and loneliness that needed to be filled.  If it was the latter I didn’t recognize it at the time.  An empty heart is a terrible thing to live with.  However, Sarah was a wonderful person in so many ways.  She was smart, drop dead gorgeous, and she was someone you could have an intelligent conversation with, not to mention she was a great lover.  It was sad leaving her.  In time, her relationship with her parents improved immensely and that made me feel good about what I had helped accomplish.

After Sarah, things had spiraled down further.  The economy was bad and finding a job in the best of times in Colorado was a challenge.  I had lost my job, lost my medical insurance, so I decided to interview in Ireland for a job.

While there, I started noticing significant rectal bleeding, I contacted my doctor in Massachusetts, and he told me it could range from a minor thing to a cancer of some sort.  He told me to get checked-out ASAP.

I went to a doctor in Ireland the next day, he did an examination and some blood work.  A couple of days later he told me I had cancer.  I was floored and really taken back.  At first I didn’t want to accept it, but I had to tell the company I could not accept their job offer.  I flew home after a few days of R&R in Galway, while trying to sort things out.

After a few more days, the bleeding subsided but I had to make some real choices, I was told the bleeding could come and go and it did.  I had no insurance and I had pretty well had it with life.  How could I pay for treatment, if I opted for treatment?  I would be in debt for many, many years to come.  I was simply not up to the challenge.  I went up to the foothills and lay under the stars one night trying to decide what I wanted to do.  It was in the foothills of Fort Collins where I decided I was not going to have the cancer treated, nor was I going to do any follow-up with doctors.  I decided it was time to let go of the ghost.  Only the manner in which I would die was in question.  I contemplated taking a very long deep woods hike and simply never return.  I could survive for a while but in the end nature would take me, regardless of how good my survival skills were.  I decided the one way trip into the woods was tantamount to suicide.  In fact, I was not sure if not fighting the cancer was a form of suicide.  I kept my condition and plans to myself, I had burdened my family enough over the years and they didn’t need this anymore than I did.  And I had little contact with them over the previous three years.

Over the next several weeks I decided it was time to put my affairs in order.  The bleeding was coming and going.  Sometimes it was barely noticeable and other times I thought was going to bleed to death.

This was a bizarre time for me.  Deciding to give up the ghost was a great feeling of relief that I didn’t understand.  I had truly lost my will to live.  And this kept bothering me.  How could anyone, just not want to live anymore?  I loved life in so many ways, of course I was not happy about were I was in life and didn’t understand this either.  But, to give up, I knew that was not me.  I didn’t understand any of this.  It started to dawn on me, things were not right.  Over the previous few weeks, I had decided I was still very much in love with my soul mate, Theresa and I didn’t care about living life without her. I also realized it could not be just about Theresa.  After all, I had already learned to live without her, as much as I didn’t want to.  I was starting to feel a little lame in my thinking.

I found myself constantly thinking about my life and all the events in it.  I began having flashbacks.  I had never experienced flashbacks like these before and didn’t understand why.  I was getting angrier by the day about my life and divorce but I was still not realizing the truth about why I was feeling as I was.

As I did with everything in my life, I was dealing with this alone.  And how ironic this was for a guy who has a twin sister and is one of eleven children?  I really needed my family but I could not reach out to them.  I had never been able to reach out to them.  I began to look at things philosophically and convinced myself I was ok with dying.  I had lived a full life and experienced a lot, been in love, seen a lot of the world and as much as I didn’t want to be, I was ready for death.  I was in my late forties.  In hindsight, that is a pretty sad state of affairs.  I was a young man who felt old and burned out.  I had had my full measure of life.

But something else was happening to me at the same time, a strange and unfamiliar consciousness began to creep in.  For the first time I was beginning to doubt myself about my choice not to live.  Why?  These strange and unfamiliar feelings, were letting me know I was pissed off about many things.  I just wasn’t sure what I was angry about.  And not being able to understand why was confusing.  I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself but my gut was being torn in many directions.  I have always had an elevated level of intuition.

Which is why my gut was trying to tell me something and I could not break through my denial.  Of course, at the time I did not understand denial was the blocking force.  It seemed I was experiencing a primal conflict of some sort, but unidentified.  Something very deep inside seemed to be trying to get out or get my attention.  It was madding at times.

I struggled with these feelings for many days, perhaps weeks.  Trying to come to grips with the fact that I had entered the twilight of my life and my time here could be measured in a year or two.  The knowledge that the quality of my life would diminish during that time was very depressing.   But I decided I would face my fate with courage, without complaint and dignity.  At the very least it was time to talk with a priest.

The priest I selected was a very fine and kind person.  He seemed genuine, something I had not seen in a long time.  He informed me it was not God’s will for me to die.  I told him, even though I was very spiritual person, I had no understanding of God’s will and for that matter could not understand how he (the priest) could understand what God’s will was for me.  He tried to convince me I had options.  I explained to him I knew I had options, but am choosing the one that best suits me.  I gave him my confession and he gave me the “Last Rites” or as he explained the sacrament of healing.  This was all fine and dandy but I had already reconciled my soul with God and I was ready to meet Him on my terms.  In fact, I have never feared death, only life.  Death for me is just another beginning.

Although I was becoming conflicted about my choices, a sense of calm still embraced me, an acceptance that everything was alright and I had nothing to worry about anymore.  In truth, it was not going to be that easy; I just didn’t know it at the time.

Over the next several days, I began planning to get my affairs in order.  For the most part, I only had to make whatever arrangements were necessary for my funeral, burial and hospice care, none of which I had any idea of what was involved.  This was a very surreal time for me, nothing less than weird.  Picking out my own casket was bizarre and finding a cemetery, deciding what type of ceremony to have and what not, all were beginning to take a toll on me.  I had to take a break for a couple of weeks.  During this time, I decided I wanted to be buried and not cremated, so I decided to visit some cemeteries and see which one appealed to me.  It was strange visiting these places of internment with a new sense of meaning and purpose.  After all, in the past, my visits to cemeteries had been visits to lost loved ones and not for myself.  But something else was happening.  I began to sense my shield of perceived calm and contentment was beginning to feel more like a trap door or a cover of some sort.  As the days passed I began to feel a profound sense of sadness.  Sadness compounded by an equally strong sense of tranquil acceptance for my new path.  It was a confusing state of emotions for me.

While visiting one of the cemeteries my clarity of thought was definitely beginning to come into focus.  I realized my sadness was a reality check that my gut was telling me for a while.  The reality was, for the first time in my life, I had quit, given up, thrown in the towel.  I had never quit at anything and in fact, I was quite the opposite in character.  I would always take on too much and drive myself to exhaustion.  I was bewildered by the whole mess!

It was just days ago, when I was absolutely sure of everything.  Now I found myself sitting in a cemetery, staring my welcome future straight in the eye, free of fear, anxiety, burden, or trepidation.  As I looked at the headstones, reading the names and dates, taking particular notice of the ages.  It was the young ones who made me sad.  How much worse they must have had life than I had, I thought.  I wondered how many of these souls gave up and just threw in the towel?  I guess I figured it would be just a matter of time before I would meet most of them.  I guess I could ask them when I see them.  Ha, Ha.  But that is how I felt.  However, in the course of the next hour or so I began to feel  pretty dam selfish.  What right did I have to feel this way?  So many others had it much worse!  Part of me was ashamed, part of me was sad, other parts of me were happy and at peace.

I had given up, and then again, why not?  What the hell, I had had enough and my choices were not about anyone else.  It didn’t matter how much worse it was for anyone else.  I was conflicted at some level for sure but it was as if some part of me had a different idea and was trying to get me to listen.  It was turning into a rough day.  These feelings were all new to me and I really didn’t know what to make of them.  And I still had that growing gut feeling.  Something was instinctively telling me something was really wrong.  I knew it was nothing to do with the obvious situation but something more important.  I wasn’t sure what the hell I was feeling and frankly, it concerned me.

The more names I read, the more I realized all these names had been people with lives and families of their own.  Each had their own successes, failures, personalities, joys and triumphs.  But here in this place they were just names etched on headstones, devoid of life, spirits in another world.  Names only known to the loved ones left behind.  I am sure they were a mix of rich and poor, educated and not, men, women and children, and a mix of many professions.

But here in this place of hallowed ground, full of lost lives, everyone was equal.  It didn’t matter what their life was or what they did, none of it mattered because in death we are all equal, at least in the eyes of the living; the dead are just memories.  I wondered how I would be remembered.  What did these people mean to the world and what were their contributions?  Did they make a difference for anyone or themselves?  Did their lives count for anything?  How did their lives measure up against the yardstick of life?  Were they good or bad people?  From my vantage point all they were, were names on a headstone, whispers in time marking faceless lives.  Facing one’s mortality was beginning to be much harder to accept than an hour before.  And the feeling in my gut began to make me sick.  Or maybe it was the plethora of emotions triggering my gut.

My sense of serenity began to give way to a greater sense of truthfulness.  Here I was facing my future with calm and contentment over the last several weeks while trying to sort out my new sense of confusion.  I could feel the emotional pressure welling up inside of me. What the hell was this gnawing in my gut?  It was driving me nuts at the time.  What the hell was it that brought me to this place of refuge, solitude, and desperation?   Why am I sitting in a cemetery trying to decide where my final resting place would be?  What brought me here?  And then it happened.  My emotional fog began to clear.  Not the fog of the moment, but fog of my life.  My heart was racing, I was sweating, and I was feeling a powerful sense of fear emanating from every part of my being.  It didn’t feel like an anxiety attack, hell I had enough of them to know the difference.  This was something different.  Then it hit me like a hammer to the head.  I was at the end of my life and when you are there- there is only truth.  There is nowhere to hide.  The truth simply is.  It hit me that my life was result of the abuse, more to the point for the first time I felt and believed I had been damaged and hurt by the abuse and it had affected and controlled so much of my life.  I knew at that moment I had been in denial most of my life.  The abuse had really hurt me and cost me so much, damaged me to a point where I find myself in this revealing but pathetic place.

My mind began to play the movie of my life.  I was experiencing flashbacks, intense flashbacks of the nature I had not experienced before.  I was seeing the abuse all over again, smelling the smells and feeling the hurt and pain, feeling the sadness.  The sons of bitches had really damaged me and hurt me!  I had never acknowledged this.  Before this, all I had done was, give myself a pat on the back for stopping the abuse and superficially dealing with it.  I had never connected with the hurt, pain, or truth of the abuse.  In a single moment of time, this all changed.  I had been stripped naked with nowhere to hide, just me and the truth.  I had never experienced a more profound sense of reality and sadness.  A real sense of acceptance that I could no longer run or hide, or deny who I was; I was a guy who spent his entire life living a lie.

Part of me was numb and another part of me felt liberated and free. But my feeling of loss was over-whelming.  I had never felt loss like this, including my wife (divorce) or the death of my dad.  This was totally personal to me and for a guy who rarely allowed or could allow myself to be in touch with my inner-self, meant I was totally unprepared for these types of feelings.  I truly felt I had just loss myself, or the person I was charading as, and a stranger had emerged from the fog.  I felt alone, very sad, and a depth of morning I had never felt before.  I wished I could have just let go of the ghost then and faded with the wind.  But that was not going to happen.  Everything “I believed I was” just disappeared, and I was alone with a stranger.  Perhaps being just a name on a headstone was no longer a great idea.  My life had to count for more than just this ending.  For the first time I felt, and more importantly, understood I had been seriously damaged: the hurt and the wounds affected everything in my life.  In hindsight, I would have thought should have been feeling angrier.  I suppose I was; it was just not obvious to me.  I am amazed I was not enraged.  It wasn’t like that at all, just a sense of loss.  No, here in this place, there was no denial, or judges, confusion, or ambiguity, just raw truth.  I had just walked through a door and it shut tight behind me with no way to go back.  Or so I thought.  In time I would come to realize I needed to go back, just not through that door.   It would be a door of my choosing.  I just didn’t realize it yet.  For now, the last page of a life of denial had been written and the chapter of denial was over.  Not so bad a place to be but a scary place for sure.

Words could never describe or do justice to the feelings I felt as result of my epiphany.  It can only be summed up as a life changing moment.  I spent another two or three hours walking and allowing myself to just feel, trying to get a grip on all of it.  As the minutes turned to hours, I felt different, not in a bad way or a good one for that matter.  I was in a place I had never been before and I didn’t know how to process what I was feeling, or where these feelings would lead me.  I needed time, time to think.

Over the course of the next few weeks I tried sorting things out and what it all meant.  I began to reason the damage done to me was as real as any physical injury could be and there was no minimizing it by saying “others had it worse,” a terrible game to play with one’s self and one of denials clever weapons, in its arsenal of many.  To deny the truth about one’s self is simply wrong.  It is like a person who just lost an arm and then saying, “Oh I have another one.”  It doesn’t work this way, all injuries are relative to each of us.   To deny our pain is an injustice to ourselves.  I slowly accepted the fact that I didn’t want to die.  It would be wrong to do so and I wanted more than death for myself.  I had found the enemy but he was not mine.  Not yet anyway.  I felt like the alcoholic or drug addict at their first AA meeting, where they stand up in front of the group and declare “I am so and so and I am an alcoholic”.  For me the words are different: Hello my name is “Richard” and I am a victim of child sexual abuse and I don’t want to be a victim, I want to be a survivor.  Another simple truth was spawned from this process; I had to “Recover,” just like the alcoholic, drug addict or battered women and it was very painful to accept.  It meant I had problems that needed to be dealt with.  I was broken and I needed to be fixed.  It was profoundly difficult to accept my life was just a huge lie that I refused to recognize for so many years.  The humility and sadness was overwhelming.  This was the last thing I needed, to confront my lie, wounds, pain and loss of faith in myself.  And to what end, to find out I am broken and needed fixing?  In many ways, I was very humbled and I knew I now had to make the bigger choice, life, or death.

Death would put an end to my life and I would have accomplished nothing, contributed nothing, and made no difference for anyone.  I would be a forgotten name on a piece of rock pushing up daises.  Or I could choose life.  Which meant dealing with the cancer and then the damage from the abuse?  Deciding would not be a slam-dunk.  It was a challenge to once again, reach deep inside myself, and ask some very hard questions.  What did I really want for myself out of life?  Was I willing to accept and live with the truth no matter what it revealed?  Was I up to starting all over again?  And the most difficult decision, was ”am I up to the challenge of a very intense recovery process for both cancer and abuse?”  Would I even survive the cancer?  And perhaps I would have to live life with a colonoscopy bag on my side?  My grandfather did but he did not live long after his surgery, only a couple of years.  And of course, I still had to decide if I as able to recover financially after the medical expenses because I had no insurance.  For that matter, could I be treated for cancer without any insurance?  Maybe when it came to treatment, I could not find treatment?  Financial issues were the least of my problems, but nonetheless, they were on the pile of things to consider.

My epiphany in the cemetery made me realize just how hard I had been fighting my whole life, how much energy it took to stay in denial.  And now I was faced with the fact that my life had burned me out.  The light of my spirit had been dimmed and now did I have what it takes to turn this around? Or did I even want to?

As the days passed and the numbness gave way to feelings of calm, I recognized the abuse had already, in a manner of speaking, killed me, the real me anyway.  I no longer had any sense of who I was.  How dead can I be?  The more I reasoned with myself the more other feelings were beginning to evolve.  The stirring in my gut was beginning all over again.  I was on a wild-roller coaster ride of emotions.  I was feeling anger and a strong desire to fight, but fight what?  I was developing an intense resolve toward anger.  And these feelings grew.  The angrier I became the more I felt the desire to fight became, as did my resolve.  In many ways, the recovery process had already begun and again I just didn’t know it.  The process was making up my mind for me.  My awareness was bringing me back from the brink and giving me the wherewithal to make my stand.  I would choose life and take back “me” or at least find me.  Either way, it didn’t matter; I had decided to cast a die that could not be broken.  I would fight once again, only this time I would not fight in the shadows of lies or denial, but in the light of truth.  I would give my demons no place to hide or show them any quarter; I would confront them on my terms this time.  It was time to go home!  I needed my family and I was going to take my family life back.  The ‘thieves in the night” stole them from me and I wanted them back.

2 a slow awakening

 

40 years, was a long time to be lost in the shadows of time, adrift in a world of half-truths, wishful thinking, and denial.  Always struggling to be the person you want to be, mirrored by the truth that never stops reminding you of the person you are.  It is a long time to carry the burdens of abuse, even a longer time to delay true awareness and recovery.

I came to realize, I no longer could run from the lie, which was my life; the time came to stop, turn, and face the hairy monster of my childhood dreams.  Monsters or demons, the labels don’t matter, they have been my constant pursuers, always steering the compass of my life off course.  They were the Ox yoke, and the taskmaster’s whip, who never relented in their pursuit of total dominance.  Their tally was the sum of the damage done to so many others and me.  The realization I had been badly damaged emotional allowed me to see the lie of my life for it was, and what it has done to me.

It was a funny thing, this revelation and how it evolved.  At first, it was an overwhelming sense of truth which I finally had emotionally connected to in a cemetery in Colorado.  It was also a feeling of intense sadness fueled by my new truth.  It was as if a light had been turned on and everything I knew that was lurking in the dark was finally fully lit and in full view exposed by the brilliant light of truth.  I was reminded of my parents’ words as a child.  “There is nothing in the dark that isn’t there when the light is on.”  Oh how true this is.  And in this sense I found profound sadness looking me in the eye, fortified by anger, hurt, betrayal, resentment and hate of myself for letting it happen.  It was a lot to deal with and I had to learn to connect with each of these emotions and wounds if I was going to heal.  I knew from my own lectures to people I cared about; I would have to embrace each one rather than fight them.  I had fought them my entire life and in the end, I only delayed the enviable confrontation all victims must face.  There are many ways to die but being alive and dead on the inside is the worst of the worst.  Only by embracing my demons could I learn to heal from their pain.  It was no different than treating a physical wound.  It would take the same sensitivity and empathy needed to treat the wound of a child.  And it is a wounded child I was dealing with.

The sadness I feel when I realize the harm done to me, or anyone who has been sexually abused, is overwhelming.  I carried these burdens so long that they became part of me, and I became part of them.  It is difficult for me fathom the number of years that could have been so different if I had a normal childhood or if I could have sought help sooner.  How many more things could I have done or achieved if I was not so wrapped up in this stuff?  How many dreams did I lose?  It is so sad to feel the loss of so much of myself, and for what?  Moreover, how many people are out there right now, suffering and waiting for a lifeline to be thrown by anyone?  Waiting for anyone to have the courage to help; waiting for anyone to believe them and do the right thing?  How many kids are being abused as I write these words?  How many kids are watching a caretaker or friend transform before their eyes into the monsters chasing them in their dreams?  This is the saddest of all of it, the kids and adults who are still trapped and there is not a damned thing I can do for them.  Sadder yet, are the many kids who did not have to be abused: abused kids because people choose to turn a blind eye.

Since my fateful day in the cemetery, this is how I have been feeling.  I can see my life with perfect clarity, all the good, and all the bad.  Whatever happened to me it has left me with a keen awareness about my life with a sense of relief and sadness, in ways I have never experienced before.  I believe this is what they call the” Awareness” stage of Recovery.  I may not like what I am learning, but there was a reassuring feeling this is all right.  But forty years!  It is mind-boggling.  What is more amazing is I have no sense of needing to hide or sugarcoat my past, since my experience in the cemetery.  I have a different sense of the shame I carried for so long.  Although I had not formally started my recovery as planned, I was making real progress.

I am not sure why, but I feel I am in a good place, even if it does not feel very good.  It is not all bad because I now have new hope to live a happy and full life.  I have a sense it is no longer a dream or a goal, it is simply something that is going to happen because I will finally put this burden to rest.  While my mood and attitude are somewhat somber, I have a solid level of optimism.  Something I am not used to.

However, it is not just about the cemetery.  After I decided that I would deal with the cancer I went to the doctor, and what a surprise. Oh, what intricate webs we weave!  He did his thing with tests and as it turns out, I didn’t have cancer.  I was totally floored again.  It was relativity minor to correct compared with cancer.  I didn’t know whether to cry for being so stupid for not having an immediate second opinion, or whether I should jump for joy because I was so stupid.  It seems I had been thrown another particular twist of fate.  How much longer would it have taken me to step out of denial, if this cancer scared had not happen?  Would I have ever stepped out of denial?  I doubt it.  It is said, God works in mysterious ways.  Maybe what they say is right.  For the most part, I feel pretty stupid but very grateful.  This new twist sure put everything in a new perspective.  What a frigging ride.  How ironic though, a misdiagnosed cancer revealed the real cancer.

How do I describe how it feels to live so long with blinders on?  To wake up every day, knowing you have a past that never lets go and nobody can know but everyone probably does know and you can’t escape it.  Knowing every time you see the people you love and grew up with, you are not sure what they are thinking about you, if anything.  Is he gay?  Is he a loser, does he care, or do they care?  I knew it would only take one wrong comment to bring the house of cards tumbling down.  I was always on my guard, always uncomfortable around the people I love and cared about.  I was always trying to carry the shame and guilt shrouded in a fake persona of false confidence and a made-up self-image.  It was painful never being able to stay at my mother’s house without feeling anxieties from the past, or sleep in her house because of memories that never go away, or the cryptic physical reaction of fear and anxiety, and always fighting an overwhelming need to run.

So living with blinders is possible because I did.  It took a lot kidding myself, and some very clever defense mechanisms, but nonetheless I did it.  Every tactic I created was tailored to keep the truth suppressed.  To keep me from seeing what I didn’t want to believe.  It was never a consideration to consider anything but total suppression of my past.  I created a world in an emotional cocoon to keep myself from feeling or seeing the truth.  It was a game, a very dangerous and damaging game.

Part of my problem was a trap I fell into when I thought I had finally dealt with my abuse and began patting myself on the back for having triumphed over my abusers.  A trap I had sprung on myself in my early twenties.

It was the early eighties and I was in the middle of re-building my home destroyed by fire.  I had been doing it alone and after nearly two years, I was really burned out.  I was physically exhausted and emotionally drained.  I had insurance so visiting doctors was easy to do.  I visited my medical doctor and told him I was interested in talking to a physiatrist, and he recommended one for me.  I figured it was time to start dealing with my depression.  I explained everything to the physiatrist but I mentioned nothing about the abuse.  After all I was in denial and I hadn’t made the connections between the abuse and depression.  He decided to offer me a new series of antidepressants.  I had no problem with trying antidepressants; also he recommended I begin visiting a therapist.  I had no problem with trying anything at this point.  I just wanted to feel differently.  I never mentioned the abuse to either the doctor or the therapist, because in my mind it was not a problem.  The abuse was just a history event and nothing more.

Things did not go well with my drugs.  The doctor  told me it could take up to eight weeks to feel the benefits of the drug.  In the course of the treatment, the dosages were continually adjusted up and with each increase came a new series of side effects.  The doctor gave me various drugs to help with the side effects.  Unfortunately, I kept getting worse until one night after I had picked up the new prescription refill at a higher dosage.  I took one pill from the bottle; I had already not been feeling right.  However, the doctor kept reassuring me it was normal and not to worry.  Shortly after taking this pill, I laid down and I really began to feel bad.  I was having a very hard time staying conscious or lucid.  I realized I was in trouble.  I didn’t have the phone hooked up and there were no cell phones.  I lived on a dead end dirt road, 1500 feet off the main road and my one neighbor was not home.  I was in a bad way in my mind.  Therefore, I decided I had no choice but to try to get to the main road where someone could see and help me.  I couldn’t walk, I was having a terrible reaction and felt poisoned.  I crawled on my hands and knees to my car.  I pulled myself into the driver’s seat because I realized there was no way I was going to be able to crawl to the main road.  I decided I was going to try to drive to the main road and flag someone down.  This was the last thing I remembered.

The next thing I knew, it is the next day and I was waking up in the Emergency Room at the hospital.  I wasn’t feeling so good.  I had oxygen and IVs along with heart monitors hooked to me.  The doc came over to talk with and asked what I had taken.  I told him I didn’t know what he meant.  He said I had an overdose.  And I asked him, “Of what?”

He said he was hoping l could tell him what it was.  I told him the meds I was taking and said they found my prescription on me and that he didn’t think they caused the problem because there was only one pill taken.  After a lengthy conversation about the drug regimen I was on, he finally realized I was having a reaction to the meds.  It took the better part of the rest of the day for me to convince the doctor to release me so I could go to my doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Before I left the hospital, I asked how I got to the hospital and they told me I drove my car to the Emergency Room door and had to be removed from the car.  That really scared me because I had absolutely no memory of driving my car.  Good thing it was very late at night.

When I was released, I was able to get an appointment with my doctor at Mass General for the next day.

When I walked into my doctor’s office he said, “Man, you look terrible.”  He had me lay down and after I told him the story, he immediately did some blood work.  He had me wait for the results.  It turns out I was 400 % above the maximum allowable blood level for the primary drug I was on.  He explained I was the victim of prescription drug mismanagement.  I asked him, what did he mean?  He explained I should have had weekly blood tests for the drug I was taking.  I was never given one.  He explained about once a month, someone like me walks into his office because of doctors not managing a drug properly.  My body was not metabolizing this drug and therefore it was poisoning me.  He told me I should not have been able to walk into his office.  He also told me he wished he could testify in court against doctors like this but his hospital wouldn’t let him.  He was that upset.  I never mentioned anything about suing anyone; I was in too much shock.  Then he dropped a second bombshell, more good news for me.  He explained I could not just come off these drugs cold turkey.  My body was addicted and I should consider entering into a detox facility with 24 hour monitoring for the first two weeks or however long it took to get my blood levels down to a safe level.  I couldn’t believe it.  What the hell, I finally decided to deal with the depression and this is how it ends up!  I was totally pissed.  I just wanted to punch the psychiatrist in the mouth.  My doctor showed me in his book of pills where it says, patients must have weekly blood levels checked.  The idiot psychiatrist never read the directions.  He could have killed me, and dam near did.  I kept telling this moron I didn’t feel right and he tried to convince me it was normal.  And so began the next chapter in my life out of the abyss yet still in it?

Fortunately, I had excellent insurance with Digital Equipment Corp and I was able to enter into an inpatient detox hospital in New Hampshire.  It was a very good one and not far from home.  I was mad as hell and almost decided I was not going to go through with it.  I would rather have died, than go through the humiliation of any type of addiction detox.  I knew the reasons didn’t matter when it came to people who are cruel and of limited thinking, I would be labeled nuts.  I was not a happy camper.  I was more unhappy when I was told the first couple of days was required in a lockup unit.  This had a major effect on me.  I had been in emotional lock up most of my life in one form or another and this was not a good situation for me.  Nevertheless, I survived and was transferred to a private room.

I was having major withdrawal symptoms that were anything but fun.  But I was determined to get beyond this and start living my life again.  I was required to see a physiatrist once a day but nothing else and I had constant monitoring for the first week or two.  I noticed other patients had a regimen of required group meetings, meditation exercises and a relatively structured program of recovery.  I was exempt from all of this and I was ok with not having to participate in any of it.  I just wanted to get this stuff out of my system and move on to a better life.

A funny thing began to happen during my one hour per day visit with the psychiatrist.  He recognized my defense mechanisms and started to challenge me.  I decided after a couple of weeks of being cleverly probed by my doctor, what the hell, I am here why not talk about the abuse, after all, all I had was time on my hands and I didn’t recognize it as a problem in my life.

However, it was during these sessions when I began to realize how much the abuse was bothering me.  I had not realized I was struggling with any of it.  In my mind, it had ended it and that was that.  He was a good doctor and I started opening up.  After a few more visits, he convinced me to go to his group sessions.  I didn’t want anything to do with talking about any of this with other people especially strangers who were in detox for drug and alcohol addiction.  I didn’t see any connection between me and them and I was too ashamed to want to participate, but I capitulated and agreed to try it.  My blood levels were near normal and I was feeling pretty good so why not kill a little more time in a group session.  I was already bored, so what the hell, why not.

After a week or so of listening to the group’s problems I found myself nearly bursting trying not to open up about what had happened to me.  Finally, one day I did, I couldn’t hold back anymore.  I was in an environment that fostered telling about what had happened, but more importantly, this environment was a direct assault on my denial.  I came to a point where I had little choice but to start telling my story, as the tears were rolling down my face, I explained I was so ashamed for not stopping the abuse and for letting it happened.  Then this lovely woman, who could have been my mother, finally said, “Oh honey you were just a kid and it was not your fault.”  Lights went off in my head.  Here I was expecting people to get sick at what I was telling them, and I knew they would shun me and vilify me, or so I believed.  Instead the first words I hear about it is, ”You were just a kid and it was not your fault.”  I had never considered this.  It was true; I was just a kid and how can a kid stand up to an adult.  Before long most of the group was chiming in and it was all the same, nothing but support and empathy and a few had their own abuses they had to deal with.  I couldn’t stop crying for several hours, alone in my room of course.  It was a similar feeling to the one at the cemetery.  Sad but relieved, and a little bewildered.

I left detox after a 60 day stay, a new person and feeling liberated, different, better, but somewhat humiliated.  I never believed I would end up in any detox hospital for any reason and it was hard for me to accept I was not a superman able to handle anything.Talk about vanity, I guess I had it in spades.  I was human and no more than that.  And I reasoned to myself that I was not there for alcohol, illegal drugs or prescription drug abuse, so I considered my situation different than the others.  I was there because of the negligence of an incompetent doctor.

Leaving detox was a good thing and a positive step but there was no follow-up counseling.  I was done with counselors and meds, nor was any follow-up counseling recommended.  But here was the trap.  I fooled myself into believing I had dealt with the abuse and no more needed to be done.  This is one of the major reasons I spent 40 years running from the wounds and truth, rather than embracing the truth and healing from the wounds.  Over the years, I had been able to open up and discuss the fact that I had been abused but I never conceded the damage or recognized it.  It was there, it was real, and I was still trying to keep it buried, unconnected to it.  I was proud of myself for being able to talk about the abuse, and on more than one occasion, I considered giving myself a pat on the back for taking charge of the situation and finally dealing with the abuse.  I didn’t understand all I had done was publicly acknowledge the abuse and I didn’t have a clue, or want a clue, that much more work needed to be done.  My openness in group therapy was only a beginning and I really dropped the ball by not following up.  At the time I felt so good but I didn’t’ have a clue of what was to come.  The simple fact of the matter was, I felt different and better for a while, but all the same feelings of, anxiety and depression would creep in again.  I would keep myself busy, work through the episodes, and move on, not realizing each time I did this only depleted my energy reserves and brought me closer to the ultimate showdown, still years away.

Beyond rehab, I was just trying to forget everything, the fire, losing the house I spent two years re-building, the abuse, and trying to prove to the world I was not gay or crazy.  I had no desires to be with men and I was definitely not attracted to men, however my doubts about my sexuality were deeply instilled because I had been involved with men during my teens.  I put a good deal of time into trying to forget.  It seemed the harder I tried not to think about things, the more I would think about my past.  There has rarely been a time when I am not reminded of how I felt during those dark years.  It was a high price to pay.  I focused a lot of my time on my work.  I worked in high tech and have had some of the most fulfilling jobs any person could hope for.  As it turned out, I have high natural aptitude for design and all things technical.  My mother can attest to this with all the lamps I took apart as a kid.  As a kid I was always trying to fix something or build something.

Trying to prove to the world I liked women, became a major focus during my twenties.  I knew but did anyone else?  It wasn’t that I was just trying to prove something, I really liked dating women.  And with each woman the memories of abuse and doubts would fade a little more.  Most of my relationships were healthy ones back then.  Women my own age and I became very good in bed, or so I have been told many times.  One of my driving forces was to make sure I was completely unselfish and accommodating in bed.  I wanted sex to be great for my partner, and not like it was for me as a teenager.  I am a very accommodating lover.  I read books on lovemaking and I applied everything I learned.  But I was struggling with self-image because I had so much male sex in my teens.  I guess I was overcompensating trying to make sure there was no doubt I was straight.

Sex wasn’t all roses though.  I still had a very difficult time with the guilt I always felt about sex.  Whenever I climaxed I would have a flood of guilt.  This has been a direct result of how I first felt about sex and how it made me feel during my abuse years, and of course, there was the religious stuff that always weighed on me.  And climaxing always took time.  Even today, I am so conditioned that I still have a twinge of guilt after sex and rarely do I let myself climax.

It is funny, after I graduated high school I seriously considered becoming a priest, something I had wanted since I was a kid.  Part of me wanted to be a priest and the other part of me believed I wouldn’t have to have sex.  Ignorance is bliss.  But I didn’t think God wanted much to do with me and therefore I never followed through on it.  An incident with a priest when I was fifteen, didn’t help much either.  In time, I recovered from the trauma of the priest episode and I became a little wiser and found my way back to God.  I have never left Jesus again or more to the point, He has never left me.

I seemed to be liked by most of the women I dated but I had a very difficult time with the, ”I love you” stuff.  I just could not believe it, because pretty much everyone I had feelings for ended up failing me and I didn’t believe I was worthy of love.  I had a difficult time reconciling my need and want for love with a total distrust of anyone using the word love.  To solve this problem, I convinced myself: women only use the word as part of a game to help them feel wanted or part of something.  So I minimized the word love but not the emotions of love, I loved being in love the few times I have been.  Part of me really wanted to be loved, most of the time and in a healthy relationship, but it scared the hell out me and it took a long time for the right woman to come along.  Keeping in mind, my dating did not start until I was in my twenties and I was just learning how to relate to a woman in this type of relationship.  And of course, there was the never-ending fear that my past would be openly exposed.  It was not something I could deal with.  I lived my life in fear.  I was always trying to cover my past and ignore it.  My past was not a fun way to grow up.  I wish it were different.

I was living the lie every day and I was blind to it.  I refused to listen to my feelings and I learned ignore them.  Talk about setting yourself up for a fall; I can’t think of a better way!  I always tried to convince myself to quit letting the abuse bother me, but it didn’t  work.  All I did was numb myself and tricked myself into believing there was no problem.  I was trying to separate from a big part of myself:  I was living in a make-believe-world of “there is no problem.”  No one can do this and make things better for themselves.  The smarter choice would have been to ask myself how much more of myself was I willing to give to the abuse.  I had wished I could have thought to ask this question, when I was eight or eleven or anytime sooner than I did.

In time I quit thinking about what I should have done, could have done, or should not have done, because I realized things are what they are and for whatever reason or reasons, I am, who I am, and my life has been what it was.  This is going to have to do.  And I would re-enforce this thinking by always minimizing what had happened to me.  I tried to convince myself, how so many others had it worse.  Or I reminded myself of the little children living in real suffering like, hunger, fear, homelessness, war, and disease.  I made myself feel ashamed for feeling anything bad about what happened to me.  For a time I had convinced myself I was the lucky one.  Telling myself, God gave you the strength to survive and get yourself out of it, now let it go; it is in the past.

It was an ineffective game for many years.  Unfortunately, whenever you deny yourself in this way you create a frame of mind that fertilizes the roots of denial.  If I was going to recover, I had no choice but to accept the fact, I had created a world of false truths, and I would have to question how I think about myself.  Any abuse is bad, and not recognizing the real dangers with this type of thinking, is devastating.  It is true many others have had it worse than me in their own ways.  However, pain and suffering are relative to each of us.  If you have been abused, you are suffering, if you have not recovered.  It became imperative for me to accept my suffering as equal to anyone’s and not allow myself to minimize it or make it any bigger than it was.  The trick is to understand where the middle ground was and work towards it as a goal.  Believing people had it worse than I did doesn’t make my trauma any less damaging or bearable for me.  To minimize what happened only robbed me of any true recovery for a long time.

For most of my twenties, I was not taking any medication except pot.  I struggled with periods of depression.  Sometimes, if I was alone or things were going badly in my life the depression was bad.  I always managed because I had become so used to depression over the years that I was able to function at the required level but no more than what was needed for work or other personal requirements.  What was difficult for me to understand was, I was in a constant state of depression.  I just had different levels of functioning.  When I was functioning well, I felt relatively happy.  I had become so used to the depression that I didn’t recognize the low level depression anymore.  I just kept up the good face as best I could and tried not to think about it.  And the depression was not the worst of it.  The anxiety, which I never understood until a few years ago, was unbearable.  For the most part, I was in a constant state of anxiety.  And again, I had different levels of attacks, along with different levels of chronic anxiety and PTSD.  I did not understand why, because I never felt I had anything to be anxious or depressed about.  These emotions would drive me nuts at times.  I would keep asking myself, why I am feeling this way.  Why are my nerves so screwed up?  I could not make sense of it but I lived with it every day in one form or another and to one degree or another.

In my teens, while I was being abused, I had anxiety and depression but that made sense to me because there was a reason.  It used to piss me off so much that I would get angry at myself and just keep on trying to convince myself how great things were.  With each episode of depression and anxiety, I felt lost and sad.  I didn’t understand anxiety was a fear driven response of some sort.  I didn’t understand its triggers, and they are many.  With the aid of hindsight, there were clearly many indicators of pure denial and other indicators of suppressed anger.  I rarely became outwardly mad or angry.  I had good reasons not to.  I am a big person and to show any kind of anger can be very intimating for people around me.

My lifestyle and early development did not give me the tools to deal with anger.  So I simply buried it.  Not developing a healthy means of dealing with anger led to other problems.  The problem was, there were times when I did get mad, and I would break something of my own, punch a wall, or just really go off on someone verbally.  It wasn’t often, about every year or two.  But it really bothered me, having this much rage inside and I didn’t know where, or want to know, where it was coming from.  I was grateful I was never violent toward any person.  Between my parents being very strict andexpressing anger was seriously suppressed by my family and abusers.  I was reluctant and probably incapable of expressing anger in a healthy way.  Of course, we all know what happens to suppressed anger.  It does not stay suppressed just unidentified.  It becomes a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.  Suppressed anger contributes to depression and anxiety which can become a way of life, where a person learns to live and function with it.  This was me.  The trick is to know when there is suppressed anger.

As to dating, I was always with one girl at a time and I have never cheated.  I had opportunities but it was not me, in fact, I loathed anyone who did cheat.  Too many people in my past were low life’s and I didn’t want to hurt my partner or give my partner a reason to distrust me.  I needed to be better to them than people were to me in the past.  I am rather proud of this.  It was important for me to do the right thing and not hurt anyone.

As I said, sex was not always fun, because there were times when I had a difficult time responding spontaneously.  It was usually the first time with a woman.  Most of the time it was not a problem, except with one woman, who I still love dearly today and have not seen or heard from since the 1990s.

Ruth was my first love.  I met her at my first job.  But she was always involved with the ”tough guy” type.  I guess she liked the bad boys back then.  In time, we became very good friends and of course, I couldn’t do enough for her.  I was twenty or so and she was nineteen.  To this day, she was the best kisser I have ever known and she is very attractive.  When it came time to be intimate, I just could not respond.  I never figured out why.  But it was an indication of some sexual dysfunction on my part.  At the time I didn’t think it was my fault because I decided she needed to be more involved in pre-heating the oven so to speak.  Of course, it was not her fault at any level.

In time, I recognized my inability to physically respond to Ruth, as some sort of subconscious reaction to her being the first woman I knew beyond the abuse.  When I met her, I was still living at Ernie and Bette’s home.  I really miss Ruth.  She is a great person.  Our last attempt at having an intimate relationship was in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  I failed miserably.  It ended our relationship because I decided I had enough with her boos.  I was just making another excuse to keep the focus off me.  She deserved better than that.  Ruth will always be special to me.  And she was a great friend and has a great heart.  We were friends for many years.

I believe what was really happening, when it came to Ruth was I was struggling with very real feelings of love, intimacy and trust, and making the two connect into actually loving someone.  The abuse had separated the two from me and until recovery  I was still struggle with this.  Recovery has shown me I was not making good emotional connections between sex and love.  This was another aspect of the abuse which bothered me, but not so much as I was willing to do much about it at the time and I probably could not articulate it as well as I can now.  At the time I was still in denial, and denial will always make up your mind for you, just like the abusers did.  I did go to a counselor for a short time but all he wanted to do was teach me how visualize making love to Ruth and becoming aroused.  He made me very uncomfortable and I decided I could watch an 8mm movie and accomplish the same thing and not cost as much.  It was sad because I always wanted a life with Ruth but I was not ready.  I didn’t know who I was and I was struggling with an identity crisis.  I hope she has found happiness.

During my twenties there were signs of acting out that I did not recognize.  There were times when I was attracted to streetwalkers.  I never picked one up but if I happened to see one, I would always have a fantasy about her.  I think the only reason I didn’t was the risk was too high and I couldn’t deal with the guilt.  And I have always been scared to death of getting a disease.  Other forms of acting were porno movies.  I watched them a lot and found them very intriguing when I was stoned.  Other times, I found myself flirting and being suggestive in a funny ways, it seemed to be the thing to do in the seventies and eighties, in fact, women rarely had a problem being the same way with me.  However, one time, while stoned I showed inappropriate affection by kissing on the lips.  This really bothered me and it was another indication of acting out.  I also participated in various adult games, like bumps and grinds, shooters, and strip poker.  Sex was everywhere, as it had been most of my life.  And there was always pot and booze.  I was never a heavy drinker but when I wanted to, I could keep pace with the best of them.  I have only been drunk three times in my life, and every time, I wanted to be drunk.

I met my wife when I was thirty, and she was the best thing to ever happen to me.  All the partying stopped and I had no problem stopping it.  I was never happier than my years with my wife.  I have never known a level of wholeness and true love, since Theresa.  She was everything to me.  For the first time in my life, I felt I was someone special.  Theresa was a “10” in so many ways.  She is seven years older than I but she always looked ten years younger than she is.  What an incredible woman!

All my abuse stuff was really put on the back burner after meeting Theresa, not that I ever really had the abuse on the stove.  My entire focus was Theresa and making her happy.  However, it was tough having to be on the outside with her kids.  Kelly was 15 and Mike was 17 when we first met.  But through all the problems, I would do it again in a heartbeat, my acting out cost us our marriage.

It became apparent over time, whenever things became stressful in my marriage I would start acting out again.  I didn’t have a clue why or that it was called acting out.  When I acted out, I always felt guilty and confused.  It time, I found myself calling chat lines, these were the first social networks that ranged from online sex to just chatting.  They were not readily accepted by society as a whole and you really didn’t want to tell anyone you were one of the lonely souls out there.  I was married but I felt lonely and this made no sense to me.  Anytime I called these Chat lines, I became really pissed at myself.  I kept telling myself this was not me and it is wrong.  Why the hell am I calling and chatting with total strangers?  I could see if it was about sex but I had no interest in phone sex.  I just wanted to talk.

In time, I explored making a business out of this new medium.  After a while, I went to counseling to try to figure out what was going on, and I didn’t want Theresa to know about any of it.  This made me feel more guilty.  While my time on the chat lines was a matter of weeks, it was a clear indication of problems.  My counselor knew me because he was our couple’s counselor.  Theresa and I had been seeing him regarding our relationship with her kids.  My counselor started probing about my past, I did tell him I was abused and that I had it under control.  He was very good at getting me to talk.  I did not see the sense in it at the time but he made me realize I had to start dealing with the abuse on a different level.  I really didn’t want to believe him.  Of course, he was right and when Theresa and I separated for the first time, what he said really hit home.

The reasons for our separation are not as simple as I am about to explain but it was the trigger for our separation.  At the time, and for the better part of a year, Theresa was having all kinds of emotional swings.  I suspected she was going through menopause.  It was at an early age and I wasn’t really sure.  Theresa was extremely concerned about getting older; she had extreme vanity about it.  So much so, she went to two plastic surgeons and neither would work on her.  They told her she was blessed and she was.  For a year, I could not get her to go to her doctor and be checked out.  She didn’t want to hear about menapause at any level.  She would not deal with the possibility that she had reached menopause.

My first separation was a complete surprise and shock.  One night, I came home at about 11:00 and Theresa was at the door, waiting for me.  She stood there telling me to leave and that “It’s over.”  I thought she was kidding.  When I asked her why, she simply said, “Leave, it is over.”  This encounter with Theresa was weird.  She said I did nothing wrong and kept repeating, “It is over.”  She seemed to be having some sort of episode because I didn’t know the person I was talking to.  She looked like Theresa but she had a completely different personality than earlier that day; it was scary.  I had no choice but to leave.  I went to a hotel.  I thought it would be cleared up the next day.  But that was not going to happen.

As the days went by Theresa would not give me a reason for her wanting a divorce.  It started to hit home, we might be getting divorced.  She hired a lawyer and all the papers said was irreconcilable differences.  I began to have very serious emotional and physical reactions to all of this.  I didn’t know what the hell was happening to my body.  It was the most horrible feelings and physical reactions I had ever experienced.  My mind was sharp but I was in total overload emotionally and physically.  I was seeing my medical doctor through all of this and he was in awe at what was happening to me.  He prescribed Xanax but it didn’t help.  He told me I was going through sort of serious Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, although he didn’t understand why, and I didn’t understand what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was.

It once again started to hit home with me.  The abuse must be affecting me at some level.  This could not be all about the divorce and not seeing Theresa.

Physically, there was not one square inch of my body that did not hurt or any nerves that were not firing impulses constantly.  My skin was crawling persistently.  I lost a huge amount of weight and developed a stutter and facial twitches.  Theresa proceeded with a lawyer and papers, none of which I would have anything to do with and she refused to talk with me.  My physical and emotional condition was in such a state that I didn’t think I could survive a divorce proceeding, and I didn’t get married in a court and I sure as hell was not going to participate in getting divorced in one.  And I am a Catholic and that was a real problem.  I didn’t have time to focus on my thinking about the abuse and that it may be causing me so much distress.  I was in pure survival mode.

PTSD is a horrible disorder to live with.  It is a real hell and unless you have experienced it, you cannot relate.  The episodes reminded me of how I felt in my teens but this was much more severe.  Those inner demons were alive and well, and they sure as hell were raising their ugly head.

I was so stressed out during the beginning of this that one day I caused an automobile accident by making a left hand turn in front of an oncoming vehicle.  My pick-up was wrecked but there were no serious injuries.  I could still drive the vehicle but something weird happened.  I remember very little about the accident.

I remember the police officer knocking on my hotel room door and giving me my license back.  I forgot to take it from him and the accident happened at the entrance to the motel.  He told me I had dinged my ribs up pretty good and wanted to take me to the hospital.  I told him no thanks.  I just didn’t care about much anymore.

What happened next was weird.  For three days, I was  in total amnesia.  It was the fourth day before I started coming around and my family and friends were telling me I was really acting angry and said some very inappropriate things and hurtful things to several people, including some kids and neighbors.  I didn’t have any memory of the previous three days.  I thought I was losing my mind.  I guess the accident put my stress level to the breaking point.  I don’t know half of what I said because my family would not tell me, and they were more concerned about what was happening to me than what I had said.  Here I was driving around having conversations and interactions with people for three days and I could not, still don’t remember one minute of it.  I considered this serious and I was having all I wanted of this crap.  I decided I was going to give up on the marriage and get myself straightened out and on my feet.  Even today, emotionally I have still not let go of my love for Theresa and it took years for me to let her go after we divorced.  She was my soul mate.  But at that moment, I decided I had to try to move on or this was going to kill me.  To this end, I made the mistake of calling Theresa and trying to talk for a few minutes.  She was very cruel with me again and I reacted badly.  I had started on an antidepressants shortly after we separated and they were helping.  But when Theresa totally rejected me again, as she did, I lost it.  I decide I was going to get very drunk, something I had only done twice before; in fact, I rarely drank, much to the surprise of my family.

In the course of this binge, I managed to accidentally overdose myself on antidepressants.  I was poisoned and in a very bad way.  For two days I was on the floor of the hotel and it wasn’t until a friend of mine managed to get the door open and find me conscious but out of it, in and out of lucidity.  I wouldn’t let her call an ambulance, that was all I needed and I was not going to deal with the embarrassments of my stupidity.  I couldn’t believe what I had done.  I was so pissed at myself.  How could I do that to Theresa or my family, especially my parents?  And again I didn’t remember doing it.  All I could remember was a couple of times not being able to move and trying to call for help on the phone.  At a point, I managed to crawl on my stomach with great distress to the bathtub.  I wanted to put myself under a cold shower.  All I managed to do was raise myself-up on my arms only to have them give out and crack my head open on the tub.  I don’t know how long I laid there but it had to be several hours.

In a few days, I had recovered and I was still pissed at myself; I’d had had enough.  I would write letters to Theresa but nothing else.  It was time for me to move on.  I managed to work and ultimately I moved in with my sister’s family, and again I found myself seeking comfort with the chat lines.  Again, I was bothered by my behavior; I didn’t understand my need for chat lines.  Although, in this case I know it was partly due to being very lonely, rejected and isolated.

Theresa and I were separated for three months and I finally decided all the love letters and flowers were not going to get her to talk with me or change her mind about the divorce.  But this was Theresa all the way.  She simply has never been able to deal with conflict.  I decided if I couldn’t say good-bye to her in person then I would send her a videotape saying good-bye.  It was ironic.  I was finally moving on and I sent her a video telling her so.  What does she do?  She calls me on the phone, crying and saying how much she loves me and does not want a divorce.  Of course, I was elated!  And I was in shock, and probably a dozen other feelings.

Prior to this happening, I had told Theresa in a few different letters she should go and get her hormone levels checked.  I had sent her a couple of books on the subject of menopause and of course, none of this was what she wanted to hear.  During this separation, I was determined to figure out what the hell had happened in our marriage.  I thought I was a great husband and good listener.  So I hit the books and read everything I could find on marriage and “the change of life.”  I learned a lot about both.  In time, Theresa did read the books on menopause and I believed they are what changed her mind.  After a couple of meetings, we agreed to go to counseling and she decided to get her hormones checked.

Her doctor told her she had the lowest level of hormones he had seen in twenty years.  She went on hormone treatment and it was an amazing change in her in a matter of a couple of weeks.  She was back to her old-self and we were back together after some more couple’s therapy.  Things were going great for the next several years until I screwed things up permanently.  Time has stood still for me when it comes to my feelings for Theresa.  It was a tragedy losing her.

It was my separation from Theresa and my subsequent discovery of PSTD that really made me start thinking more about the abuse.  How much had it really affected me?  Unfortunately, I was so wrapped up in making our marriage work that once again, I put the abuse on the back burner and for whatever reason it was not addressed.  I was just so happy being back with Theresa.  But I was beginning to suspect there was a lot more to my abuse than I was willing to admit.

This really hit home on Christmas night 1994, a night never to be forgotten.  I was angry with Theresa for not letting me give my mother $200.00 so she could buy some things for Christmas.  In fact, I was pretty pissed.  So like an idiot I decide to have a couple drinks to help suppress my anger.  I don’t know if having a couple of drinks made any difference in my behavior or not, the bottle of vodka had been sitting on the shelf for almost a year and I decided it was time to open it.  I had two drinks after which I was in the downstairs office when I got a phone call, another prank phone call.  We had been getting them regularly lately and we didn’t understand why.  We were getting them on both our private line and office phone.  This time I didn’t hang up and I engaged the woman on the phone who was definitely baiting me with lewd talk.  I was not thinking about anything other than it was somewhat funny and I wanted to know who it was.  At first I thought it was a friend pulling a prank on me, and to this day I have my suspicions.  Anyway, Theresa was listening at the door of my office.  My conversation lasted two possibly three minutes.  The only thing I remember saying that was lewd was, yes I liked big boobs and with a laugh.  I couldn’t continue the conversation and I told the caller the calls were getting old and I was happily married and to please stop the calls.  I don’t know if it was the same person who had been calling, but I know one of the callers was a guy and other was a women.  I had believed it was Theresa’s ex family who had been harassing us.  We had had similar problems in the past, the only difference was when it was her ex-husband’s family, and they were open about it.

When I left the office, I went upstairs and I was laughing.  I was about to tell Theresa about the phone call, when I saw the totally devastated look in her eyes.  All she said was, “I want a divorce,” no conversation, no nothing.

I left that night and since then Theresa has not had one personal conversation with me.  The one brief encounter we had was legal stuff and as of today, she has not had one conversation with me.  She will not give me one picture of our wedding or the hundreds of pictures and videos that belonged to me.  I walked away with a bag of clothes and Theresa has refused to give me anything that belonged to me.  I had a lawyer for a very brief time.  But I decided I was not going to participate in the legal aspects of the divorce.  If she wanted to divorce me then she would have to do it on her own.  I not only could not endure anything else with the divorce, I could not bring myself to do it.  And I was very conflicted about the role of my faith in this.  I was told flat out divorce was forbidden in the Catholic Church and they were right, unless there were very extenuating circumstances.  So I took the easy way out and just did not participate in the legal aspects of my divorce.  I just didn’t have it in me to do so.

Of course, in hindsight the phone call was just a bunch of bull, I was acting out.  I saw an opportunity and I took it.  Then I tried to distort the truth to fit my needed story, none of which I was realizing I was doing until recovery entered my life.  In hindsight, the facts are clear; I should have just hung up the phone.  I played a game that ended up hurting the most important person in my life.  Realizing Theresa believed I was having an affair, I started to hate sex again.  How much more trouble was this crap going to get me in?  When was I going to do something about it?  How much more did I have to lose?  Not much because there was not much more to lose.

I didn’t date or have sex for almost four years after our divorce.  When I did, I had a rough time of it.  I was still very much in love with Theresa.  I missed her more than I can explain and I didn’t want anyone else in my life.  At some point, I decided I was going to apply for an annulment with the Catholic Church and then just date casually.  After I received my annulment from the church I did start dating casuallywhich worked out pretty well for a while.  I only dated one woman at a time but they knew up front that I had no interest in anything serious.  Dating just for fun and sex was something I had not done since my twenties.  It was not without its problems, but it was good.  All the way up to the point when I realized just how empty and mechanical having casual sex was.

I have always considered sex a challenge, an art and a thing of beauty.  How good could I make my partner feel?  I was always the accommodating type, especially in bed.  I guess I had good training.  Until then the only person I had ever made an emotional connection to with sex was Theresa.  With other partners I was emotionally connected but not with sex.  I wonder if I would ever be given a second chance at this type of love, real love, in the heart genuine love.  It was wonderful.

I left my marriage knowing I had things to work on.  I still didn’t care too much about it because I wasn’t really living.  I was just getting by.  I figured I would be dead in a matter of years and so it didn’t matter how I lived my life.  I pretended to be angry at Theresa but I didn’t blame her.  Trust was an absolute with Theresa and any infraction meant a divorce.  So I screwed up and we paid.  It wasn’t fair to her and for the longest time I wouldn’t see where I was responsible.  I had convinced myself Theresa went way over the top because of a prank phone call and at the time, from my point of view, our marriage was worth more than a damphone call, but not for Theresa I guess.  I could not face the truth that I made a bad choice that cost so much.  Over time, I came to take full responsibility, which was more a result of my epiphany in the cemetery than anything else was.  For Theresa and me, it was just too late.  I needed to step out of denial many years before and I didn’t, and she needed to also and she never has.  But  she deserves to be happy which as of this book; well I am told she has had a very rough time in relationships and has never married again.

One of the biggest problems I had in my marriage was the insecurity I always felt.  My own low self-esteem constantly made me feel insecure in our relationship.  I was always worried we were going to break up.  I didn’t discuss it too often with Theresa but it worried me.  Knowing Theresa was a no nonsense type person tended to make me walk on egg shells for the first few years of the marriage and of course the separation didn’t  help.

Have you ever woke up one morning and looked in the mirror only to see the lie your life has been?  To realize you really do not know the person staring back at you.  To really sense the damage that was done to you by so many.  And to realize you have no energy left to continue the lie and lack the courage or wisdom to confront it.  It made me realize the “shadow beliefs” of my life need to be brought into the light.  This is one of the many ways I felt about myself after my fate day in the cemetery of truth, as I have come to know that place.

For many of us, sexual child abuse is a prison with no way out.  It keeps us locked inside of ourselves, in fear of life and all it brings.  I have lived most of my life in shame, without true dignity and a confused sense of self.  I tried to hide by being a pot head.  Since my divorce, I have been in a few relationships, as I am now.  All ended in disaster with the exception of my current partner.  But they have all been of the same nature.  After my wife and except my current partner, my partners have all been heavy drinkers with other substances abuse issues, usually pot.  I never dated anyone who did hard drugs; I was smart enough not to get involved with these types of relationships.  I have cared deeply for my partners only to allow them to become totally dependent on me for money.  And for whatever reason they would not work or could not work because they could not deal with their own issues.  Don’t get me wrong, my girlfriends were all good people who had lived hard lives or had problems beyond their control and many problems that they could do something about, but wouldn’t.  But, giving my future away is just another cycle that I have continued since my very first job, which is one of the many reasons I have nothing to show for my life at fifty three.  Some will call me a generous person, many will call me stupid.  Me?  Well, I guess a wise man would know to take care of one’s self first and prudently take care of others second.  I was driven by emotions, not common sense, and a clandestine need to punish myself, something I only figured-out through recovery.  It turns out I had many self-destructive behaviors.  Not the least of which were dysfunctional relationships.

I left Colorado in 2001, partly, to reconnect with my family and to leave a disastrous relationship with my fiancé.  It was sad that all my relationships ended the same way with me estranged from them and asking myself why I continue to do this to myself.  I had believed I was helping them to overcome their problems by being the best boyfriend I could be.  As most people know with some years of wisdom behind them, I was on a fool’s errand.  I have come to believe I was trying to fill emotional voids in my life that have been empty since I was eight years old.  All my helping made me the world’s greatest enabler.  Why?  The fact is being an enabler is really being a “disabler.”  We don’t help those we think we are helping.  All we do is give them an easy excuse not to take responsibility for themselves.  A real friend would not do that.  I have taken on too many responsibilities that were not mine and in doing so prevented myself from moving in a positive direction.  This must be some sort of self-destructive behavior.  If it isn’t then it should be.

As children we are molded by our environment; I ask you, if your life as child was riddled with emotional, spiritual, and psychological contradictions, how do you think your emotional health would be today?  For me, it has taken forty years to accept that damage was done, and how much the wounds have affected everything in my life and above all, how much the damage has cost me, and my soul mate.

I cannot in good conscience say my motivation for writing this book is as unselfish or as honorable as simply educating and making people aware.  I have been contemplating this book for the last five years.  Well before I started my recovery, I procrastinated, because I could not clarify a motive or what I wanted from this book.  In the beginning stages of my recovery, I was in too much overload and emotional confusion about my life, making it difficult get anything done beyond journals and research.  Now I know that this “thing” has taken the first half of my life and I will not let it define the second half of my life.  I have stopped running and I am facing whatever comes of this with honor, courage, and dignity.  And through recovery I found a motive and purpose for writing this book.  It would be my guiding light in my recovery process.

I have lived a hard life in many ways but I love life and I never lose sight of that love.  It is simply a time to start making my life instead of my past molding my future.  The abusers win no more.  I want to heal and I am compelled to write this book in the spirit of bringing me back or more to the point bring to where I belong emotionally, and intellectua1ly.  To take myself back through my life to examine the events and connect the dots between the abuses and understand the causes and effects as they relate to my choices in life.

Even as I write these first pages, I can sense the relief and excitement about how I feel about this dangerous, frightening but hopeful trek I have put myself on.  With each word, I feel my resolve increase and confidence grow.  It simply feels like I am doing the right thing.  If writing about my life’s experiences helps me heal or makes a parent aware of the signs of abuse, or gives comfort to a survivor or victim, then damn the critics.  Because helping one child avoid the life I have lived will make all that I have endured worth it.

Recovery became a plethora of emotions just sweeping me along.  What I found disturbing was my lack of anger.  Let me be clear, I am very angry and I am not sure why.  I know it is there but I also know I am not connected to it.  A strange thing to say I know.  But understanding the real source of the anger is more important than just accepting I have discovered I am angry.  I know I am partly angry because I lived in denial for so many years, and now my life is half over and I have very little or nothing to show for it.  I have educated myself enough to believe I have some very deep issues that I am deeply angry about and it was unsettling understanding there was anger that I was not connected to.

I have always wanted to make a difference in someone’s life and I have yet to see this for myself.  Even though others have been openly honest about my caring and nurturing nature and willingness to be generous to a fault, I can’t see where I have made a difference for anyone.  The fact is I love helping people.  The only question is why?  I was brought up Catholic and was taught very high moral and ethical standards by my parents.  As a kid, I was always wanting and willing to help most anyone.  It always made me feel good.  Now I wonder if it was some manner of emotional bartering for affection and acceptance.  Did I feel emotionally deprived?  How could that be?  I have a huge family.  Maybe I wanted to be known as the nice kid rather than the bad kid I believed myself to be.  Is my good nature a result of over-compensating for the abuse or is it because it is who I am?  This is one of many questions I have asked myself a hundred times in the past few years.  And there were many more questions to be asked.

I have concluded the only way to heal is to take myself back through time.  Writing this book is one vehicle to make that happen.  It is my intent to give you an inside glimpse at the anatomy of abuse from the point of view of a victim and survivor, while recovering.  I am not a writer, social worker or anyone
who can speak from a medical or psychological basis.  I am simply a guy who has lived this life the best way I knew how.  Every day I feel the effects of the psychological conditioning from abuse and it takes a constant vigilance of self-monitoring and questioning everything I am feeling or wondering to maintain a level of control.  I am tired of this millstone of abuse chained around my neck that has held me back and prevented me from enjoying life to its fullest.  Now I have a goal to live to one-hundred-years-old and I want my life to count for something.  To do that I have to leave the past where it belongs; this is obvious.  The problem is how to reprogram the many “shadow beliefs” instilled in me starting at eight-years-old, through my teen years and into my early twenties.  I can’t undo the abuse or change the past.  I can only change me and how I deal with the impact of such horrendous abuse.

I have been in counseling on and off over the years and have from time to time used various medications from anti-depressants to sedatives and pot.  None of these are the answer, they were only a means to suppress the effects of abuse and or numb its physical symptoms.  It was unfortunate I was not in counseling for the abuse.  Had I been, the medications would have been great while working on the causes of my symptoms rather than using the med’s as a band-aide.  This is the real value of meds, to be used while the root causes are being worked through.  I never spent any real time in counseling for abuse but I intend to.  Yes, I brought it up from time to time but I always presented it to the counselors as something that was not a problem.

In short, all the counseling was good to an extent; I always managed to take something from  it that was useful.  After forty years I am pretty worn down but cautiously optimistic.  Since my divorce, I have been waiting for God, simply getting by and totally stalled in a cesspool of emotional turmoil, chaos, and self-destructive behavior.  I have lost my patience with God and have decided if He is not willing to take me home, then it is time for me to take control.  Although there have been times when I have considered helping God, my very strong spiritual beliefs (for which I am deeply grateful to my parents) have saved my life and have, for the most part, prevented me from acting on these dark impulses.

So I am left with two choices, change my life totally and become the person that I believe I am, or simply continue as I have, which may end in a tragic disaster.  So this is my new beginning, a commitment to me to change my life and make it what I want.  Uninfluenced by the pathetic people who affected the outcome of my life to such a sad degree!  Yet, in many ways, I consider my life to be a good one, full of enrichment, experiences, and in my own way, I have succeeded as a person.  The measure of this is, I am still here, still fighting and not giving up.  It is now time for me to fight by my rules and not let myself be owned by my inner enemies.  I have lived a life of duality not knowing which person I was, the victim or the survivor as well as other dualities.  Inner conflicts that will become more evident as these chapters develop.

One sense of duality was, I am always struggling with what my family really thinks of me, and not understanding why I am estranged from them.  Do they see me as a gay person, straight or with shame or disdain?  Or do they see me as I see myself, a loving but distant brother, who really wants to be close to them.  I understand the logistics of why things were as they were; I just do not understand why I have put myself in self-exile from them.  They are a great family, even with all their faults they are good people and I miss them and my mother so much.  I claim to keep myself in exile because, as I have said to them many times, I feel I am doing them a favor.  I guess I feel unworthy of them, and I think I have convinced myself I am protecting them and probably myself as well.

I have no room in my heart for hate or anger towards any of the people who abused me or anyone for that matter.  At least not yet, recovery may prove this a little different than I presume now.  In fact, I feel sorry for most of them because all of them probably have done no better dealing with themselves than I have with myself.  For sure, there are no winners in issues of this nature.  I may have lost many battles to abuse but the war is won by rising above the abuse and allowing one’s self to heal.  We win by defeating the abusers on our own terms and on neutral ground.   And when a victim realizes the war is winnable, nothing can then stop it from happening.

To this end I spent many nights in my motel room, where I have been by choice for the last 1.5 years, pondering why my life has been as it has.  Why is my life one of continued self-destructive behavior?  In two days I start back to work at a new company.  I ponder why I just walked away from my dream job a few weeks ago as an engineering manager at a very good company.  I loved the job and position but it was overly demanding.  I worked constantly and made constant compromises in my personal life so I would be sure to succeed at this job.  In the end I definitely was burned out; something I have come to realize is a definite pattern in my life.  Working 60 to 70 hours every week on salary will do that to a person.  I am sitting here in awe that I have managed to destroy another positive development in my life.  Changing the patterns of one’s life is a demanding and treacherous endeavor for someone with my history.

I am a 53 year old man whose life has not been grounded since my divorce, and rarely before I was married, and I find myself in the same cycles of self-destructive behavior.  Always followed by the agony of starting over, only to overcome again, move on, rebuild, and then to watch it all fall apart again, a cycle that never seems to end.  I wanted to retire from my last job and I managed to screw it up again.  It was my ticket to buying a home, being grounded in my personal life, and really beginning to get my life together.  And do it in a way I always was convincing myself I was trying to do.  The saddest part of it is it really does not bother me as much as it would have not too long ago.  The simple fact of the matter is I have learned why I am self-destructive.  I know for the most part why my life has been as it has.   Over the last few years, I have experienced an overabundance of self-awareness, which has shaken me to my very bones, to the essence of my being and self-image.  I sense this new awareness will prove to be a positive experience in the end, assuming I survive the trip.

So why am I writing this book?  I am not completely sure.  I think there are many reasons.  As a point of interest; recently a young boy was kidnapped for 30 days and he was found with another boy who was 15 and had been missing for five years.  Both boys had been sexual slaves to a nut case of a guy.  It was the usual national media event with all the usual cable talk show pundits.  After listening to this story for several weeks, talking with many people and listening to people’s questions about why the boys didn’t run.  It was clear to most everyone that there were many opportunities for each of the boys to escape and most could not understand why they did not.  It is this mentality that made me realize just how uneducated the average person is about the psychology of sexual child abuse and its effect on the mind of a child.  For this reason I concluded that every story is important because it helps to educate and will increase awareness to this epidemic.  For sure, most people are appalled when a child is abused and we all know there is damage that is many times indefinable beyond the symptoms.  Nevertheless, unless you are a survivor, it is not possible to understand the scope and magnitude of damage done to a child.

Mine is a story that has been told a thousand times before and probably many times that number.  It is a living story, a story that I live twenty four-seven and I always will; only the manner in which I live life can be different.  There is no escaping the simple truth that child sexual abuse is a life sentence for its victims and survivors, and all who they touch.  Moreover, the only hope for a pardon is as frightening as the abuse itself, the process of recovery.

It was a slow awakening, it took forty years.

3 life in the abyss

Talk about surreal and vivid memories of a past life with tentacles spanning the ages of one’s life.  A life in the presence of evil people, who are mentally ill predators, and persons who just disappoint you, is a life I wish on no one.  No one deserves it, asked for it, or should have lived it.  This was my life from the time I was eight, until I was eighteen.  By the time I was eighteen, I was able to stop the sexual abuse but it took me until I was twenty one to break the bonds of emotional and psychological abuse from these evil bastards.  People I really thought were great people, a husband and  wife.  Both of whom I convinced myself, as part of my denial, I cared about.  Oh the bliss of denial.  However, as early as the age of fourteen I was subconsciously being driven very hard to break free of Ernie, my primary abuser, but I could not bring myself to face the real reasons I needed to escape.  I just knew the hell had to end and no one was going to end it except me; for whatever reasons, I was on my own.  In my mind, there was no way out; no one I could reach out to for help, and if there was anyone who wanted to help, for whatever reasons, they used the wrong approach or they just didn’t know what to do.

I lived a life of being totally controlled and manipulated; a life where my will no longer belonged to me and I was robbed of developing my own true identity.  A life of emotional torture, deprived of normal social development, and weaned on sex, compounded by distorted thinking mentors, a life resulting in brainwashing, emotional isolation and by many accounts, brain damage.  My life was sustained on loneliness, omnipresent shame, guilt, depression and anxiety.  The Bible says evil has many faces and for sure, the Bible is right.

The abuse from eight to twelve years old was infrequent.  But just as damaging as the chronic abuse was in later years.  They were significant events that deserve more than a vague or obscured reference regarding the players involved.  However, I am struggling with my commitment to total honesty about my abuse and protecting people I have come to love again.  Ernie did not enter my life until I was twelve.

Without exception, it was the beginning of a horrible emotional life.  The wounds were deep and I believed permanent.  However, at this point in my recovery I have to weigh the consequences of doing any kind of “tell all” book that could reverse parts of my recovery and hurt people who were victims also.  This is not the intent of this book.  Its intent is quite the opposite.  I want to help others and build, not destroy, by creating more awareness and to help other victims realize recovery is within their grasp and is well worth the work.

While I believe openness and honesty are essential to a healthy recovery, it is equally important to do it in such a way the innocent are protected.   And sometimes you have to protect the repented ones, but not all of them, only one.  So for the purposes of this book I will be somewhat vague as to the players during my abuse from the ages of eight to twelve, however, it can’t be denied the abuse was very damaging and really laid the ground work for me being sucked into far more serious and ongoing abuse by the time I was thirteen.  I cannot in good conscience minimize what happened during those years either or who was involved.  I can only say it has been dealt with and the person I cared about was a victim also of Ernie.  This person may have been older by several years but by every standard was still just a kid, a kid who was also being abused at the time.  I didn’t know this until I was well into my teens.  Even then, I did not understand it was abuse.  Only in later years was I able to see what had happened to him was sexual abuse, which I believed caused him to act out in ways he did not understand or wanted to.  But all of this cannot minimize how wrong it was or how much damage he did.  In truth recovery has taught me it was not his fault.  He was as much a victim as I was.  But there were others during that time who were known sex abusers.  Understanding the one person I care about was acting out does make it just a little bit easier to understand and forgive.  He is a fine person who had his own difficulties in life and he is only a victim in my mind.  Some abusers can be forgiven easier than others can.

It is sad that sexual abuse can be a cascading event where the adult abuses the kids and screws up their heads, only to have them act out on other children.  This is why it is so important to monitor and recognize the signs of abuse.  Being abused does not excuse the behavior nor does it mean if you were abused you will become an abuser.  It is my understanding that a small percentage of victims become abusers.  While on the other hand many abusers were themselves abused.  If I have learned nothing else through recovery, it is this simply truth.  There is nothing simple about the damage or effects that sexual abuse has on a child.  It is very complex stuff and there are rarely simple answers to any of it.

Being abused as a child really screws with your head and I suspect victims who victimize find themselves in a double hell.  Perhaps some are taking revenge, and I doubt they know it.  And others are acting in ways they believe to be normal.  And I am sure there are those who don’t understand why they do what they do.  Who knows?  I am no professional so these are only my opinions and cannot be taken to heart.  What I do believe is each case should be taken on an individual basis.  There are clear distinctions between what a child molester is a pedophile or someone acting out.  All are serious offenses that cannot be minimize or condoned, regardless of the root cause reasons.  In the course of my recovery, I simply learned the differences.  And the more knowledge one acquires the more complete their recovery will be.  Understanding the various types of sexual predators was done so under the context of “knowing your enemy”.  It was a disturbing but useful and empowering exercise.

A case in point: When I was living with my girlfriend Mo and her two kids Graham age eight and Liz age eleven (while in Colorado) one day, Mo approached me and told me something was wrong with Graham, he was acting very strangely.  And he was; he was not himself.  He was quiet, reserved, and not eating as he usually did and he had not been sleeping very well.  Mo could not get him to talk about what was bothering him.  Over the years, I had come to recognize the symptoms of abuse and changes in a child’s behavior can be a flag.  I asked Mo to let me talk with him alone and feel him out.  Graham and I took a ride and I was able to put him at ease enough for him to open up.  As it turns out my suspicions were correct, a neighbor friend who was twelve years old was molesting Graham.  He was Graham’s friend of a couple of years and of course, it was a traumatic situation.  Graham was definitely traumatized and Mo was not doing well at all after I broke the news.  She was not sure what to do and was confused because she knew the family.  I explained to Mo that it is important to keep Graham’s best interest in mind and suggested she not concern herself with the consequences of calling the police.  I also explained that Graham’s friend was in need of help and possibly rescuing.  It was also possible the twelve-year old was just being curious but this was not for us to decide, it had to be handled by professionals.  I had little doubt Mo had come to the same conclusions but she was overwhelmed and could not stop holding Graham.  We called the police and there was an immediate and strong response.

I was very impressed; within a couple of hours, social services had a full team of help for Graham and his entire family.  It was very overwhelming for all of them, and somewhat for me.  Lots of tears, but the professionals were top-notch and there was extensive free follow-on counseling for all of them that was excellent.

As it turns out, an adult was also abusing Graham’s friend and his friend was taken out of the situation and given the help he needed.  Of course, the story spread like wildfire throughout the neighborhood, and that in and of itself, was very difficult for us to deal with.  There were those who believed the abuse occurred and those who did not.  As frustrating as this may seem, it was not an all-bad thing (the dissension) the fact is, it raised awareness and everybody was watching out for their kids.

There were many conversations over the next weeks.  Many expressed anger, shock, dismay, or disbelief.  Others had very strong opinions, making statements that were harsh toward the twelve year old.  Do not get me wrong, I was angry also but I had some insight and was not willing to condemn the kid until all the professionals had their time with him.  He was a victim/abuser until proven otherwise.  But what struck me most about the entire fiasco, beyond the needs of Graham and his friend, was just how uneducated people are about sexual abuse and the effects on the mind of a child.  Their opinions were all over the place, many were just plain stupid, and ignorant, others were just out there.

So is it right to victimize the twelve year old all over again by blatantly condemning him as a child molester, or get him the help he needs and is deserved by all victims.  In my opinion, he is a victim first and his abuse tendency was not recognized as abuse by him, only something that people do.  I believe the abuse on Graham was a symptom of abuse from his abuser who was acting out, and clearly had no idea he was doing wrong.  Or if he did, he had no ability to deal with his issues, at such a young age.  This is an important distinction and separates the people who abuse because they are just evil and without a conscience and those who were conditioned by these same evil people by playing with their minds.  I don’t know where the lines are drawn, but I do know there has to be lines.

In my case, the age of my abuser was several years older, and as I said, he was a kid who turned out to be a victim also, so I cannot condemn my early abuser.  Around the time when I was twelve years old, Ernie (in his thirties at the time) offered me work on his rental properties doing chores such as cutting grass, painting and cleaning up.  For me this was a gold mine, so I thought.  I was tall for my age and mature beyond my years.  So mowing lawns and work of this nature was easy and I had already been experienced with renovating properties because my father was also involved with real estate.  In time, I could do most types of work including using saws and hammers.  I was being paid as I did the work, so between this work, my paper route, shoveling snow and selling chances door to door for church functions, I was in heaven.  I was a very ambitious kid with lots of motivation for a kid my age.  Ernie was known by my family because a few years before he either lived across the street or was always with our neighbors.  He did a lot of fishing and camping with the neighbor; the neighbor was his own age.  Bette, Ernie’s wife to be, lived a few houses up on the same street as us.

It was not long before I realized I had stepped through the gates of hell and was in a living nightmare.  Ernie and his wife were looked on as acquaintances of the family, or so I thought.  I didn’t realize until years later that in fact they were very much disliked by my parents.  I don’t know when my parents started disliking Ernie and Bette, they probably never liked them.

I remember the first time I was molested by Ernie.  I was working in one of his properties and no one was there.  The rental home was between tenants.  I had been working for Ernie for a couple of months.  We were taking a lunch break inside the house when Ernie sat down next to me and started fondling me and before I knew it, he was giving me oral sex.  I was scared to death.  He never said much beyond ”this has to be our secret and no one can know because you obviously liked it.”  It really blew my mind.  I wasn’t sexually mature and hadn’t developed pubic hair yet.  I didn’t understand anything about this crap beyond what had already happened to me from time to time.  There was no sex education back then and parents didn’t have “the talk.”  I didn’t know any kids who had “the talk.”  We learned on the streets and in magazines.  Sexual abuse was a stigmatism nobody wanted to deal with.  I became a nervous wreck all the time and wracked with anxiety.  All I could think of is what would happen if my parents knew.   I had already been threatened by my first abuser about what would happen if I told.  So I started living the lie that my life had become for the last forty years.  I truly believed my parents would not think much of me if they found out.  Just the thought of anyone finding out kept my mouth shut.  The fear and humiliation was too much for me and I didn’t want to think about it.  Back then these things were not spoken of and were kept in the closet.

I had already been abused from time to time but I didn’t recognize it as abuse at the time.  I didn’t understand much about any of it.  All I knew was it didn’t make me feel right inside.  The act made me feel terrible and I thought I was going to hell for sure.  Being brought up a strict Catholic did not make any of this easier to deal with.  In my mind, I was offending God.  Pretty much everything you did back then, from a minor kid lie to picking your nose was an offense against God, as taught by the Church.  Sex, well that was as bad as it could be, short of killing someone.  Of course, I struggled with the physical feelings of sex that are normal for all adolescents and not having any control over my body only complicated my trauma.

Looking back I can understand, as much as I didn’t like anything about sexual relations to feel good, it was not possible for me to shut off my physical responses, none-the-less I blamed myself for having them.  I remember always telling myself don’t get excited, don’t get excited, over and over again during the actual abuse.  Not being able to shut off these feelings made me feel worse and more responsible for what was happening.  Every time I was abused made me hate myself a little more, each time I sunk lower into the bowels of emotional hell.  Throughout my teens, all I wanted to do was die.  But I could not commit suicide and I very much wanted to.  I was very religious and having been brought up Catholic, where the method of teaching back then was a “fire and brimstone” mentality really hit home with me.  In spite of this training, I was always attracted to God and the Church.  As little kid, I loved the stories of Jesus and loved looking at the pictures in the Bible.  The Church did not allow kids to read the Bible but I sure loved it and I still do.  Despite this, I totally believed I was going to hell and there was no avoiding it.  Even in confession I could not open up about what was going on, at that time, I considered the abuse to be my fault.  I really began to hate myself and started developing defense mechanisms and character traits that would help me hide from the shame and truth.  There was no way I could ever let anyone know.  I spent my teens in a constant state of fear.  Always feeling I had to be on my guard.  I tried acting normal and even found ways to feel happy at times.  But when I look closer at what I was really doing, it makes me a little sad.  I was putting up a front.  Always quick to help, listen, or crack a joke.  All I was doing was hiding behind this mask of a manufactured self-image, one of kindness, charity, humor, and generosity.  Could there be a better defense tactic?  To force yourself with great energy, to try to make yourself look as you want others to see you, rather than allowing myself to be just me. This transparent façade became a way of life.  Always trying to put the best face forward, putting on a show and for whom?  You would think it was for everyone else but it was not, the only one I was fooling was me.

As time went on, the episodes of abuse became more frequent and I was slowly being manipulated to Ernie’s will.  He was an extremely good manipulator and control freak.  On the surface, he was a great guy, very generous and never missed church on Sundays.  Always buying me things and in later years always taking me on vacations.  Ernie and Bette had no kids of their own and in years to come, they adopted and took in foster kids.  All of whom were abused.  My brothers and sisters all thought it was great for me to have such a generous friend.  If only they could understand the price I had to pay for what they considered a good thing.  If only they knew.  But they didn’t.

As I look back and recall these dark years from the perspective on an older and wiser person, I can clearly see the trap that lured me in and affected me.  As the moth is drawn to the soft gentle light of the flame, so was I drawn to the flame with the same alluring and deceptive inclinations.  Ernie was a very nice guy outwardly and showed a lot of caring.  But being from a big family, eleven kids in all, being a twin and a middle child, quiet, and somewhat introverted, all of which made me a perfect target for a pedophile.  It wasn’t long before I felt totally trapped with no way out.  The frequency of abuse became constant, and rarely did a time go by when I met Ernie that he wasn’t doing something to me, either him or his vast circle of pedophiles.

I remember the first few times that he had me do sex acts to him and how sick it made me.  On one hand, I hated sex and on the other, I had no physical or emotional control over what was happening.  I was a young boy with very little self-control over my body.  This only made me all the angrier with myself.  And so began my life of duality, the clown laughing on the outside and the child dying from within struggling to live.  I began to become two people in a sense, the kid who hated Ernie and the kid who wanted the rest of the world to believe he was a great friend, as I wanted to believe.  So I played the role and lived a lie.  It was truly very dark times.  And darker the times would come.

The first time he performed anal sex on me was the worst of the worst, or at least I had thought at the time, I bled for two days off and on and didn’t eat for a week because it disgusted me so much.  I couldn’t sit very comfortably and had to use a lot of tissues as a block for the blood.  For a while, I thought I was going to bleed to death.  I was terribly sore and scared.  Again, I was blaming myself on the one hand and living in denial on the other.  A no win situation.  I didn’t know what the hell was happening to me.  I felt I was in a never ending battle or nightmare.  I was trying to be a normal kid while fighting the devil himself, and if I wasn’t in the battle in my waking hours, it was when I slept.

The nightmares were horrible and very lucid.  In most of them I am fighting the devil in hell and always losing.  I would wake up many nights just shaking and in cold sweats.  And still it got worse.  The dream that bothered me the most, and did so well into my forties, was a dream in which I would wake up from a sleep (in the dream) because my rectum was hurting.  I would reach down between my legs and feel something coming out of my rectum.  I would pull on it only to realize it was a snake and of course, I would pull it out.  (As a kid, I was scared to death of the smallest of snakes).  The more I pulled a snake out, the more snakes there would be until my bed and body were crawling with them.  The snakes were small to python size.  Sometime the dream would morph into snakes coming out of every possible orifice in my body.  Although these dreams have stopped since I started my recovery, it still is a mild trigger just writing about them.  Now try being a fourteen year old kid trying to cope with this dream and constant dreams of the devil.  I sure as hell could have done without them.

Another particularly disturbing dream which was very frequent was; I would be walking down the street where I lived.  Sometimes I would be with a friend other times I would be alone.  I would hear something behind me at a distance.  I turn and see a large hairy, monster running towards me.  As a kid, I thought it was a gorilla but as an adult, I think it represented a penis or Ernie.  Anyway, this monster was chasing me, always getting closer and I could not run, only walk at a fast pace.  The closer it would get the harder I wanted and tried to run but I couldn’t.  I was physically paralyzed at a walking pace.  In the dream, I knew I was capable of running but there was a terrible sense of being held back by some invisible and inexplicable force.  As I said earlier, these dreams were lucid and therefore in color and I was aware I was in a dream.  This made the experience all the more terrifying.  I would be screaming at myself to wake up.  Once in a very great while just as the monster was about to grab me I would simply begin to fly and then wake up.  In hindsight, each time the monster was about get me I would turn at the right moment and see it had only one eye.  So there really are one eyed monsters.  I was trapped even in my dreams.  These dreams lasted into my forties.  They became less frequent and disturbing over time but they were difficult to deal with, nonetheless.  There were others dreams with the devil that really shocked me to the bone.  It was nasty stuff to deal with, especially for a kid.

Another dream really grossed me out.  In my sleep, I feel something in my mouth and it is a hair, a long hair that is growing out of my tongue and as with the snakes I tried pulling it out. The more I tried to pull it out the more it was anchored to my tongue.  There were more dreams also, all of them I could have done without.

It was not long before Ernie was introducing me to his friends, much older than me but much younger than him.  His friends were in their twenties, thirties, and younger.  The first ones were twins from his neighborhood, they became regulars, and this began Ernie’s introduction to his pedophile circle of friends.  I was fifteen when I told Ernie I wanted nothing to do with these guys, he got very mad, so mad he really scared the hell out of me to the point that I was too scared to confront him again about it.  I did my best to avoid these losers but when Ernie was involved, there was no way to avoid them.  With each episode of abuse, which as an adult I have come to see it as violent rapes, I would retreat deeper into myself and build the emotional walls around myself a little higher and thicker.  Whenever there were incidents I would mentally go somewhere else and just let what was going to happen – happen.  If there was any good thing about all of this, I was able to establish a couple of lines they could not cross.  I would not engage in sodomizing them, for whatever reason Ernie respected this.  Although I never did perform anal sex, I was physically forced to do oral sex from time to time; it made me sick and still makes sick to think about it.  A couple of his later friends would get very physical and I took a punch or two to my head.  In particular was an ex-marine just back from Vietnam who was a total nut case who Ernie invited to live with him.  Bette had no say in it and she was not happy.  He was always having flashbacks.  One day Bette came home to find this nut case in some sort of altered state of mind and he did not recognize her.  He had a knife at the ready and scared the hell out of Bette.  A month later, he was gone.  Of course, Bette wanted him to leave immediately, but Ernie in his manipulative ways allowed him to stay a month longer.

It didn’t matter where we went or what we did, Ernie always had sex on his mind.  He was very well connected and had many partners.  I don’t know how the hell I have never had a social disease.  I am one very lucky person from that perspective.  His connections were first, and foremost, teenagers who he insisted we have sex with each other.  Many times Ernie had his camera and would take photographs.  Thank God, there was no Internet at the time.  Several were older teenagers eighteen and nineteen; others were older people he met at the porn store in Lynn where he worked at General Electric Corp.  A couple of times it was with hitchhikers he had met.  He quit trying things with hitchhikers when he picked one up who tried to rob and knife him.  There was a car wreck as a result, no one was hurt.  Ernie was one very sick human being.  One thing is for sure, Ernie could have written the pedophile guide and a guide to sex addiction.

Until I was fifteen, his wife was not involved and I didn’t believe she knew anything.  I was too naive to know differently.  This all changed one night when Bette was upstairs and Ernie started molesting me on the couch.  I guess it was a thrill for him to be in dangerous situations where he may be caught.  Some people are into that; sex addicts are notorious for this type of behavior.  Anyway, Bette walked down the steps and caught him giving me oral sex on the couch.  She was livid and made him take me home.  I was glad we were caught.  I thought, for a brief period of time, I had a way out.  It was the next day when Ernie explained to me that he talked with Bette and everything was all right.  I asked him what did he mean, and he really went off on me.  At the time, nothing became of this incident and for good reason.  This guy had a real temper.  He always became incensed if he thought I was questioning him, for any reason.

A few months went by when Ernie told me we were going on a skiing trip to Vermont, and he needed me to get permission from my parents.  They always gave me permission to go with them, if they only knew.  We stayed at the Holiday Inn in Rutland, Vermont and it was New Year’s Eve.  I don’t remember which year but I believe I had just turned fifteen at the time.  Anyway, just before we were going to bed, Ernie pulled me aside and told me Bette wanted to have sex with me.  I was shocked and scared again.  This had never happened before, on previous trips with Bette along, there was no sex and I was good with that.  It was bad enough I believed I was going to hell for the sins I committed with Ernie, now I was going to commit adultery and that was a straight ticket to hell in my mind.  Again, he was in control and at fifteen, I was introduced to sex with a woman.  Bette was in her thirties at the time.  And of course Ernie was involved and that really messed with my head.

This episode led to an entire slew of other emotions for me.  First, I liked sex with women but felt very guilty about it and it took years for me to get over the guilt and I am not sure I have.  Second, was the shame and failure I felt as a Catholic and a Christian.  Now Bette was interested in me.  Of course, Ernie told her she could not have sex with me unless he was involved and with Bette, this only lasted a little while.  After a time, Bette began luring me into sexual situations, and would not let me tell Ernie.  It was bad enough I lived my life in a constant state of fear over my involvement with Ernie, now I was placed in a situation where I think Ernie could become violent.  I constantly struggled with my emotions, the fact is I preferred sex with a woman and wanted nothing to do with men.  But Bette was married and that meant I was headed for hell.  It really messed me up.  Having already been screwed up by all the abuse from Ernie was bad enough.  Now I had stepped over a dangerous and condemning line.  I felt like the lowest of the lowest.  At fifteen, I just wanted to die and I could not even do that because that was against God’s law.  For the most part, and in many ways I had already died.  My body had just not caught up.  Again, there was no way out.  In my mind, I was dammed if did, and dammed if I didn’t.  It was maddening.  How the hell could any child develop normally after living in this psychological hell?  The most precious years and most important years of development have been completely robbed from me and distorted.  What I learned was survival.  Every minute of every day became a constant need for survival.

Ernie was the predator’s predator.  From the “get go” he targeted his victims, as young as twelve.  He nurtured me, lured me in with love, kindness, and promises of good things to come, and turned me into something I was never meant to be.  He was very good at his craft and he never changed, even until his death in 1996.

The sexual abuse was not the worst of it.  The emotional damage was extensive and the psychological damage was equally damaging.  My social development was compromised and there was physical damage all of which I will speak to in later chapters.

Ernie’s ability to control and manipulate was, and still is, amazing to me.  In my adult years, I have often struggled with the issues of, “people controlling people” and how they do it and get away with it.  My wife’s first marriage lasted for eighteen years, seventeen of which she was extremely abused by her husband, physically and sexually.  He beat her frequently and the control, emotional and sexual abuse never ended until she was finally able to muster the strength to get rid of the guy.  She would tell me stories of his abuse and I always thought he could be Ernie from the controlling aspects of what she was telling me.  How does a Hitler, Mussolini or a Stalin do what they did?  They were just people like anyone else.  Right?  Not really.  Fear is a very powerful emotion, and kids are very susceptible and these types of people, who are masters of using fear, manipulation and charm to lure their victims in.  I will never totally understand the reasons why abusers were able to do what they did and maybe it really isn’t important.  Nevertheless, Ernie’s control was absolute.  He knew exactly how to play every situation including how to get between my parents, brothers and sisters and ultimately my friends and me.

Recovery has allowed me to see how total his control was.  After a year or so with this nut case, he began taking control of my life outside of the time I was with him.  He started slowly by isolating me from my friends, slowly keeping me busy, especially when I wanted time with my friends.  Over the course of two years, he had managed to isolate me from most of them.  He was always trying to brainwash me into thinking differently about them, and he was constantly trying to get me not to want them as friends.  It got to a point if I wanted to spend time with them then I would have to lie.  I did, and when I was caught, he was a total ass with me.  Always making me feel responsible, guilty, and just generally bad about, “What I did to him” it was always about him.  It was not in my nature to cause pain or hurt to anyone.  I hate hurting people and he played to this like a chess master.

As time went on, the game was extended to my family.  The conflict between me and my parents grew with each passing month, Ernie pulling me in one direction and my parents pulling me in the other.  I must have looked like a total asshole to my parents and as much as I wanted and needed them, the shame and guilt that was constantly reinforced by Ernie and his cohorts, gradually began to isolate me from my family emotionally at first and physically later.  As I grew into my middle teens the conflict was constant and overwhelming.  My need to protect my family from the truth was a driving force.

I didn’t realize until my late teens that Mom and Dad had figured out there was something very wrong, at least my dad had.  I do not know at what level they knew; I think they were reacting more towards my behavior and probably didn’t know for certain until much later that it was sexual.  Their method for dealing with the problem was to clamp down on me, especially during the summers and weekends.  Being grounded was a routine way of life for me and it led to more intense conflict with my parents.  What was strange to me was, if this was the case then why they didn’t talk about it with me?  Too big a stigma I guess.  My poor mother would get so frustrated she would throw me out and tell me to go live with them.  I was too stressed out to do anything but to leave and within an hour, Mom was hauling my ass back and acting like nothing had happened at all.  She was trying so hard.  That was the part, which drove me crazy.  I am always saddened when I think of how much all of this hurt my parents.  In reality, when a child is sexually abused the whole family is abused.  Everyone is wounded and beyond the victim, the parents are hurt the most.  There is no greater pain for a mother whose child is wounded or hurt.  A parent’s maternal instinct is to protect their child at all costs and how painful it must be when they cannot.  At the time this didn’t  do much for me because I didn’t  realize it and I was being torn in so many directions that I didn’t  know which way was up anymore.  Somewhere in the middle of all of this, I had to deal with all the normal things a growing teenager had to deal with.  It was too much.

Finally, at seventeen, I just couldn’t take anymore of being in the middle and I gradually moved in with Ernie and Bette.  I did so by spending more and more time there.  Mom’s heart was broken and it took until my recovery to be able to forgive myself for hurting her.  My parents did their best to keep me from this animal, but in the day, this crap was always kept in the closet.  And my parents didn’t know how to deal with it any more than me or anyone else.  Parents are people first and parents second.  They didn’t want this for me but they were up against formidable forces.  It is easy for us to look back and say, “I would never have let that happen.” But we are wrong.  Society just didn’t allow sexual abuse of a child to be in the open,.  Society was ignorant and if you lived back then, you conformed to the social rules and standards of your time, unless you are among the few who fostered progressive change, and activism.  There were no manuals written on how to deal with male child sexual molestation and a great many people thought it was normal.

From time to time, I would hear about a perpetrator being caught and rarely would anything of consequence be done unless it was the rape of a girl.  It was a stigma to be a sexually abused child and no one knew our names.  We were and are the silent victims.  Even today, it estimated that 90% of the sexual abuse attacks are not reported.  Back then, I believe it was well over 99%.

I have never blamed my parents and I never will.  Their love was the source of my strength.  Their teachings were my guide and their wisdom my light.  The faith they taught me was my salvation and redemption.  There is only one person to blame for my family’s wounds and me and that is Ernie.  My parents gave me the tools to survive.  Although I do have an interesting story to tell in my chapter on Anger.  It was a total surprise and a story worth telling.

It may seem strange but moving in with Ernie and Bette was the not all bad at the time, from one point of view.  I was no longer in the middle of a constant tug of war between Ernie and my parents, but it wasn’t long before I started missing my family.  In a way it was the first time I was free enough to start sorting things out.  The guilt and shame of hurting my parents was an added burden that was very difficult for me to deal with.  All this only forced me to start staying away and isolating me more because I figured, they were better off without me.  They didn’t deserve all the drama and betrayal from me or the shame and stigma of having a sexually abused boy, was my thinking at the time.

My teen years were a cesspool of negative emotions and constant state of trauma, and I could not develop normally from an emotional perspective.  By the time I was sixteen I was completely isolated from my friends and the only outside contact was school, part time work at the local department store, where Bette worked and the Boy Scouts, which I loved.  On the inside, I constantly contemplated suicide and did things from time to time hoping I would cause an accident so it wouldn’t be suicide.  I figured if it were an accident then God would not send me to hell.  I knew He would know the truth, which is one of the reasons I never did it.  I was a teenager constantly wanting to die.  I was in constant state of sadness inside but outside I was the sharp-witted “one liner” guy always trying to make people laugh; but it was just another cover.  I always had a willing ear for anyone who wanted me to listen and I was always willing to give solicited advice.  I became very good at all of these character traits.  In time, I came to realize they are part of whom I am and that is a good thing.  Unfortunately, I was using them to keep the focus away from the dark life I was living.  I like to help people so it became a good cover.  People like a person who can listen and be willing to help.

When I wanted to go to a school dance or start dating, these things were totally out of the question.  Ernie would start days in advance and begin to wear me down to the extent that it was just not worth doing.  So I never went to a school dance, prom, or any event that I may meet other people, especially girls my own age.  In these situations, Ernie had no control, and I being a tall good-looking kid meant there was interest in me with the opposite sex and that was a total threat to Ernie.  The opposite sex was all I was interested in, but as long as he couldn’t control the situation he made it hell for me to participate.

A good example of some of the stuff this guy would pull was putting tape recorders in my room or in the back seat of the car to see if I was having sex with his wife or his other friends.  He had people follow me or he followed me.  By the time I was seventeen Bette and I had stopped our involvement and there was no way I was willingly going to do anything with a guy.  Ernie was totally jealous all the time and it was embarrassing and humiliating, I was a guy and not a woman!  I guess I was a woman in his mind.  At the very least, he believed he owned me and in many ways he did.  He always believed I was messing around with others and it never happened until I was eighteen, when I was finally able to begin to take my life back, but it would take time and it would cost me.  At one point, he worked on me for six months, trying to get me to use his last name as my own, out of love he said.  Talk about screwing with a kid’s head.  No, I never did it.

In my senior year of high school, I was eligible for the draft and we were fighting in Vietnam.  During most of my senior year he worked on me about being drafted.  He was insistent I go to Canada if I was selected.  There was no way that was happening.  But this is how self-centered this asshole was.

The day came when I was seventeen and a half and he was trying to arouse me, and it wasn’t happening.  He asked me what was wrong and I told him I didn’t want to do this anymore.  Ernie acted like his wife just told him she was leaving him.  He put on this big show of much I hurt him.  But it wasn’t working and frankly I could not respond physically to him anymore anyway.  And so began my escape from perdition’s flame.  Don’t get me wrong.  I was still trapped but the sexual abuse had stopped.  He still had a psychological and emotional grip on me.  My denial was very powerful and it was only the beginning of the end.  This all started after my father confronted Ernie about me.

I was seventeen and I was at my oldest brother’s wedding, and Ernie and Bette were invited.  My father pulled Ernie aside and told him he didn’t want him screwing with my head anymore.  I am sure he had a lot more to say, according to Ernie he didn’t mention sex, but I am sure my father had his suspicions.  I didn’t know about this encounter until I was back at Ernie’s place and Ernie really let me know about.  I had never seen him that pissed.  He was berating my father and I let him know I was pissed, for the first time I stood up to Ernie; I was not having any of it, him berating my dad.  I would not let him cross that line.  I was more surprised at my reaction and my willingness to defend my dad against him.  It wasn’t long before I told him no more sex.

When I was telling Ernie I no longer wanted to be involved in his crap, I purposely did not tell him why, for fear of further repercussions.  First, I never wanted what he forced on me and secondly and more importantly at the time, I could not deny my worst fears of my parents knowing, my father probably knew and I could not deal with it.  It was at this time I seriously began contemplating and planning suicide, hence Russian roulette and other foolish games.  But this ended sex with this nut case forever.  In the end, my dad did a lot to save me.  He went to his grave never knowing it.  This is why it is so important for parents to be far more open and forthright with their children.  I have no doubt my parents had to deal with their own levels of confusion and denial about this crap but in the end, they did the right thing.

Money was a big thing with Ernie.  From the first paycheck I earned at fourteen until I was twenty-one he got every one of them and I was allowed a small allowance.  His hook was I investing in his real-estate business as was Bette and when I was twenty-one he would sign over 1/3 of the houses he owned at the time.  Part of his control was not allowing me to give my parents room and board.  This bothered me deeply because prior to moving out of my parents’ home, I was not allowed to give my parents any financial support.  They needed the help and everyone else in my family willingly and without asking, they always gave a percentage of their paychecks to my parents.  I am so ashamed of this.  My parents worked so hard at giving us a good life and I contributed nothing as any good son would.  I have always felt like a loser as a son because of all of this and it will take some more recovery work to get beyond these feelings.  Ernie’s money management skills, like all his other self-proclaimed skills, were non-existent.  With all the money coming in, he was still “hand to mouth”.

Today I am struggling because of the traits I developed when I was in this viper’s den.  I make good money and yet until recovery I rarely had any money saved.  I was always giving it away and that is a direct connection to the emotional conditioning of the abuse.  Before the abuse, and when I was married, I could save and manage money like no tomorrow.  Since my divorce, I have spent most of my time trying to buy affections through dysfunctional relationships.

The good news is this has changed for me because of recovery.  I know I have to, and want to, manage money as I used to, when I was married, and take care of myself first and then help others.  But it sure has been a long hard road to remember this simple yet powerful lesson.  My entire life, I have always been the guy people could rely on, no matter what.  This has been costly.

As a kid, I was an avid coin collector and by the time I was sixteen I had an impressive collection for a sixteen year old.  It was worth between four and five thousand dollars.  One day Ernie started complaining he was behind on the mortgage for two of the properties and he insisted I sell my coin collection.  I did.  As I said, everything was always about Ernie.  He literally got the gold mine (gold coin and many other coins and fractional currency from the colonial days) and I got the shaft in more than one way.

When we went skiing for the day, many times it was a motel room for the day, and when we did go skiing, which was a lot, if it was overnight there was sex involved.  I remember staying in a Bed and Breakfast in Vermont and it was suppertime.  Ernie heard a noise in the next room so he looked through the keyhole of the adjoining door.  The B&B was an old farmhouse and the doors still had skeleton keys.  There was a guy and a woman naked getting dressed for supper.  Staying at a B&B meant the guests all met for supper.  After which Ernie and the couple went to a bar.  I had no use for bars, I was underage, and I didn’t drink.  That night the couple was in bed with me, and I didn’t even know their names.  The guy was very rough and injured me in a couple of ways.  The woman, although very attractive and in her early twenties, was a total slut.  This was the first time I began to realize I might be being sold for sex.  I never knew for sure but there were enough red flags that as of today I know he was making money on me in more than one way.  There were just too many times when I never knew who these people were and usually only saw them once or twice.

Then there was the pornography.  Mostly gay, some women, and a lot of child porn.  This asshole was always looking at child pornography and gay books and magazines and the occasional 8 mm film.  All of this by the time I was fourteen.  I never hated anything so much as that crap.  It was brainwashing.

There never seemed to be an end to Ernie’s psychological hold.  Even when I was twenty to twenty two, my only real defense was to retreat into myself.  I constantly denied anything was wrong and maintained I was working a business in real estate.  It was a good cover.  Hell, when did I have time to learn anything differently?

It wasn’t just Ernie and his cohorts, there were others.  My Boy Scout days are without exceptions the happiest memories I have from my teen years.  I was into all of it; I loved everything the Boy Scouts offered.  At summer camps I was the scout who worked at getting the Honor Scout Award and did so a couple of summers.  I had friends, activities and escape from Ernie.  My parents loved me being in the Scouts and they participated in the activities whenever they could.  I was doing well in the Scouts but that all changed.  I was looking forward toward becoming an Eagle Scout and was working toward my Star rank.

I was about 16 when an Explorer Scout or he was a troop official, I really don’t remember his standing in the Scouts.  He was an older teen and somehow, he became attached to our patrol.  He held patrol meeting at his house and we were ok with it, but we scouts didn’t understand why we had to meet there.  It was no big issue, just a question.  We had been holding them at our patrol leaders or assistant patrol leader’s house.  It really didn’t matter.  One day after our patrol meeting, I was helping him move something in his bedroom.  No one was home but us and the next thing I know, this guy is naked, walking out of the bathroom and obviously is ready for some attention.  He walked over, grabbed my hand and had me start fondling him.  I did it and I don’t know why.  I just automatically shut down and let it happen again!  It was only one time but somehow it affected my Boy Scout roles. I wanted to stay in the scout troop and not move up to the Explorer Scout troop.  I wanted to be Assistant Scout Master and in time Scout Master when I was old enough.  Shortly after this incident, I was approached by the Assistant Scout Master and was told I had to transfer to the Explorer troop.  I was devastated.  All my plans were melting away to another round of disappointment for me.  I was pissed and decided to leave the Scouts because I was never given a reason and I didn’t want to be in the Explorer troop with this nut case.  About the same time, Richard (the older scout who molested me) left the Scouts also.  I don’t know what happened but I am convinced the Boy Scouts became another important thing in my life that was taken away.  This was a terrible blow and it had an effect on me.

This act of abuse, with this older scout bothered me in a different way.  I started to become aware of the fact that I was reacting in some automatic manner when it came to sex with guys.  I could not understand why I allowed it to happen.  Was I gay?  It should have been easy to stop but I didn’t.  When it happened, I simply shut down.  I was now struggling with another aspect of my identity crisis.  It disgusted me to even contemplate I may be gay.  It scared the hell out of me and I was starting to get angry and frustrated the more I thought about my whole situation.  I just wanted out.  I refused to be gay and it was beginning to be a battle for me to stop thinking about it.  The thought of being gay was tearing me apart.  In the day being Gay was considered a mental illness and a ticket to hell.  It was at this point that I started to stand up to Ernie and started saying no to his friends.  It was easy to do because Ernie was getting jealous of other people being with me and it showed, so he was already in the process of gradually stopping others being involved with me.  I kept struggling with the fact that with the exception of climaxing, I was physically responding to male sex when I didn’t want to.  I know I hated it, but it still confused me and at my age, this confusion was another thing I could have done without.

Another life changing moment came when I was still a Boy Scout, I believe when I was on summer vacation.  My grandfather worked at the Museum of Science in Boston.  I frequently visited him and spent the day at the Museum free.  I loved Pa and I loved the Museum of Science.  I believe it was Boy Scout week so I was wearing my uniform.  I was having a great day and just minding my own business.  Now keeping in mind I am Catholic, my parents are staunch Catholics, and my grandfather literally went to church twice on Sunday; so my mindset was, priests are completely safe and are people above and beyond normal human behavior.  They were people who deserved great respect and never received anything different from me.  Oh how bliss ignorance is!

Sometime in the course of the day, a person who wore a priest’s clothes and a collar was sitting a few chairs down from me in the observation area overlooking the Charles River.  I thought nothing of it when he was looking at me.  He kept looking at me over the next thirty minutes or so and he was motioning to me to approach him.  I started to wonder what his problem was and I didn’t make any connection to his real intentions.  A priest being sexually interested in me was an inconceivable thought.  Priests don’t have sex and that was that.  I didn’t want to make the connection this guy was interested in me for sex, but my instincts were telling me differently.  He was with a very frail and elderly man, who I assumed was his father and it seemed they were spending the day together.  His staring was starting to get weird so I just got up and started walking around the Museum.  It wasn’t long before I realized the priest was following me at a distance.  Every time I turned around, he was there, gesturing with his head for me to follow him.  This went on for three hours.  He never got close enough to say anything to me, just followed at a distance and kept gesturing with his head.  I didn’t get it and it started to bother me and worry me.  I started rationalizing he cannot be a priest; he must be a minister of some other denomination.  I kept telling myself I have to get my grandfather but what was I going to say to him, “Pa, there is this priest who is following me and wants to have sex with me.”  In my mind, my grandfather would have my head if I said something like that about a priest.  In hindsight, my grandfather would have had his head on a platter in front of the Bishop, if he believed anyone was harming anyone in his family.  I was just a naive kid and didn’t realize I could have gone to him.  I was scared and decided I was going home early and I would take the train from North Station, instead of waiting for Pa to get off work.

When I told my grandfather I was going home early he asked me what was wrong.  He could tell something was bothering me.  I told him I just didn’t feel good and was going home.  It was about three hours since the priest had started following me and I had not seen him in about thirty minutes.  I decided I would have to go to the bathroom and then leave.  I purposely picked an out of the way men’s room on the basement floor because I didn’t think the priest was following me anymore.  I believed he would not know of this men’s room because it was in the basement of the museum and where Channel Two had their broadcast station, and technically not part of the Museum, so I thought it was safe.  Evidently, this guy had just got a little better at following me.  I went into the stall and did my business and as soon as I opened the door, the priest was staring me in the face.  I was never so scared in my life.  I yelled, “What do you want?”  He immediately grabbed me and started fondling me.  I just pushed him hard and left as fast as I could.  I was totally shaken and un-nerved.  I couldn’t believe what had just happened.  I thought it was the end of it.  So I left the Museum and I was walking towards the train station when I could not believe it.

The priest was following me again to the train station!  Fortunately, he had the elderly man with him and therefore all I had to do was run and make my escape.  I lost him and at the same time watched my faith begin to shatter.  He physically molested me but he did more damage in ways others could not.  If I did not have the Catholic faith as a source of strength then I was truly alone.  Without God what is left?  It was at this point when my relationship with the Catholic Church bifurcated and I began to contemplate whether God or Jesus really existed.  In time, I began to rationalize I was a Christian first and a Catholic second.  This incident affected me for years, and challenged my faith constantly, not that it needed any challenging.  I never went to church again with the same innocence.  I now saw priests as a possible threat.  In all fairness to priests and the Catholic Church, I cannot say with certainty that this person was a Catholic priest.  He wore the same clothes as a priest does but there may be other clergy who wear these types of clothes, I don’t know, but if I had to bet money on it, I wouldn’t bet against him being a priest.  And yet I am still Catholic today.  One person does not define a religion unless it is Christ.

By the time I was seventeen I had been spending most of my time at Ernie’s and some nights at my parents.  I was making progress in ending the abuse but it was not enough.  Once I did let Ernie know I was serious about not having sex anymore, he finally did get it and it stopped by the time I was seventeen and a half.  I was finally free of the sex and I felt great, so great that I didn’t care about anything other than making money in real-estate investments.  All of my free time was put into renovating Ernie’s properties as was my all my money.  I was paying to work for this guy.  I was in too much denial to accept or even conceive of the truth of my situation.  I lived a life of being totally controlled and manipulated, a life where my will was no longer my own and had not been since I was a child of eight.  It was a life of emotional torture, resulting in emotional damage, pain, and very real suffering.  A life deprived of normal social skills and emotional development, with brainwashing and emotional isolation as the preferred tools used by my predators.

I didn’t know it at the time but it would take another four years for me to walk away.  I may have broken the physical bonds and was no longer in harm’s way but it was an ending in symbolism only, another fight needed to be fought, Denial, Friend or Foe?

This is a tough question for me to answer.  A very big part of my regret is the fact it took so many years to come out of denial and deal with the damage done to me, or realize the damage.  Why couldn’t I have done it when I was 20 or 21, why in my 40 and 50s?  I struggle with this a lot, so the best I can say is that it is not a matter of “what if” anymore, it has to come down to a matter of “what now.”  If denial kept me safe until I was ready or motivated to stop the denial then denial was my friend.  If denial kept me from living a normal life and robbed me of a full life, then so be it.  There is nothing I can do to change any of it; I can only decide how I will let it influence me now.  I cannot go back.  In time I have come to see denial was probably a good thing for a while but as with most good things, too much was probably a bad thing.  It was a means of dealing with things I was not prepared to deal with in any other way, and the fact of the matter is, it was the only defense I had.  I have to consider the simple truth, that while denial was a major roadblock, it may have very well saved my life.

So for the next four years I worked my butt off every night and every weekend.  I graduated from high school and went to work full time.  Working full time and working every night and weekend, was very demanding.  And I had nothing to show for it.  I was torn up inside and I refused to acknowledge I was in so much emotional pain.  I was still living with Ernie and Bette and he was into other older teenagers and guys in their twenties.  I didn’t know who they were because they were never around where I lived and I didn’t care at the time.  In hindsight, this was a total failure on my part.  Ernie should have been turned in.

In fact, when we were living in Lynnfield he was turned in.  A neighbor’s kid who was twelve at the time reported him to the police.  He was guilty as hell, but all he got was a lecture from social services and had to attend a couple of classes.  It was a joke.  He kept most of this from me and I was never approached by anyone for an interview.  Had I realized he was messing with any kids that age I would have had a real problem with it.  There is nothing I wish for more than for me to have been a different person who could have seen this for all it was and turned both of them in to the authorities.  I have to live with the fact I may have been able to save others from my fate, and I didn’t.  I don’t know if I can ever forgive myself for this and I don’t know if turning Ernie and Bette in would have made a difference.  But I should have tried.  This person belonged in jail.

Ernie’s reputation was spreading in the neighborhood and created its own set of problems for me.  I was guilty by association.  At one point, we were living in a quiet neighborhood in Wilmington, Massachusetts.  We lived on a very long and winding dead end road and we knew most of the people.  Over the course of the previous couple of years a “want to be” gang had formed in our neighborhood.  They were older teenagers, eighteen, nineteen, and a few bad guys in their twenties.  I didn’t know it at the time but Ernie had been messing with a fourteen year old.  It got around and the gang got wind of it.  This gang had been getting a strong reputation for intimidation, assault and setting peoples’ houses and garages on fire.  The year before, they threw a lit cigarette at a friend of mine while he was carrying a can of gasoline; it exploded and caused my friend some very serious burns.  These guys just could not be caught.  They had the typical attitude that they could get away with anything.

One day when I got home from work they were at their usual place, hanging out across the street and on the corner of our property.  I knew three of them very well but didn’t know the other two.  They appeared to be my age or a little older perhaps 22 or 23.  They started calling me gay and other related names.  And I was having none of it.  I approached the five of them and let them know they had to leave.  Of course, they challenged me and in a split second, it was on.  I took on five of them and they ended up on the losing end.  It was not much of a fight, the fact is I am 6’4″ and I was in good shape at the time.  They got the worst of it and I did get the police involved.  The chief was telling me it was about time someone took on these punks.  I guess some of them had a record and what not.

None of this bothered me; what did bother me is the incident just reinforced my need to leave this nightmare of a situation.  Things were way out of control and now the violence had crept in.   I applied for a handgun permit and it was issued.  As far as the neighborhood goes; I became somewhat of a minor hero.  People were stopping by for months thanking me and sending me thank you cards.  It felt pretty good taking these bums down.  And it was the end for the ”want to be” gang.  Others in the neighborhood started standing up to them, so their time was over.  It was another wake up call for me.  I didn’t want any more of this type of reputation.  It was time for me to get away from all of this.  Of course, I had no money, Ernie made sure of that, but it was time to start planning a real break from this situation.

While the physical crap had ended a few years before, it was not the end of anything.  It didn’t take long for me to start spiraling down after things had stopped.  I had had enough, and I was totally lost emotionally.  I was still living a total lie and still felt trapped.  This life was all I knew.  I got hold of a handgun and played Russian roulette a few times.  Other times I would just hold the empty revolver to my head and just keep pulling the trigger.  I hated my life and everything about it.  My twenty first birthday came around, and I when I approached Ernie on my 1/3 part of our partnership he was totally stalling.  I pressed the issue and we agreed I would take the house in Chelmsford.  It was a remodeled camp but perfect for me and on the water.  There was no mortgage on it, or so I was told and it was my ticket out, finally.  Well, he kept screwing around so a couple of months later I decided I was quitting the job I loved as a technical supervisor at Analog Devices and join the Air Force.  It was always a dream that I could never get beyond Ernie with.  Every time I talked it about he would start his routine of wearing me down until I caved.  I was at my wit’s end.  In the meantime, I had started dating and taking back my freedom but I was a mess emotionally.  I couldn’t sort any of this crap out.

When I arrived at basic training, things were difficult and I was having a hard time emotionally, yet at the same time I loved it.  I had just left a totally controlling situation that had lasted years and now I was in another one.  I was able to rationalize the differences but my reactions were from my subconscious.  Despite these difficulties, I was doing well in basic and did all the testing in which I scored very high, upper 90’s percentile.  Then it all started falling apart.  My psyche testing showed me to be very depressed.  I did additional testing that confirmed the initial results.  I was interviewed by one of the base doctors who was involved in stress studies for something to do with pilots and astronauts.  I didn’t care.  My intent was to get through whatever this bump in the road was and move onto my training.  I was not going to be a pilot but I wanted to fly and as an Electronics Warfare Officer, I would be able to do that.  As it turned out, the diagnosis disqualified me for the position for one year.  It was a 56 week training program and therefore any delays would not be good.  I would have to wait for the next class or leave the Air Force.  The officer offered me a deal to stay in the Air Force.  He had determined; ”you are a very fascinating individual”.  Your testing shows and extraordinary high intellect, at the scientist level and an equally deep depression, yet you appear to function normally,” (if he only knew).  He wanted to study me for his program.  At the end of which I would be able to go to the training I had signed up for.

He felt understanding my ability to handle these emotions would be of use to his needs and research.  I was pissed.  He had no idea and I was not here to be anyone’s guinea pig.  I just had left a controlling environment and now this doctor wants to study me!  He didn’t have a clue.  I opted for a discharge and again another dream faded in oblivion because of the abuse.  I wanted to make the Air Force a career.  Now it was gone forever.  Of course I was using the Air Force as an escape and that made the emotional adjustment that much more difficult.

With nowhere to go I went back home to Ernie’s house.  I pressed the issue on the house in Chelmsford and in time, he capitulated but still he had not transferred the deed.  When the tenants moved out I moved in and began renovating the property one room at a time.  I was in heaven but I was not doing well on the inside.  I had renovated most of the house and was still waiting for Ernie to get off his ass and transfer the property.  I had to really get angry and let him know I was not waiting any longer.  So he had our lawyer draw up the papers.  Several weeks later, I was at work when I received a call from the fire department telling me the house was on fire.  When I arrived at the property, there was nothing left.  The house had burned to the ground, as did the buildings in the yard and most of yard and the trees to boot.  I had a car and the clothes on my back.  My antiques were gone, my pets, everything was gone.  The only thing I was grateful for was the fact I was not in it when it burned.  I was luckier than our neighbors were when I was a senior in high school.  On February 10, 1972, the neighbors’ house went on fire.  We were involved in trying to get the family out, who we all knew and I was close to little Ernie.  It was a calamity and we were not able to get Cathy, the mother, Jimmy (4) or little Ernie (6) out.  They all perished right before our eyes.  That was a real tough one and no one ever gets over something like that.  So my house burning down was very painful in one sense and not so in other ways.

The fire at my home was determined to be an accident.  My bedroom was the last room I had to gut and renovate and as it turns out the previous owner had done some very ‘”Mickey Mouse” wiring inside the walls and that is what caused the fire.  The day of the fire something strange happened, Ernie showed up and he when he saw the house he started crying.  As it turns out , he was putting on a show for the authorities because he still owned the house.  After they left, he was all excited, no tears and he tells me this was the best thing to happen.  For him he was right.  He took all the insurance money, put a mortgage on the land and then signed it over to me.  I didn’t get one penny.  And I got the mortgage he put on the house when it was transferred to me.  It was still a good deal that sucked.  Unfortunately, the town of Chelmsford had put a two year time limit on the building permit.  On the twenty-third month, I pulled the permit and started building a new house by myself.  I had no choice.  If I didn’t start building then the property would have been unbuildable because of the town bylaws.  I could not get a normal construction loan because the interest rates were at 24%, and no one but private lenders were loaning.  I had used a private lender in the past and was able to secure a large enough loan to get the property started.  I started in December, worked full time days at Digital Equipment Corp, and always put in another six to eight hours every night.  In the end I managed to burn myself out totally, I was exhausted.  I ended up losing the house at a loss and unfinished.

It was another blow that shook me to the bone.  I couldn’t believe it.  But in a way, it was appropriate.  Everything I did with Ernie turned out to be a disaster.  It only made sense that this would also.

Beyond this, I was just trying to forget everything while trying to prove I was not gay.  But Ernie had been out of my life for a while and I was just trying to figure out what life was all about:  Which is what I spent most of my twenties doing.

It was shortly after this fiasco I found myself unwilling to continue in the game.  I had had it.  As I mentioned earlier I had started antidepressants that nearly killed me and led to a voluntary admittance to a detox hospital.  During the transition time of from losing my home and going to the hospital, I found myself needing to stay at my mother’s house.  I was a mess, and I didn’t want anything to do with staying there, however I was deeply grateful for having a place to stay.  Staying at my family’s home was a very uncomfortable proposition for me.  I had little choice and in doing so led to some very unsettling emotions for me.  I had always been uncomfortable about visiting or being at my parents’ home.  I believed it was due to the shame and chaos it had all caused.  As it turned out, this was only part of the reasons.  When I found myself in a situation where I needed to stay there, I could not bring myself to stay in the actual house.  It was summer so I slept on the detached patio every night.  For the month or so I was there, I never slept in the house and I haven’t slept there since I was seventeen.  I found it impossible to stay in the house for any length of time.  I was dealing with too much and with the meds gone wild; there was no way I could deal with anything else.  But being there, unable to be in the house, got me thinking at the time.  I didn’t understand at the time why I was feeling this way.  Recovery has shown me the obvious.  I could not deal with far too many bad memories and feelings.  I could not feel comfortable at my parents’ home; the bad memories were too strong for the good memories to overcome.  I felt like Pavlov’s dog, being triggered by automatic responses.

After a month or so, I entered the detox hospital for sixty days.  My life felt like one disaster after another, starting in my childhood, through my teens to failed real estate ventures, and now rehab.  How in hell did I survive?

My stay at the detox hospital was the end of my life in the abyss.  It was after my time there that I felt a new level of freedom from the abuse.  I didn’t know it was only a beginning and my journey would be a long one.

4 Ernie The visible-invisible man

I struggled trying to decide if I should include a chapter about my primary abuser.  Although this is a short chapter, the information it contains will give you a snapshot profile of a predator.  For this reason, I decided it is important to include a chapter about my primary abuser as I saw him, this led to some interesting discoveries.

Ernie was twenty-four years older than me and in his thirties when he started attacking me.  I have no doubt Ernie was molesting kids most of his life.  I have no evidence of his activities from his early years but it would be hard for me to believe he was not a predator very early on in his life.  His sex addictions and intensely distorted thinking must have developed at an early age.  He was an ex-marine who in hindsight, was anything but the portrait of a Marine.  He couldn’t fight his way out of a wet paper bag.  He had no honor or integrity.  In fact, Ernie was a disgrace to his uniform and is the antithesis of what a Marine is.  He was an aircraft engine mechanic during the Korean War.  He did not serve in the Korean theater of operations; he managed to avoid deployment somehow.  I do not know how he managed to stay stateside but he pulled some strings or something.  Anyway, he told me he kept seeing his friends go to Korea and being killed, and how it bothered him.  He decided the war was not for him.  I thought it was cool he was an aircraft mechanic.  I loved all things flying and airplanes.  As a kid, I could not build enough model airplanes and boats.

When Ernie first took an interest in me he was involved in buying “handy-man special” houses, fixing the properties up and either selling or renting them out.  At first, he appeared to be a very nice person in many respects, except the fact he was child predator.  At least, from a kid’s point of view, he was a pretty cool guy.  His wife, Bette, was a very nice person.  Fun, caring, did carpentry work, but not so good a cook.

Ernie was one of those people who always knew the exact right thing to say and always at the exact right moment.  He was a master of manipulation and charm, although the title Master may be too magnanimous.  After all, how smart does an adult have to be to manipulate a child?  If you were down, he knew how to cheer you up.  If you needed advice, he would readily give it.  If you needed support for an argument, he would always support my side no matter how wrong I was.  He was the type of person who could convince you of anything.  And it was not just kids; it was most people he met.  Most parents liked Ernie and Bette when they first met them.  It was commonplace to see other teenagers my age on a regular basis or new ones would come and go.  Outwardly, the guy seemed OK.  As I grew older, I started seeing beyond my naivety, and distress.  I started to see Ernie in a different light.  He had a temper that I had only seen from time to time and he could not be wrong for any reason.  He was brutal with Bette when he was mad and with me also.  He never hit her but he was a real ass the way he would put her down when they argued.  In short, he was a bully who had all the answers and that was that.  I started to realize he never had friends his own age.  He and Bette never went out unless it was just them or with me and they were never invited to any parties.  For a long time I felt I was trapped in a glass jar.  Ernie had other quirks also; he never took a shower because when he was a kid he almost drowned, so he would only sponge bath.  The fact is; he was gross.  He had other gross habits that I will not mention.

In time realized he had no skills for any trades and he was always doing the “Mickey Mouse” carpentry and home remodeling that I have never seen as bad.  He was terrible at everything he did.  In his mind, he was the best.  I was mortified at some of the crap work he did.  He was always building additions without pulling building permits.  Because he didn’t know how, he never built anything to code.  He was absolutely horrible when it came to managing money, bills, or anything.  He was always getting people to borrow money for him, including me borrowing from my parents from time to time.  I didn’t see it then, but he was a total loser.  How could I?  All my developmental years were anything but normal, I was deprived of normal interpersonal, emotional and social skills development.   I was never given the opportunity to learn about people or relationships.  Ernie made sure of it, no dances, proms, dating or friends.

In one of the illegal additions we built, he wanted a fireplace.  And he was going to build it himself.  He decided he wanted a” Heat-a-Later” in it.  “Heat-a-Latters”‘ were the new fad for fireplaces.  It allowed the heat to be recycled back into the house through special vents that are not part of a normal fireplace.  Ernie doing the work scared the hell out of me.  He didn’t know what he was doing, and sure enough a few months after he built the fireplace it set the living room on fire.  The only damage was to the wall, ceiling, and fireplace, but the Fire Chief was pissed.  He immediately knew the unit was installed completely wrong, something I tried telling Ernie when he was installing it.  In fact every time he lit the damn thing I was worried it was going to start a fire.  The fire department looked up the records and discovered no permits had been pulled and of course that led to the Building Department discovering a great many things that were wrong with the fireplace and the illegal additions.  Ernie hired a local lawyer (Ernie’s financer and friend to all the local officials), all the problems went away for $3000.00, no consequences.  Ernie always seemed to get away with whatever he was doing, but not every time.

In time, the real-estate laws changed to prevent sellers from hiding known defects in a property from a buyer.  The last property he sold, I told him of the new laws, I was seventeen, I believe.  He would not listen and firmly stated I had no idea what I was talking about.  He was good at making me feel like an ass.  A few months after the sale of this property, Ernie received a summons for court.  The buyer was suing for 20 thousand dollars.  I think that was about half the selling price.  He was sued under the new laws for willfully deceiving a buyer.  Ernie lost and made some ‘out of court’ settlement.

Ernie had no organizational skills; all he had going for him was he was just a smooth talker.  His cars were always full of trash.  It was everywhere.  His houses always smelled like cat-crap or cat urine; it was gross.  His animals were always fed but beyond that they were horribly neglected, except Bette’s cats.  If he treated his pets like this today, he would be prosecuted.  For the most part, if an animal needed to be taken care of, I did it.  He had some dogs that were not off the outdoor leash in years, or had not been to a veterinarian or had any grooming in years.  Yet, he acted as if he loved these animals to death.  When one died, he would get another one.  With the exception of the cats that Bette was good at taking care of, I felt sorry for any of his animals.  And of course none of his pets were trained.

He was a heavy football gambler and had a number of bookies.  His attitude was always one of a “tough guy” but he was anything but.  By any standard, then or today, Ernie was a total loser and a wimp and you have no idea how this makes me feel today.  If I had to be abused then why not by someone who had at least something going for him.  Ernie and Bette moved around a lot.  They would buy a house and move in and renovate it.  In reality, as the people came to know him, they became suspicious and Ernie and Bette would move on to the next house.  It took me until I was seventeen to figure this out.  His moving around is one of the reasons he got away with so much abuse.  He went to church every Sunday and I was usually with him.  He was a great con-man in retrospect.  Or does it really take a great con-man to lure a child into a sticky web?

I remember how Ernie had no confidence but was never able to admit it or talk about it.  When I was learning to ski, I wanted to take lessons, but Ernie knew better.  He decided he was going to teach me.  He was not only a terrible skier he was a worst teacher, always telling you how to do every detail.  He overwhelmed me constantly by never shutting up, always being critical, and never letting me just do something on my own.  He always had to be in control.  It became clear I was on my own again, so I taught myself to ski.  I learned to hate skiing with Ernie.  Aside from his ski weekends that were really sex weekends, he made skiing miserable.  He constantly second guessed himself.  It didn’t matter how good the conditions were, he was always pointing out how dangerous a slope could be.  He would work himself up to a point where his lack of confidence wore off on me.  Ultimately, I would start second-guessing myself and lose confidence.  He drove me crazy.  We could not just go to the top of a slope and ski down; he was always in drama mode.

It was the same when I started taking flying lessons at eighteen.  Flying my own plane was all I dreamed about as a kid and teenager.  As soon as I started flying, Ernie started in with his bullshit.  Every damn lesson turned into another worrisome nightmare for me.  For starters, Ernie figured if I had a one-hour lesson, then in one hour in ten minutes I should be calling to let him know I landed and was still alive.  The negative attitude never ended with this guy.  A day did not go by when Ernie was not scouring the newspapers and TV newscast, looking for stories about planes that crashed and people dying.  He never stopped talking about them and he constantly wore on my nerves.  So after about ten lessons, I could not take it anymore and just quit the lessons, never to return.  After I quit, he never stopped reminding me of how I made the right choice.  He was an ass.

It was no different with golf.  I was learning because I became interested when I was a caddy.  Well this ass again thought he knew best.  He did the same thing to me as he did with skiing and flying.  I could not just take a swing without his total intrusions into every detail.  Hold the club this way or that, your feet are not right, your grip is not right and so on and so forth.  I got to the point again, where it was not worth it.  And his temper was so bad that when he made more than a couple of bad shots, he would have a temper tantrum and break a club against a tree, or threw it in the water; it was scary.  And his golf bag was not immune from taking a swim from time to time.  I learned to hate doing anything with this guy.

Horseback riding and fishing were no different, except I was a natural with horse, and I loved it.  I found ways to take lessons without Ernie knowing about it.  The truth is I did not understand him at all.  He was a Jekyll and Hyde.  I hated having to see friends secretly and do things behind anyone’s back.  I was never comfortable with doing anything sneaky but he didn’t leave me much choice.  I think if Ernie were put under study he would be diagnosed as a sociopath or psychopath.  He was definitely sick.  I didn’t have a clue why I could not break free of him.  I hope through recovery, I will discover the truth.

Writing this chapter proved an interesting exercise in and of itself.  After drafting this chapter, I read it and it was missing something.  As I continued to reread the draft, it was apparent I was being  forensic in my style of storytelling.  I was stating observations, facts, and opinions.  I was equally concerned I found so few words to write about Ernie.  Writing about my experiences could fill another two books.  And yet, I could only find a few pages to write about “Ernie the man”.  How could someone who affected so much of my life be difficult to find an abundance of words to write?  After thinking for a few days this, like so many other moments, became another learning experience.  I wondered, Where was the anger?  I was so good at painting this ass as a good person that my denial deprived me of feeling anger for him.  Where was the truth and how do I get in touch with it?  I began to realize how powerful my self-protective behavior was.  I should be able to write volumes about this guy, I thought.  Why were so few words coming to me?  I would figure it out in time.

(Self-awareness.  If I had to pick one thing a person can do for themselves to effect real change in your life, it would be to learn to be constantly self-aware of your feelings and thoughts.  This one skill, I believe, is the gatekeeper to the door for recovery.  Mastering this skill is pretty easy but it just takes commitment to do so.  As with all skills learned through recovery this one becomes somewhat automatic in time.)

In this moment of enlightenment, I learned I was disconnected from any emotions about Ernie.  Understanding this made me feel like I had just stepped on a land-mine, one of the types that don’t explode until you lift your foot off of it.  And my foot was still on it, knowing if I lifted my foot, the mine would explode.  It was an “awe crap” moment.  But it was an important moment.  Being aware, I effectively shut off all emotions about Ernie.  And it was a clear indication of the ultimate justification for the “lie” and perhaps the nexus for my denial.  I had shut off the emotions!  No wonder it was easy to portray him as a nice guy.

In time I realized I could not find many words to write about him because he was an unremarkable person.  People like Ernie rarely have much to write about as a person, but volumes could be written on what they did.  I am one of those volumes I guess, so I am saying a lot about Ernie, at least what he did.

Realizing how shut off I was concerned me deeply.  It was obvious I had to find a way to connect to how I really felt, after all, this is why I decided on a course of recovery.  I asked myself how I could not be feeling a very strong reactions or feelings about Ernie.  It didn’t make a whole lot of sense.  I knew I was very good at not being truthful with myself about the abuse or the wounds.  But not to feel anything about Ernie was bizarre.  I stopped writing about Ernie the man for a while.  I needed to sort through my uncertainty, feelings and newly discovered awareness.

I took the time to think through and digest all of this.  I thought of Ernie from a different perspective, emotionally this time.  I set aside the forensics style of thinking and “fact stating” about him and focused on how I felt about him.  To do so I brought myself back several times to the days of abuse and relived, so to speak, a particular memory or act of abuse.  I focused on how I was feeling during these memories.  I was not surprised to see I was not feeling much of anything.  But slowly, I began to feel my true feelings.  I was triggering the same feelings I was having during the episodes of abuse.  It was difficult to trigger these feelings because I was so good at suppressing them, particularly as an adult while living behind a mask of “everything is ok”.  I guess I couldn’t allow myself to feel the truth.  But now I not only wanted to feel the truth, I needed to.

As I progressed, each time I was able to trigger my feelings for a particular memory, I would ask myself; what am I really feeling (meaning what I was feeling at the time of the abuse).  Each time I would allow myself to feel the feelings and just think about them.  And ever so slowly I was getting in touch with distant wounds.  It was ok, I was ready.

As I recalled the torment and disgusting acts, I started feeling real hate and anger for both Ernie and me.  It was clear, at the time of each memory, I was feeling real hate, but I had buried it. I remembered how I was feeling during the actual acts of abuse and how I hated everything about what was happening to me.  I could see and feel I hated them for what they had done, in particular Ernie.  My truthful feelings made their way into my consciousness and heart.  My mind and heart connections were beginning to heal.  But not before I felt like my heart had been torn out.  It was a grueling emotional time in my recovery.

What did I really feel about Ernie the man?  I hated him.  I hated him for what he did and how he made me feel.  I hated him because he made me want to hate.  I hated him for deceiving me with love and kindness.  I hated him for destroying my friendships and my relationship with my family and I hated him for causing me to be lost emotionally most of my life.  He was an evil, manipulative son-of-bitch who should have been shot.

I was connecting to my feelings for sure.  I was feeling real anger and hate.  And I hated feeling this way but I knew it was necessary.  In the day, I always spoke positively of Ernie, but underneath I hated him.  I didn’t want to believe he really didn’t care about me.  I realized, I not only hated all he was but I did not like him.  He was a bully, unkempt, unsophisticated and a total loser.  There were no genuine feelings; I was simply a thing to be used.  I hated the son-of-bitch.  What the hell did he do to me, to have such a hold on me that I couldn’t escape or see the truth?  Why did I need love from this guy?  Is this perhaps, a glimpse of a deeper issue with love?  He had absolute control over me.  What did he do?  Simply put, he was a bully, and he knew how to brain-wash and manipulate a kid.  I guess it shouldn’t surprise me an adult could control a kid.  Just look at what a Hitler or any dictator did.  They controlled the minds and the wills of nations.

The more I learn about denial the more it amazes me.  All these years and I am just now rediscovering my true feelings of hate and anger.  I hate hating, I have learned that much.  I never believed I could have feelings of hate for anyone.  This is one of the reasons I suppressed all my anger.  I had to prove myself a good person, Ernie made me feel I was not worth much of anything.  He was wrong.  Why did it take so long for me to figure it out?

“Ernie the Man,” who was he?  He was the lowest of the lowest of human beings.  He was a sick and evil heartless “son-of-bitch”, who destroyed so many lives.  He took my childhood, marriage, and dignity.  He was a controlling, lying, filthy child molester, and nothing more.  He is evil and “he” could be the one right next to you.  Animals like him are invisible demons, known to everyone, and seen only by their victims.  The silent suffering children whose hearts never stop crying out for help and comfort.  Hearts longing to feel safe and protected, and most are left to wither on the vine.  Ernie was a very pathetic person but in the end I would beat him.

When I started recovery, I remember being worried about feeling hate or anger.  I didn’t believe it was possible for me to hate anyone.  I was worried about discovering real hate inside of me because I thought at the time it would mean I was wrong about myself and it would be part of my own self-deception about my abilities to forgive.  I was wrong on all accounts.  Do I hate Ernie and the others?  No.  Did I hate them?  I sure did.  However, I knew getting in touch with these emotions was the only way I was going to truly heal and be successful with recovery.  I had to face my real feelings, no matter how deep they were buried.  If they are buried they can’t be released and if they can’t be released there can be no recovery.  I boldly declared early on in the awareness stage of my recovery, the abusers will take no more and I will
give them no more.  And I would give my demons no quarter.  To keep these feelings suppressed would be allowing my abusers to have control over me.  Not a chance.  I was disappointed with myself for feeling hate, but only for a short time.  In the end I was a little disappointed in myself for not allowing myself to release the feelings many years ago.  So in the spirit of my recovery I used the hate to heal.  By this I mean I managed the hate in such a way it did not have control of me, I had control of it.  In doing so I allowed myself to dig up the hate, feel it, understand it for what it was and let it go.  The logic was I could use the hate to heal.  This was a strange 180 degree turn.  It was ok to hate them for what they did.  If I didn’t, I couldn’t heal.  So I am ok with discovering I had real hate buried inside.  No, I don’t hate Ernie.  In fact, I feel nothing for him.  I have little doubt he has paid or is paying for his crimes.  I don’t need to be a part of it and do I don’t need a pound of flesh.  The more I let go of these feeling the further I am from my abusers.  And that is just fine with me.

So Ernie was a person who destroyed me in virtually every way possible.  But I am the better man and I always was.  Following is an online message I left on various recovery web sites.  It pretty much sums things up for me and how I feel.

“For all you abusers out there we are so much better than you could ever hope to be.  While the fires of hell consume your soul, I will watch in sadness for all that is lost and for all that could have been had you got the help you need.  For the pain you have caused and lives you have cost.  And yes I will feel sad for you too.  God didn’t make evil souls and you chose the path that we victims didn’t.  You may have been abused or not.  You may be evil or not.  But it is certain you will live your life in emotional torment and your life is worth nothing unless you get the help you need.  I have beaten you.

5 Parents and Family Life

Writing about my family has had an interesting evolution.  I intended this chapter to be one of the first chapters written.   I had written a very rough draft a year before, which I managed to lose.  However, I still have a very clear memory of what I said and how I was feeling.  At the time, I was at the beginning of my recovery.  After two years of recovery, I still feel the same as I did then, but now I see my family life differently, through the eyes of recovery and truth.  Do not get me wrong; my family is still a great family in my eyes and they have always been so.  However, I have changed and I see many aspects of my family very differently than I once did.  In the course of my recovery, my family has been an integral part of my emotional healing.  They have been a centering force for me throughout my recovery.  I came home from Colorado to reconnect with them because I needed to heal the wounds for them and me.  A great deal of my self-image was  molded by my fear of my family thinking ill of me.  It is unfortunate, but I don’t think most of my family will ever know how important they were to my recovery.  With the exception of two of my sisters and my mother, besides these few loved ones, I have told no one about my recovery.

A deep concern of mine about writing this account of my life is how anyone reading this book could easily begin “the blame game”.  It is completely understandable why a person would wonder why the hell any kid could be involved in such a circumstance as I was.  It is easy to say others are partly to blame because they were parents, family, friends or teachers, and should have done something.  I don’t believe it is possible to read this book and not wonder where the failures were.  It is easy to say “I would never have let that happen.”  However, it is not that simple.  If it were, then there would be no need for people like me publishing a story like this.  Recovery has taught me honesty with myself, and in this very complex and dynamic paradox, I can tell you with absolute certainty, my story is a very common one.  It is happening to people you know and you would be surprised who they are.  I have no doubt there will be readers who believe it not happening to anyone “they” know.  I say to those readers, you will be the last to know.  Vanity and pride are blinders and if you have kids, you can’t afford blinders.  And you rarely know until it is too late.  In my case the truth is there is only one person to blame and that is Ernie.  This book is not about blame, justice, revenge, or accountability.  It is story of recovery, healing, and love.  Make no mistake, if child sexual abuse were easy to stop then I would have had an army of loved ones coming to my rescue.  Child sexual abuse, back then, was so insidious it was barely visible.  It lurked only in the hearts of those who didn’t want to know and only wondered about it, or had suspicions and intuitive feelings for which they had no idea how to tune into.

The fact of the matter is there are great many truths about why my abuse was.  First, society kept child abuse in the closet.  My own intense resolve, not to let anyone know the full truth is another truth.  My fear was absolute.  There was no way I was going to open up about any of it.  My denial was as absolute as was my fear.  Of course, child sexual abuse awareness was virtually non-existent.  We had no training about sexual abuse. What it was or what to do if something does happen.  The stigmatism of being label an abuse child was too much for most families or victims to deal with, however, if my family did know, they would have done something.  On top of all of this, was the fact no one had any idea how to deal with any of it anyway.  The laws on the books were rarely used.  These are some of reasons why my abuse happened.   That was then and this is now.  Today it is different.   Still with all of the awareness today, sexual abuse is still rampant.  If there is blamed to be placed, then I choose to put it where it belongs, on one very sick and evil man and a society who wore blinders.

The last thing I want is for anyone to feel they should have done something or done more, or feel they should have been more aware.  There is no reason for anyone feeling any accountability for what happened to me, beyond those who are guilty.  Everyone did all they could and that is good enough for me.  And as these pages will reveal, my parents tried like hell and I am eternally grateful they did.  Their efforts did not go unnoticed.  They had no idea until I was too far into the BS for them to do anything; years had passed.

How I see my “family life” has changed considerably since I started recovery.  So many truths have made their presence known.  The vast majority of these truths have been very good ones and have been powerful allies on the road to healing.  Many are worth mentioning but only one rises above all them.  Recovery has allowed me to feel connected and loved by my family again.  The isolation I lived with so long is a distant memory.  My family spent years reaching out to me and none ever gave up on me.  All I had to do at any time was extend my hand take theirs, I chose not to.  I have a great family, every one of them.  I have come home; does anything else really matter?  I don’t mean I physically came home.  No my heart reconnected to the people I love and cherish so much.  This is the true miracle of my recovery.  I have really come home, I am part of my family again, and I am whole again with them.   Without every one of my family I could never feel whole.  What more could I ask for or expect?  If nothing more than this one miracle resulted from recovery, I could consider my recovery successful.

My family life was a wondrous plethora of love, chaos, fun, laugher, trauma and drama.  Our family numbers thirteen in all, Mom, Dad, 5 brothers, five sisters, and one of whom is my twin sister.  I have always jokingly called my family a tribe.  Most of us are close, with the usual number of family misunderstandings.  Growing up with my brothers and sisters was great.  We were typical kids, full of mischief and adventure.  We were a hand-full for Mom and Dad and it was very hard for them.  I remember money always being a problem.  I think I may have learned to resent money a little because it was always such a problem growing up.  It always amazed me how Dad was such a hard working guy and was so ambitious.  Dad changed a great deal after his first of three heart attacks starting at the age of forty five.  He became more dependent on my mom and became deathly afraid of dying alone.  After Dad’s, heart attacks it was much harder on my mom.  It still amazes me how they provided so well for us.  The sacrifices they made for us were perfect expressions of their love for us.  It was particularly hard on Mom because there were so many of us, and Dad was not able to work full time for a time.  In time, Dad was able to return to work, but he was never the same.  His confidence was shattered and his spirit wounded.  Dad had a tough life as a kid also; for whatever reasons his mother abandons him when he was fourteen.  He was on the streets for a time, and had to sleep under porches until some friends of the family found out and took him in.  Dad never got over his mom abandoning him and it haunted him all the time.  He never met his mother again and when he became sick, my family decided to try to locate her.  My dad wanted to see his mom before he died.  He was gone a year when my sister finally connected with her.  It was so sad.  Dad had a whole family he never knew or met.  Dad had a broken heart and the wounds never let him go.

Beyond Dad’s broken heart, he was pretty normal.  He loved boats and the ocean.  Fishing, hunting, family events and spending time with us.  Dad was very special to me.  He never knew how much I admired him.  He was a smart person and taught all of us so much.  Dad was a jack of many trades and he loved to teach us.  He was a great person and I have missed him so.  He may not have much in way of material things, but what he lacked in possessions was more than made up for as a dad.  He had tremendous honesty, compassion, integrity and he was deeply religious.  The one thing neither Mom nor Dad was lacking, was honesty and integrity.  Both were totally dedicated to their family and they never let us go without.  I was fortunate to have an improving relationship with my dad before he died.

Four or five years prior to his passing, I started improving my relationship with my parents.  Mom was such a source of strength for all of us, especially Dad.  It was so sad to see how stoic she was during Dad’s passing.  She only cried in private.  My dad died in my arms and it had a profound and lasting effect on me, he took his last breath holding my hand.

Dad had been sick for a couple years and in the end was misdiagnosed and mistreated medically for something he didn’t have.   The treatment he was given had a one in five chance of causing leukemia.  That percentage went to 100%, because he already had leukemia.  It was such a sad time.  We had all known Dad was in trouble but his last trip to the hospital was not supposed to be his end.  He was going to have a medicine pump attached to his chest so he would have a steady supply of medicine.  He was misdiagnosed with a-plastic-anima or something like that.  I don’t remember the exact name.  They told Dad it was a newly discovered disease, which was similar to leukemia.  The doctors told him he was the eighteenth person in the US to be diagnosed with this disease and the treatment offered him his only hope of any normal life.  A few days before his surgery I was visiting Dad at home; I had a bible study guide I wanted to share with him.  He was worried and I knew he had been reading the bible and he never used any study guides.  As I was leaving, I looked back at Dad reading his newspaper in his favorite recliner.   At that moment, I knew that was the last time I would see Dad in his chair.  It was a totally surreal moment, one of those moments when a purely truthful thought jumps into your head and heart, and you know without knowing, how right it is.  Most of the time you don’t want it to be right.

A few days later Dad was admitted and had the surgery the following day.  It was downhill from there.  First, they put to many fluids into him too quickly and they almost lost him. Then when they gave him their wonder drug, Dad had a very adverse reactions and again they almost lost him.  The doctors aborted the surgery and the next day gave dad a bone marrow test that showed he had Acute Leukemia.  Dad had days to live.  He would never come home again.  Dad’s last ten days were full of emotional roller coasters rides, poignant moments and moments of pure sadness and grief.  There was nothing more heart breaking for my father to tell my youngest sister he would not be able to walk her down the aisle on her wedding day, which was only months away.

When I asked the doctor what had happened, he was totally honest and told me they had misdiagnosed Dad and he already had Leukemia.  They should have given him another bone marrow test before the surgery.  His last bone marrow was six months prior.  I spent as much time at the hospital as I could.  I was determined not to let him die alone.  I worked all day on the set of a movie in Rockport, Massachusetts or at Digital during the week.  At the end of the day, I would go to the hospital and spend the night with Dad.  I did this several times and the few nights I could not make it, my brother in-law was there.  The night Dad died my oldest brother was there with me.  Many nights it was just Dad and me and we had many conversations.  He told me, to my great surprise and humility, that I was always the one there for him.  I was shocked because I didn’t feel I was much of a son at all.  He told me how grateful he was for the Bible study guide because it answered a great many questions for him and put his mind and heart at ease.  I knew Dad’s comment about me was probably something he said to everyone because in my mind everyone was there for my parents more than I ever was.  However, when I decided to start reconnecting with my dad a few years before he passed, I decided from the onset of my efforts I wanted to be the guy he could talk with and not debate him or argue with, which was the signature profile of our early relationship.

In those years, I had come to know my dad for the first time as a person, who I learned to admire deeply.  I learned to listen to his needs, and it was good.  I learned to appreciate him as a person of great compassion and love.  He may have been pig headed, but so what, he was my dad and I didn’t have to be anything more than a son who would listen.

As to the rest of my family life, well, I have never laughed so hard, cried so much, or been as stressed as I was growing up.  Let’s face it, with a family this size there is always chaos and drama, equaled only by the fun and laughs.  I was pretty quiet and shy as a kid.  Partly because it was in my nature and to a greater extent, the trauma I was suppressing caused me to withdraw.  My parents were very loving, fair but strict.  Hell they had to be strict.  There are so many good memories of all my family.  But my life as a youngster was a complicated menagerie of conflicting emotions. The years prior to my adolescence were more normal than my teens for sure, but those years were not without their problems.

Looking back at these years 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12, I can see clearly episodes of acting out. Until my new wisdom, I was not able to recognize these behaviors as acting out.  But it is pretty clear I was acting out when I took to stealing at the age of 10.  I was so bold I would steal from my aunt or grandmother’s pocket books when they were in the next room.  I was scared to death and didn’t have a clue why I was doing it.  I felt completely guilty when I stole and I never felt good after stealing.  I was caught after about six or seven times.  Thank God!

There were other forms of acting out; I remember, if I was in a fight, any fight, I would go crazy and start swinging punches as fast as I could and completely out of control.  I had a lot of pent up anger and I didn’t know it.  It did not happen often, about once a year, possibly twice.  Looking back, I had plenty of reasons to have pent up anger.  It always bothered me when I lost control in a fight.  This was in my childhood and early adolescent years.

In later years, I was for the most part I was able to maintain control, especially during a fight.  Again, once in a great while, I would be angry about something and the level of anger was out of proportion to the reason I was mad.  It seemed something deep inside was triggered and needed to be expressed.  It was not a violent type of anger toward others, but there were times when I would break something of my own because I was pissed.  It was weird; I would get mad and then do something to hurt myself in some way, like breaking something dear to me.  There were other forms of acting out, all are surprising to me today, but understandable.  In hindsight there was acting out at an early age.  At the time, I am sure my family considered it being just a kid.  But it was not.

For all the good memories there are many lost memories and many memories I just missed out on because I was isolating myself from my family.  There is no doubt I can’t remember parts of my childhood and teenage years due to the trauma.  The stress of those years was overwhelming and very demanding, so much so it consumed me.

A great deal of the stress evolved in my teen years with my parents and family.  This was a result of Ernie’s manipulation.  I learned to hate birthdays, holidays, and any special events.  Ernie made them impossible for me to enjoy.  He insisted I spend these special times with him and Bette, while my parents, and rightly so, were insisting I spend the time with them, and me being of the nature I was, always tried to accommodate everyone.  It was tormenting, every birthday I had to be in two places, the same night.  Every holiday always ended in hurt feelings.  I learned to hate everything about all holidays.  It wasn’t until I was beyond Ernie when I began to enjoy the holidays again.  And enjoying them ended again for a while after my marriage ended on Christmas night.

The conflict between my parents and me grew as the years clicked by.  Their method for dealing with me was to ground me, and the harder they tried, the more I was pulled in two directions.  In time, something had to give and it did.  I compounded everything by giving in once again to Ernie’s will and I move out of my home into the devil’s den, at the age of seventeen.

When I look back on my teenage years, I feel I am looking at a time in my life when I was poisoned and fighting to survive a slow progression of venom through my veins, all the time knowing in time it would kill me.  Yes, I see the good times but they are overshadowed by such a dark life.  It was a sad teenage life in so many ways.  It is heart breaking for me to see my life as it was.  It was a time of constant inner turmoil and the struggle of a young kid trying to make sense of the upside down world I found myself lost in.

I remember the hunting trips with my dad and brothers.  They are the best memories.  I remember my dad’s boats and the many trips on the ocean we made and I miss these things.  The family trips to Plum Island and the family camping trips on the beaches of Plum Island and other places.  There were so many good times.  It is sad they had to be so tainted and shadowed by so much pain.  Overall, my family life growing up was pretty nice until my teens.  I loved our Christmases, Thanksgivings and other family events.  By the time my teens rolled around, things were all downhill for the holidays and any hope of enjoying them.

My siblings are good people and there is a lot to be said for them, I sure as hell could have done worse.  I just wish my life with them could have been different.  If they only knew how much I didn’t want things to be as they were.  I don’t know if I will ever know how my family thought of me during those many dark years of abuse.  I expect I will know less about how they feel about my recovery.   However, I hope, at some point they understand who I really am and be able to set aside any false beliefs about my past and me.  Moreover, to a much greater extent, I hope those who I have hurt will find forgiveness in their hearts for me, especially Mom and Dad.  How they feel has become important to me, but not so much as I expect anything from them.

Mom on the other hand, what a real trip Mom is; what incredible strength and fortitude she has.  She had a firm hand growing up matched only by her unwavering love and tender heart.  She is a woman who could have had it all and yet she chose to raise a family of eleven kids.  She never failed and she never gave up.  I am sure there were times when it was hard for her not to want to give up.  I never appreciated just how hard it was to raise a family until I was older and saw how hard it is for parents today who are raising one or two kids.  When I see this, I just shake my head and ask myself; how in all of God’s creation did Mom and Dad do it?  Eleven kids, all with needs, and wants 24/7; it takes a great mother to do as she has.  And she doesn’t just take care of her own family.  As long as I can remember, Mom has always worked for charitable organizations, orphanages, helping troops, church fundraisers, and volunteering at homeless shelters and kitchens.  She never says no if she has a way of helping.

My deepest heartache is hurting her.  And how much I feel I have failed my mother as a son.  I doubt I could ever make it up to her.  As a mother, I put her through hell in my teen years.  I didn’t want to, but I did.  If I were given only one opportunity to change only one thing in my past, it would to be a better son to my mother.  She tried so hard for so long and she never quit.  No matter how long I stayed out of touch, she was there when I needed her.  And she still is.  She is such an incredible person.

I have had an interesting family and family life.

6 MY PLAN FOR RECOVERY

I would be fooling myself if I really believed I could do this on my own.  I know the correct approach is through structured counseling under the guidance of professionals.  It is my hope to be able to do this, but realistically it is not possible for a while.  So I am left with dealing with recovery on my own for the most part.  As I have said I know very little of a formal recovery process.

Knowledge is my best option and this means educating myself as much as possible about abuse, what it does to a person, how other people deal with it and a general knowledge about recovery.  In many ways it is the first day of school for me.  Not having a professional mentor can be a tremendous obstacle to overcome, but I will.  I have little doubt I will achieve my goal with a good plan, patience, perseverance and commitment.  I have always advocated, “knowledge is power”.  In my case, knowledge will be the empowering drive to understanding the abuse, its affects, and serve as the catalysis for dealing with the emotions to come.

I know the emotional part of recovery will have little to do with knowledge and more to do with understanding.  I have little doubt this will be the most difficult phase for me.  Because I have never dealt with the emotions or wounds of abuse; they have only dealt with me, I don’t know what this process will bring.  I do know I will need to be flexible in planning my recovery, realizing the plan will evolve over time, and there will be setbacks.  Rarely does any plan truly unfold as planned.  Being aware there will be traps helps me realize my plan will be more of a guideline rather than a plan set in concrete.  I suspect the only goal I can set in concrete is I will heal.  I will be learning a great deal about abuse and this is a scary prospect at best.  And of course, I get to experience the effects of my new knowledge, as it comes my way.  As I see things at this beginning, I believe I am in for some surprises.  I don’t expect this to be easy or anything less than painful.  I will need to self-monitor all my feelings, thoughts and as I do, I will write about them as much as possible.  How I am feeling, thinking and dealing with my abuse, will all be part of my discovery process.  They say fear is the beginning of wisdom.  At this rate, I should be the wisest person on earth in a year or so.

Step one:         Carry a notebook 24/7 and or a recording device:

Write or record when important thoughts require.  Begin self-monitoring.  Learn to ask questions of myself.

Step Two:        Take two weeks and evolve a plan of attack:

Take notes.  Conduct Internet research on recovery programs, what is recovery, what are its stages, etc.  Re-read or review past read material, books and articles.  Try to understand what a recovery really looks like by reading life stories and case studies.  Try to find free counseling and or counseling at reduced rates.

Step Three:      Formalize and track plan:

Step Four:        Start developing my relationship with Jesus/God:

Begin daily prayers, reading, meditation and studying Christian history.

Step Five:        Find online support groups, specifically for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse

Step Six:                      Educate myself:

Start researching sexual abuse, surviving abuse, why people abuse and what type of damage is caused to a child.  Learn as much as I can about abusers; know your enemy, so to speak.

Step Seven:      Self-Monitor:

Start immediately:  Train myself to listen to my thoughts, and the physical reaction and emotional reactions to them.  Start using journal, and recording devices to record information.

Step Eight:      Apply what is learned:

Step Nine:       Allow the plan to evolve:

Learn to be adaptive in my approach.  Do not discount anything; the plan must work to you, not you to the plan.  Allow the plan to follow the natural processes I experience.

Step Ten:         Write and record results.

Step Eleven:   As the plan evolves, develop an action list of things that need to be changed:

I.E. What can I do now.

Step Twelve:   Stabilize my lifestyle:

Step Thirteen: Stop smoking pot:

Step Fourteen: Become more financially responsible:

Develop budget; stop taking on other people’s financial responsibilities.  Set safety-net goals, spending goals, income goals.  Consult a financial consultant and coach.

This was the basic plan I had developed, keeping in mind, I didn’t have a clue if I was on the right track or not.  Just making the plan required some research.  To do so, all I could do is apply my engineering skills to solving these problems.  As an engineer, I sometimes try to make things out to be a simple matter of black or white, yes or no.  I have known so many engineers who have disciplined themselves into this rigid way of thinking, which can be an obstacle rather than an asset.  So I realized early on I would need to be very careful not to fall into any form of set-thinking or set expectations, except the one expectation that I would stay the course and recover.

. Step One: Using a notebook or voice recorder . For me this turned out to be a very important step to take.  After I had my breakthrough in the cemetery, I lost all of my defenses and my thoughts flowed like a category 10 rapids.  Many times, while driving alone, lying in bed or watching television and I had memories or ” a connecting of the dots moment” only to forget my exact words for articulating what I had come to realize because I was  not keeping a timely record of my thoughts.  I could remember the result but not the train of thought or emotions I was experiencing that triggered the memory or revelation.  This was critical lost information.   It didn’t take long for me to realize writing about what I experienced in detail was tremendous tool for getting in touch with my feelings.  By writing I found myself expanding on my thoughts and feelings; forcing me to think about what had happened and what was going on.  It is a magnificent tool for self-monitoring and became part of my journaling.  There was a lot going on emotionally at the time, and there was no way I could accurately track the torrent of emotions and thoughts mentally.  I had to be a good engineer and sort things out by focusing of the predominant feelings one at a time.  So journaling became very important, as did the voice recorders.  For me it was important to try to be objective and  not lose sight of my goal.  I could not allow myself to be stuck in the trenches and only journal about anger, which I was not in touch with at any healthy level.  I wanted to simply write about my feelings, thoughts, discoveries and results.  So my journaling was structured as a tool for self-monitoring and tracking.  I think journaling in the context of a recovery process, has to be an interactive process of understanding oneself and self-discovery.  It definitely helped open the gate to an introspective journey, which is one of the many things recovery is turning out to be.  More simply put, recovery allowed me to take a close look at myself, objectively.

Step Two: Evolving a plan of attack, was no less important than any other part of my plan.  Initially I believe this step would be relatively easy.  It turned out to be a little different than simple or easy.  In the course of my research into developing a plan I was, by default, exposing myself to a lot of formation that very quickly became overwhelming.  It was clear I had to modify my approach further.  I needed to break it down to smaller steps.  First I would look for support groups and affordable therapy.

After about a week of searching I decided there was no appropriate therapy available in my area.  There were plenty of counselors who were willing to take me as a patient, however, when I pressed them on their qualifications, it usually turned out they were not specialized in dealing with childhood sexual abuse, in particular, male survivors.  If I was going into counseling, this time it would be with a professional specializing in my needs.  I would rather do it on my own than spend any time with the wrong counselor or support group.  As it turns out Mike Lew, the author of “Victims No Longer” for men and another book for women was within an hours drive.  I had read his book years before and I still had the copy and will be reading it again.  While working with Mike Lew would cost more than I can afford at this time, he will be worth working with when the time is right.  His book is excellent.  I believed early on I would do well in group therapy with kindred spirits and I really wanted to try it.  For a very long time I had never wanted anything to do with group therapy but for whatever reasons I was now feeling like a moth to the flame.  And in fact the one time, prior to now that I was in group therapy, it turned out very well, much better than I could have ever hoped for at the time.  I was being drawn to it again.

I was disappointed at how little help was available for persons like me.  This is what I had discovered when I called the various state and federal agencies.  I am not biased.  But our health system as great as it is, is very unfair and unbalanced when it comes to equal opportunity for healthcare.

Step Three:  Formalize Plan:  Write the plan in a work workbook and track.

Step Four:  Develop my relationship with God.  I believed it is very important to begin growing spiritually again.  This book was never meant to be a book about spiritual healing, or advocating any one method of healing or religion.  But as a person of faith, and one whose faith has been a very real part of my life, I can’t simply be politically correct and not mention faith as a means to healing.  Recovery cannot be done alone, and without faith, or a relationship with my God and savior, I do not believe my recovery would be complete or lasting.  In many ways, the abuse kept me from reaching my full spiritual relationship with Jesus by destroying my self-esteem, which made me feel unworthy of any love or grace from God.  I struggled with these feelings for years and if I am going to honest with myself, I need to believe I can have a growing relationship with God.  Faith has always been a very important part of me and now I have to learn to let Him in.  For many years I could love Him but not let Him beyond the walls I had built, just as it was for so many of my relationships, so it was difficult to feel the connections.  It kept me in “the dark night of the soul” too long.

Therefore, I will begin growing again spiritually and develop a relationship with Jesus.  It is sad so many people don’t believe their God is with them.  I believe the truth is somewhat different.  I believe God is always with us.  We have simply not learned to let Him in.  Alternatively, we could be so blinded by negative emotions we keep our doors locked.  God is everywhere, we just need to learn to break down the barriers to feel His presence.

Becoming more spiritual is one of the things that I can start now.  I don’t have to wait or analyze if I am doing the right thing at the right time.  Any time is good and it can only help make me feel better.  So I will begin my daily prayers go to communion and church more regularly.  Spiritual mediations have to be a big part of developing my relationship.  Prayers are great and dutiful, but spiritual meditation is the heaven of all meditations for me.  Through-out my life I have always had a powerful attraction to God.  I only had to struggle with whether I belonged or if he wanted me.

In the course of breaking down my plan into more manageable steps, I have chosen to look for an online support group next.  Again, this would be one of the easier things to do and would not take much time.  I found, to my surprise there was so much information on sexual abuse that it would take an army of researchers to sort it out.  When I typed in “online support groups for sexual abuse,” thousands of hits appeared.  When the words sex or abuse is searched, the hits are in the many thousands.  It took several days to find a couple of sites that would fit my needs.  In particular, DailyStrength.org became my premier site and proved most valuable in my recovery.  This was followed by another site called Malesurvivor.org another site dedicated to male adult survivors of sexual abuse.  I joined both sites, which was a shocking and amazing experience.  If the floodgates had opened before, the gates were blown away after I became involved in DailyStrength.org.  For the first time I realized I was not alone and by reading other survivors stories, the scope of my sexual abuse was really beginning to hit home.  I was on the site for a day or two when it proved too much too soon.  However, being part of it was having a very deep effect on me.  I had to pullback after a few days and start pacing myself on these two sites.  Again, it was a start and an experience.  Doing too much too quickly, has been an inherent trait of mine most of my life.  I think I am an over-compensator.

It was not long before I realized one of my goals of educating myself was already happening.  All my awareness and efforts were a constant education.  It seems everything I did with research on abuse I was finding new information that I had no idea of.  While in my mind I had considered educating myself via books and online research, it was happening routinely now and in ways I had not expected.  I was amazed how much was going at the early stages of my recovery.  I was reaching out in every way I could.  In the course of exposing myself to all the life stories on these sites, I was touched, shocked, numbed, and a million other feelings.  I was bothered by a trend I found in a percentage of the people on these web sites.  A significant number were not taking any responsibility for their recovery.  I tried not to be judgmental for good reason.   Who the hell was I to judge?  I wasn’t educated about recovery or what people go through.  In all likelihood, these people were simply at a stage of recovery that I didn’t understand.  Nevertheless, it bothered me because I believe the minimum requirement for a successful recovery, is a person must take responsibility for their own recovery.  I believed it would be foolish for me to consider having other people fix my problems.  Counseling is invaluable if it used correctly, however, no one can expect the counselor to do the work for you.  I have heard so many times how “counselors are not doing their job. I am not getting better and therefore it is not working,” etc.  Of course, there can be a poor matchup between patient and counselor and being with the right counselor is so important.  The other side of the coin is people who want others to fix their problems.  It takes a lot of work and introspective soul searching to correct to heal the wounds of abuse.  No one can do it for us.  Others can be your guide, support, or source of love, but in the end, it will be up to each of us to decide, “Failure to recover is not an option.”  Each of us must be willing to accept recovery as our own responsibility.  We must educate ourselves and understand education can only be a means to an end, and a tool to be used in a steadfast but prudent way.

The following is from http://www.womensweb.ca/about/tos.php, this definition of the stages of recovery is the one I found I could relate to.  There are many definitions and all are similar but this one does it for me.

Stages of Recovery:

Every individual’s recovery process is unique. However, most share some similarities. Survivors may experience the following stages of recovery:35,36

Denial: It is not unusual for people to be trapped in this stage for many years after the physical nature of the abuse has ended.  Many survivors develop addictive or compulsive behaviors while attempting to mask the feelings and emotions connected to child sexual abuse.

Confused Awareness: At this stage, people begin to recognize the connection between their past trauma and present concerns.  This new awareness may introduce feelings of anxiety, panic and fear.

Reaching Out:  Survivors can be in a situation in which the perils of silence become more painful than the risk involved in speaking out.  Receiving individual counseling and/or joining support groups may play a role in the healing process.

Anger: After they reach out and become more aware of the impacts of the abuse, survivors often deal with intensified anger. This anger is an expected, natural part of the healing process.  Thoughts of disclosure and confrontations may dominate this stage. Anger may be channeled towards anyone who excused or protected the abuser, anyone who did not believe their disclosure of the abuse, and anyone they feel should have been concerned but never took steps to help.37

Depression: At this stage, adult survivors may recall the negative messages or criticisms that they received from their abuser as a child.  If these seem valid to the adult survivor, they may cause him or her to become depressed.  When faced with depression, survivors often feel powerless and unable to make positive changes.  If symptoms and triggers of their depression are identified and an appropriate support team is found, the chances of their being overwhelmed with feelings of despair may be minimized.38

Clarity of Feelings and Emotions: For adult survivors of child sexual abuse, a key component to healing is to express and share their feelings.   This can be achieved by survivors learning to acknowledge and identify a wide variety of feelings and emotions, as well as finding ways to release them without hurting themselves or others.   A good support team can be extremely valuable at this time.

Regrouping: This phase involves many positive changes in survivors’ attitudes and feelings. In this stage, they develop a new sense of trust in others but, most importantly, they start to trust themselves. This phase includes learning from the past, examining the present and planning for the future. Many survivors have suggested that this stage represents a transition from merely existing to actively living.

Moving-on: This stage includes a shift in focus from the negative experiences of the past to positive plans for the future.  Painful feelings and emotions do not dominate memories from the past.  Positive coping skills developed in earlier stages are enhanced and assist survivors in moving on with their lives.  Several coping skills that can help survivors to move on include learning to love and accept themselves, recognizing and celebrating personal growth, creating a healthy support team, grieving current losses as they occur, learning to deal with stress effectively, and recognizing when it is time to let go of painful feelings connected to the past.

7 recovery: the beginning

Knowing the path I was on could not change, I found myself in a place I had never been before.  I quickly came to realize this was going to be a hard process and I was not sure I could do it.  It was a mix of feelings.  A part of me was relieved I was finally accepting the abuse and starting to deal with it, but it didn’t help me put my feelings into words.  I can only sum them up as a mixed blessing and very profound. I had a great sense of relief because I had a very real connection with the truth.  The truth was I was hurt and I incurred very real, tangible damage.  The truth gave me a new sense of hope.  It also helped me realize how alone I felt.  All I had was the lie I had lived so long.   Knowing I had lived a lie meant I did not really know myself, and if you don’t know yourself then you are truly alone.  It wasn’t the loneliness bothering me; it was the emptiness I felt.  On the one hand, I knew recovery was a very good place to be.  However, I felt like an empty jar, identified by superficial and misleading labels, which tell you nothing of what is inside.  Now, the person I played for so long was stripped away.  I was saddened too; I am in my fifties and finally see just how much I have lost or given away was deeply disturbing to me.  It was at this time I started to feel angry, but not so much it became the dominating drive.  In fact it concerned me I was not more openly angry.  I sure as hell had a right to be.  I didn’t know what to do with it when I was sensing twinges of anger.

Anger was another aspect of healing I knew nothing of, and I understood I needed to deal with it sooner than later.  Therefore, as a good engineer I put anger where I believed it belonged on a list of things to deal with and learn about.  It would be wonderful if recovery were as simple as putting a priority rating on a list, but it is not.  When I became aware of new emotions or I connected some dots, there was no holding back.  You can’t put the genie back in the bottle.  My thoughts and feelings started flowing with each new revelation or emotion.  It became a choice to accept the flood and allow it to be part of the process.  Generally, these feelings rarely followed my well laid out plan.  It was apparent I needed to learn to regulate how much I could deal with at any one time.  This strategy worked very well but took a lot of self-monitoring; and this is another of the many aspects of recovery that I needed to learn.  I could say it’s like an infected wound that can’t heal until the infection is knocked down.  I discovered, as I identified each wound, I needed to learn to connect with it emotionally not simply rationally.  In doing so, I would be able to heal the wound.

Learning to sort my feelings out was proving easier said than done.  It took intellectual power to keep myself from overloading.  I felt I was on a runaway train that never ends.  There was no stopping it, but I needed to find a way to slow it down.  It was a strange feeling.  It was the force of recovery pulling me along.  I neither wanted to, nor could I stop it.  With perseverance, the train did find its emotional brakes and slowed down to a manageable pace.

I decided to take one feeling at a time and work through it.  To this end, my sense of duality had bothered me for a long time.  It wasn’t anything like bi-polar or schizophrenia.  This was different and more of an identity issue.  I began to focus on this one thought process.  Why was I feeling as I was, feeling like two people?  How do I figure it out?  Where do I start?  How do I describe and understand what I am feeling?  I started monitoring my thinking about it, in an effort to try to articulate what was going on and I wrote my thoughts and feelings in my journal.

At the time, I didn’t realize how much effort it would take to understand why I was experiencing a sense of duality.  I wasn’t even sure if I was describing how I felt correctly by calling it a sense of duality.  I struggled for a couple of months with this and started reading books; “Victims No Longer,” “Betrayed as Boys,’ Abused Boys, the Neglected Victims of Sexual Abuse,” ”The Courage to Heal,” and I did a lot of internet research.  In time I understood I was acting like two people.  The person I wanted others to see me as, meaning the person I wanted to be and the person I didn’t want them to know or believe existed.  As I focused more and more on my feelings, it became obvious this was the fundamental lie I was living.  In my mind, I had created a dual identity.  The person who was never abused and the guy who knew most people knew neither identity melding into one.  Neither was totally accurate and neither could reconcile with the other.  The mask was the other me, so to speak.  It became clear over time my inaccurate sense self was preventing me from understanding the real me.  I also understood, for the first time, my thinking was flawed.  I was living a victim’s life and not the life of a survivor.  It was at this point I started evolving a more realistic sense of self.  I was able for the first time put the abuse in a different perspective.  I began to think in terms of what was true and what was not.  I started dealing with my shadow beliefs and there were many.

To this end, journaling again proved invaluable.  The more I wrote the easier I could express myself.  The more I express myself the more enlightened I became.  The following is one of the first entries I made.  It was at the beginning of my process.  It has been edit for publication.

Journal entry:

“As I sit here in my motel room, where I have been by choice for the last 1.5 years, I ponder why my life has been as it has?  Why is my life one of continued self-destructive behavior?  Why didn’t I realize I was being so self-destructive?  Was I so weak a person to have let this animal (Ernie) fool me so much?  I feel like an asshole.  I am so overwhelmed with mixed feelings.  I am struggling with sadness, anger, loneliness, emptiness, and this GD sense of duality.  This really sucks and I can only keep telling myself it will be worth it in the long run so hang in there.  It hasn’t been long since this bull crap started and I can’t shut it off.  It is a wonder anyone survives this crap.  I am sick of the anxiety and it doesn’t make any sense to me.  I have so much going for me and yet this bullshit is in control and holding me back.  It sucks not knowing who you are.  It sucks knowing I am a coward and should have not let the abuse happen.  I feel like I have wasted most of my life and I was robbed and cheated.  Ernie was an asshole and I was a bigger asshole for letting him do it to me.

It bothers the hell out of me.  I am wracked with anxiety, flash backs and the dreams are back in force.  Nevertheless, I have never quit at anything and I will not let this get the better of me.  I am sick of wasting my life and making poor choices.  I am sick of holding myself back and I will deal with this crap and I will not give up.”

End journal entry

I remember the very early days of recovery trying to understand this overwhelming sense of duality.  It was driving me crazy at times because I could only identify my feelings in a non-descriptive manner.  I could feel an innate sense about myself.  It took months for me to work through this.  Day after day would go by and I was struggling with articulating what was really going on with me.  At times, it was agonizing.  In the end there was no simple answer.  It took a while for me to realize this.  I would have to sort this one out as I explored recovery in a larger content.  Duality was a major symptom of my abuse with its root entangled in all the aspects of the abuse.  There was no way I could solve this one without pushing ahead with recovery and let my recovery show me the answers in due time.

For me the sense of duality began to changed when I realized it was the mask I wore to protect myself from the feelings and memories of abuse.  As time went on the mask slowly faded and so did my sense of duality.

“Changing the patterns of one’s life and thinking habits is a demanding and treacherous endeavor for someone with my history.  It scares me and I am sick of being scared.  All I care about now is recovery and to never have to feel like this anymore.  I have to stay the course and face whatever comes my way.  I am glad I finally fighting on my terms.  But it pisses me off I have to.

When I was still in Colorado, I had decided I needed to reconnect with Ernie and Bette back in Massachusetts.  I wanted to talk with both of them about the abuse and I wanted to let Ernie know I would not stand on the sidelines any longer if he was still abusing kids.  This became a mission for me and it was not easily accomplished.  When I returned to New England, it took a year for me to locate them and then I could only find Bette.  I didn’t know Ernie had died several years earlier at the age of seventy one.  Bette had gone to ground after Ernie died because she was so humiliated by the guy’s history.  She didn’t want anyone to find her.   Who could blame her?   She was in an elderly housing project in Massachusetts.    She was shocked when she heard my voice on the phone.   After explaining what had happened to Ernie she asked how my wife was doing.  I told her Theresa had divorced me.  Bette’s response was, she was sorry and told me I had lived a hard life.  Her comment on my life surprised me because; first, I did not look at my life objectively enough to understand how right she was.  Secondly, I didn’t think she had cared enough to think through any of it.  We agreed to meet for lunch the next week.  I wanted to know more, and strangely, I wanted to know where Ernie was buried.  I wanted to visit the grave and for what reason, I was not sure.  I guess even he in my mind at this stage of my recovery, deserved my last respects, and I have no doubt now I was looking for closure.  In hindsight, this proved not to be the case.  I wanted to confront him and nothing more.  In death, he found another way to rob me.  But confronting him was no longer an obstacle or an option for me.  It left me feeling perplexed and glad there would be no more victims.

The next week I met Bette and I was surprised how old she looked.  The years had not been kind to her.  We visited Ernie’s grave and I had a plethora of mixed feelings.  I put on a good show for Bette and simply paid my respects and didn’t talk about my overabundance of feelings.  How do I deal with this?  I didn’t have a clue how I would react to meeting him in person and I sure as hell didn’t have clue how to deal with my feeling s.  His death was unexpected and I was not prepared for it.

I stood there looking down at his grave; Bette would not approach.  She hadn’t visited him after his death and this was her first time since the funeral.  She had no use for the man.  I wasn’t sure how to feel, angry yes, sad yes, confused yes, robbed yes, but I also felt sad for Ernie, I though how pathetic a person he was in reality.  As a Christian, it is very hard for me to think poorly of anyone.  I was taught to respect the dead.  But this went deeper than these simple premises.

Here I was standing over a grave of a guy who pretty much destroyed my life in so many ways and yet I could not allow myself to be angry.  I am not sure why not feeling anger bothered me.  I was thinking this guy is probably in hell for what he did to me and so many others.  But I don’t wish Hell on anyone, and my guess was Ernie was a prime candidate for a permanent home in there.  I found no solace in feeling he was suffering in Hell.  And revenge has never been a desire of mine, so I will leave the judgments to God.  But all this high and mighty thinking still didn’t explain why I was not feeling rage.  Why didn’t I want to piss on his grave?  Instead, I prayed for him.  What was this BS thinking telling me about me?  I thought if I am in recovery then why am I not dancing on his grave.

It was bizarre staring down at his grave.   Here was a person who influenced my life and me in such a negative way, and in the end, he was just a pathetic person who I believed to be very unstable and mentally ill.  He was just a person, so how did he have such an ungodly hold on me.  What was it that allowed me to be drawn into this guy’s web?  As I stood there, I really couldn’t feel much beyond sadness and confusion.  I wasn’t sure if I was being sad for me or him.  It was just weird.  Now I knew where he was so I decide I would return sometime in the future, alone.   With Bette, there it was not possible for me to focus on much of anything.

We left the cemetery and went to lunch.  I felt bad for Bette.  In as much as I hold her as responsible for the abuse as Ernie was, I had no malice toward her.  I just wanted to have my say and learn what happened to Ernie.  She explained how Ernie’s last years were very pathetic.  He was always the consummate hypochondriac; he always had something going on and always believed he was going to die in his early fifties as his parents did.  His parents passing had a profound impact on this guy.  His final years were plagued with intense anxiety and fear.  He had symptoms no one could diagnose.  Bette explained he had episodes of total panic and lay on the floor just shaking and sometimes he would lose control of his bladder.  I guess it was hell for her because Ernie and she had drifted so far apart that hate and co-dependence seemed the only things they had left between them.

Bette went on to explain Ernie had a heart attack of some sort and when he was admitted to the hospital he was told he would not survive the night.  He had one more conversation with Bette before he told her to leave for good; he did not want her anywhere around him.   He decided to have the doctors put him under.  He did not want to be awake for the end.  He was a coward to the end.  His last conversation with Bette was a message for me.   He told her to tell Richard “All is forgiven!”  I damn near fell out of my seat.  I couldn’t believe what I had just heard.  I asked her again and she repeated the same message, ”Tell Richard all is forgiven.”  My emotions went into total overload.  I was thinking, that son-of-a-bitch. All is forgiven. What the hell!  In death, he got one last shot at screwing with my head from the grave.  It was at this moment I realized how screwed up this guy was.  He was forgiving me.  For what?  Taking my life back and moving on?  In his twisted mind he had no idea how much damage and suffering he had caused.  How sick can a person be was no longer a question for me when it came to Ernie.  He was one screwed up guy.  He always had a way of making me feel guilty and he just tried to do it again, from the grave.  But I was having none of it.  I reminded myself why I was there, for closure and to make sure he was not abusing any more kids.  The latter was solved for me.  As for closure, well that would have to come in a different form were Ernie is concerned.

After several minutes, I managed to compose myself.  Bette commented it was obviously bothering me and she wanted me to make sure I understood Ernie really loved me and was always sad and hurt I stayed away.  I asked her what she expected me to do.  She said she was glad I was gone for my own sake. I told her I considered Ernie a very sick man and he had caused a lot of damage.  I told her, if he were alive today, he would be in prison by now.  She said she knew he would have eventually ended up in jail and this was one of the many reasons she was glad he died.  She started to cry and told me she knew he had caused me a lot of suffering and she was very sorry for it.  I was not sure what to say.  After all, I was just starting to get into the meat of recovery and I was bombarded with constant thoughts about my life, the abuse and recovery.  Confronting Ernie was an important step for me to achieve, but it was painful and revealing.  Before I knew Ernie had passed on, I was scared and nervousness about finding him.  I also knew I had to.  I felt a direct confrontation was one way of establishing a sense of control over the abuse and I would be taking power directly away from him by doing so and therefore empowering myself.  Instead, I had a bomb dropped on me.  It was very hard to deal with but so typical of Ernie.

I asked Bette why she stayed with him.  She told me he had become very threatening to her and she was very afraid of him.  I could relate to this.  He never physically abused her but he kept control of her with emotional abuse and she felt trapped as I did.  She explained she had nothing but hate for him and he felt the same about her.  She went on to tell me he had lost all the real estate as well as the house in Lynnfield, which I was supposed to own one third.  Even if Ernie were alive, I would never have got my share of the property.  As with all things with Ernie and real estate, he kept things in his own name and believed in verbal agreements with me.  Of course!  We were best buddies!  And we can trust each other!  What an asshole this guy was.

I talked with Bette about the abuse of the other kids and the foster kids she had.  She was in total denial.  She claimed I was the last victim and Ernie had got his act together when it came to abusing kids.  I asked her if she really believed that.  She said yes and I told her I had serious doubts and there were probably several kids beyond me who are now suffering.  I asked her if he had ever been caught and all she said was there were problems but no prosecutions.  So beyond the one incident with the Department of Social Services that I was aware of, where he got a slap on the wrist, he got off the hook a few more times, which meant I was not the last victim.  This guy had a gift for avoiding prosecution.  I don’t know how but he always found a way out of trouble.  I wanted to talk with Bette about her role in the abuse.  After all sex with a fifteen-year-old boy is abuse.  She became uncomfortable and nervous about talking with me.  But she did and said she was trapped also and was pretty much forced to have sex with me by Ernie.  She did go on to say she had no excuse and she should have been stronger.  She apologized and was good enough for me.  In retrospect, I did not see what it would do for me pressing the issue with her.  I could never condone or sympathize with her about her abuse, but I was looking at a lost and lonely old women.  She couldn’t save herself from her monster husband, how could I expect her to save me?  At the risk of sounding like I am defending Bette and I am not, I could see how she was as trapped as I was and I have no doubt Ernie threatened her in different ways.  At the time when she and I were involved I was glad she taught me I liked women and help me understand I didn’t like guys.  This being said, her abuse was very damaging emotionally to me.  The spiritual torment I experienced was as bad as it could be.  Between the two of them, I really lost my perspective on myself and was thrown into a state of mind that has eaten away at me since my teens.  Her actions add to my belief I was worthless to society and God.   So Bette’s abuse of me was damaging but it was less than the extreme abuse Ernie had perpetrated on me, if this is possible.  I felt sorry for her.  She was old and Ernie had left her nothing.  She was paying the price of a victim as well as an abuser.  I didn’t need any pounds of flesh from Bette and besides I was still coming down from the shock of being forgiven by my abuser.  In this light, what Bette did, didn’t seem all that important.  I took her home and told her we would do lunch again in a couple of weeks.  I guess I was feeling sorry for her.

I never saw Bette again and I never found the need to visit Ernie’s grave again.  I still find myself thinking of visiting him and having a conversation but I haven’t, and if and when I do, I want to understand why I am there.  Years have gone by now and I have no overwhelming drive to do so.

How strange this day with Bette turned out to be.  Ernie’s very last words were about me, and we hadn’t had contact in many years.  What was he thinking?  Was it possible Bette didn’t understand what he was saying?  I was angry he could do something like this.  Making me feel responsible and implying I needed forgiving.  What a shock!  I was totally taken back and triggered in ways I did not understand.  I knew recovery was going to be tough but this was totally unexpected.  I felt robbed, deprived and abused all over again.  How could he, even in his twisted mind, figure he needed to forgive me?

My feelings rang in my head for several months.  Each time I would hear those damned words, I would get pissed.  I didn’t understand how to process what he had said or how I was feeling about his last twisted message to me.  I would like to think he was just being stupid, I just don’t see it that way.  Like everything in my life under Ernie’s control, I was never given the chance to confront him, he was totally dominating.  I think this was a real source of anger for me.  I had come back to confront him for the first time and I was not able to so on my terms.  I would have to find another way to confront him and find a little closure.  I felt he had the last word again, in the true style of Ernie.

Regardless of what happened with my lack confrontation with Ernie’s and his last words, or how I felt about it, it was still only one aspect of my ongoing recovery.  It had been a year since I had truly started on this journey, a lot had happened, and many things were accomplished.  So all and all, I was in a good place but it had been a long hard road over the previous year and how much different I found myself feeling.  I was becoming a different person or to put it more accurately I was beginning to find myself.

I had planned to start making changes immediately based on my written plan.  But this proved a little more difficult than I had expected.  I had to somehow develop a stable life style but more importantly, I had to develop a better relationship with my family.  This was the most important step for me.  I can’t articulate how important this was for me.  My relationship with my family was critical for my self-esteem, my heart and recovery.  For sure, I was standing up to some very powerful demons (shadow beliefs).  My perception of myself had convinced me my family must be thinking of me in ways that could not be very positive.  While Ernie’s efforts of trying to convince me I was a homosexual had failed, the shame and guilt I felt caused me to project a sense of myself that everyone in my family believed I was a homosexual.  Of course this was a confusing concept for me to deal with because it predisposes they must have known about my life and what Ernie had done.  In time, this would prove to be true.  Denial is a funny thing.

Outwardly, I had put on a good show from the time I was twelve until now.  This changed nothing because as with all denial, there is the truth lurking just below the surface and it always comes to the surface in little dribs and drabs.  The truth is I had difficulty facing the fact some of my family knew I had acted out in ways that were unacceptable to them or me.  I had made myself a target by being so stupid and I had paid a very dear price for it.  In the course of my anger, humiliations, and denial I had put myself into a self-imposed exile.  This was very offensive to some of my family members and very hurtful to my parents.  I know some thought of me as an insensitive jerk and in a way, they were right.  It wasn’t what I wanted and I wish it was different.  When I moved to Colorado, I had virtually no contact with 90% of my family for several years. They had every right to be angry.  I had to overcome these feeling along with other issues.  Not least of which was my first abuser.  The confrontation did not go well and caused many issues with me.  This confrontation caused some of my old defenses to kick in for a while and made me feel uncomfortable enough to want to stay away again.  This was a real setback for me but it also led to other revelations.  Not so shocking was the fact that my mother in time, years after I had ended my abuse ended with Ernie, came to realize my first abuser was the one who introduced me to Ernie.  I was shocked when she told me and it was painful for her and me.  I never saw my mother cry and after all of this she cried for three days.

It took a  year to get back on track with my goal with my entire family.  It was a difficult time for me and again I had to keep in mind this was simply part of the recovery process.  (As it turns out my first abuser was severely abused by Ernie.)  So reconnecting with my family was turbulent but in the end it was very much worth it.  My relationship with most of my family has improved greatly, especially with my mother.

During the beginning of my recovery, there were many things going on all at once and finding my way was demanding at times.  It seemed when I was working through one thing it would lead to two more things.  After a while, I began to wonder if the flood would ever end.  I had to keep relying on how I felt.  Without exception, I was making steady progress and that was all that was important to me.  I was slowly becoming the person I wanted to be.  Like the sculptor who can see the figure in the stone before they make the first cut, I too had an image I was trying to discover, one chip at a time.

Describing my relationship with my family is difficult because my negative thinking had developed at an early age.  At the time, my thinking was so fear focused and paranoid about them possibly knowing about my abuse caused a slew of problems with me, and only fed my feelings of insecurity, inadequacy and shame.  In time these feelings translated to very low self-esteem compounded by a false sense of confidence.  The only way to break down these barriers was to tell my family the truth about my abuse.  My solution to my dilemma was to relieve myself of the burden and simple tell all who wanted to know.  So when I returned from Colorado, keeping in mind it had only been several months sense I had my awareness jolted by a solid dose of reality in the cemetery. I decided I was not going to carry the shame any longer and the best way was to just come clean.  And I did.  Telling everyone was a real relief and it had some surprising insights.  Some knew and never said anything, they didn’t know at the time of the abuse but they did figure it out as they got older or at least had serious suspicions.  Others figure I was gay in my teens and others didn’t care or just didn’t know.  Once I had made the commitment to come clean, I decided I didn’t care if I was thought ill of or not.  And I wasn’t.  Opening up was the best thing I could have done.  For the first time I could tell my family I was a victim, not a willing participant and when I did this, the shame dissolved into acceptance.  At this point, I could check off another item on my list and it felt good.  Another aspect of the lie had been removed.  I didn’t have to pretend anymore.

The first year of recovery definitely was the most difficult and it was a roller coaster ride for sure.  After I had opened up to my sister she had let me know there were online support groups.  She understood I had no money for formal counseling and she encouraged me to get into counseling as soon as I could.  With this in mind, I was lead to the web sites of Malesurvivor.org and Dailystrength.org.

My experience with these sites and in particular Daily Strength has done more for my recovery than any other aspect I could plan for.  I felt like a steel rod to a magnet.  I was beyond amazed.  At first it was very overwhelming and I was not sure why.  Part of me couldn’t believe what I was seeing and reading.  I was not alone after all!  There were thousands just like me, all suffering and all trying to find a light in the night.  Most lost and some survivors.  They were young and old, desperate and confused.  Some had achieved a level of recovery but most had not.  My heart really went out to all of them.  There were so many stories, so much pain and so much need.  My first instincts were to reach out to all of them and try to be as supportive as I could.  For the first time, I could relate to others.  However, it was another double edge sword, one of the many I would encounter.

Their stories ranged from simple to profound.  I was amazed how many kids are still being abused.  Society has a long way to go before child sexual abuse is expunged.  It was so sad seeing how much damage was done to so many innocent kids and to see and feel their life long struggles.  Talk about jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.  These sites would be a trial by fire for sure.  It was difficult to understand how people could be so evil.  How could parents do what they did to their daughters and sons?  How could anyone do these horrible things to kids?

By being involved with kindred spirits took me a long way in understanding just how much things had not been my fault.  Before Daily Strength, I was aware of a great sense of damage and I had a general idea of the type of damage, but to see it in so many others brought me in touch with my pain.  I became an avid member for about a year.  The site was very interactive and informative.  It gave me an opportunity to express myself and my history, openly without prejudice or malice.  For the most part, we were all in the same boat.  It also gave me a chance to reach out to others for support and gave me the ability to be supportive of others.  It was not a “cure all” or a replacement for counseling but it was a start and helped tremendously.  I have to caution people from trying to use this type of support as a single solution; it is not and cannot replace professional therapy.  It is intense if you have not been involved, and in the year I was actively involved we lost friends to suicide.  Most were kids as young as 15 and a couple of adults.  There is nothing sadder than not being able to help a child at risk.  It was very hard emotionally to find out an online friend was gone.  It made me feel helpless and mad.  You need to be ready for this level of intense awareness.   In truth, I don’t know if there is anyway of preparing for it.

During my first year of recovery, I was prolific at journaling.  It became clear I was in serious pain and I had been most of my life.  The physical and emotional pain cut me to my very soul and was the essence of who I was.  The more I expressed myself in writing the more I learned about myself.  I began to understand the errors of my ways and I was not happy about what I had been uncovering.  Over the years, I was my own worst enemy and I was doing it unknowingly.  Self-destructive behavior was a way of life and I was in total denial about it.  I had convinced myself everything was fine with me when it was far from it.  I discovered my thinking habits about myself were all screwed up.  I really didn’t like myself.  In time I learned my self-destructive behavior was less in the substance abuse and far more in being able to sabotage myself subconsciously.  It seems I always fell short of my goals.  Do not get me wrong, I have done a great many things in my life that anyone would be proud of, but I never allowed myself to reach my full potential or fulfill my dreams.  I was always beating myself up on the inside, always finding a subconscious means to sabotage myself.  I realized my negative self-image had been imprinted in my mind at a very early age, so much so, I was not able to bring it into the light until I was in recovery.  So many years lost!  Recovery was quickly turning into a continuous journey into the unknown; it is the same for life.  If we are lucky, it is a long journey into the unknown.  It is said “The Undiscovered Country” (Hamlet) is death, I don’t think so.  It is the future.

There were distractions for sure during my first and second year of recovery.  I had overly demanding jobs and relationships that definitely distracted from continuous and steady progress.  There were times I could not journal as much as I should have or be as focused as I needed to be.  It was probably not a bad thing because too much too quick would have proved detrimental to a healthy recovery process.  It suffices to say, the process I developed in the first year became a steady awareness with intervals of intense work culminating in new knowledge and wisdom and periods of steady calm until the next step slowly materialized.  Not least of which was how many negative thinking habits I uncovered.  I had so many that it is a wonder I had survived as long as I have.  Learning to identify them was a conscience effort and well worth the exercise.  This led to the truth that I was really punishing myself all these years.  It was easy to do as long as I was not willing to address the real issues.  I didn’t fool my family; they knew there were things going on inside of me.  They sensed it.  I believed I sensed my family knew and therefore this instinct feed my need for self-exile.

I had reached another milestone in my recovery.  I now focused on identifying and changing my negative thinking habits.  Here again it was not a short duration.  After I realized a “thought pattern” was not conforming to the truth, I wrote it down and then reason with myself; I used “talk back,” meditation and self-hypnosis methods to reprogram the thought or thinking habit with a truthful one.  I was amazed how frequent these thoughts were.  It seems these thoughts had been influencing me for so long they became the norm.  So much so I was unable to recognize them.  Until I had taken this cognitive approach, I had no idea these thoughts were driving me.  I guess the subconscious mind is like a computer.  There are many programs running in the background, which the average computer user never sees or is aware of.  This goes back to the programming days of our lives when we are developing self-image and all the other developmental programming as children.  It is amazing how much abuse can affect the human mind.

Understanding my thinking habits had a dual affect.  First, I discovered the flawed thinking habits and second, in order to replace them, I was forced to see the good things about myself.  I was slowly getting to know myself in ways I had only hope to.  The shadow beliefs were slowly dissolving.  The process was truly challenging but the progress was steady and clear.  It took work, but what the hell, how much work did it take to maintain the lie, a lot more than recovery needed.

The mechanics of my recovery were interesting, especially during the first year where fundamental progress had been achieved.   During the process, I would go through a series of small steps and then reach a plateau where I would experience a lot of change.  I relished in my newfound sense of self, fueled by my achievements.  As each plateau was reach, it was followed by a sense of real progress and there always seemed to be time to savor the feelings.  After a respite, the wheels of recovery kept rolling along.  I would then discover the next level of work to do and the pattern would repeat.  Each time I would feel better and better, more secure in myself and what I was leaning and how I was feeling, always a trend toward feeling better.  Sure there were many things bothering me and some things I didn’t like, but it was ok because I worked through them and came to understand them.  It was when this understanding became real the healing would take place.

There was one thing in particular I remember as a real turning point for my self-image and me.  I learned I was making myself feel good by making others feel good.  This was a fundamental betrayal of me, and another major aspect of the lie.  I wasn’t doing anything for myself to make myself feel good on the inside.  The more I did for others the better it made me feel and of course, those good feelings helped keep me hide from all the negative stuff.   Helping other people is important to me but no longer at the expense of my true self.  I was doing as much as I could for everyone else, and therefore, taking on far too many responsibilities, that were not mine to take on.  This is a form of overcompensating, hence a form of self-destructive behavior.  I learned through my research and talking with a counselor, these traits can be an indication of a history of abuse.  Victims sometimes try to mask their pain by focusing on others and trying to win acceptance while trying to prove we are a good person.  When I was doing this, I masked my underlying belief I was a bad person with a dark history.  Here is where the lie became confusing.  The truth is I have always been a good person but not dealing with the root cause of a negative self-image bifurcated the lie.  I was a good person who refused to see I was a good person.

So this was my beginning.  A long beginning, but nonetheless a beginning I am happy with, very happy with.  The truth is, every day in recovery is a beginning.  And so is each day we live.  I was never so focused or committed to anything as I am with recovery.  I have a single-minded focus.

 

8 shame the great silencer of innocence

 

After returning home from Colorado, I had no reason to expect to be greeted with open arms from my family.  But I was surprised; things when pretty well, at first.  My reunion was not without its setbacks and I still had Ernie to find, and talk with others more important than that asshole.  My family, being as big as it is; is never without drama and I had been too much a part of the drama of the past.  I just didn’t want to be known for causing any more of it.  But it is part of the adventure of being from a large family.  Eventually I would have to face the demons who were holding me back and start dealing with the shame.  Shame was in the way and I had come home to heal, so my shame and trepidations about reconnecting with my family became just another part of the process.

After about six months being home, it was time to start talking about what had happened to me and who the players were.  For six months I had been trapped in the same feelings that drove me from my family. The pressure of not telling my family and my need to be totally open with them was becoming too much and very distracting.  It was time to get my past in the open, the truth about what really had happened and it was time to eliminate all the wondering on my family’s part.  I needed them to understand the truth of my youth and the relationship with my abusers.  I believe those who did know something believed it was my choice to be involved with that animal.  I needed them to know I was not gay in my teens, and the abuse really did serious damage to me emotionally, and it affected my relationship with them.  I was not looking for forgiveness or understanding, just awareness.  From the time I decided to come home until I was finally ready to open up with my family, I had been feeling I was catapulted back in time to my teens.  I felt I was back in group therapy just listening to others talk for a week and a half and all the time I was busting at the seams wanting to speak out.  It was like being in a pressure cooker.  It was time to start talking about my abuse with my family.

Getting it off my chest was the best thing I could have done for myself.  I had decided I didn’t care too much about what they thought about it, I just wanted it out there.  I wanted to let them know I was not gay, my abuse was not my choice and I was sick of having to deal with the pain and guilt.  I needed them to know how sorry I was for all of it.  I needed them to realize the abuse had cost me so much and kept me away from them, and I wanted my relationship with them to be different now.

This stuff never ceases to amaze me.  Talking about the abuse with my family was so much relief and I was surprised at how supportive most of them were.  For the first time in my adult life I actually felt better about my relationship with my family, somehow the shame was not as bad.

At the time, I didn’t totally understand how important it is to open up and talk about what happened or was happening.  For the most part I was following my instincts.  I learned the hard way, as with most things in my life, it didn’t have to be this way.  I was truly humbled by how my feelings had changed in such a positive way for my family.   Opening up to them was very helpful with my recover but it would be another six months before I finally started in earnest with recovery and some sort of plan.  I had made a good start, by stepping out of denial and into the awareness stage of recovery.  If I learned nothing else about recovery, it is this; there are no time limits and getting rid of one millstone always reveals another one to deal with.  It is an ongoing adventure.

After I relieved myself of the lie with my family, it was time to focus on other painful issues.  After careful consideration, I decided shame was the best emotion for me to deal with first.  I had considered depression, anger and anxiety, but after thinking things through I reasoned shame had to be a root-cause emotion.  Meaning, it may be a medium for the other emotions.

I wasn’t sure how my past counselors would see my choices or my methods for dealing with these millstones.  It really didn’t matter to me.  Not because I was shucking my counselor advise or undermining their work.  In fact, it was quite the opposite.  I found counseling very useful but I saw their counsel only as guide to the work I would have to do.  Counseling, this time around, really gave me a sounding board for my own work and progress.  It had many upsides but the real work was mine to do and I found my approach to be working well, so why change it.  Maybe some counselors might believe I was self-diagnosing and treating myself, I don’t know?  However, my counselor at the time was very supportive and was glad I was being so proactive.  He was certainly impressed with my commitment and progress.  Truthfully, if I didn’t take a lot of initiative, counseling would have taken much longer and probably would not have worked.  I think this could be said for anyone’s recovery.

I chose to work on my feelings of shame first because I believed it was foremost in my mind and heart, and beyond fear, it was the first and foremost emotion I felt after the abuse started.  It was a very powerful emotion for me throughout my abuse and the many years that followed.  While I was being abused, I believed, shame was the driving force for many of my decisions, behavioral and emotional development.  Shame drove me to isolation, acting out and was the source of a fear for me.  Ultimately, I felt worthless and inadequate and these feelings led to many other reactions, conditioning and negative feelings.

Shame became my demon of self-hate loathing, and it did its job well.  It made me believe I was broken and needing to be fixed.  Of course, as a kid, I could not see any way out and therefore there was no way of exorcizing this demon, figuratively speaking.  Shame was an incredibly damaging emotion with lifelong affects in my case.  So for all of these reasons I believed shame was a good place to start.  As with all my experiences with recovery thus far, it proved to be a very painful process and challenged my “shadow beliefs” about myself, this was a good thing.  It was painful but not in the way one might expect.  As with the onion, each layer revealed another layer to be dealt with.  What I found painful was the number of layers.  They were many and they were all revealing.  They were shocking and profoundly uncomfortable at first, and there were pleasant surprises from time to time.  But with each layer I peeled away the next became more easily dealt with.  With each exposed layer I found my fears diminish and my resolve and confidence toward recovery strengthened.

I am not sure where I heard the term “shadow beliefs” so I will not take credit for the term, only that I heard it many years ago or read it somewhere.  What it means to me is false beliefs about ones-self.  When it comes to abuse, it is a very good definition of what happens to a victim’s self-image.  We develop a sense of “self” based on our environments and type of positive or negative reinforcements we are exposed to.  As kids, we only know what we are told, feel or are exposed to.  If positive reinforcement is nonexistent, as was the case with me, then it had to lead to a lower self-image and low self-esteem.  I was a kid and I didn’t have a clue what was normal, right or wrong or which way was up when it came to emotional development.  I had no way of comparing what was happening to me with what was right, wrong, or normal.  Abuse in my mind was everywhere and I didn’t understand in those early years it was a  thing called abuse.  It was just something happening to me all the time and it did not make me feel very good.  I had an overwhelming sense it was wrong, but I was too scared, and too ignorant to face what was happening.  Whenever I was being abused, I simply went somewhere else in my mind which developed into a sense of duality, a very real sense of being disconnected.  Recovery had taken me this far with understanding some of the aspects of the shame but it was not nearly far enough.

Recognizing the shame was only the first step in learning how to process it. “Accepting it” had a great influence on me, was second step.  And understanding denial kept me from feeling connected emotionally to the shame was third.  Now I had to learn to connect with the shame and let myself feel it, rather than the numbness it has left me with.  I knew of no other way but to take the bull by the horns and really process this beast out of my life.  Learning to connect with my shame was not easy.  In time I learned just thinking about it would not melt the wall of solid ice I placed around it.  I had to find a way to melt these walls and really connect directly to my sense of shame, too feel it and conquer it.  I had to make a connection between my mind and my heart.  It took a while for me to realize the lack of a connection between the mind and emotional heart was the source of the isolation I felt.  They don’t teach you these things in school and I didn’t have a clue how to do it.

For several weeks I found myself just rationalizing my feelings and not connecting to them, something I had become very good at over time and was perhaps the foremost tactic in my arsenal of self-deception.  I had to find a different way.  I began to think in terms of how to feel an emotion.  I needed to understand what it meant to connect with an emotion.  I had never thought about it.  How do you just let yourself feel an emotion, especially one that is so negative?  Hell I am a guy and not a women.  Everybody knows women are better at feeling than guys.  After all, I had spent a lifetime trying not to feel these feelings and learning to consciously ignore them.  How do you turn a lifetime of conditioning around?

I decided to try to stop thinking about the mechanics of shame and get into the cause and effect aspects.  Over the years, I had read many self-help books and had a good counselor or two who I used for stress and depression.  I started to think back to these sources of information and a technique of asking oneself questions about a problem, this was a common technique.  As it turned out, asking questions is the same approach I use as an engineer when working on a problem.  So I was good at it.  Understanding the right questions to ask was the trick.  Until now, I thought asking questions was a good approach for rationalizing my feelings but it was never fully effective in connecting me to feelings.  It occurred to me, maybe I was not taking this technique far enough.  Maybe, if I used this technique in conjunction with my meditation and self-hypnosis skills, I may end up with a possible solution for getting in touch with these feelings.  I was excellent at self-hypnosis and meditations techniques.  I had a lot of fun with them over the years so I gave it a shot and what a ride it turned out to be.

I took the time to read as much as I could about child sexual abuse and shame before I started using my techniques.  I believed it was very important because understanding as much as I could about shame before I started, would give me a good foundation for moving forward.  It could only help me to get in touch with these feelings because I learned what to expect and I learned the intellectual truth about shame. Knowledge is power, was my mindset.  It took about a month and a half to read and do research before I was ready to make my first attempts at working through shame, (of course all the prep work I was doing, in reality, was dealing with the shame and the beginning of processing it).  Keeping in mind, I had read much of the material before, but not in the context of recovery.  Also I needed time to sharpen my relaxation skills, which was all I wanted to achieve with these techniques.  In doing so, I was practicing clearing my mind so I could focus on the issue at hand.  During this time I also contemplated just how much shame I was really feeling and what it meant.  This helped to set the tone for my attempts at relaxation and better prepared me to be able to confront my shame.  I decided my mind set to the exploring these feelings would be one of remorse.  I don’t know why I choose to be remorseful, or why I needed any mind-set in my thinking and approach but my gut was telling me it was necessary.

I was ready to start trying to connect with my shame and learn the reasons why shame was so dominating in my life.  My initial goal was to learn to “feel” the shame again and understand, in totality, what I felt shameful about.  I spent a lot of years burying this stuff and while I had conscience knowledge of it and its profound affects, I could only see it in a disconnected abstracted way.  I also had become very good at numbing myself to these feelings.  This was important to understand before I began.  It gave me a clearly defined goal.  What I didn’t realize was, I had generalized the shame and in fact I had forgotten many of the incidents that caused my shame.  However, it was not long before my memory was awakened in force.  I quickly learned it was not the shame I was disconnected from but the truth of my shame.

With all this wonderful new knowledge, I began to confront shame.  I started by lying in bed and in the dark with total quiet.  Using self-hypnosis techniques I had learned from a book called the “Relaxation Response,” I was able to become very relaxed and in a focused state of mind.  I asked myself several times what was I ashamed of?  I didn’t think about it rationally.  I only wanted to know what would come to my emotional mind.  It wasn’t long when, to my surprise, my wife and the night we broke up was the first thought to pop into my head.  I was surprised and I was a little startled by this.  I was not expecting it.  I regained my composure and focused on relaxing and staying focused.  Ok, in my mind, I may not have understood why my wife was the first memory to jump into my head, and I was not sure how much it had to do with abuse, if at all.   Nevertheless, it was a start, however, I did not feel the shame at this point because my reaction was more fear based.  I wouldn’t allow myself to move beyond my thoughts of  Theresa or the night we broke up, I wanted to stay with these thoughts and see where they took me.  I told myself early on I would deal with whatever the truth is and I would not set any issues aside. Total commitment.  Right?

I tried feeling the shame I was seeking and I was not having much success.  I was running through the gambit of questions desperately trying to connect with my feelings.  I was trying too hard.  I decided to focus on how I thought Theresa was feeling the night we broke up.  Only then did it really hit me hard, for the first time, in many years; I had made a real connection to the shame of that night.  All the reasons for what ever happened that night didn’t matter; all that mattered was I had betrayed my wife in her mind and I had hurt her deeply.  It was a prank phone call from a stranger who I chose to encourage, instead of just hanging up; I thought it was pretty funny at the time.  Theresa overheard a comment about big boobs and she ended the marriage, the phone call lasted less than three minutes.  Until this moment, I always thought it was a total over-reaction on Theresa’s part and I remained angry for years over it.  None of this mattered.  I was never more ashamed of anything than I was this night of recollection and reconciliation with myself.  I was feeling overwhelming shame.  It wasn’t about any damned phone call, I had hurt her deeply and the reasons didn’t matter.  She was my wife and she believes I betrayed her, and now I could see her in my mind’s eye and I, for the first time, could feel the genuine shame I should have felt all those years ago.

I stayed focused on thoughts of Theresa and how wrong I had been.  I could see the same images from that night, the hurt on her face, her telling me she was divorcing me, and how mad I was about it.  I spent all these years justifying my actions and anger, by reminding myself how I had worked hard on our marriage after our first separation.  I had never worked as hard at anything until now.  And I never saw what happened that night from Theresa’s point of view.  I do now, and my shame is in full bloom.  In fact I was overwhelmed with remorse and sorrow for what I had done.  So maybe instinctively, I understood I needed to be remorseful and my lack of remorse was a possible source of shame for me.  How ironic is it when my first attempt at dealing with shame showed me to be responsible.  I was not expecting this result.  How much more was I responsible for?

I wanted to get in touch with shame and I sure as hell did.  It was not her fault, it was mine and mine alone.  And the shame only increased when I remember how angry I was at her for all of it, especially after we broke up.  She wouldn’t have any conversations or talk with me, she simply ignored me.  I could not believe at the time, she could have such a terribly hard and unkind attitude toward me.  When I left Christmas night, I fully believed she would call the next day after she thought it over.  I was wrong, she was ruthless and to this day, I have very difficult time believing she could have been so heartless.  Nevertheless, she was hurt.  After my letters of bargaining went unanswered, I became very angry and I send a hurtful letter to her, I really regretted it at the time.  Let’s face it, there is nothing more destructive than words, spoken or written.  The more she ignored me the angrier I became.  After a few months of her treating me this way, I found myself overwhelmed with anger.  It didn’t matter that love was never an issue for Theresa and I, and it really hurt me that she was throwing me out like a piece of trash, without one conversation.  It seemed I couldn’t hold back all my pent-up anger.  Now I don’t blame her one bit.  She was never able to trust anyone and I played and we paid.  I had really hurt her; it was my fault!  What was clear to me after I sent that letter was I was projecting all my anger from my past on her, which was exactly what she was doing to me.  We both had real abuse issues not dealt with.

Remembering all of this crap was difficult and I wanted to stop that night.  But I reminded myself why I was doing this and that I would accept whatever truth comes my way through recovery.  So I continued with the exercise by just accepting what I was feeling and I would not try to understand anything about it beyond the obvious, doing so as tears rolled down my face.

I was exploring shame and I had not yet scratched the surface, nor had I connected what just happened to my abuse.  I felt totally ashamed.  Nevertheless, I decided to push on.  I told myself ok, hurting Theresa was one thing but there must to be more, what else am I ashamed of?  I let my mind clear only to see my mother with her head down, her shoulder hunched over and a very sad look on her face.  The sadness I felt was palpable.  Once again the flood gates opened and I was feeling all the shame of a son who had failed and hurt his mother so deeply and in so many ways.  I had always felt like a failure as a son, in every way.  I always believed I had shamed my family and most of all, my mother.  I recalled all the conflict I had caused during my adolescents by being involved with Ernie.  There was no end to the pain I had caused my mom.  And here again I was feeling more shame and sadness, not to mention a fair amount of quilt.

However, working on guilt would have to wait.  I had a very difficult time ignoring the guilt, but I had to.  I was not doing this exercise to judge or condemn myself, which would be anti-productive.   I said I wanted to feel my shame and understand where it was coming from.  So I stayed focused on just these two goals.  I was remembering the times my mother was hurt by all of this.  My technique was working in spades.  It was overwhelming and surprising but there was a difference, I was in control.

I was doing this because I wanted to.  Not like it had been in past years when the shame and guilt were imposed on me by issues not dealt with.  This was of my choosing.  And I was remembering all I had learned about shame and this knowledge proved very empowering during this exercise.  But I was not willing to stop yet.  I wanted to know more sources of my shame.  I had to hold back the tears but I pushed on.  What made my efforts more tangible is the fact that I visualize my thoughts.  I found being able to visualize my thoughts was very useful.

And then I started to remember the other kids Ernie had abused.  Most of them were several years older than me but not all of them, now as an adult I realize the older ones were only kids too.  I was just a kid but I had done nothing to stop him.  It was at this point I had stopped and could go on no more this night.  I just started getting in touch with my shame.  As much as I wanted to start analyzing and applying all my knowledge, I couldn’t; I laid in bed just feeling my shame and how sad I was about all of it.  My actions had caused a lot of pain for many people I loved.  I wasn’t going to minimize my responsibility by blaming the abuse.  No, I had to feel my shame and just let it run its course for now.  I was in recovery and in time I would put it all together and heal from it.  But for now I had to stay on track with learning all the sources of my shame and connecting to it.  There would be more nights like this.  One step at time, I kept reminding myself.

Not surprisingly I found myself dealing with the abortion of my child in my twenties.  I begged my girlfriend not to have the abortion, but my pleas fell on deaf ears.  Ronnie was a New York model for several years and had absolutely no desire to have kids.  She didn’t like kids and I loved them.  I tried everything I could to prevent the abortion.  It was murder.  My child had been killed by a heartless woman and by a society that believes they know best.  All I can say to all you pro-choice advocates is; you are full of crap if you don’t think it is murder.  Tell that to my broken heart.  Tell it to all the fathers who have to live with the shame and guilt of what you did to their child, with no regard for the child or the father.  My child deserved to live and because it was inconvenient, my child was murdered, and I could not help my own child.  It was hard enough dealing with the fact I loved and cherished  kids, and the fact I had decided I didn’t want kids because I could not in good conscience, bring a child  into a world where sexual abuse was dominant.  Losing my child was unbearable.

When I had the chance at having a child I was elated.  Then the one act of fate that would have changed all of this was stolen and twisted into the same insane selfishness of my abusers.   And as with my abusers, I had no control over what was happening to me or my child.  After she told me she had murdered my child I only wanted death.  I could not believe this happened; I couldn’t protect my child.

I had just started building that damned house in Chelmsford and I had no heart left for it.  I started using pot very heavily just to numb the pain.  I have never recovered from the loss of my child.  I expected hell to have a nice cozy cell with my name on it.  After the death of my child I really gave up.  It took a long time to heal from this and I have never fully healed.  Who could, well I guess there are a lot of people who don’t have a heart.  Why else are there so many abortions.  Falling in love with Theresa was my saving grace, but she came along years after the abortion.

This was so hard to deal with.  Remembering and feeling, damned near broke my spirit.  I was responsible for a life.  Me, of all people was responsible for a child’s death.  At one point I almost gave up and said, why the hell is recovery important when looked at in this light?  I could only remind myself of the fact that I had to push forward.  Does anyone ever really recover from the loss of a loved one?

Over the next several weeks I continued with these exercises every other night or two.  Each night I would go through my relaxation response technique and each night I would review my inventory of shame.  I would do it in the exact same order as they were revealed.  Each time I found the need to spend less time with each one, before I moved on to the next new memory of shame that came.  It seems I blamed myself for every act of abuse.  The memories were so many.  I was amazed how easy it became to remember the abuse.  It was sadder when I realized these are the predominate memories I have as a kid.  It was also becoming clear I was blaming myself for all the failures on everyone’s part, including my abusers.  This was an important revelation.

I began to think where did all the good memories go?  Were there good memories or was there no room in my mind for them?  Was the trauma from the abuse so severe it erased them and if so to what degree?  This was scary stuff.

I noticed each time I worked on my shame, I found myself thinking differently about it.  I understood I felt responsible for the abuse but my head and heart were seeing it differently, slowly.  I knew it was not my fault and now it seems I am aware of and accepting a new truth.  It feels like I am healing.  The same way it feels when you break a bone.  It is in a cast and it will heal in time, and everything will be fine.  Ever since my day in the cemetery, I have been feeling a sensation of transformation about myself.  I was experiencing good progress and it was encouraging.  But it was still so damned sad.  How could any adult live or function with this much shame, not to mention a kid?   How could any kid develop a normal emotional life carrying this burden?  The truth is they can’t and I didn’t.  There were many more revealing nights of recollection.  The deeper I explored my shame the more painful places it brought me too.  The feeling of totally failing my brothers and sisters was as painful as any of it.  I know some of my brothers and maybe a sister or two believed me to be gay and I wasn’t.  I always believed my mother and father believed I was gay, but that would predispose the premise my parents had knowledge of my relationship with my abuser, and I do not see that as a possibility.  Being gay was the last thing I wanted anyone to think.  However, I want to be clear here, I do not believe to be gay is to be an abuser and being gay has nothing to do with being a child molester.  I felt I had failed all of my family and was not worthy of their companionship or love.  What a price to pay.

One night, I was doing my relaxation exercise, and I was feeling the shame of how much I had failed God and how I was not as good a Christian as I thought I should be.  I never believed I would be saved and hell was already preordained for me.  This was so hard for me to deal with.  I love God, and yet I believed I would never know Him in heaven.  This was sad.

After about a month there were no new memories and I was left with trying to figure out a way to complete the process.  I was definitely feeling the shame and guilt.  At least the guilt was noticeably diminished.  I wasn’t sure how to proceed and I needed to take a break for a few weeks.  So I discontinued the exercises and just allowed myself to think about things for a few weeks. This was actually a very good thing to do.  I didn’t know why at the time, but it allowed me to process the shame in a natural way.  Prior to starting the exercises I had already learned as much as I could about shame and how it made people feel.  So there was a natural tendency to see my shame in two different lights.  I could feel how wrong it all was with new understanding.   I could feel the pain; I was no longer numb to it.  The couple of weeks turned into a few months.

It is funny, when I began this mission I was certain of only one thing and that was, I didn’t have a clue what to expect.  This has turned out to be so true.  These few months of dealing with my shame was nothing less than unique.  It has brought me to places in my heart I had long forgotten, or never knew.  I was healing, and it was exuberating but sobering.  I found myself reliving the shame but it was very different this time.  I told myself l had wanted a break for a couple of weeks but there is no real break from it.  The genie was out of the bottle once again and a natural healing process was in play.  And healing is painful process.  But recovery makes it different.  When you have a physical wound that you know is going to heal, it makes the healing process easier, and in time you will feel better.  So there was room for hope or optimism.  Whereas before I was in recovery, I believed the wounds were mortal, leaving no room for hope or optimism, only a slow stewing suffering with no end in sight.

I found myself completely focused on feeling the shame and also rationalizing it with new insight based on truth.  Initially, I was in awe of just how much shame I carried.  I was sad because I was continuing to realized and feel just how much this crap has cost me.  It was a horrible price for a kid to pay, anyone in fact.

Other dots began to connect after a few weeks.  So many issues of shame had come to light it made me feel sad, and at times sick.  Memories of acting-out were present but now I had an understanding of why.  The one dot that was a total surprise was about the night Theresa and I broke up, Christmas Night 94.

So many other things made me feel shame.  When I first started working at the age of fourteen, all my paychecks went to Ernie and I was not allowed to give my parents any part of it.  All my siblings contributed gladly on a weekly basis.  My parents really needed the help and here I was not able to give them a dime.  It looked like to my parents that I didn’t care.  Nothing could have been further from the truth.  For reasons I still have not learned to understand, I took the fall for what Ernie was doing, I never let my parents know he was influencing me so much.  This has never stopped bothering me and this lead to another dot being connected.

The fact is I was upset with Theresa the night we broke up because she would not agree to let me give my mother $200.00 so she could buy some Christmas gifts.  My mother was on a fixed income and Dad had died six years before. We had plenty of money but Theresa was having none of it.  This resulted this being the first Christmas we had not visited my mother on Christmas.  I felt terrible that night because I had to say no to Mom.  I was angry and disappointed with Theresa.  We didn’t argue about it, I just decided to have a couple of doubles of vodka’s and enjoy the day.  I rarely drank and usually only when I was really upset about something.  If I drank more than couple or three times a year, that was a lot.

Not giving my mother a couple of hundred dollars when she really needed it triggered many old feelings.  Ernie had done the same thing to my parents and me.  And now Theresa was not letting me give my mother help when she needed it.  It was a very real trigger.  It took recovery for me to be able to connect this dot.  I really hated myself again, that Christmas night.  I kept thinking what a lousy son I have been. So what did I do with it.  I destroyed my marriage.  It doesn’t get any more self-destructive than that.   Theresa did nothing wrong and I still have no excuses, just a little understanding.  She didn’t  understand any better than I did at time, how I was feeling or what those feelings would trigger; Theresa was not the type of person who cared much about how other people were feeling, only what they thought about her.  Until now I had little understanding about my behavior that night.  I still don’t totally understand it, but I am sure I was triggered into another self-destructive behavior and I am sure there is more to it.

In time, my exercises found me thinking about the shame I had about myself with my family.  I asked myself some very pointed questions because I was having a difficult time articulating this shame.  You would think an emotion that caused so much pain would be easy to articulate.  Feeling the pain is one thing, understand the reasons why is hard.  It occurred to me I would need to do some of my relaxation exercises to work through this one.

I began by putting myself  in an emotional place where I was alone with one of my brothers.  There was no conversation just me focusing on my feelings of shame while studying my brothers’ face.  I thought to myself how could I have done this to you?  How could I have been involved in homosexual activity?  Why would you want me as a brother and I don’t blame you that you don’t.   My feelings gradually articulated themselves into words.  I could see how I believed my brother would be totally embarrassed and angry that I was a homosexual, keeping in mind homosexuality was a closet issue in the day.  Over the next several days of exercises, I remembered how scared I was of failing my family.  I didn’t want them to know any of perverted behaviors I was involved in or the acting out.  At the time I did not understand abuse was unrelated in any way to homosexuality, I thought if you are doing homosexual acts then you must be a homosexual so I was as ignorant as the rest of society.  Only the acts of homosexuality are similar, but that is where the similarities end.  Tell this to a kid and it will not make much difference.  The “thought” of being known as a “homosexual” was a terrifying label that I could do without.  It was a horrible stigmatism for me.  Keeping in mind my conditioning on the concept of homosexuality was imprinted by my abuser always trying to convince me I was homosexual.  It was this imprinting above all that defined my understanding of what it meant to be a homosexual, in the day.

It was clear, I had learned at an early age to feel like a failure and to dislike myself deeply.  This demon of shame was truly a root cause emotion.  Working through my shame took a fair amount of time, longer than I expected; although, my progress to this point continued in a steady trend upward.  Recovery took on a life all its own after awhile.  Progress became self-regulating and steady.

I was about to learn much more though.  At this point in time I had only scratched the surface of shame.  During the first month of dealing with my shame using meditation techniques, I was feeling strange.  I could not put my finger on it.  I wasn’t feeling bad, and I wasn’t feeling good either, but it felt right.  It was again strange and new territory for me.  Over the weeks I had been thinking about what I had learned about my shame, and then it dawned on me.  The things I had uncovered about what was making me feel shame were valid but not complete.  The more I thought about the feelings the more apparent it became they were not the root cause of my shame.  The shameful feelings I had identified were only effects of the abuse or things I had done to myself that made me feel shame.  They were simply not the root cause of my shame.  I had to dig deeper.  But I was still plagued by this unknown state of mind I was in.  One night while lying in bed it hit me.  Again, I was having a moment of growth.  I realized I was feeling grief.   I was grieving and I didn’t know it.  It was another epiphany which led to more growth and healing.

The fact I did not recognize grief concerned me because I had been exposed to death with my father, grandparents, uncles, friends and children.  I had never felt grief like this.  I didn’t have any understanding that I was grieving for my life.  I had become so good at suppressing my emotions; I don’t think I have ever really grieved before  With all the people I had lost, I was sad, I cried, but I never felt grief in this way.  This was true grief for me, although I was not sure at what level or exactly what part of me was grieving for what.  Realizing and feeling grief for anything about me was strange in the least and sad, if nothing else.  Again, I had to wonder, how does any kid develop normally when they have suppressed emotions of this magnitude?  They don’t, they become cautious, leery, angry, sad, and in the process we find ways to be survivors.

I decided I had to let myself go through this grieving process before I did any more exploring of my shame.  I would let my mind and body tell me when I was ready for the next step in recovery; as long as I could feel steady progress and did not allow myself to stall they would be my guides.  I had already realized I needed to go deeper if I was going to find more answers and healing.  My grieving was an unexpected result that I needed to learn to work with and heal from, and it was a very clear sign of healing.

During the next several weeks I found myself thinking about my shame almost exclusively.  I started to connect more dots and I was really feeling connected to the shame.  This was another milestone for me.  I had always felt the shame or shameful but I never felt the any emotional truth about it.  I had accepted, as a very young teenager, I was to blame for all that had happened to me.  Unfortunately, over the years, I rationalized it was not my fault; but I never did any of the emotional work to heal from it.  I just buried all this stuff so deep it was impossible for me to understand there was much work to do.  I was never given an instruction manual on how to fix the wounds of child abuse.  Hell I didn’t even know how to recognize the signs.  Strange there are very few things I can’t fix.  Now I was learning to fix me-so to speak.  Do the challenges ever end?

I was definitely learning to connect with the emotions from the abuse.  The only way I can describe how this connection feels is to equate it to my love for Theresa.  I felt the love and I felt as if Theresa and I were one (and strange I still do), I felt complete when Theresa and I were together.  This is the level of connection I was now feeling for my shame, it was really part of me and I was in touch with it.  It was no longer this obscured feeling with an unknown face.  There was no doubt I achieved some sort of major break thorough and made some very real connections.

It took about six more weeks for me to get to a point where I wanted to move further into my shame.  My grieving had softened, it was still there but it was manageable.  So, I began to contemplate how I was going to move forward.  I knew I was going to use meditation and relaxation but they were only tools.  I needed to figure out what questions I needed to ask myself to get beyond what I was now considering only the “effects” aspect of “cause and effect”.  I needed to connect with the real cause of my shame, the shame that drove me to shameful behavior so the decision was made that the only way to figure this out was too simple go with a trial and error approach.

The night I tried to move beyond my superficial shame, again proved very difficult and I was in for some more surprises.  While meditating I had reached a solid emotional block.  I could not move my emotions or thinking beyond the superficial shame issues that I was already familiar with.  I kept trying to move forward but there was something very strange happening.

I had reached a point where I became acutely aware there was much more to my shame than I had been consciously aware of before now.  Thus far my work had exposed several areas I felt shame about and I was happy for learning this.  But it wasn’t long before my need to continue with this was something I could not turn back from.  In my exercises I had reached a strange place.  I had a real sense of fear and panic.

I was still not able to articulate to myself what was causing these feelings.  They were acutely real and palpable.  The more I concentrated on trying to get myself in tune with the next level of shame, the more difficult it became.  If I didn’t know better I would have sworn I was pushing against a concrete wall.  The more I would try and reason myself through this emotional block the more anxiety I felt.  I tried for several days without success.  No matter what I did, my emotional block was not moving aside.  All of this was weird to me and I had to stop and reassess my technique and try to understand what was happening or not happening.

In the days that followed, I could not stop thinking about what I was experiencing.  It was more obvious than ever.  I had stripped away enough of the superficial shame and I was now facing something much more sinister.  Consciously I had come to a place my subconscious mind did not want me to go, or vice versa?  I had to find a key to unlock the vault.  Instinctively I knew I was about to face every fear I ever knew, including the silent demons that molded so much of my life.  It took some days to rationalize what was happening.  I believed I had reached a place of extreme confrontation.  I had stripped away so many layers and now all that seemed to be, is one very big emotional block and me.  Beyond which laid all the answers, the “prevailing truth” I have searched so long for.  But how do I break through?   Of course, I did understand consciously it was about Ernie and the others, at least this was what I believed at the time and I was correct.  But this was a powerful block.

I tried for several more nights to use meditation to break through with the same results.  The more I tried the more I failed.  The more I increased my efforts the more fear I felt.  It was frustrating but with perseverance and a lot of self-reasoning, I started to adjust my approach.  The Amish have a saying ”the faster I go the behinder I get.”  I think this applies here.  I could not emotionally force my way through this block, I would have to reason my way through it.

The next several nights I mediated and didn’t try to work with the emotions I was dealing with.  I decide to meditate on a different approach by asking questions from a different perspective.  I wasn’t sure what perspective I had to come up with so I just let my mind wander into whatever questions came to mind.  The question would click or it wouldn’t.  One question kind of hit me in the back of the head; well actually, it fell on me like a ton of bricks.  ”Richard, what is the truth?” What is the truth?  A deep sadness started to come over me, every time I heard myself ask; “Richard, what is the truth?  The obviousness of the question was crystal clear.  My perspective had to be what is the truth.  The more I meditated on this, the more the block I was experiencing was beginning to dissolve.  Flickers of truth were flashing through, flickers of Ernie and acts of sex.  More importantly, these images were accompanied with feelings.

My first thoughts were of how much I had been betrayed by Ernie, Bette and so many others.  The truth was there was no real love, only deception, manipulation and sexual abuse.  The truth was, Ernie had made me his wife or consort.  He treated me like a wife, he acted like he owned me, his jealousy was as acute as any couple may experience.  He tried to make me believe I was a homosexual.

With each new truth realized, came several new questions.   I say “new truths” because by now I was looking at them through the eyes of recovery.  I had reached a new level of awareness and it was hard, very hard.  I was finally facing Ernie, not some label named sexual molestation or abuse.

My truth had a face to it now.  It would be just me and him for a while now.  But I was still blocked from connecting with the shame or feeling it.  What was I going to find out?  Was I to blame?  Was I a total fool who wasted his life on a fool’s errand because I believed there was love involved?  What was the real truth?  One truth was becoming more evident.  Throughout the shame killing process, I found myself dealing with fleeting feelings of anger.  Again, it was uncharted territory for me.  It was clear I would have to deal with anger in time but not just yet.

Knowing I was knocking on the door of my core issue of shame was an anxious time for me.  I was not excited about it.  I only had an understanding with myself that I would have to go through this.  I was on the eve of battle so to speak.  I knew I would win.  I had to.  Knowing this didn’t make the next steps any easier, it only increased my resolve; I couldn’t run if I wanted to.  In a sense, winning or losing didn’t matter, but facing this demon did.

As I continued trying to break through, I was amazed at how much emotional resistance I had.  I could physically feel my conscience mind in conflict with my subconscious mind.  It was weird at times.  Regardless, I didn’t stop and my next series of truths began to formalize into disturbing memories.  Each night as I prepared to work on this issue, my heart would begin pounding through my chest, and the anxiety would build to an exhausting level.  It took a couple of more weeks but I was finally making progress.

During the next several weeks, I was flooded with emotional stress.  I was breaking through and I was overwhelmed with feeling of confusion, stress, some anger and sadness.  My sense was, I had finally reached a place where I was at the nexus of my shame.  In my mind the level of emotional force was represented a huge ball or sphere.  In it was a tremendous source of energy, it feels like the power of the sun, but it was dark energy.  In my imagery, I see myself on the surface of this sphere, which has a near impenetrable shell.  I am using a hammer to crack its surface to get at the source, to no avail.  In my mind I have put many cracks in the surface which I can see intense bright streaks of energy breaking through.  It is very negative energy and I know instinctively I have to confront it because what I seek is beyond this intense force.  And it feels like the energy driven shame is trying to explode out of its containment.  It wants out and I want in.

I started having many memories of the sex acts I was exposed to.  My first intimate kiss was by a guy.  My first French kiss was from a guy.  My first tongue to the ear was a guy.  My first experience with sex was with a guy.  The incidents of rape were vivid and this asshole always climaxing on my stomach.  There was a time when I could not think of these acts without being triggered in an intense way.  Now I was being triggered again and again, it was very disturbing but I came to do battle and it was truly a battle of epic proportions.  I remember the constant child pornography this guy always made me look at and the films he had.  I hated it and in time I would only pretend to look at them.  He was always having me read homosexual dirty books.  He started this stuff when I was thirteen.

With each memory came overwhelming and intense shame.  I was truly at the core of my shame.  To see myself in these situations again only reinforced my tendency to see the person (me) in those situations as not me but someone else.  I couldn’t believe at any level I could have been that person until now.  The truth is, it was me and not someone else.  The memories continued for many nights.  I was remembering in vivid color, the smells and my reactions at the time, and of course, there was the anger that was fleeting at best but slowly increasing.  I felt like I was playing a “whack-a-mole” game when it came to anger.

By now a few months had gone by and I was glad I had taken a couple of months to process the initial feeling of shame.  In fact, I could not move on until I allowed myself to heal and grow a little bit.  Had I not done this, facing the core issues, as I was now, would have been impossible.  I realized, we need to heal from this stuff in small increments, baby steps so to speak.  But something else had become clear.  I was experiencing very brief feelings of minimal anger.  I couldn’t understand why I was not feeling enraged, instead of the shame and guilt I was experiencing.  It occurred to me I had never allowed myself to feel angry with Ernie or at least I could not recognize if I was.  This was confusing to me.  On the one hand, I was abused and on the other, I was not expressing anger over it.  It dawned on me, if I was not expressing anger then that meant I was not feeling the anger.  Why?

For the next couple of weeks I continued to focus on the intense shame I was feeling and why I was so disconnected from the anger.  In my heart of hearts, I knew I was angry and yet I was totally disconnected from it consciously.  It was clear the anger issue I had was not being able to feel the anger, this I did not expect.  As I contemplated why, I realized this was a major issue that had come to light.  It also explained a great many things.  At this point, I had concluded my inability to connect to the anger was part of the cover up of self-deception.  If I was outwardly angry then I would be acknowledging the abuse happened.  This would not fit in with my self-deception that Ernie was a great guy.  Ernie was just as suppressive when it came to me or anyone under his control expressing anger.  This conditioning in conjunction with my denial made it very clear to me I was suppressing all my anger.  No wonder I had acted out in so many unhealthy ways.  This was another epiphany and moment of growth and awareness.

Understanding this basic trap was important and allowed me to set the anger aside for a while, until I was finished or had gone as far as I could with my shame issues.  But it also places me in a position of not being able to ignore the anger.  As with the other emotions of guilt and depression, the anger would have to wait.  Anger would be next, but not yet.  Yet I experience anger in fragmented impulsive moments of insight and I was aware I was becoming angry.  Core anger was a stranger to me but it was starting to become familiar.

I once again I found myself contemplating just how screwed up my life has been.  Here I was working on recovery and I am only just discovering the many levels of shame I have had.  While the process was allowing me to heal, it was also accurate to say my inventory of shame was huge.  And I was still breaking through the barriers.  In my mind I was supposed to be simply identifying my shame and not healing from it as yet.  That was supposed to happen in the next step of my plan.  But recovery does not work this way.  I have discovered once you become aware of an element of recovery the healing process is already underway.

And so the journey continues.  I had more work to do with shame and it was a struggle.  During this time I had become intensely active in the on line support group.  When I had first joined this site I was amazed how connected I felt to these online friends.  It was the first time I felt I was not alone with this stuff and being able to relate to other kindred spirits was invaluable.  Now I needed their and my counselor’s justification more than ever.  Once more unto the breach, I guess.  I was getting angrier by the day.  The “six hundred” may have rode to their deaths but this would not be my fate.  The fact of the matter is I was facing Ernie and all his demons.  I knew I had reached the final level of shame.  And now I felt I was in the fight of my life and I was not about to give in.   I was going to plunge through this emotional barrier and take this son of bitch on head up and full front.  Bring it on you bastard; I have waited a lifetime for this moment.  It was time to take the final plunge.

I put myself into as relaxed a state of mind as I could and I put myself on the imaginary sphere that was holding me from the truth.  In my mind, I would no longer use a hammer to and break through.  As I stood there looking at the rays of light bursting through the many cracks, I simply said to myself, “face me you bastard”.  In an instant, the barrier dissolved and I was sinking into the light, free falling but not out of emotional control.  Whatever waited at the end of this fall I was ready for.  As I fell, I was crying, not in my mind but I was really crying, I couldn’t control it and I didn’t want to.  All the hurt and all the images of shame with this guy were passing me, the rapes, the lies, the torture and all the rest.  I didn’t care.  None of it was important to me.  I wanted this son-of-bitch and I knew he would be at the end of this fall.  Then I stopped.  I was standing there looking to the center.  Someone was there.  I walked toward him ready to do battle and kick this son of bitch in the ass and out of my life once and for all.  The “why” didn’t matter anymore.  But I was in for another shock.  As I walked closer and began to see this person more clearly, it was not Ernie.  It was a little kid just sitting there in this empty place, devoid of all features and only light.  The closer I went the more vivid the image of this kid became.  He was smiling and had his arms extended toward me in welcoming manner.  I was in shock; this was not what I was expecting.  It was me.  I was eight years old again.  He was just waiting there all these years for me.  He stood and walked to me and put his arms around me.  No words. We just stood there holding each other.  He could not stop smiling and I could not stop crying.  For the first time in my adult life, I felt whole.  I cried for the better part of a week, on and off and in private, just grieving.

About two weeks went by and I was coming out of a mild state of shock.  All of the shame work had really drained me and I didn’t feel the need to pursue it for a while.  I was grieving at a major level.  I would never have believed recovery could be so revealing or so good.  I saw my shame in a totally new light; I didn’t need to feel it anymore.  I never understood all the hype about an inner child and I didn’t know if this is what I was experiencing or not.  All I knew was I had just accomplished something major in my recovery.  This became a time for reflection.  One night while on the DS web site, I was reading some of the many poems and I thought I wish I could express myself as well as these people do.  I had never written a poem before and was not really inclined to do so now.  But I thought it would be another tool for me to play with.  For the next three hours I just wrote and the poem “The Boy Warrior” was born.

The Boy Warrior:

You came as a thief in the night.

A Cowards heroics.

And took all that was dear to me,

Never asking just taking.

You followed in the shadows

all the days of my life,

But, now I see you, no more places

For you to hide,

You were the monsters chasing me in my dreams,

And will no more.

For out of the ashes of the life you took,

Came something you cannot take

The courage of a child!

The love of a child!

Or the spirit of a child!

Yes you took so much.

And still you follow and torment

Me in my moments of weakness.

So many times you wore me down,

And each time I would fight you back.

For so long I fought you to a stalemate,

Never winning never loosing.

Me at the edge of the abyss,

And you always managing to

Take more ground.

Never satisfied,

Greed with no bounds.

Always trying to push me over the edge,

And close you came many a time.

How clever you thought you were!

Oh how blind you are by your own ignorance.

Only a fool would not know.

That out of the destruction comes creation

Yes my old nemesis, my life long companion.

You did create something!

You made me!

I am the sum of your trials.

You are part of me.

I accept you are part of my life.

I accept you have taken all that is dear to me.

Above all, I accept you made the Boy Warrior!!!

Did you believe I would never find him again?

That eight year old boy, I left behind so many years ago.

It is he who carried me through life!

It is he who pushed you when I could not!

It was he who loved when I wanted to hate!

It was he who cried when I could not!

It is he who opened my eyes to you!

It is he who would not give up on me-when I gave up on him!

Yes you hurt me.

But you did not destroy me or him.

We stand together now.

We fight side by side – you have lost!

Yes!  See what you have made!

You know the bad but what of the good?

You know not my measure of Love,

Compassion,

Generosity,

My spirit,

Love of life and people!

Or my unwavering faith.

You know not my willingness to do

the right thing regardless of the cost.

No you don’t know me!

And you never will.

I will morn my loses.

And rejoice for my life.

There are no more shadows.

As we walk in the light of our soul now.

The soul of an eight-year-old boy and

a 53-year-old man who became the boy warrior.

A boy who’s smile lights the way,

As we forever embrace and walk the path of life as one.

Whole again.

This poem, while not a work or art, had a profound effect on me.  I still read it every day and it feels each time I read it, I am reading it for the first time.  I am not sure if it is a poem.  But it does the trick for me and it is an accurate expression of how I see my life.

During my quest to defeat my shame I learned a lot about myself and why shame is so powerful.  I also learned it could be defeated with simple commitment to one’s self and a lot of work and support.  This is not to say it was an easy process, only much easier than trying to carry it as burden any more years.  Shame was the foundation for so much my self-loathing, leading to guilt, depression, anxiety and self-defeating behavior.

My healing from shame may never be over completely, but it is no longer driving me.  I have taken control of it and recovery has shown me so much truth about the shame victims feel, shame that binds us to the past.  Thus far, recovery has allowed my shame to be understood and mostly eliminated but it is a memory.  Not a memory with the feelings of shame, just a memory of dark times and how those times made me feel.

Shame was an all-encompassing emotion and architect of self-image.  For a kid, when they are developing, shame designs a very negative self-image for them.  It becomes them and until someone shows the child another way, it cannot change.  Shame made me isolate myself and protect myself, which was only a small part of it.

When I think back on all the negative aspects of what shame did to me, it is mind boggling.  The defense mechanisms alone are incredible.  Pretending my abusers were nice people was nothing less than bizarre but unfortunately very common.  I mean how bizarre does it get when I asked this ass-hole to be my best man at my wedding?  I didn’t want him but to keep up the charade, I asked him.  The fact is I didn’t think I had anyone else I felt I could ask.  I didn’t have any best friends.  It was sad; I remember when my brothers had a small get together with just them and me for a bachelor party.  It was just us because they didn’t know anyone to ask.  There were a few they could have but they didn’t know them so they were not asked.  Besides I think at the time they were doing what they thought was right, I didn’t think their hearts were in it.  They don’t know how important that night was to me and how much it meant they did anything for me.  My denial was astronomical; I have always regretted having Ernie or Bette as part of my wedding in any way, even the day of my wedding.

I was never troubled about how easily I made acquaintances, however I was always troubled how quickly they sensed I was holding them at a distance.  It bothered the hell out me because most people found me likable and very easy to talk with.   I really wanted to connect with them but there was always this sense of not knowing how to and feeling disconnected.  I hated the game of trying to find ways of fitting in.  My humor and honesty always opened the door but I rarely, if ever, moved beyond keeping people at an emotional distance.  On the one hand I would be trying to and on the other not having a clue why I could not.  I spent my entire life with a constant level of embarrassment always fearing people knew or would find out about my past.  What the hell was there to find out?  Only the shadow beliefs of an abused kid, who was made to believe things about himself that  were not true.  All of this effort, and in the end I hid nothing.  Benjamin Frankly once said; ”If you want to keep a secret between two people then one of them needs to be dead.”  So many people knew and no one knew what to do.  Some tried, their intentions were in the right place, but their methods were flawed.  Their methods only reinforced my belief the abuse was my fault and only served to deepen my shame and self-loathing.  All I can say is, they cared enough to try and it was not their fault for not knowing any better than society as a whole.

The number of times I have tried to figure out why I am always trying to please people has been uncountable.  I had convinced myself, this is the way I am and I was doing God’s work.  I have to say that these were no doubt fundamentally correct but I now know there was another underlying motivation; I was using it as a cover and a mask.  I was trying to prove to people beyond any doubt that I was a good person.  And if they thought I was a great guy then they would have no reason to ask about my past.  What a game to play with ones-self.   What a price to pay and what a sad sacrifice I made.

Other feelings would come alive through this process of shame.  I was starting to feel some of my suppressed anger.  It scares me because I was realizing I had so much suppressed anger.  Looking at my life, as objectively as I can, gives me a sense of someone who has a lot to be angry about.  I am beginning to realize just how much real suffering victims of sexual abuse endure and how much it was not our fault.  The hardest part of my recovery was coming to grips with just how screwed up my emotional life had been and how much it affected my life.  I have truly lived a screwed up life.  And how necessary it didn’t have to be?  Why are kids made to pay such a horrific price?  When will society smarten up and get off the BS and put an end to this madness?  It is a nice dream but I fear society will not, as a whole, be doing much more than it already has.  I believe it will come down each of us making our own stands, one battle at time.  I had a difficult time coping with the magnitude of energy it took to keep the lie alive.  What a waste.  It may have kept me alive but I was not living.  I was just a caged animal who had found a way to accept his fate.  A caged animal, who only found security and safety in the cage . The only lock on the door was the one in my mind.

It has been demonstrated by animal keepers, some animals will stay in a cage with the door unlocked, if the cage is all it knows.  It is the same for victims who are still suffering.  We didn’t have any concept we could walk away from it.  Through that door waited all of our fears and we have never been trained to deal with them.  We only knew what we knew and no more.  All the books and counselors cannot break through the emotional cages of one’s mind.  It is up to each of us to understand we did not have any power as a kid but we do now.

I think power is a great deal of what abuse is about.  Kids were not taught until recent years, through awareness programs, they have the power today.  It is not that easy though.  Child abusers are clever and masters of manipulation and fear.  What the kids are taught, the predators know, and they will use what they know to lure kids into their web.  I have accepted the fact I was powerless as a kid and I had very few options, and kids today are just as vulnerable.

If you don’t believe this, all you have to do is look at any eight year old kid and ask yourself if you think this kid has any concept of the dangers of sexual abuse or how they would rationalize it or deal with it.  Can you picture that child trying to get itself out of a situation where there is a dominating adult working and playing their minds for selfish advantage?  Kids are taught a fear and safety responses today; if someone touches you, run and tell.  They are taught where it is not appropriate to be touched and what is appropriate behavior.  All of these are great things but they are not a cure all.  Remember most abusers are people the victim knows.

“It was not your fault you were just a kid.” The words spoken to me by that wonderful older woman in my group at detox, those words had never hit home until now.  At the time the words made total sense but I never let them in.  I simply used them as another excuse not to deal with the real issues and prevented myself from understanding more work needed to be done.  I had gone public, but not really, I had only had been open with a doctor and a handful of people I didn’t know.  No it was not my fault, I know this now.  The blame only lies with those who molested me.  I had no ability to stop it.  The guilt is no longer mine and it never was.  Shame is a deadly symptom of abuse.  It destroyed joy, hope, and futures.  Kids are not meant to be made to feel like this.  I blamed myself for a lifetime for something I could do nothing about.

As pathetic as this may seem, it is not all bad.  My focus is on the next fifty years, not changing the past.  The past cannot be changed but preventing it from damaging my future can be.  Shame was a huge millstone chained to my neck.  Now I see it as a big stone in my past with no connection to me.  I have let it go; it is just a sad memory now.  It was not an easy transition.

9 denial

I have struggled with the concept of denial for a long time.  In reality what is denial?  From my point of view, I was consciously aware I was severely abused as a kid.  I knew it was not something I wanted to talk about, hell it was all over.  Right?  What the hell had to be talked about?  I believed I had dealt with it in my early twenties and therefore I didn’t have to talk about it.  True, I was oblivious to the damage done regardless of the symptoms, which were overly abundant.  I completely understood the abuse was wrong and I equally understood I had been wronged.  And yet I claim I was in denial.  So what was I in denial about?

Through recovery, I have learned there are different forms of Denial and in many circumstances there are stages of Denial.  All of this was surprising to me.  So far, everything I have dealt with in recovery has been neither straightforward or simple.  It seems everything is always in layers.  I have found there is rarely a yes or no answer or a simple explanation.  So rationally, there was no denial, emotional denial was alive and well.  I knew all that had happened and I knew I was completely shamed by it.  Rationally that is where the logic ends.  For me the denial was in two parts.  First, I knew, but I did not want to admit it to anyone or myself.  Secondly, I was very ignorant of what can happen to the emotional mind of a child who has been abused.  I believed for many years I had disconnected myself from the abuse and therefore had nothing to deal with, all the while struggling with anxiety, depression, and PSTD.

Denial was an incredible personal deception on my part.  Maybe if I kept ignoring it, it would go away or people would forget and everything would be ok.  So knowing something happened but consciously refusing to acknowledge it is a form of denial.  Pretending is part of it but not the core issue, at least for me.  Denial is the great pirate of lost and innocent lives.  A deeper denial had become the core part of my psyche.  Subconsciously I had to protect myself at levels I could not possibly understand or be aware of.   When a person and in particular a child, is so profoundly traumatized for an extended periods of time, their mind and personality are in a steady state of survival.  There is very little rational thinking about what is happening, only all the emotions that are triggered.  It is like trying to tell someone who is on fire to stop and think about what you are doing.  It is not possible.  They are reacting on pure instinct.  It was the same for me.

My core denial was not realizing or wanting to realize anything was wrong or that there was very real damage done.  Nevertheless, this conscience decision was always in conflict with my instincts.  Instinctively I have always known I was carrying some very serious emotional trauma, I just never considered it damage.  However, my subconscious mind always had the last word.  It will find ways to keep tapping you on the shoulder, trying to bring you in touch with the truth.  It never stops trying, it never sleeps and it never lets go.  Is this a good thing or a bad thing?   Well as long as something is always trying to make you aware, I guess it should be considered a good thing.  The trick is to learn to talk to your subconscious mind as a partner, so to speak, rather than a threat to be feared.  I suppose this would be part of the awareness stage of recovery.

Denial was a formidable barrier to break through.  It is said you only break through the denial when you have hit rock bottom and there is nowhere to go except up or six foot under.  I guess I reached that point in the cemetery but it sure would have been easier to accept if I didn’t have to wait so long.  This bothers me from a different perspective.  I do not want to see any person go through this crap any longer than they have to.  The thought of the years I had wasted by not stepping out of the denial is painful to conceive of.  It is more inconceivable to know there are so many out there right now on the same track that I was on.  I don’t think a person needs to hit bottom before they step out of denial.  They just need to be educated and be willing to see the truth.

The differences in me from when I was walking in denial all the time and now are extraordinary.  I have a stronger sense of being a real person not someone struggling with a sense of shame, guilt and duality.  I feel whole and complete.  If someone asked me how to break through the denial, I would simple say I don’t know, because it is different for everyone.  I would suggest them to compare your life, both emotional and physical, as they are and how they compare to what you see as healthy traits.  I would say don’t trust your head and look to your instincts.  I would say stay focused and constantly question everything about yourself; ask yourself how and why are you feeling the way you are.  I would say start writing a diary every day and explore your feelings and thoughts in it.   Always have an attitude of seeking truth with yourself.  These simple but effective tools helped me well beyond the denial.  It is true, in my mind, I was one of those who had to hit rock bottom but these methods and a truthful attitude about myself proved invaluable throughout my recovery.  Always seek the revealing truth and it will show itself to you.

I don’t want to minimize denial; in fact it can’t be because it is a matter of degree that is relative to each of us.  And that makes it different for everyone with different effects for each of us.  Its only common denominator is, it keeps the prevailing truth from you.  It is not prejudice, and it doesn’t care who it infects.  And when denial attacks, it becomes systemic very quickly.

I can now see denial as a “David and Goliath” situation.  That damned giant looked huge and unbeatable.  But a very brave and very intelligent young soldier, a kid by today’s standards, understood the giants are really not very big at all.  David understood he could not defeat Goliath in a traditional fight, he knew he had to be smarter.  So with courage and a well thought out plan, a kid brought an entire army to defeat with a small, well placed, stone.  The only real trap we have to be aware of is how clever denial can be.  It can be invisible if we don’t take care to be aware of its cleverness.  In hind-sight, stepping out of denial was the easy part but the only “first step” that opened the door to recovery and a new life.  Nothing is possible with denial and everything is possible without it.

10 anxiety

 

Early on, and as part of my recovery plan; I decided I should work on priority issues one at a time or as the process dictated.  It didn’t take long for me to realize having a plan set in concrete was not sustainable.  This was because the recovery process is very fluid and unpredictable from my ignorant point of view.  I was learning as I go.  I would have to let my emotions and progress guide me to the next steps.  Anxiety is a big one.

Anxiety has been a part of my life since I was a young kid.  I have always considered anxiety and depression, two companion emotions, and as purely an emotional response to something.  I never considered there was any possible physical condition that could either cause or amplify an anxiety episode.  My research provided some very good insight and it was surprising.

The anxiety I experienced is only second to the depression and shame I have lived with most of my life.  Having focused on my anxiety, I found myself remembering my teens and how constant and excruciating the anxiety was.  There were many hundreds of nights when I fell asleep praying to God not to wake up any more.  I began recognizing these feelings at a more intense level shortly after Ernie started molesting me; however, they were there at a less recognizable state of mind since I was eight.  Kids don’t really have names for these types of emotions at these early years.

When I think of my teens there is one self-image that most frequently comes to mind.  I am standing in a dark and featureless setting.  I am standing in a light that only lights me, a couple of empty broken down wooden boxes that are low, and I am standing behind them.  The background is black and featureless.  I am looking back at myself from about ten or twelve feet away and I see myself as a tall kid with an empty, sad and scared demeanor.  I don’t look happy.  It is as if I am looking at a picture.  It is my signature portrait of my teen life.  My teen life was a plethora of demeaning and decadent situations.  They never ended.  It was a lion’s den of fear and shame.  I was always on the defensive with no weapons to fight with.  So I just took it and spent most of the time wishing I was not alive.  I rarely got a break from it.  It was not a happy time for me.

Anxiety places a terrible stress on a human body and I can’t help but wonder how many years the stress of anxiety and depression will ultimately have taken off my life.  Many times, I wondered how the human body could withstand such a vicious and constant attack.  There were so many times I wondered if my heart was going to give out.  It was a vicious cycle of pandemonium.  Sometime during all of this I was supposed to be developing as a kid and my role models were far from heroes.  But I did have my family and parents as great role models.  For a family of thirteen I had many I could learn from and all of us turned out to be good people.  I am so glad my family is as wonderful a group of people as they are.

Once I was free of my abusers, I was enjoying my new found freedom and I rarely allowed myself to focus on the abuse or the people involved.  After my stay in Re-Hab, it would have been impossible for me to choose to relive the past, at the time.  In my mind, it is where it needed to be, in the past.  My newfound freedom was a new experience for me and I liked it.  I don’t suppose I was too willing to jeopardize myself by delving into the past.

I was not entirely free of the anxiety, in fact I was not free of it at all, and I didn’t know why.  All the negative stuff was replaced with a false sense of security and a very strong denial.  I was an escaped caged animal and I was not going back.  So there were periods when I didn’t feel the low level anxiety and when I was feeling strong anxiety I would get mad at myself because I could not understand why I was experiencing these intense episodes.  I was not making the connection between the abuse and what the real affects were.

The intensity of the more serious episodes of anxiety, were painful both emotionally and physically.  Typically, I felt I was crawling out of my skin.  There was not one inch of my body that was not crawling.  I would get sharp pains in my limbs, neck and shoulders.  I had general aching in my arms and legs, accompanied by a general sense of fear and intense insecurity.  These episodes could last for days and they were excruciating.  While the frequency of the attacks became less frequent in time, they were none-the-less very damaging and a damned nuisance.  The attacks were moderately  debilitated me but it took a lot of intellectual prowess to keep myself functioning and ahead of the anxiety.  At the time I was not taking any meds for depression or anxiety and I didn’t want to consider them.

I remember working with a physiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.  He is an expert in the practice of hypnosis and I was seeing him for “stage fright” and to learn stress reduction techniques.  I really enjoyed our sessions and I felt they were helping.  The sessions were very cool, as was his monitoring set up.  I was in a separate and sound proof room sitting in a recliner.  The doctor was on the outside and talked with me through a micro phone.  I was also wired to a monitor that measured my levels of relaxation.  Being wired to a monitor was very appealing to me because as a technically inclined person, this monitor gave me a tangible means of seeing and measuring what was going on.  So it was all good.

During one of my last sessions, my doctor explained something very interesting to me.  He showed me a summary graph of several of our sessions.  On it was a line indicating my average base line for my nervous system activity as measured by his equipment.  This base line was the level of relaxation where I felt relaxed and able to respond to hypnosis.  He explained my base line was considerably higher than average and he was surprised I felt relaxed at these level.  He was equally surprised I was able to be successful with hypnotic induction.  I explained I had taught myself hypnosis at fifteen and used it successfully.  This explanation didn’t cut it with him.  He went on to explain, while in my mind I felt relaxed my body was not.  His conclusions were; I was in a constant state of low-level anxiety that I had simply learned to live with it.  This state of anxiety was my norm, so normal I didn’t recognize it.  But the machine didn’t lie.  It measured various bodily reactions such as respiration, sweat and electrical activity, very similar to polygraph equipment.  All of which are affected by anxiety.  This was a revelation for me but not so much so that I was willing do anything about it.  My doctor recommended I continue with him and explored the anxiety.  I was having none of it.  He suspected there were serious issues.

It wasn’t until recovery before I realize how much sense his comments made.  I was in denial at the time and over time my body or mind, and probably both, had become desensitize to a certain levels of anxiety.  Recovery has taught me this type of anxiety is like a pressure cooker.   As long as the pressure is not too much you can’t feel, smell or see it.  It was locked in a big old pot that I didn’t care about, nor did I want to care about it, out of sight out of mind. Right?  It is too bad things are not this easy.  The wounds of abuse cannot hide for long nor can they be suppressed or ignored.  They are alive and well, hidden in the shadows of your subconscious mind.  Feeding itself on time and the silent suffering of an innocent child, long sense lost in the murky river of time.  Abuse cannot be dismissed.  It will always find a way to send its cryptic signals in what every manner it can find, and it never stops trying to find new ways.  The more one fights the needs of the wounded child the more damage is done and the stronger the fight becomes.   If left unchallenged, it always wins.  No one can heal unless the wounds are given the attention they need.

In later years, I dealt with the anxiety by taking Xanax.  I never became addicted to it and only used it on an as needed basis.  In fact, I used it as much for sleep as I did use it for anxiety.  I concluded I was a person who, for whatever reason, suffered from anxiety and there was no rhyme or reason for it.   Of course, until recovery I wasn’t dealing with the root causes, so mediation, hypnosis and counseling never had a chance.  Xanax was the legal med, pot was the non-legal version of Xanax for me, and pot did become a psychological addiction.  The pot and Xanax were good Band-Aids but they were not the fix, they just got me by.

I tried so hard for so long with hypnosis, mediation and other non-chemical techniques.  But in the day they only gave temporary relief to the symptoms of anxiety.  Over the years, I had visited several therapists for the treatment of anxiety.  With exception of a couple, none understood there were causes to be dealt with.  I am sure the few believed there were deeper issues but recognized I was unwilling to deal with anything concerning the abuse.  I wasn’t seeing them for abuse; I was seeing them for anxiety.   When the subject of abuse came up, as always, I boldly and proudly announce I had successfully dealt with it.  I don’t think any of them believed I was over it, and I doubt they had a clue how to treat it.  It takes a highly specialized therapist who has extensive training and experience in the treatment of sexual abuse, to have any chance of helping a victim.  I don’t think there were many qualified counselors around in those days.  Thank God it is different now.

In the day, there were some rudimentary theories floating around  about what happens to  the brain physiology of a child who experienced childhood trauma and how different the brain can be from kids who grew up normally.  I took this to mean, trauma causes victims brains to be wired differently from an emotional point of view.  There was nothing in my mind to suggest differently.  In short, the medical consensus was my brain was wired to be predisposed to anxiety.  I found all of this fascinating and interesting but what were the counselors really trying to tell me?   Were they saying I was mentally ill?  I have never considered myself mentally ill,  this was concerning to me.  I was already burdened with deep guilt and shame and I was not going to be labeled mentally ill, nor did my counselors say I was.  I was better and stronger than this, but it did make me wonder from time to time; especially when I would have serious PTSD attack.  The episodes were infrequent but they were devastating.  During these attacks I would wonder if I was going nuts.  I still didn’t react to any of this new information and only committed my new found knowledge, to memory.  I am sure it became just another piece of fodder for my subconscious mind to chew on, another tid-bit of information to add to the pressure cooker.  Another seed planted that added to the ever growing weapons my subconscious mind to use to break through my defenses.  The subconscious mind is a very clever little beastie.  We ignore it; don’t understand it and therefore we fear it.  Rarely understanding it is our greatest ally.  We just need to learn and listen to it.

So anxiety became my second real issue for me to deal with..  But more importantly, I needed to understand how anxiety is connected to the abuse.  What are its affects, short term and long term, and how do the affects manifest themselves?   What are the causes of anxiety and what are the physical aspects of the brain that triggers these events?  It was going to take some serious due-diligence and research on my part.  I was excited I was taking charge and doing something tangible.  It felt better than simple accepting the anxiety as something I could do nothing about.  Even if it turned out things are what they are and there is nothing to be done; the effort is still a positive exercise in recovery because understanding and fear brings wisdom.  I guess it comes down to knowing your enemy.  But is anxiety the real enemy?  Time would tell.

I started on my quest by re-reading several books I read years before when I had moderate level of interest in understanding abuse.  Based on these readings my situation was typical for most victims of sexual abuse.  Most victims are predisposed to elevated levels anxiety and depression.  The books gave me a cause and effect but nothing of the mechanics.  It wasn’t enough to understand trauma can cause lifelong anxiety.  I am an engineer and I know when a tire is flat.  I want to know why it is flat and what caused it.  I needed to understand more about the “different brain wiring concept.”  It seemed very plausible the physical brain physiology can be damaged, and then it stands to reason anxiety can be a result of a physical condition, brain damage?  This could explain a few things.

I continued to read and do research.  I found there was a real trend in the medical field for support of this theory.  In fact, it had moved beyond the theory stage and was generally accept as at least partly true.  The evidence appeared to be circumstantial and nothing set in concrete.  Over the course of several months I would see a news segment or a TV special about abuse and each time I would remember something, or connect a dot or understand something I had not understood before.  And of course the news stations would have their experts commenting on the story.  There was always a general belief the child would suffer from, anxiety or depression and a slew of other things, all of which appeared to be connected to this changed brain physiology.  I can’t remember any of the experts saying the brain physiology doesn’t change.  Some expert said it was a permanent condition.  Others did not know.  And others were skeptical.  But it was food for thought.

All of my research led me to conclude there is strong evidence suggesting physical changes do occur in the brain because of emotional trauma.  I had to keep in mind, while this may be true for some, it may not be for me.  I would need to have an expert enlighten me.  For my money, I was convinced this stuff causes real physical brain damage and previous counselors had alluded to it.

It wasn’t long after I reached my conclusions that I came across this article:

December 14, 2000– Belmont, MA –Mclean Hospital researchers have identified four types of brain abnormalities linked to child abuse and neglect, providing the first comprehensive review about the multiple ways in which abuse can damage the developing brain. In the Fall 2000 issue of Cerebrum, the researchers also review evidence that suggests this early damage to the developing brain may subsequently cause disorders like anxiety and depression in adulthood.

“The science shows that childhood maltreatment may produce changes in both brain function and structure,” says Martin Teicher, MD, PhD, director of the Developmental Bio psychiatry Research Program at Mclean, and author of the paper.

Although a baby is born with almost all the brain cells (neurons) he will ever have, the brain continues to develop actively throughout childhood and adolescence. “A child’s interaction with the outside environment causes connections to form between brain cells,” Teicher explains. “Then these connections are pruned during puberty and adulthood.  So whatever a child experiences, for good or bad, helps determine how his brain is wired.”

The Mclean team identifies four types of abnormalities caused by abuse and neglect “These changes are permanent,” says Teicher. “This is not something people can just get over and get on with their lives.”

Limbic irritability: The limbic system is a network of brain cells sometimes called the “emotional brain.” It controls many of the most fundamental emotions and drives important for survival.  The Mclean researchers found evidence that abuse may cause disturbances in electrical impulses as limbic nerve cells communicate, resulting in seizures or significant abnormalities on an EEG, a diagnostic test that measures brain waves.  The researchers studied 253 adults who came to an outpatient mental health clinic for psychiatric assessment.  A little more than half reported being physically and or sexually abused as children.  The researchers developed a checklist (the Limbic System Checklist-33 or LSCL-33) to determine how often the patients experienced symptoms similar to those that occur in patients with temporal lobe epilepsy.  They found that patients who experienced abuse scored much higher suggesting an underlying disturbance in the limbic system.  Follow-up studies of 115 children admitted to Mclean were conducted to measure EEG disturbances.  Patients with a history of abuse were twice as likely as non-abused patients to have an abnormal EEG.  Interestingly, all of the extra EEG abnormalities affected the left hemisphere of the brain.  EEG abnormalities were associated with more self­-destructive behavior and more aggression.

Arrested development of the left hemisphere: The brain is divided into two hemispheres, with the left controlling language and the right responsible for visual-spatial ability, perception and expression of negative affect.  In six separate studies and analyses, the smallest involving 20 people and the largest involving 115, the researchers reviewed medical records, conducted neuropsychological tests to measure left and right-brain abilities, examined the results of MRI scans to provide pictures of the brain at work, and studied the results of sophisticated EEG coherence tests, which provided information on brain structure as well as function. These studies provide evidence of deficient development of the left brain hemisphere in abused patients, so that the right hemisphere may be more active than in healthy individuals.  The researchers speculate that the left hemisphere deficits seen in abused patients may contribute to the development of depression and increase the risk of memory impairments.

Deficient integration between the left and right hemispheres: The corpus callosum is a major information pathway connecting the two hemispheres of the brain. The researchers reviewed MRI brain scans from 51 patients admitted to Mclean’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Program, and compared them to 97 MRIs’ of healthy children obtained from the National Institute of Mental Health.  In abused children, the corpus callosum was smaller than in healthy children.  After reviewing the medical records, the researchers found that neglect was associated with a 24 percent to 42 percent reduction in the size of various regions of the corpus callosum in boys, but sexual abuse had no effect.  In girls, sexual abuse was associated with an 18 percent to 30 percent smaller size in the corpus callosum, but neglect had no effect.  They also found that abused patients shifted degree of activity between their two hemispheres to a much greater extent than normal. They theorize that a smaller corpus callosum leads to less integration of the hemispheres.  This in turn can result in dramatic shifts in mood or personality.

Increased vermal activity: The cerebellar vermis is a part of the brain that is involved in emotion, attention and the regulation of the limbic system.  The McLean researchers used a new functional MRI technique known as T2 relaxometry, which provides information about blood flow to the brain during a resting state, to measure vermal activity in both abused and healthy individuals. Thirty-two adults participated, including 15 with a history of sexual or intense verbal childhood trauma but no physical trauma. The higher a participant’s LSCL-33 score, the greater the degree of vermal activity or blood flow.  The researchers theorize that the abused patients had higher vermal activity in order to quell electrical irritability within the limbic system.  They hypothesize that the cerebellar vermis helps to maintain emotional balance, but that trauma may impair this ability.

After documenting these four types of brain abnormalities, the Mclean researchers examined animal studies to determine how such damage might occur. Such studies show that neglect and trauma increase production of cortisol and decrease production of the thyroid hormone, which affect development of neurochemical and neurotransmitter receptors in the hippocampus, amygdala and locus coeruleus, parts of the brain that regulate fear and anxiety. Based on these studies, the Mclean team theorizes that the stress caused by child abuse and neglect may also trigger the release of some hormones and neurotransmitters while inhibiting others, in effect remolding the brain so that the individual is “wired” to respond to a hostile environment.

“We know that an animal exposed to stress and neglect early in life develops a brain that is wired to experience fear, anxiety and stress,” says Teicher. “We think the same is true of people.”

End article.

I wasn’t sure what I thought about all of this and several other articles indicating the same results.  It was a double-edged sword, I was glad I was not crazy but I was angry.  I was happy for the possibility of additional explanations about anxiety and its causes.  But it was difficult to accept this stuff can cause such horrendous damage.  In a way, I felt like I was abused all over again.  I was pissed off and relieved at the same time.  Relieved because it was making more sense, and when you understand something, it is easier to deal with.  It still sucked.  Another piece of the puzzle was added to the board.

I was smart to understand this may or may not have contributed to my condition.  Everybody experiences anxiety; it is an integral part of the human condition.  I believe it acts as a warning system of some sort which means in appropriate situations, it is useful.  So there are normal levels of anxiety.  And how does someone in my situation begin to sort out what is normal and what is not?  I still could not be satisfied without probing more.  If there is a physical condition resulting in a predisposition for anxiety then does it mean the normal anxiety is amplified or perhaps it does not affect normal anxiety?  Does the condition cause a more sensitive trigger mechanism?  And how does all of this connect to the abuse?

In time, I came to believe this condition is a highly sensitive trigger that amplifies all types of anxiety and its physical symptoms.  It seemed to me the “wired differently” condition refers to the physical connections between the brain and the emotional mind.  If these connections were developed abnormally with adverse emotional input then it means my brain is going to act differently and therefore the episodes of anxiety that made no sense to me started to make sense.  The brain of a child is work in progress, completely susceptible to its input and environment.  It doesn’t matter if the environment is good or bad, this decides how the brain will react later in life.

I was beginning to realize I may be at risk of over diagnosing myself.  And I was aware that everything I believed now could change as my recovery progressed.  So I had to be careful not to over diagnose and approach all of my insights with an open mind.  I decided the best way to guard against this trap was to focus on how I was feeling.  And consult with my counselor.

During my research, I found a plethora of names, and labels for various diagnoses and conditions for the many effects of abuse.  It was important to ignore these labels as much as possible.  I cannot stand labels because people read too much into them.  For survivors of abuse, labels are just another curse and burden to carry.  Labels are for the professionals and should be taken with a grain of salt by the layperson.

On the other hand, I believe it was imperative to educate myself.  It was hard to ignore the labels and it took time before I was very comfortable learning about them.  It was not easy avoiding over diagnosing so I took a modified approach to my education.  I believed monitoring my emotional state of mind could only be articulated by me and me alone.  So where do you draw the line between physical diagnoses or emotional ones?   I decided not to try and figure it out.  I would avoid the issue all together and focus on my feelings.  This meant constant monitoring and active contemplation of what I was feeling.  I would no longer just allow the feelings to go unattended.  I would find ways to challenge them and understand them.

Things began to make sense.  Anxiety is a very powerful emotion and can be a very damaging.  It can have both physical and psychological triggers.  It has a profound effect on victims of abuse.  It weakens one’s immune system and affects the lymphatic system, which is directly connected to the emotional mind.  It can exist in tandem with other symptoms such as intense physical symptoms like shaking, over active nerves, twitching, aches and pains.  It is a complicated emotion with many triggers, some normal others not so normal.  It feeds on fear and uncertainty, and is a symptom not a cause.  It has a direct connection to the subconscious mind and is a slave to its will.  After discussing my concerns with my counselors, I learned they agreed that my brain is wired differently.  A lot of my anxiety was a result of what I now consider a real physical injury to my brain.  And the damage goes on.  There is no cure, so they tell me.  But I have my own thoughts on this one.  Time will tell.

Now all I had to do was figure out how to sort all this out.  How do I apply it to recovery?  I developed a habit of asking questions of myself whenever I had anxiety.   I asked a variety of questions.  I wanted to connect with the source  of these emotions so I could explore them.  I decided to take the advice of one of my counselors and not fight the anxiety.  He believed.  Fighting it only led to emotional conflict and an increase in the anxiety.  It made sense.  I was delighted I was not spending my time trying not feeling anxious and refocusing my energy into understanding the feelings.

My questions varied depending on how I was feeling but there were some common ones that seemed to apply to all situations.  Why was I feeling this way?  What does it mean?  Is it really a threat I was feeling?  What was I thinking just before I became anxious?   How was I feeling just before I was triggered?  Etc.  Questioning was my fundamental tactic for developing and sustaining my recovery progress.  I felt like it was a “start button” with no off button.

The more I explored the questions, the more I was thinking of my life as a victim.  Flash-backs became common but in time they didn’t bother me emotionally.  They were like watching little movies of information.  I no longer feared them and decided to use them as a means to learning.  I figured the more I experienced them, the closer I was to recovery.  They did make me a little sad, but nothing overwhelming.

It did not take long for me to realize my lack of confidence was real and was caused by mixture of everything.  Somehow, over time I developed a mask of self-confidence.  Sure, I was confident with all things involving work.  However, I was seriously lacking any confidence when came to emotional or personal situations.  I never understood any of this before now and it led to another revelation.  If you don’t have confidence about all things personal then there must be a disconnection with yourself in some way.  I think in my case, this lack of confidence was a strong indication that I did not know myself.   Not knowing yourself, means you are truly alone, lost in the dark so to speak.  Lack of self-confidence fuels a negative self-image.  Boy, I wonder where a negative self-image may have come from!  This could only have led to a cascading of other self-image issues.  It was clear I had real self-image issues.  Issues I had ignored my entire life.  I doubt I recognized them at any level.  Sure I knew I hated myself for a long time but I had come to believe I was long over the shadow belief that had molded my thinking.  It wasn’t the case.  In reality, all I had done was substitute my confidence as a skilled engineer with a general perception I was a confident person.  I learned not to focus on self-doubts about my interpersonal skills.  In these situations I am sure trust was another big issue.  I just didn’t deal with the truth.

The more I thought about this the more crystallized my thoughts became.  When did I have time to develop self-confidence?  After all, I am one of eleven kids, a twin and I am a middle child.  My parents were fair but strict and I was a shy, quiet kid.  My parents are great people but how could they possibly give all us kids the attention or affection we needed.  There were just too many of us.

Once the abuse started, I learned to fear my parents because I was constantly worried they’d find out and disown me.  This was drilled into my head by my first abuser.  Ernie completely suppressed any confidence I may have had and being stripped of any positive self-image was devastating to developing confidence because I was afraid of him.  I suspect having been robbed of any confidence is the clandestine method of controlling a kid.  After Ernie, I was focus on my new life.  I was enjoying my newfound freedom.  I stayed focused on my work and drove myself hard to be good at it.  I love to learn and consequently I spent my free time learning.  I never looked back until now.  I allowed my confidence as a technical person to carry me through.  I wanted to be known as an intelligent guy, who was creative and could make real contributions to my employer.  This was the image I fostered and focused on.  I had buried the real self-image deep in my subconscious, and without a foundation for confidence seriously contributed my sensitivity to anxiety.

This has been a real learning experience for me.  It is definitely changing my self-image a little.  Each time I went through one of these exercises I could see a more truthful picture of myself.  This is what recovery is all about.  I understand myself better and I am glad for that but it bothers me I had buried all of this for so long; in as much as I am growing as a person it is hard realizing some of these things about me.  But it is definitely bringing me closer to the real me.  Now that I am aware of my confidence problem, I have to learn how to reprogram this negative thinking about myself and learn ways to build self-confidence.  Dam, this onion has a lot of layers.

I started out working on anxiety and it led me to a confidence issue.  Reprogramming these issues took time.  It was very clear once I started this process I had many bad thinking habits about myself, which led to many shadow beliefs.   Lack of confidence is a very real trigger for anxiety.  It seems the lack of confidence can make many normal emotional situations feel like a threat and a threat is the major trigger for anxiety.  My false facade of confidence only served as another mask to shield me from the pain of abuse.

So in conclusion, I can say with confidence I have a better handle on my anxiety.  I understand many of the triggers and I have been diligent at preventing them..  There has been a drastic improvement with my anxiety.  Simply dealing with it made a difference and understanding my brain is wired differently was painful to accept but insightful and therefore making my anxiety easier to deal with.  It is difficult to see myself completely free of the anxiety.  But it is ok because now I understand and I now consider this type of anxiety on the level of a headache.   I have a physical wound resulting from the abuse that caused a great deal of anxiety for me.  This does not discount the emotional aspects causing my anxiety.

11 anger

This has been an incredible journey, full of ups and downs and many surprises.  It has been eighteen months since I started in earnest working on recovery and I am still in awe of how far I have come.  To feel the real changes in myself is nothing less than astounding.  In so many ways I do not feel like the same person, so much of me changed or more to the point I don’t carry nearly as much luggage as I once did.   My progress has been a steady trend in the right direction with the expected bumps in the road.  My progress was riddled with many startling and enlightening moments of insight and growth.  Many days I have felt so good, I had to wonder if this was the end of my recovery.  It was in these days when I knew something very special was happening to me.  I understood I was going to make it and recovery would be mine.  I could feel the changes each day.  I knew I had nothing to hide from anymore and the mask of shame had melted into oblivion.  The weight of the guilt was no more.  My sense of freedom and wholeness was heavenly and growing.

The days would turn to weeks and sometimes the weeks to a month or two.  Then, as with many times over the previous 18 months, a new sense of awareness would slowly begin to creep in.  It usually started in my gut; it was a familiar feeling that did not reveal its meaning to easily.  I could sense the healing I was experiencing was taking hold from the latest plateau I has scaled.  It was during these transitions I felt the most vulnerable and threatened because these transitions signaled there was another plateau to explore.  But it was Ok because with each stage of healing my confidence and skills grew and I was better prepared for the next level of recovery.  Each level seemed to be more difficult than its predecessor was but easier to cope with.  With each plateau there was only so much healing that could take place.  It was the transitions that signaled I had healed as much as I could and I was ready for the next plateau to be scaled.  This was the cryptic signal broadcasting, “it is time to move to the next challenge.”  At the beginning of each of these cycles, I never had a sense of what was coming next.  It was no different this time.

It is ironic, how emotional wounds heal in a very similar way as muscle does.  When you exercise, you work the muscles until they hurt.  Then you give them time to heal and when your body is not hurting any more, it is telling you it is time for the next round.  Recovery is so much like this.  You start by dealing with an issue, and then you work it until it hurts, so to speak.  Then you give it time to heal and when your emotional mind and heart are ready,  it tells you in its own way it is time for the next issue.  In recovery, I learned to listen to my mind and body.  They are the signalman and the traffic cops.  This time was no different.  It is like a little bell going off in my head telling me the party is over and it is time to get back to work

I stayed in this transition state of mind for a couple of weeks, just letting my emotions and feelings do their work.  In time, they would let me know what was next, but it took a cognitive approach with active awareness of my feelings to make this happen.  I was becoming more deeply pensive and somber.

It still never ceases to amaze me how much crap I was carrying all those years.  The last two years had been mind boggling, so many wounds.  And here again I found myself at the end of another plateau.  I guess that is why they call it step plateaus.  You climb up one sidewalk across the flat easy surface to the opposite end and start climbing again.  Of course, the first plateaus are easy and plentiful but as each is laid to rest behind you, the next is far more significant.  And I sensed anger was going to be as big the shame and guilt.

But this time, I was surprised as ever.  I have come to a place in my mind and heart where anger was my next demon to confront.  Anger had been a steady companion throughout recovery.  For the most part it was more a sense of awareness, rather than a physical reaction or an emotion to be felt.

During the previous few weeks I wasn’t sure where the next level would take me.  I was trying to figure out why I was becoming so somber this time.  I am sure it was partly due to the grieving process I was experiencing but there had to be more.  Slowly my feelings began to crystallize.  I pondered for days what I was feeling and why.  It was no surprise to finally realize I have never been connected to most of the anger in my life.  I have been angry for sure at times.  I have yelled, been irritable, I have had infrequent fits of rage as an adult and frequent temper tantrums as a kid.  I have never understood where the impulses of rage came from.  I was always taken back at how I could lose control in these brief moments in time.  Most of the time I held back expressing any anger at all, in most situations.  And holding back was the fundamental problem.  I was taught and forced to keep my anger to myself from the time I was a kid until I was out of the grips of Ernie.  Once I was free of Ernie I had to be careful not to show anger because I am such an imposing figure and I always felt I was risking loosing too much if I showed any anger.  This was a very unhealthy way of managing my anger.  So in all of my relationships and my marriage I felt it was risky to express any anger, even in a healthy way.  Now, during these days of contemplation, I have come to see my anger as if  I was looking into a volcano, ever so slowly building pressure preparing to explode.  From time to time, I can see small eruptions.  Nevertheless, as with all volcanoes it is the unseen threat that is deadly.  I realized I had once again put another emotion out of reach.  I could only experience the eruptions from an emotional distance, and without understanding.  Boy, I wonder what Freud would say about this one?

It has made me angry to realize I have suppressed so much anger and never released it.  How could doing this not be a major impact on a person’s emotional health?   Emotions are meant to be felt and experienced and I have never done this with my core anger.  Once again, recovery has revealed another plateau.  I found it hard to believe that at this stage of my recovery, there could be much more beyond the anger.  Again I feel I am going into a, “Once more unto the breach” moment in time.  Once more I needed to take the bull by the horns and accept whatever this next step will bring.  Now I would have to learn to tap into my anger and learn ways to release it, once and for all.  It was very scary but I felt very confident I would do as I have for so many months now, simply get it done.

Since the day in the cemetery, I have noticed tendencies toward anger and more so since I started recovery, especially during the last year when my recovery was in full throttle mode.  I had been wondering about anger for months.  The more I thought about it, the more apparent it became anger was again something I knew little about, beyond how to isolate myself from it.  It was just like the shame and guilt.  I had full awareness of the symptoms of each but I had never connected to them and did my best to numb myself from them.  It was apparent my anger was equally disconnected, so I knew this was going to be big.

As the days past I was becoming more unsettled, another familiar state of mind at the beginning of working through an issue.  I was realizing how conditioned my mind had been to be able to suppress my anger.  My parents are great parents and I love them very much but they were very strict when it came to some things.  Showing anger was not encouraged, and rightly so, we were a tribe of 13.  So, on the one hand there were always kid squabbles going-on and on the other consequences for being angry.  You never talked back to Mom or Dad or showed any disrespect of any kind to an adult.  And we had the Catholic thing going.  The fires of Hell will consume you if you do or think any bad deeds.  Then came the abusers and I was taught again to not express angry, they used fear also, followed by shame and guilt that made me feel I had no right to be angry.  And of course being a shy kid sure didn’t help.

Damn, between everybody waiting for the nuclear bombs to fly and running to “duck and cover” training in elementary school.  Throw in the sex, drugs and rock and roll, the sexual revolution, presidents, world leaders, senators and preachers being assassinated and watching our guys and gals dying every night in the news, made it a tough time for a kid to grow up.  Looking back I guess it would hard for a kid not to be scared and angry.  Then we were taught to hold it in.  This was my training ground for dealing with anger.  I guess this is why I always hate yelling and I hate myself every time I yell.  Here again, I didn’t recognize all the suppressed anger.  I guess it was inevitable I would not be able to suppress my anger every time I was mad.  The problem was, sometimes my anger reactions were more than they should have been and I would yell instead of learning to talk through the issue in a healthy way.  And if anger needed to be expressed I needed to learn more sensitive ways of expressing anger, I had no training for any of this.  Anger levels are very difficult to regulate when you are already holding back so much.  Anger is always trying to find ways to express itself and if you give it the tiniest opportunity it will show itself and not in a healthy way.

I had been having tendencies toward anger since my recovery started.  These moments of anger felt very different than my anger of the past.  I could feel this anger very deep inside me; I was making a minimal personal connection to it.  These moments of anger may have been brief in nature but they were leaving a very lasting impression.  So by default I was already getting in touch with some anger at a very minimal level, just enough to know something different was happening

As the days past I was becoming more unsettled.  Slowly things were starting to come to mind.  Not least of which every time I would try and break through the emotional barrier it would trigger a PTSD episode.  It was apparent I had discovered a source of the PTSD.  During recovery I had only a few episodes and now I was in a continuous state of PTSD.  It was very difficult to manage but I decided to stick with it no matter what.  I reminded myself I had nothing to lose and this is what recovery is all about, staying committed, and learning to feel again.

Eventually the episodes would pass so it was not wasted time.  During this time I had been remembering the actual abuse incidents, seeing them in my mind.  I noticed I was not feeling one flicker of anger.  I knew it was there, but I was dumb-founded I could suppress it so well.  I could see in my mind this happening to me and I was not feeling a thing?  It showed me where my work needed to be done.  Since all this I have been starting to react angrily, but I was not feeling the anger, like I did with my break-through with shame and guilt.  What the hell had I done to myself?   No wonder so many victims don’t make it.  What the hell, was I a robot all my life or some sort of freak that doesn’t have a right to be angry when you’re being raped!  What the hell had they done to me?  What the hell had I done to myself?   This was a very disturbing time for me.

So far, this was the roughest start to an issue.  I spent a couple of weeks trying to learn how to get in touch with my anger.  I was befuddled to think this stuff was so intense and complicated.  I had to find ways not to over stimulate myself when doing my work; I had to keep it simple.

Keeping it simple this time was proving to be a challenge in and of itself.  There were days where I was overwhelmed.  So I decided to work with my support people on this.  Something I should have recognized the need to do earlier.  After a couple of conversations with my counselor, I was able to step out of the PTSD and let my mind calm down.  He wasn’t much help teaching me how to get in touch with my anger.  No fault of his, I think this stuff is too complicated to have simple black and white answers or solutions.  I think each of us must learn to be flexible in our approaches to recovery and some things we have to figure out for ourselves.  If something is working stay with it, if it isn’t then find something that will work.

I was learning quickly, anger is the poison of the soul, mind and body.  It is a cancer.  The inner conflict it creates is the monster chasing us in our dreams.  And how often do we victims try to minimize our anger or how often have we heard, “just get over it.”  I had a sense; this was the last big plateau I had to scale.  I had no sound reason to believe this, it was just a feeling.  But it was a motivating feeling because if this truly turns out to be the last big one then it means I have come a long way and the end may be in sight.

Journal entry:

“The last plateau, am I finally there?  And I am paralyzed with fear.  It feels like I am hanging on a sheer rock face a couple thousand feet above a valley.  I am hanging at the base of a huge inclined overhang.  Beyond it is my goal.  I have no safety robes and it is not a good place to be for someone who is deathly afraid of open falls.  There is no going back, no safety rope, just me against fear.  And I don’t know how to scale this final obstacle.  At times it is a paralyzing fear.”

End journal:

I was still trying to figure ways to connect to my anger when I remember the incident with the punching bag I had hanging in the hallway.  My sister had recommended it to use for working on anger.  I purchased it several months earlier and had it hanging there unused.  I wasn’t ready for it and I knew it.  I wanted it there for when I was.  I remember walking by it one day and I wasn’t thinking of anything in particular. I just gave the bag a love tap on the way by and a thought and image jumped into my head. ”Where were you, Mom?” and an image of my mother and me feeling angry and abandoned by her.  I was in shock, so much so, it gave me a shot of adrenalin.  This really bothered me because it was not a thought I would ever allow myself to believe or conceived of.  Under no circumstances would I, or could I blame anyone for what happened to me other than the perpetrators, and especially not my mother!

Remembering this incident with the punching bag started me thinking, I decided I was going to try something.  For several days, when I walked by the bag I would give it one punch and keep walking.  Whatever anger issue I was working on I would simple think about it as punched the bag.  For me it was damn near a stroke of brilliance.  It took me to some very interesting places.  My first issue would be, “Mom, where were you?” I hated the thought of this and it was tearing me apart.  It was obviously an important issue for me.  One I could not conceive of, but nonetheless it had to be dealt with.

Anger, what a trip; It took over a year of recovery before I connected to my suppressed anger.  It was an anger I had never known.  This anger felt different from simply being angry about something, yelling about something or any outward expression of every day type of anger.  This was much different.  This anger was the cement binding the many emotional wounds and holes in my soul together.

I was convinced early on in my recovery that anger would be the least of the wounds I had to deal with.  I was convinced I had very little anger about the abuse.  I was so naive.  But the mind and heart are very clever.  They are sneaky little bastards sometimes.  My heart and subconscious mind knew they would only give me what I could handle at any one time.  In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined working on anger would turn out to be so astonishing, difficult, revealing, enlightening and freeing.  I wondered early on, after understanding more of the scope of my anger, if I was facing my Waterloo.  I was becoming a little discouraged.  How the hell much more of recovery would there be before I would have no more surprises.  Recovery was draining.  But I would get through.

It was apparent I was so out of touch with my anger, that the word “anger” was simply that, a word.  I had no emotional connections to it.  I had to wonder if it was even possible for anyone to suppress real anger.  I reviewed my feelings constantly trying to understand the real depth of my anger.  Sure I had hung a punching bag up to pound on when the need arose.  But the punching bag was only a symbol, or at best a tool.   Being aware of anger and connecting to it was a totally different thing.  In reality anger was the footings of my emotional foundation, offset only by the love in my heart.  Anger was the foundation which carried me because there was very little else to build with at the time.  It is strange, what really did happen; the first eight years of my life, my emotional footings were strong and developed in a very normal manner.  Beyond those wonderful and full years, the foundation of my life was being poured on the footings, making those first 8 years the base for the larger foundation.  Anger became the foundation covering the good footings.  My foundation of anger was never strong enough to destroy my good footings but they sure tested them to their limits.  No anger only put the good footing at a distance and out of sight.  You never see the footing of a foundation.  You only know they are there holding up everything else.  My emotional footing waited patiently for forty years for a new foundation to be built or the old one to be repaired.  So where did this leave me?   Having been a licensed contractor, I understood what it meant to rebuild.  I would keep all that was good and replace the parts that were not worthy of my new life.  Even my poorly built home had a great many good things worth saving.  They call this recovery.  Even now, as I write these words I am in awe of how much anger I have, what it turned into and what it revealed.  It was a life-changing event; it was time to take its life controlling power away.

I consider my day in the cemetery the first day of my recovery.  It took time to sort things out and stabilize my life to a point where I could begin recovery in earnest.  In fact I took close to a year before I could attack it.  This is not to say I was not recovering as the days passed.  Once you step out of denial and are truthful with yourself, causes an awareness that will not let you forget you are recovering, either formally or informally.  At the time I was in serious financial difficulties and dealing with a cancer scare and moving back home.  There was a lot on my plate and I was still learning how to deal with recovery and learning how to do it.  So the loss of time was not a result of procrastination, it was out of necessity.

That day in the cemetery, I began walking a parallel path of life.  The road to recovery magically appeared next to my road of life, one foot on each road.  It was a road I could not simply step on and everything was ok.  No the road of life would have to be walked and in time, it would meld into the one road of recovery and a new life.  Nevertheless, recovery was in sight and as much as I could not walk it fully, it was a guide.

This magical road was not a road to nowhere.  No this road had a purpose with a destiny.  And as time went on, I traveled this road, met my demons and dismissed them.  There were so many surprises along the way.  The road seemed difficult and hopeless at first.  But it was not long before I was realized this road had a gentle slope, a very long gentle slope.  With each step I was slowly descending to where the two roads would join into one and I would truly be whole and genuine.

So many times, as I walked this road,  I encounter a defining issue , worked through it and felt the healing and wholeness develop in me; I would be on top of the world emotionally, but only until the next wound presented itself.  And with each of these confrontations I felt I had dealt with the worst of them.  In hindsight, each wound I dealt with was more difficult than the previous.  With each cycle I would feel a little trepidation because, if the course held true, then it stood to reason the next cycle of recovery would be more painful.  It was at these times when I had to remind myself of how far I had come.  Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t stop.  With each wound I healed I became stronger and better equipped to face the next.  I also knew the time would come when I would face the last wounds.  And now, that time had come.  Anger, the foundation of my life, was the final battle to be fought.  I don’t know how I knew.  But I knew.  I knew all my work had brought me to this dangerous place.  Anger is a formidable foe and I instinctively knew I would not be able to deal with this alone.  I knew too little about anger and learning on the job was not an option anymore.  I was in training for over year, and it was pissing me off it was becoming so hard.  I could not be angry with my mother!  No way!  It was not her fault at any level!  But, no matter what the truth revealed I would face it, right!  Things were really starting to suck.  I had come full circle.  I was standing at the beginning, only this time I had the full mosaic of my life, shining in the light of truth.  Nowhere to hide, nowhere to run.  I felt like a guy preparing to run into a burning building to save a loved one and knowing my chances of coming out alive are slim.  But you do it, not because you may fail, but because you may succeed.  This time I was saving me, I hope it turns out better this time.  “Once more unto the breach,” my quest was coming to an end.  It was beginning to appear I would have to punch my way through this one.  The damn bag had hung there for six months, a shining symbol of what was to come and the key to moving past it.

“And behind door number one” is, “Mom, where were you?”  Wow!  What a shock for me.  I never considered at any time in my past t I may have unidentified and unresolved anger about my mother or father.  I didn’t understand it.  Where the hell were these feeling coming from?  I felt like the punching bag started punching back. “Mom, where were you?” I stayed away from the bag for a week or two.  Staying away didn’t matter much because I could not walk by the damned thing without thinking about what had happened.  The bag became the guiding beacon in the dark.  And this was just the beginning.  The bag would turn out to be a time portal to distant and forgotten feelings, pain, wounds, new truths and old truths.

It was a strange place to be.  Here I was at the end of an epic journey, and facing my darkest emotions.  But I had reached a level of recovery that allowed me to accept this fate.  There was no going back; I was going to face my anger.  I did have anger towards my mother.  But what type of anger?  Mom and Dad did all they could and I have always been grateful to them for their efforts.  Their methods on the other hand, well that is a different story.

As I worked through this issue my research brought me to some interesting articles about victims having an innate tendency to protect their parents from blame.  This seemed to be a little of what was going on with me.  But this still did not make sense to me.  I was struggling with a core issue, which revealed some very primal anger towards my mother.  I could not allow myself to be angry with her or my dad.  She was not to blame and the only one to blame is Ernie.  But my rational mind, fortified with logic was no match for my emotional mind which was fortified with prevailing truth.  After all, I had been in training through recovery, to allow myself to feel again.  I could not just shut this off even if I wanted to.  The quicker I accepted this simple truth the easier the process would become.

As I struggled over the next several weeks, I realized I was blocking.  This had to change and I had to deal with my anger honestly.  I learned, “Me” as an adult was not angry with my mother, but me as a child was.  Understanding this difference made it easier for me to deal with.  And so, the punching bag came to life in a more productive way.  I pounded the hell out of it.  The more I punched the damned thing, the angrier I became.  With each blow came more hurt and the more loss I felt.  I was allowing myself to feel as I did as a teenager.  Except this time I was not suppressing my anger, I was expressing it, as I wanted to as a teenager.   The tears began to flow, like rivers of sadness and anger.  My heart was breaking before my eyes.  As a teenager, I had felt my parents had failed me.  I felt this way back then but I didn’t know it.  Back then I could only hold myself accountable, how unbelievable it was to feel about mom this way.  And here lays the conflict.  How do I reconcile this?  I was exhausted by now and I had beaten the bag until I nearly dropped.

Over the next few weeks, I was able to understand most of my confusion.  Only Ernie was to blame.  My mom did all she could and the legal system was no help to her and neither was society.  She cried when she knew I was in pain and her heart broke a thousand times over this stuff.  She tried endlessly to pull me back.  And she didn’t have a clue what was going on until it was too late for me.  I was the one painting the rosy picture for everyone.  I was forced by virtue of my situation, to be a difficult teenager.  Any parent dealing with a difficult teenager knows the heartache and frustration of trying so hard and usually to no avail.

As far as the anger goes, I have accepted it and understand why I had anger towards my mom.  It is human nature, especially as a child, to expect your parents to be able to protect you from all dangers.  It is equally normal for a parent to feel guilty when they cannot protect their child.  At such an instinctive level, it was understandable I was angry at Mom.  I was a kid and I didn’t have the luxury of clairvoyance of fore-thought and wisdom to understand it was ok to be angry.

Did my parents fail?  Yes and no.  Was what happening to me their fault?  No.  As adults, we have the have the luxury of hindsight and it is easy to say this or that should have happened or this or that should have been done.  This is not the real world.  I was angry at my mom for no other reason than she was my mom and she couldn’t protect me.  But in the end she did save me and that is what is important.  From a more practical point of view, no parent wants his or her child to be abused or mistreated.  And every parent wants the best for their children.  My parents did not want this abuse to happen to me.  What purpose would be gained if I measured my parents as a function of their failures as I perceived them?  If we measured every parent this way we would not find very many successful parents, would we?  The measure of a parent is not in their failures or their inability to stand up to forces beyond their control.  I measure my parents by their hearts and how successful they are at raising a family.  From this perspective; my parents are great parents and people.  They are human first and parents second.  They did their best, but fate had a different plan for me.

This was an important and critical step in my recovery; critical because it was so basic in its nature.  Kids angry with their parents?  What a revelation.  All of this made me realize how difficult a teenager I was for my parents.  I was so because I was more afraid of Ernie and what he could do to me and my family than I was of my parents.

This ended my first intense episode of anger.  There was no way I could maintain these levels of emotional drain.  I had to slow things down a bit.  I needed a rest for a couple of weeks, I needed time to heal.

When I started this new technique of hitting the bag only one time, I was hoping to created similar triggers as happened with Mom.  For about two weeks and 50 to 75 single punches to the bag, nothing of consequence happened.  Other than a few fleeting glimpses of anger about Ernie I was not getting anything.  I began to wonder if this exercise was a waste of time.  Shortly after feeling a little discourage things began to happen.  I was getting flickers of anger that were lucid in nature.  Ernie was becoming more predominant in my feelings, but there were other surprises.  My dad was beginning to be part of this.  All I could think was, Christ, not again.  Where the hell was this going to take me with Dad?   Over the next couple of weeks there were triggers for my brothers, sisters, Bette, there seemed to be no end to the anger.  Was I angry at everyone?  I was beginning to realize this was not healthy.  I had to modify my technique a little and deal with my anger issues one at a time.  I decided to focus on my dad and one of my brothers next.

The next several days proved to be challenging.  The end result of my anger toward my family all seemed to be the same.  I was angry as a kid but as an adult I have no anger for any of them.  And my conclusions were the same as they were for my mother.  My family was not to blame.  I wasn’t mad at any of them.  But as a kid I only knew subconsciously, loved ones are supposed to protect me.  They were only the instruments to allow me to get in touch with all the anger of my youth.

I began to feel sorry for the bag.  Things were working so well that other sources of anger began to pop up.  Not least of which was my anger at my wife.  I was really pissed at her.  I would like to think this was a surprise but it wasn’t.  I had accepted I was responsible for our marriage failing even if it was not obvious I was doing so.  Evidently I had other strong feeling I did not want to acknowledge.  Regardless of what I did or did not want to do, I was in it up to my ears now and there was no way out of it.  I had good training for the “no way out” scenario.

I realize how unhealthy and damaging un-healed anger is.  I was always told it can kill you, I think they may be right.  In truth I was angry at everyone at one point or another.  My anger dwelt in the dungeons of my mind and heart.  It had lived there as the anger of a child, a wounded child.  Again, it made it easy for me to feel defensive and sensitive about my life.   In the day I subconsciously wanted everyone I loved to come to my rescue.  They simply had no idea I was in need of rescuing.  But I had, over time, developed a defensive attitude about my life and therefore, it was easy for me to believe everyone knew and easier for me to keep my loved ones at a distance.  Even if they wanted to help me, it was doubtful I could let them.

It took a while for me to sort out the anger I had for my wife and how the abuse was involved.  The truth is I was really angry about the divorce and how she has treated me since.  Since Christmas night 94 she has treated me like dirt.  She has been unkind, abusive, and lied many times.  Theresa knew she was treated like a queen by me and there was never any level of abuse of her by me, accept one angry letter.  I was an excellent husband to her and it is so sad she has lost sight of all of this.  I spent my life being as kind and generous to people as I could be.  And she in one act of being cruel and abusive she labeled me for life, as the type of person I hate to my core.  If she had a thousand people who knew us she would not find one who would say I was a great and loving husband to her.  I have come to pity Theresa.  But she knew what she was doing, just not why she was doing it.

Underneath I was very angry she had never dealt with her own sexual abuse.  Her abuse was her trigger for venting all her anger from her first husband on me.  These are not my words but the words of both counselors who had worked with us over the years.  And both knew I was in for trouble with Theresa’ past.  Recovery has taught me, as much as I love her and understand her heart, she definitely turned out to be a cruel and heartless person.  I feel bad for her and recovery has also taught me I deserve better.  To this day she has never had one conversation or given me one item of mine.  No pictures – nothing.  She has been heartless, cruel, abusive, and unkind.  And I am stuck with loving a person who would sooner piss on me than show the slightest measure of kindness or fairness.  She had no right ending our marriage because a prank phone call and I don’t think she did.  I wondered if she had a boyfriend because recovery has shown me that everything that happened that night was all too convenient.  Why was she standing at the door of my office without knocking or coming in as she always did.  The door was never locked and why was she on vacation two weeks after that Christmas, and why would no one tell me who she was with.  I deserve better than her and I am done with blaming myself for her lack of far sightedness.  Whatever her reasons are, she is a pretty damned unkind and ruthless person.   I was a great husband to her.  I don’t know where the truth is with her but I do know she is wrong about me.  Her abuse wounds where as much in plays as mine were, she had it pretty rough with her first husband.  Because I knew my wife’s past I went out of my way to be extra special to her.  I always put her on a pedestal.  It sad here abuse has cost her so much.  Hell when I thought I was dying from cancer, I sent her a letter saying good-bye.  And even under these circumstances she could not show me one bit of kindness or send me a picture of us married, so I could take it with me.  And of course she would not send me my wedding ring which I wanted to be buried with.  I never got a get well card from her.  And if I did die, I believe she would dance on my grave.  Her hate of me is a terrible burden for us to carry.

This was mostly my anger soliloquy while punching the bag.  But my heart still tells me how I really feel, at least the feelings that are important.  I had a very difficult time dealing with my anger for Theresa.  I didn’t want to be angry, but this process has brought back so many forgotten memories.  And the realization my marriage was taken because of two wounded people who never dealt with their pain.  The abusers won this round.  In truth, it doesn’t matter who was right or who was wrong.  Abuse sucks and I was a great husband and she is a good, good person who didn’t deserve the pain she has endured from abuse.  There has never been any closure for me with Theresa.  She has refused from day one to make sure I never had closure.  It was ironic, when I filed for an annulment with the Catholic church;  She would not participate and that made it very difficult to get the annulment.  I guess ripping my heart out wasn’t enough.  But it is really over now and I am free of the anger and I have chosen to remember Theresa with an honest heart and not deny myself the truth that I love Theresa very much.  And that is one thing she cannot take away.

I was in a state of active anger about Theresa for about one month.  It had come full circle again.  I was cycling in and out of anger, hurt and a few other things.  The truth is simply this.  We were both wrong.  And that is where it begins and ends for me.  My soliloquies have ended and I know Theresa never cheated on me and what happened – happened and she knows I never cheated on her.   I don’t agree with Theresa about a great many things, not least of which is how she has treated me.  I thought she was better than that.  But I understand now and I can live with a better conscience about the whole mess with Theresa.  I can live with knowing how great our love was for each other and how wonderful a husband I was to her.  Our counselors and Theresa have all said this about me in the past and they are right.  That is the hardest part for me, the love.  I am left as bird with no wings.  It is hard not to feel regret but I would be fooling myself if I didn’t.  I have regrets and the wound in my heart can never heal without forgiveness from Theresa.  And even if forgiveness was coming, I don’t think I have grown enough through recovery to ever forgive myself.  But to have lived and known this type of love is nothing less than miraculous for me.  I am dead to Theresa and that is so sad and painful for me to deal with, but I have been dead before and I always seem to find a way to hang in there.  I can live with knowing Theresa genuinely loved me, a long time ago.  And the fact that she was totally wrong about me.  Also, I believe as others do, she is very much still in love with me.  That and a dollar will get me a cup of coffee, for all it is worth.

The whole anger process was the toughest of all the steps of recovery to deal with.  In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined how much suppressed anger I had.  How the hell did I control it for so long, or did I?  Of course I didn’t, it had a hold on me most of my life.  Like addiction to booze or drugs, anger is just as damaging and it did become an addiction and lead to self-destructive behavior.  The energy I put into suppressing my anger was staggering, energy that was wasted and desperately needed else-were at the time.

For about six months I worked tirelessly on anger and it worked just as hard on me.  To my surprise I had hit the lowest point, emotionally, in my recovery.  Working through the anger for so long made it very difficult for me to stay out of a depression.   It was manageable but there were days when I wondered if recovery was worth continuing.  I wondered if I should just stop and start living life again, beyond this recovery stuff.  But I knew I couldn’t quit and I wanted to, at least for a while.  No this moth is stuck in the flame.  During these trying six months I was still cycling through all the other anger issues.  Anger issues do not turn on and off like a switch.  They are fluid, always changing in form, fit and function.  And always in the middle of my thinking and feelings, was Ernie.  He was there; a day didn’t go by when he was not on my mind.  Every scrap of anger reminded me of him and why I was going through what I was.  As I progressed through anger, in time, as the issues dissolved with healing, Ernie became more and more into focus.  I had reached a point where I felt strong enough to move forward with the only anger issue on my mind now, Ernie.   However, I reached a point where I was blocked.  I felt I was being kept from my anger for Ernie by these large imaginary steel doors and I could not move any closer to my anger.  I decided to use this imagery in my mediation exercises.

I started, working up to a point where I was ready to start breaking down those steel doors keeping me from my face to face with Ernie.  The night I laid down and started going through my mediation induction process, I had an unusual feeling and an unfamiliar frame of mind.  I wasn’t sure what I was feeling all I knew was I had had enough.  I was expecting another one of those galactic sphere episodes again.  And frankly I didn’t care.  In my mind this was simply, something tI was going to do.  I had no fear, no anger, no nothing for that matter.

That night I found getting into my meditative state was easier than usual.  I found myself standing at the doors and again I was feeling nothing.  I had already decided I was going to find a way to open those doors, walk through them and have my say.  I asked myself, “What is the truth, Richard?”  Nothing happened.   So I walked to the doors, and it felt good because I felt I was in total and absolute control, when I pushed on the doors they swung open with ease.  And there he was, my old buddy, Ernie.  I looked at him he looked at and I felt nothing.  He was just a pathetically depressed looking person, who appeared lonely, lost and tormented.  And still I felt nothing.  I couldn’t even feel bad for him.  I simply looked him in the eyes until he connected with mine.  I held the gaze for a few moments and then I simply turned and walked away.  I had no need of him anymore.  I was totally surprised and at a little bit of a loss.  I came to do battle and yet when the time came, I had no need to.  I had already beaten him.  I was still here.

But that would not be the end of my anger for Ernie.  It was a day or so later and I wasn’t thinking much about anything.  As I was walking by the bag it triggered me in a big way.  I started whaling on the punching bag.  All the while I was telling myself, “you don’t get off that easy, you son of bitch.”  One memory let to another with each a couple of blows.  I was remembering everything, the rapes, the shame, the quilt, the lost friends, my wife, the blood, the fear, the bruising and the anger.  I was exploding, I was losing it totally, I thought.  And I said to myself, “I don’t give a fuck!  I have had enough of his BS and I want it gone.”  So I punched the bag until I dropped that day, and the next, and the next, for about five days.  On the fifth day I simply stopped all of a sudden, looked at the bag, took the gloves off and walked away.  It was finally over.  He had taken me to the bowels of hell and I have found my way home.

Well I thought it was over, however that clever little beastie that I have affectionately come to call recovery, was up to its old tricks.  I spent the next few days trying to sort this new one out.  But I knew all along what was going on.  I wanted the anger issues to end with Ernie but it was not to be and I knew it.  As I said, at some point in time I was mad at everyone and I just spent the last seven months on anger, bringing everyone I was angry at under the umbrella of my recovery.  But now was the time to face the anger one more time.  The only unresolved anger left was with me.  When I figured this out, I just shook my head and said what the hell, I came this far, I might as well just take it on home and get her done, clever little beastie.  You got me again, I thought.

I had come full circle again.  My self-directed anger had to be dealt with.  I felt really weird about this particular anger.  I wasn’t having any emotional reactions to it.  As with all the other steps in my recovery I had to try and understand what was happening.  But this time I could not get a read on my feeling about my anger towards myself.  I couldn’t figure out which method to use in trying to connect with it.  A day or so later I decided on the bag.  I didn’t want to wait any longer, I wanted this behind me.  Recovery was getting old and I wanted to move on to a better life and not find myself in a constant state of recovery.  So I put the gloves on and I figured I would do as I have done in the past, hit the bag and see what pops out, and all I could do, was stare at the bag.  I had no need to hit it.  I stood there thinking about all the anger I had worked on.  I remembered all the people I felt angry with and why.  It was all a very calm experience.  I didn’t feel any anger.  As I stood there trying to figure out what the hell was going on.  I felt emotionally dead, until it dawned on me why.

I spent my entire life beating myself up with anger.  I just spent seven months healing from anger.  Somewhere in the process I had forgiven myself, I just hadn’t realized it until now.  I didn’t need to beat myself up anymore.  It was over, truly over.  What a trip.

12 depression

Depression was as bad as the rest of it.  It is the gatekeeper for most everything happening in the emotional world of abuse.  It is insidious, cunning, clever and outright sneaky.   It rears its ugly head for no obvious reason and is never open to negotiation.  Depression is the rudder that steers our ship called “emotional wellbeing” to the edge of the abyss and sometimes, plunges us over and into the bowels of hell.  It has a deathly grip that rarely lets go, unless we tend to it.  It can’t be ignored, but it can be very unrecognizable, if it chooses to be.  Depression was the ever-present force manipulating my emotional mind and heart.  It constantly challenged my confidence, motivation and wellbeing.  It has many faces and disguises that make it difficult to see sometimes.  This is why educating myself about depression was so important.  I had become so used to being depressed over the years that it was, many times, unrecognizable beyond intuitive insight.  I had to learn to recognize it and then learn to deal with it.  Many times I had to feel the physical symptoms before I would realize I was having an episode of depression.

For me, depression has been a lifelong battle.  Many times, I believed I was all set only to find myself slowly slipping back into a depression, without realizing it.  Now, I have learned to monitor my feelings and I have found some very solid indicators for myself to watch for.  There is good news however.  Recovery has definitely improved my depression drastically.  I may never be free of it but it has become very manageable.  I have always been a high functioning person even with the depression.  Because I had a tendency to push myself very hard, many times during recovery, I had to pull back and really watch myself for fear of slipping into a deeper depression due to over exertion.  I find when I am getting irritable for longer than a day, that I may be experiencing depression.  If it lasts longer than a couple of days without any obvious reasons, I know I am definitely slipping into a depression.  I find when I am becoming unmotivated for any length of time, again without any obvious reasons, then I am probably experiencing depression.  In addition, there were other indicators such as, when I noticed I was thinking negatively, I was in a depression.   When my depression becomes more serious, my arms and legs begin to hurt followed by increased anxiety, insomnia and irritability.  When I have a need to suppress anger is another real indicator of depression for me.  If I find myself losing optimism, it is usually because of depression.

No matter what the hell was happening, first and foremost I had to deal with depression.   So many times during my life, I wanted to throw in the towel because the depression was so predominant.  I tried everything to fix the damned thing and nothing worked until recovery.  While I have had many good days and lengthy periods of being apparently depression free, it didn’t matter, because it was inevitable the depression would be back.  I always knew there would be new battles for me fight.  It was not a matter of if I would feel the wrath of depression, only when, and in what manner would it rear its ugly head.  Science has shown my brain will probably always be predisposed to depression because my brain did not develop normally.  This is one of the many tragedies of abuse; there is permanent physical damage.  But this is not discouraging for me because recovery has improved so many things in my life and about me, resulting in significantly reduced levels of depression.  Over time, there were far less frequent episodes of it, so my depression has become a very manageable aspect of my life.

There is a very important lesson in my story about depression and its treatment.  For most of my life, I was treated in one form or another for depression.  Unfortunately, I was only treated for the symptoms and this approach had its limits.  My depression, by default, could not get better by treating the symptoms.  Only the symptoms could improve.  It was not until my fifties when I started working on the root causes, did the core depression heal.  It made all the difference in the world when it came to managing my depression.

Feeling depression is so uncomfortable and disturbing, it can bring you to your knees.  It is an illness without prejudice and it will show no quarter.  Once it has a grip on you, it will not let you go, easily.  It is a tenuous and outright bad thing.  Of course, I am referring to clinical depression.  There are normal types of depression with causes based on loss or stress that are transient in our lives.  These tend to come and go as a normal part of the grieving process.   Clinical depression, as I have come to understand, happens as a result of a chemical imbalance in the brain brought on by prolonged depression.  Then there can be brain damage because the brain wires its self differently, because of the prolonged distress as a child.

Over the years, depression has been my Achilles heel.  There were so many days lost to such a devastating illness.  I was always alone with it, aside from who it affected around me.  That didn’t help at all, but I could not bring myself to burden anyone or be around anyone when my depression was bad.  These major episodes of depression emerged mostly during my childhood and twenties.  Beyond that, it developed into a more stable style of depression.  It is important to understand there are different types of depression, some just bad, some not as bad.

Depression is perhaps the most difficult issue for me to write about.  Throughout this book I have stated the extent and breathe of my depression in detail.  However, to write about it in such a way as to describe it is very difficult.  Clinically, there are the many “canned” explanations and definitions; you can find them everywhere.  The Internet is full of information and sources of statistics that are useful but only at a minimum but not much beyond that.  For the sake of educating oneself, these sources can be insightful, meaningful and thought provoking.  But these facts and figures are the forensic side of depression and not the intimate side of it.  In the spirit of educating myself over the years I have found the following definitions as good as any.

 

Definition of Depression

Depression: An illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts that affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about things.  A depressive disorder is not the same as a passing blue mood.  It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be wished away.  People with a depressive disease cannot merely “pull themselves together” and get better.  Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or years.  Appropriate treatment, however, can help most people with depression.

“Depression definition

1:  a state of feeling sad

2:  an act of depressing or a state of being depressed:

3:  A mood disorder marked especially by sadness, inactivity, difficulty with thinking and concentration, a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping, feelings of dejection and hopelessness, and sometimes suicidal thoughts or an attempt to commit suicide.
4:  A reduction in functional activity, amount, quality, or force of autonomic function of red blood cells.

Merriam-Webster’s Medical Dictionary, © 2007 Merriam-Webster, Inc.”

“The signs and symptoms of depression include loss of interest in activities that were once interesting or enjoyable, including sex; loss of appetite (anorexia) with weight loss or overeating with weight gain; loss of emotional expression (flat affect); a persistently sad, anxious or empty mood; feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness; social withdrawal; unusual fatigue, low energy level, a feeling of being slowed down; sleep disturbance with insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping; trouble concentrating, remembering, or making decisions; unusual restlessness or irritability; persistent physical problems such as headaches, digestive disorders, or chronic pain that do not respond to treatment; thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts. Alcohol or drug abuse may be signs of depression.”

As with all things medical, there are variations and degrees of depression.   Understanding the different types helped me to understand where I was on the latter of depression.  Being classified, as a person who suffers from depression, has been another of the many stigmatisms I have had to deal with throughout my life, it has been painful.  While it did become easier to overcome and live with in time, this label still bothers me because who the hell wants to be known for this crap.  “In the day” people, including myself, were so ignorant of what depression was or what it really meant, that if you were classified as a depressed person you were also known as a mentally ill person; you were right up there with the sociopaths, schizophrenics, melancholy, and any other major metal illness you can think of.  You didn’t want to be known as a person who was afflicted.  I felt shame over feeling depression for a long time, mostly during my younger years.  This is part of the reason I “thought” the same way most people did back then; making mental illness was a major social stigmatism.  But somehow you always know there is something fundamentally wrong.   So much so, you cannot help but sense there is something wrong.  Oh the bliss of denial.   Of course this shame forced me to always put on a good front.

Thinking back to those years, through the eyes of recovery, I can for the first time, I was starting to sympathize with my younger self.  I can see how hard things were for me back then.  The emotional confusion and distress, the constant state of fear, and so much more, it was an emotional hell for a kid.  During much of my recovery, I felt bad for the child I was.  I also remember that, somehow through it all I tried with all my heart to be happy.  And so I developed a quick witted sense of humor and constantly used it.  Especially if it would make others laugh.  After all, if they laughed then I laughed.  It was a good plan at the time; it was too bad any plan was needed at all.  I so wanted to be happy and not be fooled by the masks I wore, as I so easily was.  To look back and see what it was really like, is so sad and hard.  It would be for any person who lived as I did.  How do kids endure the pain?  When I see kids today, especially the ones I am close to, and I see their carefree smiles, listen to their dreams, and watch as they play and grow, I realize that was never my life.  My life was considerably different.  I was robbed of so much.  But not nearly enough to make me believe my cup is not half full.  So depression has been one of those unwanted companions you learn to deal with and do not let it take everything.  I found ways to be happy.

Now I can clearly see how I was fighting depression all through my teens.  I never had a break from it.  It didn’t matter what game I played with it, it just simply never went away.  It was a suffocating “form fitting suit”.  Yet, I always had a strong spirit to keep pushing on.  I lived on the belief the future would be better.  Believing this became a driving force in my life, a force that kept me ahead of the abuse.  It was a fool’s errand.  I didn’t know it at the time, but all I was doing was avoiding the inevitably.  I was simply putting my focus anywhere except where I was.  I definitely had a strong spirit and will.  It was these same traits that wouldn’t allow me to surrender to my wounds and let me heal.  As a kid, I guess any defense is better than no defense.  I may not have saved myself from the abuse but I survived and that is what was important.

Depression is a very powerful emotion and it comes in a few flavors.  The following is from an online source.  These are the various levels of depression or type of depression.  These are as good a definition as any I have seen.  I have been personally diagnosed with Dysthymia.

“Depressive disorders come in different forms. There are several different diagnoses for depression, mostly determined by the intensity of the symptoms, the duration of the symptoms, and the specific cause of the symptoms, if that is known.

Psychology Information Online provides information on the following depressive disorders. Follow the title link for more information about each type of depression:”

 

Major Depression This is the most serious type of depression, in terms of number of symptoms and severity of symptoms, but there are significant individual differences in the symptoms and severity. You do not need to feel suicidal to have a major depression, and you do not need to have a history of hospitalizations either, although both of these factors are present in some people with major depression. There is no official diagnosis of “moderate depression.”

 

Dysthymia Disorder – This refers to a low to moderate level of depression that persists for at least two years, and often longer. While the symptoms are not as severe as a major depression, they are more enduring and resistant to treatment. Some people with dysthymia develop a major depression at some time during the course of their depression.”

 

Unspecified Depression – This category is used to help researchers who are studying other specific types of depression, and do not want their data confounded with marginal diagnoses. It includes people with a serious depression, but not quite severe enough to have a diagnosis of a major depression. It also includes people with chronic, moderate depression, which has not been presented long enough for a diagnosis of a Dysthymia disorder. (You get the idea!)

Adjustment Disorder, with Depression – This category describes depression that occurs in response to a major life stressor or crisis.

Bipolar Depression – This type includes both high and low mood swings, as well as a variety of other significant symptoms not present in other depressions.

Dysthymia: A type of depression involving long-term, chronic symptoms that are not disabling, but keep a person from functioning at “full steam” or from feeling good. Dysthymia is a less severe type of depression than what is accorded the diagnosis of major depression. However, people with Dysthymia may also sometimes experience major depressive episodes, suggesting that there is a continuum between dysthymia and major depression.
What Causes Dysthymia?

Experts are not sure what causes Dysthymia.  This form of chronic depression is thought to be related to brain changes that involve serotonin, a chemical or neurotransmitter that aids your brain in coping with emotions.  Major life Stressors chronic illness, medications, and relationship or work problems may also increase the chances of Dysthymia.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Dysthymia?

The symptoms of Dysthymia are the same as those of major depression but not as intense and include the following:

Persistent sad or empty feeling

Difficulty sleeping (sleeping too much or too little)

Insomnia (early morning awakening)

Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and worthlessness

Feelings of guilt

Loss of interest or the ability to enjoy oneself

Loss of energy or fatigue

Difficulty concentrating, thinking or making decisions

Changes in appetite (overeating or loss of appetite)

Observable mental and physical sluggishness

Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment

Thoughts of death or suicide

Is Dysthymia Common in the U.S.?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 10.9 million Americans aged 18 and older are affected by Dysthymia. While not disabling like major depression, Dysthymia can keep you from feeling your best and functioning optimally.  Dysthymia can begin in childhood or in adulthood and seems to be more common in women.

Several years ago, I was diagnosed with Dysthymia.  Clearly, it is a chronic form of depression that is manageable with treatment.  However, it would be inappropriate to minimize the effects of this disease.  Yes, it is the lesser of two evils but it is still a real burden for anyone.  Its tentacles reached straight into my soul at times.  There were many very dark days under the Vail of depression, especially when I was alone.

I could speak to all the symptoms and definitions and medical opinions and they could not mean any less to me.  Understanding is important; labels are not.  A label cannot define who we are.  Labels only serve as means for ignorant people to justify their own distorted thinking.  We deserve better than that.  I can’t force people to educate themselves and these types of people, with their shallow opinions are not important.  This does not make these people, who simply do not understand, bad people at all.  I only know what I know.  So they are not important but it doesn’t mean labels don’t hurt.  It takes time to rise above these hurtful insults.  Yes I can speak to all these aspects of dealing with depression but again, in the end all that matters is what I think and feel about myself.  And yes it is true I have a disorder, just like any disorder, it can be treated and managed to a point where I can lead a reasonably productive and happy life.  Does that make me mentally ill?  Absolutely not!  It makes me a survivor and a fighter.  Does living with depression make me a weak person? No!  It makes me a person who needed to be tough to survive a life like this.  Yes, depression has been a battle; there is no denying this.  But it can never win the war with me.  I understand it now.  I know how it started, why it took root and why get grew so profusely.  And I learned to control it.  It is no different from high blood pressure, heart disease or any treatable illness.  It was one hell of a roller coaster ride for a long time.  But it can’t dominate me any longer.  As long as I stay as “constant as the northern star” in my resolve, I cannot lose.

The depression process turned out to be another of the minor miracles spawned by recovery.  I don’t like the fact I have had the joy of its company for so long.  But being able to handle and control this disorder is a real miracle.  For years, I simply accepted it was what it was and there was nothing I could do about it.  Now there are far more days without the burden of depression than are days with it.  And the times I experience depression, the events are not nearly as bad as they once had been.  In fact, depression is no longer a predominate issue in my life.  It is something that simply needs managing.  I have released myself from all responsibility for the depression of the past and accepted the stewardship for managing my depression.  In many ways, depression was the most demanding and draining battle for me.  I took a lot of energy, a lot of energy.  Depression is a true thief in the night.

A major lesson I learned in minimizing the depression was to understand what my triggers were, then set goals and build a strategy to manage my life in such a way as to avoid the triggers.  The number one lesson I learned was to take care of myself first.  This was hard to do but I am highly motivated.  This meant I had to scrutinize my life style and take inventory of a great many behavioral patterns.  Not least of which was my propensity for being an enabler.  This was very difficult, not because I didn’t want to change this, but because I have a great deal of love for the person I was enabling.  It meant my partner needed to change or I would be left with no choice but to make the tough choice and leave.  As painful and threatening as this was to me, it proved a worthwhile effort.  It was also empowering because it is another example of me taking back control of my life.  There were many changes needed and saving money and building a financial safety net was on the top of the list.  I had to learn all over again to practice what I preached and that is to save money no matter how little my income was.  Getting back into the habit of saving money was hard to do but once I had it was very easy to maintain that needed sense of security.  All of these changes and many more went a long way in minimizing my depression triggers and this also lowers my anxiety attacks by a great deal.

However, although recovery has taken me a long way, my level of recovery cannot supersede the reality that my brain has been wired to be predisposed to depression.  I have discovered throughout my life when things were going well I would take myself off the antidepressants.  However, as soon as the stress was back, the depression returned.  This created an environment of cycling in an out of depression.  Therefore, I have decided to go on a maintenance level dose of medication, which is only one third of the dose it was.  It is sad our brains are rewired (physical damaged) but I am ok with it because it is no different than taking an aspirin a day for heart health.  I can live with it.  Depression was an all-consuming condition.  It sucked

13 who had the power?

Of all the questions to be asked about my abuse, “Who had the Power?” was my number one question to ponder.  One I never thought to ask until now.  I read the concept in several articles and people openly talked about it in generalities in the online bulletin boards.  Who has the power, indeed?

When I ask myself this question in earnest, I found myself triggered into mini-panic attacks.  Over several days I repeatedly ask myself, “Who had the Power”, Ernie or me?  I didn’t try to analyze it.  I just wanted to let my mind naturally evolve the answer.  I was having very real physical and emotional reactions to this question or more importantly the answer.  I was thinking clearly but found myself not in control of my emotional reactions.  It reminded me of old but distant feelings.  This was somewhat tormenting.  Once again, my reactions didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.  It should not be a difficult answer to give.  So why was I having such a strong reaction to the question?  It was making me very anxious.  However, I suspected at the time my difficulty was with my emotional mind and my rational mind being in conflict with each other.  Emotionally, I had concluded many years ago the abuse was my fault, for not being a stronger person.  In later years, I rationally concluded it was not my fault, but without any sort of healing, my two minds never melded into one. This was a common occurrence throughout my recovery.  I could rationalize the truthful answer but that answer, many times, did not synchronize with my emotional brainwashing or I could not feel the emotional connection to my rational thinking.  Hence, I could think clearly, you idiot, it was not your fault; you were a kid.  But emotionally I was still reacting like those truthful answers belonged to someone else and never me.  It was my fault and that was that.  This was my emotional thinking doing the talking and not my rational thinking making any real connections to my heart connection.  This is an interesting phenomenon, it seems my emotional mind has been stuck in the same place since my teens and my rational mind evolved to match my years.

It was another example of how out of touch I was with my inner-self.   How could I have a problem that has control of my emotions and not recognize how much it needed attention?  This was a time when I was beginning to be able to rationalize my denial, meaning I was able to see it for what it was and very clearly.  It was not an overall feeling; it was as if flashes of being able too objectively review moments of abuse.  To see them with a feeling of understanding that it did happen and I no longer had to hide from it, was a little special.  I believed I had stepped out of most of the denial and it felt good.  However, I still had to deal with the emotional conditioning that was deeply entrenched in my heart and soul.  Many times, I felt I was fighting with myself.

It began to sink in, it was nothing more than I already knew, I had no power as a child and if I had no power then I couldn’t have been my fault?  Sounds straightforward, it was not.  What I was struggling with was a deep inner conflict that had its roots in my adolescent years.  I spent my entire life blaming myself for the abuse.  This one simple answer to a very simple question, was about to change a lifetime of thinking and prove me to be totally wrong.  The implications of this were life changing.  It was a truth I was having a very difficult time considering.  To go so many years and not emotionally recognize the abuse was not my fault is intense.  The very foundation of my belief system was about to crumble.

It took a couple of weeks for me to finally begin to emotionally accept the truth.  Of course, it was not my fault.  I was kid and I had heard this all before in a hospital from a motherly looking women who enlightened me by saying,” It was not your fault, you were only a kid.”  I heard it but I didn’t connect emotionally with the real truths, beyond “it was not my fault.”  Hearing the words does not heal the wounds.  You would think learning this would make me jump for joy, I was happy about it but I was many other things also.  I could not celebrate, I felt foolish, hurt, and angry.  The torment I had put myself through for all those years and it was never my fault!  I was relieved but somber about it.  It was an early break through moment in recovery and cleared the way for further recovery.  The one fundamental trait of my recovery was realizing how well I could rationalize my feelings and emotions, yet be so disconnected from them.  My ability to rationalize was an obvious defense mechanism, a major one.

I think it is so important for victims to find ways to really believe this truth and to emotionally connect to it.  We didn’t have the power, it could not be our fault, and we were just children!  It really hit home when I started thinking about all the kids I know from eight to 18 and see them through my eyes today.  My best buddy Eric age 8 was my muse so to speak, during my recovery.  He doesn’t know he filled this role for me of course, but to put the concept of “Who had the Power”, into perspective, I would look at Jonathan and ask myself questions.  I would ask myself to look at Jonathan and ask is there any possible way this child could be guilty of any abuse if it ever happened to him.  Eight year olds are very innocent and so special, and no, there is no way he or any child could ever be at fault.  For a while, I would see all kids this way, I could see myself in them, and I was just as innocent then as they are now.

I had the wonderful fortune of seeing my childhood through Eric.  He is so innocent, happy and care free.  He loves to make people laugh and he is super intelligent.  We have been best buddies since he was two.  So if you want to blame yourself for the abuse I strongly suggest you look at children who were your age when you were abused, and ask yourself, do you believe these wonderful and innocent kids could be held accountable, or ever be to blame for such an insidious crime.  Of course, they could not, and neither could you or I.  Everything you think you should have done or could have done, all means absolutely nothing.  You and I were children.  It was not our responsibility, only our burden.

This question, “Who had the power, took me about a month before I really wanted to celebrate and feel really good about it.  I was slightly disturbed because I didn’t have any idea about this stuff prior to my recovery.  It was all new to me and my awareness was constantly increasing.  I was beginning to change on the inside and it was strange in a familiar, yet unfamiliar way.  All good though.

I had accomplished a breakthrough; it was mind boggling to me to see all my new beliefs, so many shadow beliefs exposed and to start feeling so different, was all a bit much from time to time.  I felt I was at the beginnings of a transformation of some type.  I was changing and I could not quite articulate how I felt about it.

The end result of asking this question was as if I lifted a window shade that had not let the sun shine in for 40 years because I believed there it was nothing worth looking at.  Only to open it to find it was window with a beautiful view.  It was a shocker that took a couple of months to realize the scope of what had happened to me, being freed from the blame of the abuse.  I felt like a spear had just been pulled from heart.  In time my thinking became a simple matter of “fact and emotional acceptance”, it was not my fault. I had finally made the mind and heart connection.

Other things were revealed also.  If the abuse was not my fault then what was.  This was a major part of the lie I had lived.  Was I guilty of anything?  My solution to these questions was a simple one.  I know I am the type of person who would do something if I could have.  It was a David and Goliath story only the ending is not quite the same.  Goliath wins.  I was a kid and I did not have the power.  It is as simple as that.

It was difficult adjusting to this new epiphany.  It was a major change in thinking and a considerable drop in negative emotional energy.  It was a time of learning and transformation, one of many to come.

14 sex and sexualility

Sexuality was a confusing issue for me during my teens.  Let’s face when you are involved in homosexual activity as a kid you tend to wonder if you are a homosexual?  In fact, what did I have to compare my activity with?  It was not until I was fifteen when I was introduced to heterosexual intimacy; and that was in a bi situation, with Ernie and his wife.  During my teens, I hated homosexuality; however, I could not reconcile these feeling with my involuntary response to the physical stimulus.  I psychologically fought my physical responses.  Every time Ernie or any male would begin their BS, I would keep repeating to myself, “Don’t get excited, ignore it, and I would go somewhere else in my mind.”  Of course this didn’t work.  It did cause me to be psychologically conditioned to be indifferent to sexual stimulation.  This conditioning was further reinforced by the tremendous guilt I felt after climaxing.  It was the “Pavlov’s dog affect.”  Every time I was stimulated in a morally contradictory manner, my guilt and shame would grow.  This was compounded by years of abuse and many, many incidents.   Consequently, I was left with delayed ejaculation syndrome.  For the most part, I choose not to climax for reasons I have never been able to fully understand.  My conditioning was so intense it blows my mind because of this profound effect.  However, there are times when this affect is not as prevalent.  If I was watching a porno movie of the intense type, I generally had less of a problem but at the same time, there was no emotional connection or emotional threat.  In addition, with my wife it was much less prevalent.  When I am in a relationship where I have little faith or trust with my partner, is when the syndrome is most prevalent.  It is a weird affect.  Beyond the first encounter with intimacy with a woman, when I sometimes had a difficult time responding, I rarely had a problem becoming excited.   Once I was sexually active with a partner, the only problem I had was climaxing.  It takes a lot of effort most of the time.  So I compensated by deciding it was a good thing for two reasons.  First, I figured it was a lot better than not being able to respond at all and secondly, it was better than not having any control at all and climaxing too quickly.  And I could climax if I choose to.

So I was left with lasting damage which is weird because I could rationalize all of it but I was not able to improve on the syndrome until recovery.  But the confused sexuality was so difficult for me to cope with during my teens and twenties.  While I did not have any homosexual activity after Ernie, it didn’t matter because the damage was already done.  I couldn’t change what had happened and therefore I condemned myself for a long time.  I wondered many times, if I was a homosexual in denial.  It was a thought I could not or would not subscribe to.  Nevertheless, I was intelligent enough to realize I may not have a choice in the matter.  While I do believe many homosexual relationships are spawned from child abuse and kids being conditioned as I was, I also believe many people are by nature, homosexuals.   In time, I came to realize the truth of the situation that kids have very little control over their bodies and for that matter, most adult males have little control over their bodies.  I have been fortunate to be smart enough to realize my abuse had little to do with sexual orientation on my part.  I have no malice toward homosexuality or persons who choose to be in this type of relationship, unless it is an abusive in nature.  Simply put, I have a major problem with any abusive relationship and the motive for the abuse does not matter.  It does not matter whether it is hetero or homosexual; abuse of any type is wrong and cannot be tolerated.  So, I do not blame my abuse on the homosexuality.  In fact, I have known and I do have friends who are homosexuals and I do not make any connection what so ever to their lifestyle and my abuse.

Was I gay or not?  The sixty-four thousand question.  Ernie made great efforts to convince me I was.  He really messed with my head and he was relentless.  At least until he introduced me to Bette.  After that introduction, he continued to try to convince me I was gay first and Bi second.   I knew I never wanted to be gay and by the time I was in my early twenties, I realized I was not gay and never was.  I was one hundred percent straight.  I never found myself attracted to the male sex.  I didn’t think about guys in a sexual way or any other way for that matter.  And as a person who was exposed to severe sexual abuse by guys and women.  I have never found myself being attracted or feeling impulses for having sex with a guy.  I have never had a fantasy or dream where I enjoyed sex with a male.  My dreams of male sex where nightmares and terrifying to me.  It took years for me to understand I was not gay or more importantly I never was.  In my teens, I was really confused.  It messed with my self-image and self-esteem.  As a teenager, sex was everywhere and it was not uncommon for other teenagers who were my age to want to have sex, they were kids like me who knew Ernie.

There is one aspect of my sexuality that continued to confuse me until I started recovery.  I was fascinated about having anal sex with women.  I always thought I wanted to do it but the few times I had the opportunity, I simply didn’t want to, the thought repulsed me at the time.  In reality I find it degrading, and demeaning; I had no interest in diminishing my partner in any way.  It was not the act of sodomy or the confusion about whether I really wanted to experience it or not, that bothered me.  Hell, I had seen enough talk shows about sex and making love to understand that many couples enjoy this type of intimacy, that did not bother me.  What bothered me was my fixation of thoughts of performing anal sex with women.  It was a conflicting dilemma for me.  Why did I believe I wanted to do something I despised, to someone I cared about?  Why did I prefer porno flicks that featured anal sex and then hate myself for watching them?  For me the thought of sodomy is nothing less than crude, immoral and unnatural.  Yet I had an impulsive fixation on the thoughts about the act.  I eventually began to suspect this was another cryptic message sent to me by a means I could not recognize or was familiar with.

My technique for monitoring my thoughts had really paid off.  My curiosity about anal sex was one of several types of thinking habits and thinking patterns, which were revealed by using this technique.  I began to realize my behavior was a form of acting out caused by unresolved issues and unhealed wounds; in short, its origins were in my lower mind and not my higher cognitive mind.  On the other hand, perhaps I had some sort of sexual addiction.  The most revealing thought pattern I  discovered was: I would say to myself, while viewing a porno DVD, “Take that you bitch”, and things like “you really like that don’t you.”.  This was exactly what Ernie would say to me from time to time.

It had never dawned on me; I may have a sexual addiction problem.  Again, this didn’t make sense in a many ways, based on my limited knowledge of the issue at the time.  With the exception of masturbation from time to time, I was not very sexually active.  On average, I’d go for long stretches without sex.  Not because I wanted to, it was quite the opposite.  Prior to my current partner, I went for long periods without dating or having sex.  So how could I have a sex addiction problem?  Once again, bells started going off in my head.  At first, I wasn’t sure if I was on to something or not.  It was obvious I needed to once again take the long view and educate myself about sexual addiction.  This was very troubling.  I didn’t need any more labels or immoral behavior in my life.  It was never a thought I could have a sex addiction problem.  To my way of thinking my sex life as an adult was normal and healthy.  Was this another part of the lie I was living?  It was a painful thought and I was hoping I would not find myself in this category.  I just didn’t need it.  And my impulsive thinking habit about anal sex caused me to wonder if I had homosexual tendencies?  This was quickly becoming a core issue for me.  Another one I didn’t recognize or understand.  Whether my fixation was an addiction or just impulsive thinking didn’t matter.  Whatever it was, I had to deal with it, prevailing truth.  Right?

I was very disturbed by the possibility of a sex addiction.  I started hitting the research in depth, and my research was equally disturbing.  However, I had to keep reminding myself how dangerous self-diagnoses can be, so I formed no opinions as to whether I had an addiction or not.  As with everything, I did in recovery, I found this aspect to be as equally enlightening as it was disturbing.   There were definitely fragments of my behavior I had to suspect.  When I read the many opinions of what Sex addiction was, I discovered they were too broad based to form any opinion for myself.  One of the many things I discovered was few of the opinions considered the degree of behavior (how often it occurred).  It seemed if you did any one of the many behavior traits associated with sex addiction, then by their definition I was a sex addict.  There was no distinction between healthy and obsessive behavior.  I.e. if you watch a porno flick from time to time does that make you a sex addict, or is this a normal and healthy way to spice up a sex life?  If you look at a web site a few times a year to as much a couple times every few months, does that make you a sex addict?  If this were true, then half the world’s population would be considered sex addicts.  I was not convinced at any level.  For the most part, I considered myself marginally sexually active and therefore by my definition I was not addicted to sex.  However, it was not that simple.  If I was to give myself a fair and balanced look at the issue, I needed to consider my entire sex-life as part of the equation.  Was I a sex addict in my teens or twenties and did any of these behaviors spill over into other aspects of my life?

Eventually I took a few online assessment tests for sexual addiction and all three came back with a positive score for sex addiction.   I discovered there is a trap with these tests, which in my mind put the tests in a questionable light.  The trap was this, the questions were again too broad based with the usually caveat at the end of the test soliciting their services for treatment.  While the questions were valuable in formulating a thought process for my own reflections, I discounted the test results.  I ended up using the tests as a guideline rather than anything I could bank on as factual.  I learned early on in my career, research is only a process of accumulating information from multiple sources to be analyzed in its entirety.  Rarely is any one piece of research a defining aspect.  But none of this made this process any easier.  This was another part of recovery that I never expected.

For a couple of months I was completely focused on trying to sort out this craziness.  I had to be sure one way or the other and the only way I could that was to immerse myself in an introspective journey of my own sexual behavior throughout my life.  I would again have to walk the scary and awkward path of time.  I would again have to take myself back to those moments in time where things just were not so good.  A place that turns my stomach to realize it was I in all those disgusting and depraved circumstances.  I wondered if anything about recovery is easy.  No.  And so I began my journey to the darkest places in my heart and soul.

It wasn’t many days before I realized just how complicated this was.  I started by reading as much as I could about sexual addiction, its causes and effects and of course, the consequences.  Let’s face it, the night Theresa left me had everything to do with acting out about sex, and anger.  I did not understand these triggers at the time.  But what was the really, that brought me to that state of affairs?

I could relate too much of what I learned.  After a few weeks, I was becoming concerned.  Fundamentally, I could easily fit the profile, I thought.  Sex addicts have very definite habits and take unnecessary risks.   For me this train left the station a long time ago.  It was a train wreck in the making from the moment it left the gate.  But I still did not have answers, and was still not convinced of anything.

I began to look at my sexual life with a different set of eyes.  I could no longer simple take my past behavior for granted or without a concerning eye.  I began to map my sexual habits in my mind.  However, talking or thinking about sex in detail is very difficult, uncomfortable and embarrassing for me.  However, in the spirit of understanding, I did my best.  I think it is important to be as open and honest as is possible with ourselves.

As I looked back on my life, I can see where sex was a very predominant for me, especially before I married.  However, what was normal and what was over the line?  I started by educating myself about masturbation and how often adolescents masturbate and how often adults do.  As a teenager, I would indulge in self- pleasure a couple of times a week when I was alone.  But I had sex much more often than a couple of times a week because of the abuse.  Through my research, I learned there was no normal amount of self-indulgence.  Adolescents, both girls and boys, are very sexually active in this regard.  It can be zero times a day to up to seven times a day.  By this reckoning, I was normal.  I think even in those early days I would masturbate just to feel some good, even if it was only for a few seconds and I always felt guilty afterwards.

As I looked at my behavior with critical eye, I began to see some patterns emerging.  One very clear pattern was I would masturbate when I was stressed or emotionally down.  If I was feeling lonely, I would masturbate and I had very little imagination when I did, it was purely mechanical.  It was the same when I was married and Theresa was such a great lover and exceptionally beautiful women, but there were times when I would self-indulge and consequently felt guilty and I felt I betrayed Theresa in some small way.  Ignorance is not always bliss.  All of this behavior is common to sex addicts.  But these acts in-and-of-themselves don’t constitute a sexual addiction problem.   My studies also showed couples do indulge in self-gratification from time to time and it is considered normal and healthy.  So again, I could not see where my behavior could qualify me as a sex addict.  So why did I feel guilty.  Because I always felt guilty about sex!

I recalled the porno movies and the parties at a friend’s house on Friday and Saturday nights, during my twenties.  There was no open sex, which was not tolerated but there were adult games like, strip poker, bumps and grimes, spin the bottle and blow out the candle and of course a lot of pot and booze.  Did this constitute sex addiction?  I do not think so.  As I look at my twenties, I can see where I was eager to prove to myself I  was not gay.  I dated and I really enjoyed, as long as it was someone I was dating, and I have never had a one-night stand or been with a prostitute.  I didn’t obsess over sex, for me it was a part of my life style.  I never planned it.  And I never put myself in risky situations, or did I?  I never cheated on a girl friend or my wife.  I just like to have mutual sex.  In my twenties, it was a couple of times a week when I was dating.

However, in my twenties there were underlying issues that I can now see more clearly.  I suspect my underlying anger and unresolved issues regarding the abuse were the culprits for sometimes-confused behavior.  And there was the acting out that I can now see I was doing and for the first time understand.

These underlying issues were more related to my state of mind and thinking habits of the time.  And to a greater extent, the underlying issues where driving behaviors by acting out.  Struggling with impulsive behaviors I didn’t understand was a problem from time to time, especially when I was stoned.  For instance, what were the unspoken reasons why I called chat lines?  No doubt because of the loneliness I experienced from feeling so isolated.  And yes I was exploring the business possibilities.  Nevertheless, I am now forced to consider I was not being totally honest with myself.   If I was interested in chat lines as a business, then why didn’t I trust my wife enough to discuss it with her?  Because I knew, she would not approve and she would not approve because there was an ample supply of phone sex for persons interested in that.  I would be lying if I said there were not a few times when I entertained the thought of exploring this taboo,  but I couldn’t because I felt I would be betraying my wife and I have never been into it anyway.

Why was I intrigued and tempted by the notion of phone sex?  There were so many people doing it, did that make me right in believing it was normal, of course not.   The truth of the matter was I was losing a battle with my past in these moments of weakness and confusion between my conscience and subconscious minds.  Part of me was telling me phone sex was nothing compared to what I was used to.  In a way, I was right.  I was just not able to understand at the time it was distorted thinking molded by a life of child sexual abuse.  I remember the conflicts so clearly.  My mind telling me one thing yet my behavior was triggered from a darker place.  In my heart, I knew it was wrong and in my mind, I would rationalize a convenient manner of reasoning that would justify my behavior.

Of course, one of the symptoms of sex addiction is a tendency to take serious risks.  Many times, it is done so without realizing what you are risking.  It ended my marriage, so I was taking risks with chat lines, regardless of whether I was looking for sex or just conversation.  The point is a simple one.  My perceptions didn’t matter but my wife’s did.

There were other flags also.  Why when I had stress amnesia, did I walk around for three days making lewd comments and statements, and did so in an angry manner.  Why was I at times being suggestive and flirty in my conversations even after I was married?  I thought at the time I was just having innocent fun and it was normal.  At the time I considered it was just the way I was and a way to make people laugh and to connect with people.  But I think it was more than that.  Why, when I was stoned, was sex so important and intensified?  Why when in my twenties and building my house, did I participate in exhibitionism with my willing neighbor?  It wasn’t all that often, a few times during the summer months.  I was living alone in the house I was building and she lived next door to me.  She was home alone a lot and we were located in a very private location.  I would walk around naked and she would too,  in her house and me in mine.  If we knew we were alone we didn’t pull the shades.  We never even talked about it.  It was just something that happened from time to time and usually when I was stoned.  She was stoned all the time.  Why in my twenties did I feel sex was everywhere and everyone was doing it with everyone else?  I was weaned in this type of thinking and the world of sexual abuse.  What were the lines that should not be crossed?  What did I have to compare my behavior with back then?   Sexual abuse and a sexually liberated society?

The more I explored my life the more it seemed sex was a common denominator for some fraction of my life and many of the troubles it brought.  Was it sex addiction?  Was it something else?  It is my understanding; it is not uncommon for survivors of sexual abuse to become sex addicts.  Addiction is doing something you can’t help doing and you know it is bad for you.  In my teens, I felt this way, but it was because I felt I had no choice.  In my twenties, my acting-out was the manner of expression that still bothers me today.  I can look back now and see, where at times, I walked in the gray areas of right and wrong and other times I was over the line.  It is easy for me to see how I was struggling emotionally.  Trying like hell to keep ahead of the wounds and fears of abuse only to have them catch up at times to confuse and cause emotional conflict.  It triggered my acting-out.  This stuff is so powerful; I am amazed I survived.  My acting out behavior was always some sort of non-recognizable form of self-destructive behavior at the time.

I spent some time talking with a counselor about my feelings and fears about being addicted to sex.  He explained it is very complicated and as with any additions, elements of any addictions can be seen in any number of behaviors.  Many times the behavior is perfectly normal in moderation.  My mind was put at rest to a small degree because my counselor did not believe me to have a sex addiction problem.  However, he also explained my behavior in my twenties had some concerning traits.  He explained I could have easily became a sex addict but for whatever reasons it didn’t happen.  As my counselor explained, my acting-out was more an anger based and a subconscious driven need for revenge and self-punishment, rather than a sexual one.  None of which I could have understood at the time.  This was a relief and it made sense.  So my fascination with anal sex turned out to be an anger based trigger that is no more.   However, I have to say that being confused about homosexuality is very normal for person who has been sexually abused, especially if the abuse was chronic.  The act of abuse imprints confused emotions, emotionally and physically conditions the victim to triggered responses.  This brainwashing leaves the victim with confuse feelings about their sexuality.

I had a strange reaction in the beginning of this part of my recovery.  When I was hit with the shock of possibly being a sex addict, I totally lost all my sex drive.  It has caused me to feel and see sex differently.  I understand I am not a sex addict.  But the whole process of reliving so much of my past sexual life and how I thought then and now has been an informative experience.  Not to mention it was very draining.  So much change.  With each positive change comes a little more transformation.  My sex drive has slowly returned but it is different.  I see and feel sex differently now, in a healthy way I believe and I feel connected emotionally intimacy now.

I think the saddest moments of my recovery have been moments like this one.  When I learn to feel so differently about something and compare those feelings of how I felt for so many years, so many years feeling so wrong.  It is sad to me to know just how good I could have felt so many years ago, had I known what I know now.  But this is not the real world.

So through counseling I discovered I was enraged over anal sex and my fixation from time to time with it was a direct result of wounds from the abuse, and possible conditioned responses to my sexual abuse.  I believe as my counselor believed, I was subconsciously looking for revenge.  After realizing this, I lost all interest in the act.  I never think about it anymore.

Sex and sexuality were always a bit confusing for me.  I know I am not gay, I know I acted out because of the abuse and I know I was a good lover to most women I was with.  I am not Bi-sexual just a heterosexual male who has come to grips with my past.

15 relationships

Relationships have been another confusing aspect of my abuse.  The reason is, it is difficult to distinguish between what are the normal difficulties with relationships which most people experience and what are the difficulties as a result of the contributions from the sexual abuse.  A good example is feeling isolated when you are in love and married to a wonderful women?  Another example would be confidence.  In my case, I was able to cover my lack of confidence with false facade of denial and confidence.  However, these techniques did not work on my inner self.   So did I lack confidence because it was normal for people to be less secure when developing relationships or was it because I had been so suppressed and controlled by the abuse that I had little emotional self-reliance?  Was it because I had been deprived of normal relationship skills development?  Or was it a combination of both?

Self-esteem, another major consideration when it comes to developing healthy and growing relationship, had to be a major player compromising my normal relationship growth.  What I discovered through recovery was when you are traumatized, especially as a kid; you can be stuck at the level of emotional development that existed at the time of the abuse, assuming you have not been through recovery; this is a form of trauma bonding.   In my case, as long as the abuse and trauma was not dealt with, then my emotional heart could not heal and therefore was stuck in one state, so to speak, a state from a long time ago.  This state of being stuck emotionally was compensated for with a strong intellect and strong will driven by denial.  It is like the soldier wounded in a fire fight but refuses to acknowledge the wounds but insists on fighting on, regardless of the risk.  But all the tricks and games we play with ourselves do not fill the emptiness and uncertainty that breeds emotional insecurity and self-doubt.  These are the seeds of difficult relationship connections.  If we can’t love ourselves or feel secure in a relationship then by default the relationship has to be troubled.  As the rules of normal relationship development where compromised at the development stages of my childhood growth, so was my understanding of what was normal and what was not.  If my confidence and self-image were compromised, then how in hell could I possibly sort out the plethora of confused emotions I was flooded with when I was finally trying to catch up with the rest of the world, when it came to relationships?  I was a person whose emotional development was short circuited by abuse.

And then there is the shame.  Shame so powerful I would do anything to pretend it didn’t exist.  Shame so strong it generated so much fear in me, I could never admit to it.  So much effort went into protecting me that it left people trying to get to know me.  People felt they knew me but didn’t know me.  They sensed I was protecting myself and therefore sensed I had something to hide.  They, for the most part, believed me to be a good guy who would only let you get so close and then no more.  I was hiding a huge secret and a dark past life that I did not want to pollute my relationship by it being exposed.  To admit to such a horrific past would easily have labeled me damaged goods.   And this very act of hiding cause fundamental relationship issues.   And it is human nature to latch on to such things and use them as excuses for others or others failings.  So I put a great deal of effort into being as good as I could be for people.  But always, as time went on people believed there was something more to me and they could never put their finger on.  These blocking emotions of shame and self-esteem issues are easily sensed by others and no matter how good I was at putting up a good front.  I could never get beyond why people felt this way about me from time to time.  Being in denial allowed me to convince myself I was being very honest and open in a relationship and for the most part that is how I was perceived; however there was always this wall people would sense and that type of feeling always makes a partner feel uncomfortable and puts doubt in their minds.  None of these are good for being able to establish a healthy and growing relationship.  The fact of the matter is, no matter how much you focus on or work on a relationship, unless the dark demons of the past are exposed and dealt with, they will always be a road block to a healthy relationship.  And there is another simple truth, without full disclosure in a relationship, it cannot survive.  And it follows; if I was not healing the wounds of the past then I could not grow emotionally in a healthy way.

When my marriage ended I was pissed-off at my wife.  I had worked my ass off before and after our first separation on our relationship.  We went to counseling and I hit every book I could find on improving my relationship skills.  I was not going to fail at my marriage, no matter what, I would do whatever it took for me, to not only to be a good husband, but to be a great husband, and I was.  On the other hand my wife, while she did go to counseling and was successful; beyond the counseling, she had no interest in learning how to grow in our relationship or as a person.  Even though things were going great between the two of us after the separation, I was not willing to risk becoming complacent in my marriage, so even though I could not interest her in any activities for couples growth or books, I did my part in my mind.  So when Theresa ended our marriage I was beyond ripped.  I didn’t believe I did anything wrong and I had worked so hard and she threw me away because a prank phone call.  In the end we were both wrong and neither of us was wrong.  Neither of us was working on the real issues or wounds of our abuse.

Because I didn’t have a real sense of confidence, self-worth or sense of security, I was always left feeling insecure in my relationship with Theresa; I was always waiting for the hammer to fall with her so to speak.  I had seen Theresa willing to walk away from her son, friends and other for very insignificant reasons.  So I felt one mistake was all that was needed to end our marriage, if she could walk away from her son without any effort to save her relationship with him, and then she sure as hell could walk away from me.  It became a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I always struggled with my sense of insecurity in my relationship with Theresa and I always suppressed it, another deadly trap for any relationship.  Successful relationship cannot survive unless you are open, kind and compromising.

I always had a cognitive awareness in my relationships.  I always went out of my way to put my partner first, a noble and chivalrous virtue of which I was always proud of, but all for not.   Abuse is the grim reaper of relationships.  Left unchecked it will always take the relationship.

These were only some of the emotional issues brought into my relationships from the abuse, but here is the real conflict.  Whenever I would feel threatened or rejected I would begin my slow retreat into myself and tried to shut my feelings off.  No one can do this without their partner sensing your withdrawal.  My defenses would kick in and it always took an effort to reverse it.  I always knew when I was retreating and always tried to prevent it.  But once in while I could not and I would have to actively work on it to turn it around.  Being in denial, it was difficult for me to see the real reasons I was doing this.  This tendency is alexithymia

Definition from Wikipedia

Relational issues

 

“According to Vanheule, Desmet and Meganck (2006) alexithymia creates interpersonal problems because these individuals avoid emotionally close relationships, or if they do form relationships with others they tend to position themselves as either dependent, dominant, or impersonal, “such that the relationship remains superficial”.[ Inadequate “differentiation” between self and others by alexithymic individuals has been observed by Blaustein & Tuber (1998) and Taylor et al. (1997).

In a study, a large group of alexithymic individuals completed the 64-item Inventory of Interpersonal Problems (IIP-64) which found that “two interpersonal problems are significantly and stably related to alexithymia: cold/distant and non-assertive social functioning. All other IIP-64 subscales were not significantly related to alexithymia”

Chaotic interpersonal relations have also been observed by Sifneos. Due to the inherent difficulties identifying and describing emotional states in self and others, alexithymia also negatively affects relationship satisfaction between couples.

In a 2008 study alexithymia was found to be correlated with impaired understanding and demonstration of relational affection, and that this impairment contributes to poorer mental health, poorer relational well-being, and lowered relationship quality.

Some individuals working for organizations in which control of emotions is the norm might show alexithymic-like behavior but not be alexithymic. However, over time the lack of self-expression becomes part of their everyday lives and they end up losing their original self-identity”.

While alexithymia is not a disease it does identify a type of behavior that I can relate to.  And again there are online tests for alexithymia but I don’t recommend any self-diagnoses.  However, for me it was another guideline for me to consider when trying understanding my own emotional behavior patterns.  Part of this syndrome implies an inability to connect with others feelings or understand them.  This was not the case for me.  In fact, with all of my relationships it was very much the opposite.  I do not know why, but for most of my life I have had an elevated sense of empathy when it came to my partners, especially my wife.  In fact my empathic ability was, many times a pain in the butt.  Many times I would feel her emotional state of mind and that was intrusive to me.  However, it did mean I was in tune with my partner and for me that was good.  My wife would tell me she thought I was psychic but I am not.  Having an elevated sense of empathy is probably more a result of the constant state of emotional trauma I was always in as a kid.  In other words, I was always in a “flight or fight” mode of thinking.  By default you have a heighten sense of alertness.  But there were times when I too would wonder about being psychic.  In fact, when the neighbors died in a fire, the day before the fire I saw Cathy (mother) and Jimmy age six walking down the street.  When they said hello to me I turned and looked at them, in an instant everything was very surreal and I knew I was seeing them for the last time.  I didn’t know why.   The next day they died in a home fire.  The last day I saw my father at home and a day before he was going into the hospital; I was leaving and saying good-bye.  When I turned and looked back at him in his favorite chair, he was reading his newspaper; at that moment I knew he would not be coming home, the impression I received was so clear, lucid and definite, that there was no mistaking.   I think we all have some level of empathic abilities.

This was always a very confusing aspect of my relationships.  I loved but could not let myself allow people in.  It was strange.  To be able to love but always feel isolated was nothing less than frustrating.  I always felt there was this shroud of cloak and dagger bullshit.  Believing I had to keep a secret really plays havoc with your head.  When I did this, I always felt I was being dishonest and consequently over time I could not keep my abuse to myself with my wife.  She was too important to me not to be totally open about my past.  But by being open was a risk.  How would she react?  Did I trust her enough to be mature and open about my past, to be able handle the truth?  Could she deal with these horrific times in my life?  Could she deal with the fact I was in homosexual situations as teenager?  Would telling her end my marriage?  For a long time I could not deal with the risks involved.  In time I had little choice.  As the stresses in our marriage grew, as they do with all marriages, I learned very quickly that Theresa had no ability to deal with conflict, especially with her and her kids.  Kelly and Mike were older kids, late teens, and of course I was always the outsider.  If it was not so sad it would be funny.  Here I was already having a difficult time finding my connections with any relationship and then I married a woman with older kids.  There was very little hope of them feeling connected to me.  It time and with great effort on my part I was able to bridge the gaps with Mike and Kelly and we became good friends who finally respected each other.  But it did not change the fact a step dad can never come between a mother and her kids.  If you do, you will lose every time.  I understood this early on and therefore I had to set my own needs aside and gently coddle the situation over time to a point where it was working.  But Theresa was no help at all.  It was not until I had to make difficult choices that she finally agreed to go to counseling with me and work on the issue with her kids.  My only request through counseling was to let me deal fairly with Kelly and Mike on my own terms and for her to let me make our relationship with them work.  I explained, her constant defense was hurting and preventing Kelly or Mike from taking responsibility for themselves, and after all they were young adults.  The counselor helped her to understand I was savvy enough to do the right thing and be fair in my approach.  Once Theresa stepped aside and let Kelly and Mike deal with me, on common ground, things improved immensely with all of us.  Theresa was totally shocked at how much better things became.  But still I was the outsider by defacto and by virtue of my own self-isolating behaviors.  The simple fact was the abuse I carried inside was a never ending burden that affected my own thinking and emotional responses.  It was always difficult for me to sort out the overabundance of mixed feelings in relationships.  I was always engaging my rational mind when I felt confused and find ways to discount or ignore the emotional confusion.  And by doing so, I was once again depriving myself of any hope of dealing with my many wounds.  The many feelings were always there like dents in a broken down car.  The car ran pretty good but it didn’t look so good and not a car most people would want to own.  There were many times in my marriage when I was torn as to what to do about these crazy and defining feelings.  Marriage was tough enough, but to deal with the abuse simply was not an option.  My denial was acute, as I have said many times..  Of course I didn’t understand dealing with the abuse meant healing the wounds, not simply coming out of the closet about it.  If I had even the smallest inkling of understanding of how much the abuse was affecting everything in my life, I would have dealt with it and I would have saved my marriage from falling victim to the abusers.  God!  They had taken so much and in the end they got my marriage.  How much of a price does a victim have to pay?  If I could go back in time this is the second thing I would fix, second only to preventing my mother suffering from my abuse, but this to is not the real world.  While I may have ended up divorce regardless of whether or not I had dealt with the abuse, it would not have ended because of my acting out.
But there is one simple truth.  Abuse not healed, affects everything and everyone in your life.  It will take and not stop taking until you are dead or you have taken your life back through recovery.

16 self esteem

For the longest time, I thought how ridiculous it was for a person to claim they are, ”trying to find themselves or leaving to find themselves”, this was huge in the sixties and seventies.  It bugged me when I heard someone talk like this.  It didn’t matter if I was face to face with them or I heard it on the television or radio; it bothered me just the same.  How ironic, hearing the very thing I needed to hear, find and understand myself, triggered me into a deeper denial.  I never knew how lost I was.  How lost can one be when they do not have a clue you are lost?  I think that is as about as lost as someone can be.  Perhaps subconsciously I knew finding myself was exactly what needed to do.  To understand I needed to find myself, to get in touch with the real me, and not this phony shadow of myself I had lived with for so long.  I needed to find the guy that made me feel genuine.  I guess my subconscious mind was in conflict with my negative self-image and therefore it triggered an unusually negative response to hearing such profound truth.  Recovery has revealed many examples like this one, of how your mind plays games with you.  ”The thinking” I once considered very normal, has turned out to be more indications of defense mechanisms and denial.

Not being in touch with oneself, I think is exactly the type of symptom that can beeidentified through counseling.  Here is the value of a good counselor.  They know what to look for, whereas someone like me had to take the long road and try and learn what someone else already knows.  If I had found my way into the right counseling early on, they could have guided me out of denial many years ago.  How many more years could I have saved, had I realized this one insight?  Denial is the Gate Keeper to the land of recovery.  Nothing is possible until each of us finds a way and a means to confront and appease the Gate Keeper.  This is why I believe I couldn’t be successful with recovery solely on my own.  There needs to be professional guidance, with the right counselor.

Twenty years ago I would have rolled on the floor laughing if someone told me I needed to find myself.   In fact, I did exactly that.  I said, “What are you blind, I am standing right here!  There were those acquaintances who would tell me I needed to find myself: from time to time.  I thought this was pretty funny because they said the same thing about everyone, as best I could tell.  Looks like my friends played the percentages and final called one.

“Finding oneself”, how strange this turned out to be.  My life has been lived with someone I did not know very well.  I wasn’t even sure he existed or if he did, who he was?  But I do know how I felt and I knew I was not becoming the person I was meant to be or wanted to be.

Sadly, recovery has not given me the wisdom to articulate my feelings as well as they could be expressed on this concept. It is bothersome to talk about the concept of duality feelings.  Most of my life I felt like two people, the victim and the guy who didn’t want to be the victim.  Part of me is concerned I will not express myself clearly in the light I believe these feelings of duality should be, and therefore I could be easily misunderstood.  Because I am concerned, I will say this before anything else.  I know without exception, my feelings of duality were not related to any psychological aliment, such dual personality disorder, schizophrenia or any mental illnesses: this was confirmed by my counselors.  Frankly, at one point I wondered if it was something like a mental illness.  This is why I needed a conversation with my counselor.  My counselor put my mind at ease by educating me about my feelings of duality.  He explained I was experiencing these feelings a result of a “mind set”: a way of thinking and feeling, developed as a way of protecting myself.  He further when on to explain, mental illness is an old fashion term and rarely used anymore.  We went on to discuss the whole concept of mental illness and the stigmatism society has put on it.  His experience had shown there is rarely a person alive who does not have some sort of disorder.  The scope and breath of mental illness is huge, modern medicine is discovering more, and more of these types of illness can be caused by a physical condition of the brain.  As he explained, usually when a person is willing to call people mentally ill without any substantiating evidence, it is they who have the issues.  This made a lot of sense to me and I knew he was right.  It was nice to know I was not nuts.  However, in the real world there will always be the ignorant or unkind ones who will never see the truth for what it is and will by nature of their own deficiencies continue to stigmatize survivors.  I feel sorry for these very pathetic, small-minded people.  They are just not intelligent enough to get it.

Mental illness?  For me this was a painful stigmatism.   No reassurances by my counselor could cancel the lifetime of concern I had about being labeled mentally ill.  He recognized my defense mechanisms created a dual world in thinking for me.  To concede I had any mental illness was not an option for me at the time.  I had been stigmatized my whole life from the abuse and there was no room for any more stigmatisms.  But that dam “prevailing truth has come full circle again.  I have suffered from Mental illness such as depression, anxiety and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.  In the day to think of persons I knew who had similar problems and how we thought when we heard it, well we were as stupid as most of society.  My impression was it was sad and “oh that poor person, they are not right it the head”.  And of course when I would meet one this unfortunate people, I would think of their affliction at some point in our encounter.  I grew up in a town with a very well-known state hospital and most of the patients were in psychiatric wards.  It was not known for the training hospital it was. It was known as the “nut house and mental institution”.  Living in the same town and having had at least one sister work at the hospital gave me plenty of opportunities to visit the hospital and see the patients first hand.  Most were pretty normal in my opinion but others had obvious mental health issues.  I always felt so bad for these individuals because of the labels and stigmatisms society placed on them.  It was not fair.  No one wanted to be labeled “mentally ill”.  I am still a little uncomfortable with the term but I have a different view of mental illness than I did when I was younger.  The term “mental illness” is really BS.  If you look at the evolution of the term, you would see it began as a catch all for anything that was not understood by the medical profession.  It became the top of the organizational chart with a thousand different unknowns flowing into it.  The term “mental illness” has been around at least hundreds of years and perhaps thousands.  Mental illness became an easy way of categorizing patients when the wisest of the wisest doctors didn’t have a clue what they were dealing with.  If they could give it a name then it meant they at least sounded like they knew something.  The medical profession today has little need of broad based labels that are more damaging than helpful.  Mental illness is one of these terms.  It is unfortunate society has yet to catch up with the medical profession.  In my opinion, the term mental illness should be struck down forever.  I believe many times it is a physical abnormality in the brain that may or may not be caused by emotional distress or trauma.  If you are mourning the loss of a loved one and you become depressed.  Most people do.  Does that make them mentally ill?  Of course not.  Grieving is considered healthy by most in the medical profession.  But in the end there will be a great many people who will never evolve beyond their own prejudice and ignorant thinking and will label persons suffering from abuse as mentally ill because of the symptoms we endure.  For me, I quit caring about what others think.  Their opinions are just not important.  I feel sorry for their ignorance and short sightedness but they are not important to me.  If these people had any brains at all they would realize we survivors, who they are so quick to label mentally ill, are in the company of many great figures in history.  Abraham Lincoln, Churchill, Kennedy, Johnson, and the list goes on.  If these world leaders can function as world leaders with the suffering they endured, then I don’t think mental illness is all that big a deal, at least when it comes to depression and anxiety.

My duality feelings developed very early on from abuse, I suspect very shortly after the first incident of abuse.  I was compelled to further perpetuate my defense mechanism by my own denial when I tried to ignore or pretend the abuse did not happen.  And more to the point, when I decided I had achieved victory over the abuse by going public with it, in group therapy.  My feelings were further exacerbated by my need to over compensate in so many areas of my life for the purpose of covering the truth from everyone and me.  The fear instilled in me by my abusers, and of the consequences of would happen to me if I did tell, was the constant source of fertilizer for growing the web of denial and bifurcation of my self-image.  I began dealing with this chaos at the age of eight and my feelings were constantly reinforced well into early adulthood, not a very nice way for a kid to find their way in life.

How could any kid, have any self-worth or self-esteem, or positive self-image under these circumstances?  They don’t.  All I knew was how to survive.  There was no room for anything else.  Of the many things, I have been robbed of: self-image was the most damaging and it was the cruelest.  To be layered with different perceptions of who you are, was a terrible torture for a child or teenager to endure.  Without a properly grounded self-image, makes it very difficult to succeed at anything.  Everything becomes a struggle between the two conflicting self-images.  In my case, I was the kid who felt totally guilty for being abused and involved in homosexual acts and despicable behavior, and the person who never wanted any of it.  Always, wanting everyone to know I wasn’t that kid who violated the laws of nature, God, and society, and let my family down.  The other was the person I portrayed myself to be, smart, confident, creative, and other things as well; the lie and the truth, both in conflict, and never reconciling with the each other, it was a constant mental game of cat and mouse, a never ending tug of war.  The only time I was able to suppress these feelings, was when I was not around familiar surroundings, like home and family or anyone who knew my history.  Even then, the feelings were ever present, just not as intense.  They only became just a little easier to ignore.  And so I developed a real sense of constant inner conflict, a real sense emotional duality.  Consisting of the person I became because of the abuse, cleverly molded by shame and guilt, and the person I believed I was, or should be, and wanted to be, if I had not been abused.

My self-image further deteriorated through my teens.  I was definitely conflicted during these years.  With all conceit aside, I was a very good-looking kid.  I was tall and blue eyed.  My looks were always being complimented, and part of me felt very good about the compliments.  Nevertheless, the core part of me hated the way I looked.  I was naive enough to have developed a thinking habit, where it was my fault for the abuse because I was good looking.  Of course, there was a trap in all of this thinking also.  I may not be good looking at all and I was only being told I was, to entice me into a deceptive situation.  I had no concept of how wrong any of this thinking was and it molded me in ways that were painful, degrading, damaging, and above all, regrettable.

As a kid, I remember a couple of times a year being stopped by some nut-case in a car and they would try and get me to go with them for a ride.  I thought, because they didn’t know me, it must be my looks they were attracted to.  So I began to hate how I looked from inside out.  If I was not good looking, then I would not have been abused.  It is so sad; so many kids are growing up right now, feeling exactly as I did.  Self-image is the core of who we are.  To mess with a kid’s self-image anytime is a crime against the child, humanity, and God.  To take advantage of a child at an age when everything a child will perceive about themselves, is in a raw state of development, is nothing less than evil.

Remembering there was this nut case of an old guy who hung out in the woods where we played.  He tried something with me one time and I just ran.  He had a powerful reputation.  You would think if kids knew of this person then the police would also know.  The fact is, they did know, but did nothing.  Prior to him trying to touch me, all this nut case would tell me when he was talking with me was, “you are such a handsome kid”, of course I didn’t  know he said this to every kid.  I didn’t know he had a reputation at the time so I talked with him once in a great while.  It wasn’t until I mentioned this guy to a friend, and my friend told me this nut-case was a pervert and to stay away.  The next time I saw the guy, I was lured into talking with him.  To this day, I do not know why I talked with him.  At the time, I remember feeling very wary about the guy and really just wanted to move on and not deal with him.  I had no intentions of hanging around and before I knew it he tried to pull my pants down, making a joke of it at the time.  I ran and never looked back.

And of course, there was Ernie, who was always buying me cloths and telling me how handsome I was.  So, all of these experiences formed my thinking about my looks and molded my self-image into a very untrue and sad one.  It wasn’t fair.  If I was ugly I would not have been abused; this type of thinking was really messed up and messed with my head for many years.  The scary part was, this thinking was ingrained in my subconscious, working its little black magic, silently in the regions of my mind where I dared not go.  Where angels dread to go?

My self-image was severely sabotaged by my similar looks to my older brother.  He was several years older than I am.  I was always being mistaken for him and my mother and father always told me, “Oh you’re  just like, your older brother”, except they would use his name.  When they said this, it was never in a positive light, which only made it worst to hear.  I was always in trouble for something with my parents, and being compared to my older brother was always being thrown in my face.  My parents didn’t know better.  Whenever I heard this, it would tear at my insides.  I hated looking like my older brother in anyway.  So when I was older I grew a mustache and I have rarely shaved it off, because they were right, my brother and I looked very much alike, and I hated it.  In time, I didn’t want to be known as Richard, my first name, because all of my abusers knew me as Richard, so I started using my Nick name exclusively.  I just did not want to be me.

My lack of a positive self-image affected so many of my decisions.  A good example is: so many times, I have wanted to get my ass in shape and I always struggled with the image of being in the best shape I can be, and the fact it would make me more attractive, it was very foolish thinking and vain to an extent.  It has been the most difficult conflict I have had to struggle with.  My thinking also reinforced my need for self-punishment and personal depravation.  A poor self-image cascaded into many areas of my life, if not every area of my life.

Through recovery, I was able to change my thinking and finally I am getting in shape, and feeling good about myself.  The demons of the past no longer influence me and I am making steady progress.  It was an awful long time to think so negatively about myself.

Confidence is somewhat of a nebulas term.  In many ways, I had an abundance of confidence.  When it came to engineering, design, and being creative I have had a solid level of confidence and therefore it was these places I felt most comfortable and safe.  Because I felt comfortable in these roles, I spent most of my emotional time in these external places and therefore I could successfully ignore much of my pain and emotional confusion.  However, my confidence was lacking in all things personal, especially relationships.  I had no sense of who I was.  Of course, my confidence in engineering always over-powered any lack of confidence in a relationship, but it didn’t solve the problems created when it came to relationships.

Thinking this way, cause great personnel conflict and in reality, my confidence in my skills, hung on by a thread.  The simple truth is, my confidence was there but not nearly as much as I would openly show or liked people to believe.  I had developed a wonderful clever facade of being confident in all things.  When in reality I was scared to death at a very deep level.  Primal fear, I am sure, the over whelming need to survive at all costs.  The never-ending need to stay focused on the danger, least someone will find out.

I constantly struggled with being labeled “damaged goods” and or “gay”.   During my teens, I could not fathom how, I could be in a homosexual relations and not be gay.  Ernie was trying to make me gay. He was very good at confusing me.  He knew all the tricks, and of course, when Bette became involve, he said I was “gay first” and Bi-sexual second.  The stigmatism of being an abused boy was always on my mind, 24/7.  It was a terrible way to think and feel, always in fear.   In the day, you never heard sympathy for abused children.  It was always, “they asked for it” it is different for boys”, “you’re gay if you are abused by a male”, and “they will abuse when they get older if you were abused”.  Or the one I love to hear most of all was; “if a boy is being abused by an older woman then he was lucky”.  I have news for you folks; it is not all it is cracked up to be.  What kid, in their right mind, would ever tell anyone about their abuse, knowing this is how people thought?  So many times, I contemplated suicide in my teens because of this struggle.  I couldn’t believe I was living the life I was.  Living a life that was against everything I had been brought up to believe.  I was totally disappointed in myself.  And the self-hate continued.

Yea, it was a fun time to grow up!  My Ass!  With this asshole Ernie on one hand doing damage on daily basis, my own self-hate, the imprinting I was just like my older brother, and having slowly become the black-sheep of the family in concert with the imprinting I was gay, constitutes nothing less than brain-washing of an innocent mind.  It truly was torment for me, constant, never-ending agonizing torment.  I was left with very little time to grow up normally.  I didn’t know what was morally right or what was morally wrong anymore.  My self-image led me away from my family and friends and straight into the bowels of emotional hell.  I was engulfed in perdition flame, and I was alone.  I was the lucky one.  I believe I was in my early twenties when I heard of a good high school friend and neighbor  had hung himself.  I guess he had a story, like so many.  The final word I heard was Bill wasn’t sure if he was gay and couldn’t deal with it.

I was also told Bill was a victim of sexual abuse.  This is a common story, kids and young adults committing suicide because of the abuse done to them.  I was one of those who pondered suicide but didn’t act on it or fall to the impulse when the pain became overwhelming.  So I am the lucky one and that has a sad side to it.  Yes, I know I am lucky, and I am thankful as well, but there were many times when I had wondered if Bill didn’t have the right idea.  I wish I could have helped him, but after high school, we lost touch.

This type of thinking, in and of itself, created another aspect of my negative self-image.  I can’t stand not looking much better than I do.  I don’t mean my fundamental looks, they are what they are.  I mean I can’t stand being overweight, or how it makes me look and feel.  I need to lose a good 45 lbs.  I have a double chin that embarrasses me all the time.  I have the “man boob” thing and I hate the way it makes me feel about myself, especially with my history.  I hate the gut I have.  Sure, I am 6’4”so I carry the extra lbs. better than a shorter person would.  But being able to carry the weight didn’t make me any less embarrassed about myself.

So here I am a person in his fifties who has never liked the way I looked.  Always resenting my good looks of younger years, to the point of allowing myself to become unfit, and overweight, and hating this look as much.  I had a created a self-image of self-loathing which led to a no win self-image.  I simply hated both images equally.  After taking a serious look at my self-image, it made me realize I had never felt good about myself.  This thinking was another form of self-destructive behavior.  I had found another way to subconsciously punish myself and be self-defeating.

“Never felt good about myself”, another way to punish myself and be self-defeating?   When I realized this, another aspect of my denial was revealed.  It was true I had never felt good about myself; what I was doing was pretending to think good about myself.  My mask was so good that I fooled myself: more than I did anyone else.  I had put my focus on all things external of myself.  Outwardly, I was a good person in many ways.  Inwardly I was a terribly person to myself, and a person who deserved nothing good in life, so I believed.  It was easy to focus on things external rather my inner emotions.  I became good at dismissing and minimizing my inner conflicts.  I couldn’t let anyone see the darkness and I was not about to let myself see it.

My mask had many features.  I was always cleverly projecting myself as someone who was very sure of himself; another form of over compensating.  I was great to everyone else, all the while treating myself as a total looser, always feeling inadequate on the inside.  I always had a difficult time accepting compliments while always working hard to make sure they came my way.  And, I have always had a difficult time putting myself first.  In fact, I can’t recall a time when I did put myself first.  And the saddest part of my mask was, I expected little out of life for myself and consequently my behavior made sure I sabotage myself to make sure I didn’t  have any thing in life.

From my point of view, I grew up being a “thing”, not a person, just a thing to be played with.  For a kid who wanted to be an astronaut and go to Mars, well, it was hard to imagine how I could believe it was possible.  I was imprinted at a very early age to believe I was “not good enough”.  I remember having some great dreams as a teenager about my fantasy of being an astronaut, only to tell myself: after I woke up, ”You’re just not good enough Richard, it is just a dream”.  That was pretty sad.  How many of you can imagine your kids or a family member having to feel like this?

There were many reasons for my self-image to feel seriously flawed and to have been very negative.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where the failings were and where the needs were.  But Self-Image is not about “reasons why” or ”who is to blame”.  Self-Image has to be uniquely personal to ones-self.  There can’t be any competition with blame, hate, or ”what-If” thinking.  I wish I could say, these are the steps to take and you will have a healthy self-image.  I can’t.   Fundamentally, I believe making a personal connection to a commitment of truth and self-discovery has to be the minimum commitment.  For me, taking a cognitive approach to identifying polluted thinking habits and thinking patterns was imperative.  After understanding my thinking habits, I was able to reprogram these thoughts with a habitual determined attitude, one negative thinking habit at a time.

My commitment had to have an emotional connection as well, it can’t be just an intellectual connection, meaning you are aware of the right thing to do but you don’t have your heart in it.  I.e. when we tell ourselves, we know we need to exercise to be in shape and you tell yourself again and again you are going to get started, but it never happens!  Why? Because your heart is not in it.  Knowing you need to do something is completely different from having the heart to do it.  Breaking through the barrier that prevented me from having the heart to recovery was difficult.  It could only happen when the denial ended and my denial could not end until my heart was ready or I was facing death.  All any of us needs to decide is; when we are going to let our heart be ready.  I found it more fruitful to take the time and work on making emotional connections to these feeling.  I guess what I am trying to say, I had to get in touch with what I was trying to feel, the heart-mind connection.  I found if I had not learned to nurture my heart mind connections, I doubt any recovery of consequence was possible.  Learning to make these connections helped with healing and understanding.  How these connections are made, is probably different for everyone.  So all I can really do is tell you, building a Self-Image, be it positive, or negative is a full time habit that needs to be learned.  Transforming from the well-entrenched negative thinking habits to a positive thinking habits is a tall order and it does not happen all at one time.  From my point of view, you can’t make positive change in self-image unless you change your negative thinking habits first.  By doing this you are, by de facto, creating a more positive self-image which will improve steadily when your negative perceived truths are replace with truth.

My technique for working on my negative thinking was a cognitive approach taught to me by a couple of different counselors.  Simply put, “Learn to pay attention to your thoughts, write down the negative thinking thoughts, and then work on them.  This is a marvelous technique and proved very useful.

I started with a notebook, carried a pad and pen, and wrote down my negative thinking thoughts when I had them.  Sometimes, I carried a voice recorder.  Sure enough, I discovered a definite pattern to my thinking.  And when it came to me; my thoughts were pretty much negative.  And there were many.  Listening to what my mind was thinking was a revelation.  I was able to clearly see patterns in my thinking.  It was pretty sad, keeping in mind most of these thinking habits were learned during my teens.  Many times these thoughts triggered flash backs and memories.  This, for my money, was just another opportunity for insight and growth.  I believe everything in recovery is an opportunity to be exploited.

I didn’t try to force the change in negative thinking with will­power.  I knew, I had to take each habit, one at a time digest it for a while, then intellectualize it and learn from it.  Only when I believed I had learned all I could about it, did I do the mechanics of changing a thinking habit.

My method of working with my negative thinking habits, was first identify the negative thought, quantify the thought (what does the thought mean, what emotions are connected to it, what are the triggers, what is the real truth), find the truth, replace the negative with the positive truth.  Using imagery was a very useful tool.  By using relaxation, and meditation the effectiveness of the technique increased dramatically.  I used these techniques to learn to feel the emotions and connect with them, only then could I understand them well enough to heal from them.  It is a simple technique but very powerful.  As long as you understand you are replacing old thinking habits with new ones, it is easy to understand it takes repetitiveness to stop the negative thinking.  Every time I had the thought, I had to work on with the positive replacement, self-talk and positive imagery.  Some negative thinking will dissolve in a very short period of time, others by virtue of other aspects of recovery, but I found the intense and well-entrenched thinking habits could take up to three weeks.  This technique never failed me.  Was technique the real question, or should the question be, was it my intense personal commitment to healing, the real reason my technique worked?  I believe above all, an intense personal commitment to healing is the real answer.  I believe there are a hundred techniques that work well when the deepest of commitments are made; whereas, no technique will work if the commitment is not sincere.

Working on changing negative thinking meant learning about self-image, and self-esteem.   For me, understanding how and to what degree self-image and self-esteem effects and influence people who have been sexually abused was important.  Unless I established a “knowledge base” of why I was thinking the way I had been, then I could not understand why the change was important.  So before, I started trying to change anything I did my research and worked with a counselor

Much of my negative thinking was so entrenched it was difficult to recognize.  As time went on, my skills became quite good and therefore the longer I used the technique the easier it was to use and the more productive the results.

Once I learned the basics of how to approach my negative thinking, it was important to substitute the negative thinking habit with a truthful but positive self-image as it relates to the specific thought I was working on.  As an example, one very predominate thinking habit I bad was; when I would think about me and my relationship with my family, I immediately thought I am doing them a favor by staying away, because I suck as person and they don’t  deserve me as part of their life.

This was a tough one to work on.  I began by rationalizing the negative thoughts and feelings, usually by writing extensively.  My thoughts on any particular thinking habit went something like this.  “Ok, I know I am thinking this way because the abuse taught me to believe I was at fault, and it caused me to feel great shame and guilt.  But now I have learned this was not true, the abuse was not my fault, and I love my family very much.  I know they love me, I have always known this about all of them.  There is no reason for me to stay away; I don’t feel the shame any more.  I was never guilty, so why should I let these false messages have any influence over me.  They are false and I only hurt my family and me by doing as I have been, why would I continue giving control to my abusers by not seeing the truth?”

These conversations with myself were done at the time of thinking the negative thought.  The self-talk and imagery I used was never the same.  Each negative thought required its own tailor made soliloquies.  What was important was to associate the new truths I learned with the positive feeling that go with it.

So after all this work, how I do I know my self-image has improved.  I said early on in my recovery I wanted to find ways to measure my progress.  I didn’t believe self-image was this single task I had to take on and fix.  I believed our self-image is a result of the shame, guilt, and depressions and a dozen other aspects of abuse.  I believe if I had tried to address my self-image before I dealt with the shame and guilt that I would have failed.  This is why, in order for my to have an improving self-image I had to make a solid connection between my mind and heart.  Shame and guilt would have been in the way.  I don’t believe it is possible to achieve much in recovery unless you have learned in your heart of hearts; the abuse was not your fault.  There was no room for games with myself.  So, I think dealing with the shame and guilt first gave me a solid foundation for working on my self-image.

As I dealt with each issue, my self-image was repaired, little by little.  For the first time in my life, I like me.  This is how I know my self-image is better.  And I feel good about me.

17 what was the damage done?

           

One of the values of an online support group is you can ask questions and get real answers from real survivors of sexual abuse.  There was nothing more revealing and helpful than being able to relate to kindred spirits.  I asked a great many questions over the course of a year and a half.  While I cannot use the exact answers or screen-names of the members who responded, I can summarize their answers.  There were approximately 175 responses to this question, “What has the abuse cost you?”  My childhood: Being able to trust: Fear of becoming a monster: Being able to feel: Being able to care about others: Feeling disconnected and distant unable to open up: Self-esteem: Poor performance in school: A positive self-image: My health: Everything, Sense of safety and Self-worth Sanity: The light I was born with: Optimism: Ability to be loved or feel love: Normality in life or a sense of pride: Knowing the difference between sex and love: Ability to cope: Faith: Emotional stability: My family: Confidence in myself or relationships:

As you can see, the list is long and painful.  There were many variations on these themes but they were all saying the same thing, abuse is very damaging and costly.  For the most part, I have felt many of the same feelings.

The single most shocking revelation for me was to realize how incredible strong denial could be. Alternatively, perhaps a more accurate statement would be how transforming and paralyzing fear can be.

Nothing has been more difficult for me to get a handle on.  As I reflect on the magnitude of damage, hurt, and emotional distress, I endured, I am in shock.  With all of this nasty stuff happening to me, how in hell could there be a thing called denial?  And how the hell could it have such a reaching grip on anyone in this situation.  I have had a hard time making sense of it.  I guess fear must be the root cause of denial.  I believed at one time, shame was the root cause.  But when you think of it, it was fear with the shame that drove me.  I must have felt so terrified by the thought of facing the truth, that it paralyzed my rational thinking and caused emotional blindness as a kid and young adult. The power of Denial is mind boggling.

If I were watching a movie and seeing a child being abused as I was, I would be overwhelmed with sadness and anger.  The horror of seeing a little kid enduring so much suffering can only take your heart away.  For the most part, I did a very similar thing in my quest to meet my anger.  I had a hell of time finding ways to connect with it.  I speak in depth about this in my chapter on anger.  I used several techniques but allowing me to see the events of my life as a spectator in a movie theater, watching another child being abused triggered a great deal of anger in me.  It was a very useful technique and when it came to my anger, I needed to be very creative in learning techniques for dealing with my anger.

For me the most painful damage caused to me was the loss of my wife, second only to the number of lost years, or years less fruitful as they may have been.  At least they would have been different.  It would not have matter how my life had turned out if I had not been abused, because any life would have been better than this one.

There is always damage done.  And now science is showing there is real physical damage done to brain of abused children.  The physical changes in the brain, brought on by the extreme stress of sexual abuse, predispose us to depression, and anxiety.  Now that the medical researchers are finally taking abuse seriously, they are amazed at what they are finding.  Because of the new discoveries about the effect on the brain has let me to reconsider depression and anxiety as an equally physical ailment triggered by emotional events.

It is sad; the common bond between so many of us is abuse.  I don’t know how to quantify the question, “What was the Damage done?  And I am not sure it can be.  The damage can be so broad base and all encompassing, with a cascading effect on one’s emotional, physical, and psychological wellbeing that it makes it impossible to quantify.  Few people understand much beyond the emotional damage done to an abused child.  Most don’t know the brain changes physically, the immune system can be damaged, and the nervous system as well.  These are very real damages.  And these are only the unseen physical damages.  The ones we silently suffer with, alone and isolated from any real understanding of why.  But there is the damage that is physical that has no place to hide.  My penis was frequently bruised and swollen and often times had sores with blisters.  This was a result of my unwillingness (either consciously or subconsciously) to have an orgasm, which always force Ernie to work a-lot harder at accomplishing his goal.  I can’t tell you how many times I could not take a gym class because it would have been obvious to anyone who saw me naked.   There was frequent anal bleeding and soreness, all culminating with a penis fracture because of a particularly rough episode with one of Ernie’s losers.  This fracture has left me with an exaggerated curved penis.  It is embarrassing for me and I want to have surgery to correct it.  When money allows I will.  It is a constant reminder of my abuse and is as obvious as the slash on the back of my hand.  It is a small slash that opened a large vein.  I did it to myself with a razor knife.  I was eighteen and just had an argument with Ernie and I was really distressed about my life so I just decided I had to hurt myself.  So I intentionally cut the back of my hand.  I wanted to cut the vein and I did.  I bleed like a stuck pig.  It was only an inch or less and I should have had stitches but I didn’t.  Of course, recovery has shown me a better way to understand my feelings about these very real physical wounds.  Concerning my penis fracture, my wife and most other women I have been with, did consider my condition an asset.  One I sure as hell can do without.

And there is my mother’s wounded heart.  Her pain reflects in her eyes, when I see her.  I see into her heart.  To most, they see my mothers’ smiling eyes, me, I am too connected to her pain not to be able to see beyond the sparkle in her eye.  She is an incredible women, very strong, strength beyond the pillars of Olympus.  But she is my mom and she is wounded.  It is very hard for me not to feel guilty when I remember how much pain all of this caused her.  We both know it was not either of our faults but it doesn’t help very much.  She is my mom and it has taken a long time for me to come to grips with the pain all of this caused her and my dad.

And what of all the lost years of a healthy and growing relationship with my mom?  Not to mention the rest of my family.  Oh, we love each other tremendously, of this there has never been any doubt.   But it is hard not be angry when I think of all the years I felt distant from everyone, especially mom. I didn’t want to be but I had little choice or I wasn’t strong enough to make a better choice.  Mom is eighty-eight now and it sure feels good having a different relationship with her.  It is as it should be and she knows it.  We have occasionally talked openly about Ernie and the abuse.  Just casually, I have no need to go beyond my mothers’ need to talk.  I let her lead the conversations.  She is healing also.  Surprise!  Yes, she was wounded also and she needs to heal, in a different way, and for different reasons.  But until I healed I don’t think she could.

Our conversations have been brief and empowering.  For the most part, she has expressed her strong feeling about Ernie, in her own gentle way.  For my part, I try to keep her updated on how I am doing in recovery.  It is important for both of us, for her to be in the loop, even if it is only casua1ly.  If I am healing then it is important for her to know because it will help heal her heart.  She is an awesome mom.  She has never failed one of us.  She is truly a saint with a heart of gold.  The good news is, many of the wounds from abuse do heal, if you allow them to.

After everything is said and done, things come down to some very basic truths.  The damage is real and intense, and can be emotional, physical, and psychological.  Most of the time, the damage is all of the above.  We were and are soldiers in a war.  Most of us survive.  And those of us, who have survived, have done so with wounds that penetrated our souls.  Few understand the war on abuse has a 100% casualty rate.  Everyone gets hurt.  It is only a matter of how much.  There are no winners, only the fallen and walking wounded.  “Recognizing”, becoming” aware” of your denial is the first step in healing from the abuse.   In a moment, the war on abuse ends and the pain of healing begins, when you step out of denial.

Recovery has taught me abuse did not weaken me as a person.  The abuse tested my metal and showed me I am a very strong person in so many ways.  Recovery allowed me recognize how incredible courageous we are, those of us who have been abused.  For anyone to survive these trials; they have courage well beyond most.  The human spirit never ceases to amaze me.

As to what others think?  I don’t care what society thinks of me as victim or a survivor.  It doesn’t matter to me anymore.  I only know what I know.  We are anything but weak.  We are stronger than the abuse.

Know your enemy? The following is one definition of a pedophile from: www.way2hope.org

Types of Sex Offenders:

“Many have asked what the root cause of a sex offender is.  Some have speculated that, at an early age, they were molested, which skewed their sense of reality.  I was molested as a child, though I had no reference point to classify it at the time.  Still, I know a lot of people who were molested who didn’t become sex offenders of any kind.  Here are some top selling books on therapy for pedophiles and other sexual abusers.  I suspect there are many sex offenders who were not molested as children, so, I don’t think there is a cause-effect relationship.  The biggest cause I can point to is sexual addiction…an imprisoning and accelerating dependence on more exotic and intense sexual experiences.  For more sexual addiction information and a self-test, visit our pages Addiction and Sex and Signs of Sexual Addiction.  As the sexual addiction advances, the addict seeks ever more bizarre and forbidden forms of sexual expression, literally altering the sex drive from normal to the new behavior.  Some become exhibitionists and shock others with a sudden flashing of nudity.  Others turn to animals and inanimate objects.  Some grope others in very public settings.  Still others do so in private.  Some become Peeping Toms. All of these have the potential to escalate into more serious sexual offenses, like child molestation and rape.  We’re focusing here on pedophiles, habitual child molesters, but the solutions we’ll offer can help anyone with a sexual addiction.  The earlier you get help the better, because every sexual action you take reinforces your addiction, adding one more lock to your prison.

Once a pedophile reaches the point where they feel they’re showing love, a very dangerous situation arises every time a child rejects them, or someone tries to stop them.  Just like many rejected lovers, many pedophiles won’t stop. They may escalate and add violent force to the rape, murder the child, murder the whole family of the child…anything to get their pent up desire met.  Often, once force is used, even in the case of murder, the sex drive gets attached to that behavior and the molester can’t achieve sexual satisfaction without the violence.  If you find yourself attracted to children but haven’t yet moved into these extreme behaviors, get help to get it stopped now.  It isn’t just curiosity…this is where you are headed.  Stop it.”

Know your enemy; it was very disturbing for me to see this.  But I had to understand both sides of the equation.

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

18 epilog

 

It’s been a long journey.  The night has turn to day and the roses smell just fine. The wind is at my back, the sun warms my face and songbirds sing soothing songs that fill my heart.  As I reflect on this amazing journey, I am reminded of how I once believed I wanted to be a great spiritual warrior.  It was a childhood fantasy that grew from a dream I had as a young teenager.  I was very close to Jesus as a kid and I always wanted to do good things for him.  Back then, I prayed a lot, for a long time I felt he was the only friend I had in this world.  When I was thirteen, possibly 14, I had this crazy dream where I found myself living in the time the Old Testament.  It was a very lucid dream and very emotional.  I was use to lucid Nightmares by this time, but this was a good dream.  In my dream, I was a soldier of some sort, dressed in biblical style garb.  I had a sword in my hand, standing solemn and resolute, sure of purpose, standing at the ready. I had a very strong sense of having been in a battle with evil.  The dream left me with a feeling I was a warrior for God.  I have never understood the dream, but it was a very cool dream as a teenager.  At the time, I thought it meant I really wanted to fight god’s battles and I was a strong spirit.  I was left believing I could stand up to evil if it ever challenged me.  Now, I think I may have been wrong.   Perhaps my dream did not mean I would be a warrior for God, rather it simply meant I was already facing evil but just didn’t recognize it.  Maybe it was God’s way of telling me I would be strong and as long as I believed in him, I would be ok.  If this was truly the meaning then God was right, I am OK now.

Of course, I don’t know if any of this has any meaning what so ever?  Maybe it was just a dream.  Then again, regardless of dreams or not, I know the devil is alive and well.  I also believe he has no real power over anyone unless we give it to him, or her or whatever the hell “it” is.  I also believe it is possible for his minions to torment and influence people.  And it is these people we fall victim to.  I also know I could never go through life believing I have not done battle with his minions.  No one’s life could be as mine has been and not realize there is great evil in the world.  And it can only be won over with great love, charity and faith. It is the source of hate and if we are to recover then the hating has to stop.  It is the only way to real recovery.  Hate destroys, you first, then everything you care about second.

When I began this book, I was full of uncertainty.  Why should I write a book about this stuff?  What do I want from it?  Of what value if any, could it be?  These were the uncertainties I struggled with.  I now know I didn’t write this book to change the world.  I wrote it to change me.  I wrote this book for me first, and for anyone who can find solace in its pages second.  And change I did.

Throughout my recovery process, I constantly heard the term transformation.  Recovery was all about transformation of one-self.  I struggled with this concept because, transformation in my mind meant changing into something different than you are.  In a way, it does mean exactly that.  However, I would rather think this explanation is only part of it.  Are you transforming when you remove a mask or are you simply showing the real you?  I don’t believ

 

e I actually changed by becoming someone different.  I believe I discover me, as I really am, and I connected to myself.  This became possible because I learned to recognize and stripped away all the pain, shame and I let go of the hidden hate.  And because I really understood I was only a child and I could not be to blame for what others did to me.  So for me it was not about transformation as much as it was about becoming who I already was.  And of course we do change.  We become more of who we were meant to be.  I for one have grown in leaps and bound, so transformation does take place in some ways.  (Dam if I don’t stop arguing with myself, this race track of circular logic is going to make me crazy.)

Call it whatever you want, it is not important, what is important is how I feel.  And I feel good.  So things have changed.  I no longer feel burdened and I have very few distractions.  My life was lived as a living distraction, 24/7.  This is the true burden of abuse.  It envelops us in a cocoon of crap.  Now I live life in the moment.

So how do I see my life now?  If I were a person who could look at my life in an objective manner and with an intelligent sense of openness I would say this.  I am a fifty six year old man now.  My hair is white and I am a large man of 6’4″ 255 lbs.  I am an imposing figure of a person who has lived a life of great heartache, pain and joy.  Somehow, in the process of my tragedy I found ways to live life and at times, be happy.  It is not a life I would wish on anyone.  It has tested my metal and my worth.  My regrets no longer burden me.  I see the future the same way I did when I was 22, finally free of Ernie, and facing a new life with no idea of what I was in for.  It is an exciting time and a good place.  I have nothing to feel shame for and I am a free person with a genuine sense of myself.  For the first time in my life, I feel genuine and whole.  My heart carries the love and the wounds, the good the bad and the truth.  And this is ok because this is no more than we all do.  So things are good.  I now see the blessings of my life without the fog of abuse obscuring the view.  I have had many wonderful blessings.  What more proof can there be than for me to be able to write these words.  Words that have defined the ending of to a story I never believed was possible.  I can now see how lucky I have been in life.

So how do I see my life?  I will tell you. I have reached a point in my life where I have made peace with my life.  I do not like what happened or what it took to over-come the wounds.  And I don’t like all the pain it caused so many.  But it is who I am and I am ok with it.  I started on this trek not knowing what to expect and I found me.  For the first time in my life, I have made total piece with the abuse.  It is a wound whose time has come and gone.  Its tentacles no longer fetter me.  And I found prevailing truth.  More importantly, I discovered I am all the good I had hoped I would be.  I am neither a monster nor a saint.  I am just another survivor who has found a better way.  My many shadow beliefs no longer blind with me with darkness and false truths.

There are different ways to look at my life.  I could say I lost many years to the abuse and in some respects, and it would be true.  Regardless of the fact, the abused was an oppressive burden; there were good times, many good times.  There were far more good people in my life than those who were not so good. And what of the good ones?  Have we ever stopped to really understand how much these few have given us?  If we could feel the good, the love, these wonderful people had for us as easily as we feel the torment, there would be paradise.  I know how much my family loves me and I was not able to reach out to them.  But I knew they loved me and that love was a powerful allied.  Not all the people I cared about will ever know just how important their love was for my survival or how much I appreciated their love.  Nor will they ever know how thankful I am.

I could look at my life as person who was robbed of a great deal.  And I would be right.  Or I could say, look how much I have gained regardless of the losses.  While my losses were too precious to loose, and far too great a price to for anyone to pay, there were many equally precious gains.  I have a great family most of whom I have always been honored to call my family.

My extended family is huge and I had the honor and joy of loving the most perfect person I know, my wife Theresaara.  To know the joy of loving someone so deeply and being loved as deeply by her so completely, so much so, she made me feel whole, needed and complete.  How many people ever have the joy of this type of love?  Many think they have it, everyone should, but few do.  All these years later and I am still connected to her.  When you have this type of love, you are blessed.  I am happy for her if she has found happiness; yes, I have had many blessings in my life.  However, Theresa will always hold a very special place in my heart, reserved just for her.  I have managed to work in the field I love and have made a good living at it.  I have seen a lot of the world.  I have had the honor and privilege of touching some very special people’s lives, and I have been touched by so many good people.  The gains far out way the losses and made the trip worth it.

Over the course of my recovery, I have often wondered what the last chapter in my book says.  How would this end and how would I see my life through the eyes of recovery?   How would I be different, if at all, was it worth the trip?  It has been a trip for sure, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.  To know where I have been is more like a dream now.  A memory who’s scares are still little ugly but they feel no pain but to see the life I have lived still leaves me in awe.  As I look around at the people, places and things in my life, I see they have not changed at all, yet I see all of them with different eyes.  With eyes and a heart no longer blinded by the perversion of abuse.  Eyes that see the wounds healing and a heart that knows they will continue to do so.  My heart is no longer heavy with the burdens of abuse, shame or guilt.  I thought at the end of this journey I would find myself and I have.

But the journey does not end.  Recovery has become my best friend, and we will walk the full path of life together and my friend has become my guide.  However, for all the joy and conquests, I find myself feeling a bit lost.  It is not a bad thing, just a strange one.  You see, I have lived so long under the veils of abuse and I now see my life as a beginning again.  I can choose whatever path I want, I just haven’t had the time to figure out which path I want to take.  Like those courageous pioneers of old just starting out for new lands and a new life, following their dreams blindly into the unknown.  And all they had was each other.  I am excited because I have finally reached a point where my recovery is telling me it is time to move on again.  Your work is done and it is time to leave this work behind and continue to apply what you have learned.  I feel like a college student just graduated into a world of exciting unknowns and possibilities.  I have been given the foundation for living a healthier and happier life, focused in the present.

No one and nothing has changed around me, and yet they feel different to me.  Different to me because “I” have changed so much and the burden of truth has humbled me.  It is strange, I lived most

 

of my life trying to change what happened to me, or trying to covertly convince the world my life was something different than it was.  I was only fooling myself.  And let’s not forget all symptoms I spent so much time trying to change, never the root cause.  My life was spent trying to change everything around me or external to me.  No time was spent on changing me.  In the end, I changed none of these, only me.  How much time could victims and survivors could have saved if we just realized, it is “us” who need to change?  Just us, no one else matters.

I have learned a great deal about myself and so many other things.  In a very small way, I think I can understand how it felt to be a slave or a prisoner who never knew freedom.  Their life was a world of never ending control.  They understood their life, and that was all they knew, with acceptation one dream.  You never stop feeling the burning in your gut and soul to be free.  The yearning for freedom and release became a force of life for me.  It is frightening to be imprisoned your entire life and then one day you are free and on your own with very little worldly knowledge or support.  There are many lessons I will not forget and the truth be told, there are something’s I will never forgive myself for.  However, I have learned to accept responsibility for the hurt I have caused.  I can’t take back the hurt or the disappointments but I can be sorry and remorseful.  The simple truth is I can’t go back and that leaves me with only one option, to move forward.  I have also learned not to let these regrets control my life any longer.  They were the spawning and manipulations of a very evil person.  I will always miss the personal losses of years without my family and friends, and I know there will always be people who will choose not to be understanding and other who just don’t have the ability to see things from any point of view other than their own.  And that is OK.

At beginning of this trek, I spoke a great deal about guilt and shame.  Now I see how wrong it was for me to believe I was responsible at any level for what happened to me.  But with equal importance I do understand why I did feel as I did.  I had no choice, I was a child, I was on my own and my life developed in a total state of self-survival.  I am grateful I am still here. The Boy Warrior has taken me this far the rest of the trip is up to both of us now.

Thinking of the story I have just penned makes realize just how much suffering abuse causes.  It doesn’t matter if it was 1 time or 500, damage is done.  I have read this book several times and there are still times when I find it hard to believe any kid could suffer so much.  And other times I have a hard time believing it is me I am reading about.  The tragedy of abuse is profound.  I can’t help but wonder if anyone who has not lived with sexual abuse could ever understand how much victims suffer.  Or how much strength it takes to endure and survive such prolonged trauma.  One of the more interesting lessons I learned was; how I would always minimize my own suffering.  I would always remind myself of all the kids who are dying of disease, war and starvation, or the kids and parents who have lost each other.  This type of thinking is a betrayal of ones-self.  Suffering is suffering, and it is relative to you.  All I was doing was giving myself another reason not the deal with the real issues.

How does someone like me, impress upon you, just how painful and damaging abuse is.  How do I draw you in so you can feel the torment of abuse?   Do I tell you to picture yourself as an eight year old being enticed into sexual situations with older people?  Do I tell you how sick it made me?  Do I tell you the details of each attack?  That would be another book.  Do I tell you to remember a time when you were so fearful that you shook, or were constantly preoccupied with fear and your body racked by anxiety?  Can you picture yourself at eight years old being told you would be disowned if you told?   Do I tell you to try to feel yourself as someone who is not worthy of love?  Or a person who never felt wanted and was emotionally wounded.  Or perhaps the person who could not sleep in his mothers’ house or feel comfortable being there?  Do I tell you to feel like the person who always felt isolated and disconnected?  Do I tell you to forget about half of your childhood memories?  Do I tell you to experience prolonged depression, anxiety and PTSD?  Do I tell you to consider yourself just a thing to be used?   So how do I impress upon the very real physical, emotional and psychological damage done to a child of sexual child abuse. I can’t.  All I can do is tell you a story and rest is up to you.

And what about the cost?  The loss of, identify, dignity and sense of self, friends, family, a wonderful wife and the years of isolation.  Yea what about the cost?  It was a very high price to pay, I have paid, and I am done paying.  My penance is paid and judgment is up to God and God alone.  I refuse to judge myself from the point of view of a victim.  I have no need to anymore.  The denial has dissolved into prevailing truth.  For sure, some things will never be fixed and that is sad but ok.  Because I know who I am, and what I am, and I am not so bad a person after all.  Many of my confused feelings about my self-image have been healed and I like the guy who I was born to be and have just started knowing.

I had wondered about my overly generous approach in relationships.  I wondered if I was a just a decent person or was I buying love and affection, perhaps it was both.  But the truth is I am a generous person who has always put the needs of other people first.  This is a good virtue.  I just over used it a bit.  There are dozen other good examples I could give.  Most people have known me to be a good person; my ex-wife had always said that about me.  And they are right.  I am whom I wanted to be and for the first time in my life I can say with absolute conviction, I like me.  I am far stronger than I ever understood I was.  Abuse was my great war, and I survived, a bit battered, but stronger for it.

Until now I have never known what it was like to feel genuine” or to

‘                                                      AJ

walk in the moment” and feel genuinely whole.  I made my recovery a personal mission that I refused, from the onset, never to let fail.  And I didn’t fail, I made recovery my friend early on and he has stood by me and has never faltered and he never will.  He has taken me to the stars and beyond.  To places in my heart I did not know existed.  He taught me the good things about myself and opened my eyes to truth and openness with myself.  His guiding light never faded and he always waited patiently on the path of recovery, standing just ahead with an extended hand.  And when the light faded he didn’t or when I was too tired to move on, he simply took my hand and said follow me.  His light throws no shadows and illuminated those dark places in my heart and mind.  He has been my teacher, guide, guru, and best friend.

And what a time to have lived!   I don’t think I could have lived in a better time in history.  It is nothing less than an astounding time live.  I have seen us reach the stars; I watched the world get very small through television and the internet.  I have seen other planets and the edge of the universe.  I have seen the rise of equal rights and desegregation and yes I have seen racism improve vastly but not enough.  I have seen the remarkable advances in medicine, science and humanity.  It has been a very exciting time to grow up in.

I have realized many truths, to many to list.  But there are a few truths that merit talking about.  For me the truth of truths is this.  Be truthful to yourself.  When you are not truthful to with ourselves, we diminish ourselves as a person and we are playing game with ourselves.  And you end up creating a parallel world that needs constant defending.  And it will never be a world worth defending.  Another difficult truth for me to deal with is just how much I was responsible for many of the things in my life.  I spent a lot of time being self-destructive and I didn’t understand it.  So the truth is this.  Denial is a double edge sword.  It serves our purposes when it seems the natural and correct path, and it is never either.  We are quick to embrace denial and mold it into whatever truths we need to survive.  We find this an easy task because it is a natural defense mechanism that most of us are wired to respond to.  We are just human.  It is a fear driven response to memories too painful to remember.  And of course the other edge of the sword is Denial was all we knew.  It protected us when we could not.  And I suspect it has saved a great many victims from themselves.

Above all truths is one.  I have found what I was looking for, me.   I can live with that.

And there is more.  No recovery can be complete without taking full responsibility for the wounds I caused.  I could make excuses and say the abuse was messing with me and I didn’t mean to hurt or disappoint the people I love.  But sorry no dice on that argument.  When a person is hurt they don’t care about the reasons why you hurt them.  They are not looking for excuses.  When my abusers hurt me, I wasn’t looking for excuses and the people I have hurt deserve no less from me.  Recovery has left me with holding the prevailing truth in my hand and heart.  I could no sooner deny the truth than I can prevent myself from taking my next breath.  When a child is abused, it is not just the child.  The child parents, brothers and sisters are abused also.  In fact, everyone who knows the child is affected.  There is no such thing as “just a child is being abused.”  These pedophiles abuse all of society with every act of abuse.  But none of this gets me off the hook for the pain I caused by being isolated and in exile.  And the truth is, I was wrong many times and I did hurt people I love.  My acting out was painful to people I love and I am so sorry to all I have hurt or offended.  I am sorry for the pain of my mother and father, both of whom tried so hard, to no avail.  To my brothers and sisters for the pain I have caused you.  And to my extended family for any pain I have caused.  I wish there was a way to go back and change things but I can’t.  All I can do is tell everyone, with all of my heart, I am so sorry, especially Theresa.  This will have to do.

Just Another Survivor – Whole Again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The compulsion to repeat the trauma. Re-enactment, revictimization, and masochism.

van der Kolk BA.

Author information Trauma Center, Massachusetts Mental Health Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.

Abstract

Trauma can be repeated on behavioral, emotional, physiologic, and neuroendocrinologic levels. Repetition on these different levels causes a large variety of individual and social suffering. Anger directed against the self or others is always a central problem in the lives of people who have been violated and this is itself a repetitive re-enactment of real events from the past. People need a “safe base” for normal social and biologic development. Traumatization occurs when both internal and external resources are inadequate to cope with external threat. Uncontrollable disruptions or distortions of attachment bonds precede the development of post-traumatic stress syndromes. People seek increased attachment in the face of external danger. Adults, as well as children, may develop strong emotional ties with people who intermittently harass, beat, and threaten them. The persistence of these attachment bonds leads to confusion of pain and love. Assaults lead to hyperarousal states for which the memory can be state-dependent or dissociated, and this memory only returns fully during renewed terror. This interferes with good judgment about these relationships and allows longing for attachment to overcome realistic fears. All primates subjected to early abuse and deprivation are vulnerable to engage in violent relationships with peers as adults. Males tend to be hyperagressive, and females fail to protect themselves and their offspring against danger. Chronic physiologic hyperarousal persists, particularly to stimuli reminiscent of the trauma. Later stresses tend to be experienced as somatic states, rather than as specific events that require specific means of coping. Thus, victims of trauma may respond to contemporary stimuli as a return of the trauma, without conscious awareness that past injury rather than current stress is the basis of their physiologic emergency responses. Hyperarousal interferes with the ability to make rational assessments and prevents resolution and integration of the trauma. Disturbances in the catecholamine, serotonin, and endogenous opioid systems have been implicated in this persistence of all-or-none responses. People who have been exposed to highly stressful stimuli develop long-term potentiation of memory tracts that are reactivated at times of subsequent arousal. This activation explains how current stress is experienced as a return of the trauma; it causes a return to earlier behavior patterns. Ordinarily, people will choose the most pleasant of two alternatives. High arousal causes people to engage in familiar behavior, regardless of the rewards. As novel stimuli are anxiety provoking, under stress, previously traumatized people tend return to familiar patterns, even if they cause pain.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

 

PMID:2664732[PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE] Publication Types, MeSH TermsPublication TypesReviewMeSH TermsAdolescentAdultChildChild Abuse, Sexual/psychology*FemaleGender IdentityHumansIncest*MaleMasochism*Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder/psychology*Pleasure-Pain PrinciplePsychotherapy/methodsRape*Self Mutilation

LinkOut – more resourcesMedicalChild Sexual Abuse – MedlinePlus Health InformationObsessive-Compulsive Disorder – MedlinePlus Health Information

_________________________

Thanks

 

rich

 

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THE CIRCUMCISION REFERENCE LIBRARY

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Psychiatric Clinics of North America, Volume 12, Number 2, Pages 389-411,

June 1989.

The Compulsion to Repeat the Trauma

Re-enactment, Revictimization, and Masochism

Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD*

      During the formative years of contemporary psychiatry much attention was paid to the continuing role of past traumatic experiences on the current lives of people. Charcot, Janet, and Freud all noted that fragmented memories of traumatic events dominated the mental life of many of their patient and built their theories about the nature and treatment of psychopathology on this recognition. Janet75 thought that traumatic memories of traumatic events persist as unassimilated fixed ideas that act as foci for the development of alternate states of consciousness, including dissociative phenomena, such as fugue states, amnesias, and chronic states of helplessness and depression. Unbidden memories of the trauma may return as physical sensations, horrific images or nightmares, behavioral reenactments, or a combination of these. Janet showed how traumatized individuals become fixated on the trauma: difficulties in assimilating subsequent experiences as well. It is “as if their personality development has stopped at a certain point and cannot expand anymore by the addition or assimilation of new elements.”76 Freud independently came to similar conclusions.43,45 Initially, he thought all hysterical symptoms were caused by childhood sexual “seduction” of which unconscious memories were activated, when during adolescence, a person was exposed to situations reminiscent of the original trauma. The trauma permanently disturbed the capacity to deal with other challenges, and the victim who did not integrate the trauma was doomed to “repeat the repressed material as a contemporary experience in instead or . . . remembering it as something belonging to the past.”44 In this article, I will show how the trauma is repeated on behavioral, emotional, physiologic, and neuroendocrinologic levels, whose confluence explains the diversity of repetition phenomena.

      Many traumatized people expose themselves, seemingly compulsively, to situations reminiscent of the original trauma. These behavioral reenactments are rarely consciously understood to be related to earlier life experiences. This “repetition compulsion” has received surprisingly little systematic exploration during the 70 years since its discovery, though it is regularly described in the clinical literature.12,17,21,29,61,64,65,69,88,112,137 Freud thought that the aim of repetition was to gain mastery, but clinical experience has shown that this rarely happens; instead, repetition causes further suffering for the victims or for people in their surroundings.

      Children seem more vulnerable than adults to compulsive behavioral repetition and loss of conscious memory of the trauma.70,136. However, responses to projective tests show that adults, too, are liable to experience a large range of stimuli vaguely reminiscent of the trauma as a return of the trauma itself, and to react accordingly.39,42

BEHAVIORAL RE-ENACTMENT

       In behavioral re-enactment of the trauma, the self may play the role of either victim or victimizer.

Harm to Others

       Re-enactment of victimization is a major cause of violence. Criminals have often been physically or sexually abused as children.55,121 In a recent prospective study of 34 sexually abused boys, Burgess et al.20 found a link with drug abuse, juvenile delinquency, and criminal behavior only a few year later. Lewis89,91 has extensively studied the association between childhood abuse and subsequent victimization of others. Recently, she showed that of 14 juveniles condemned to death for murder in the United States in 1987, 12 had been brutally physically abused, and five had been sodomized by relatives.90 In a study of self-mutilating male criminals, Brach-y-Rita7 concluded that “the constellation of withdrawal, depressive reaction, hyperreactivity, stimulus-seeking behavior, impaired pain perception, and violent aggressive behavior directed at self or others may be the consequence of having been reared under conditions of maternal social deprivation. This constellation of symptoms is a common phenomenon among a member of environmentally deprived animals.”

Self-destructiveness

       Self-destructive acts are common in abused children. Green53,54 found that 41 per cent of his sample of abused children engaged in head banging, biting, burning, and cutting. In a controlled, double-blind study on traumatic antecedents of borderline personality disorder, we found a highly significant relationship between childhood sexual abuse and various kinds of self-harm later in life, particularly cutting and self-starving.143a Clinical reports also consistently show that self-mutilators have childhood histories of physical or sexual abuse, or repeated surgery.52,106,118,126 Simpson and Porter126 found a significant association between self-mutilation and other forms of self-deprecation or self-destruction such as alcohol and drug abuse and eating disorders. They sum up the conclusions of many students of this problem in stating that “self-destructive activities were not primarily related to conflict, guilt and superego pressure, but to more primitive behavior patterns originating in painful encounters wih hostile caretakers during the first years of life.”

Revictimization

       Revictimization is a consistent finding.35,47,61 Victims of rape are more likely to be raped and women who were physically or sexually abused as children are more likely to be abused as adults. Victims of child sexual abuse are at high risk of becoming prostitutes.38,72,125 Russell,120 in a very careful study of the effects of incest on the life of women, found that few women made a conscious connection between their childhood victimization and their drug abuse, prostitution, and suicide attempts. Whereas 38 per cent of a random sample of women reported incidents of rape or attempted rape after age 14, 68 per cent of those with a childhood history of incest did. Twice as many women with a history of physical violence in their marriages (27 per cent), and more than twice as many (53 per cent) reported unwanted sexual advances by an unrelated authority figure such as a teacher, clergyman, or therapist. Victims of father-daughter incest were four times more likely than nonincest victims to be asked to pose for pornography.

 

 RE-EXPERIENCING AFTER ADULT TRAUMA

       There are sporadic clinical reports,12,59 but systematic studies on re-enactment and revictimization in traumatized adults are even scarcer than in children. In one study of adults who had recently been in accidents,68 57 per cent showed behavioral re-enactments, and 51 per cent had recurrent intrusive images. In this study, the frequency with which recurrent memories were experienced on a somatic level, as panic and anxiety attacks, was not examined. Studies of burned children131 and adult survivors of natural and manmade disasters67,124 show that, over time, recurrent symbolic or visual recollections and behavioral re-enactments abate, but there is often persistent chronic anxiety that can be interpreted as partial somatosensory reliving, dissociated from visual or linguistic representations of the trauma.141 There are scattered clinical reports64,65,109 of people re-enacting the trauma on its anniversary. For example, we treated a Vietnam veteran who had lit a cigarette at night and caused the death of a friend by a VietCong sniper’s bullet in 1968. From 1969 to 1986, on the exact anniversary of the death, to the hour and minute, he yearly committed “armed robbery” by putting a finger in his pocket and staging a “holdup,” in order to provoke gunfire from the police. The compulsive re-enactment ceased when he came to understand its meaning.

SOCIAL ATTACHMENT AND THE TRAUMA RESPONSE

       Human beings are strongly dependent on social support for a sense of safety, meaning, power, and control.14,15,93 Even our biologic maturation is strongly influenced by the nature of early attachment bonds.137 Traumatization occurs when both internal and external resources are inadequate to cope with external threat. Physical and emotional maturation, as well as innate variations in physiologic reactivity to perceived danger, play important roles in the capacity to deal with external threat.77 The presence of familiar caregivers also plays an important role in helping children modulate their physiologic arousal.146 In the absence of a caregiver, children experience extremes of under-and over arousal that are physiologically aversive and disorganizing.38 The availability of a caregiver who can be blindly trusted when their own resources are inadequate is very important in coping with threats. If the caregiver is rejecting and abusive, children are likely to become hyperaroused. When the persons who are supposed to be the sources of safety and nurturance become simultaneously the sources of danger against which protection is needed, children maneuver to re-establish some sense of safety. Instead of turning on their caregivers and thereby losing hope for protection, they blame themselves. They become fearfully and hungrily attached and anxiously obedient.24 Bowlby16 calls this “a pattern of behavior in which avoidance of them competes with his desire for proximity and care and in which angry behavior is apt to become prominent.”

       Studies by Bowlby and Ainsworth1 in humans, and by Harlow and his heirs58,114 in other primates, demonstrate the crucial role that a “safe base” plays for normal social and biologic development. As children mature, they continually acquire new cognitive schemata in which to frame current life experiences. These ever-expanding cognitive schemes decrease their reliance on the environment for soothing and increase their own capacity to modulate physiologic arousal in the face of threat. Thus, the cognitive preparedness (development) of an individual interacts with the degree of physiologic disorganization to determine the capacity for mental processing of potentially traumatizing experiences.137,141

SEX DIFFERENCES

       The frequency with which abused children repeat aggressive interactions has suggested to Green53 a link between the compulsion to repeat and identification with the aggressor, which replaces fear and helplessness with a sense of omnipotence. There are significant sex differences in the way trauma victims incorporate the abuse experience. Studies by Carmen et al.22,71 and others indicate that abused men and boys tend to identify with the aggressor and later victimize others whereas abused women are prone to become attached to abusive men who allow themselves and their offspring to be victimized further.

       Reiker and colleagues113 have pointed out that “confrontations with violence challenges one’s most basic assumptions about the self as invulnerable and intrinsically worthy and about the world as orderly and just. After abuse, the victim’s view of self and world can never be the same again: it must be reconstructed.to incorporate the abuse experience.” Assuming responsibility for the abuse allows feelings of helplessness to be replaced with an illusion of control. Ironically, victims of rape who blame themselves have a better prognosis than those who do not assume this false responsibility: it allows the locus of control to remain internal and prevent helplessness. Children are even more likely to blame themselves: “The child needs to hold on to an image of the parent as good in order to deal with the intensity of fear and rage which is the effect of the tormenting experiences.”113 Anger directed against the self or others is always a central problem in the life of people who have been violated. Reikers concludes that “this ‘acting out’ is seldom understood by either victims or clinicians as being a repetitive re-enactment of real events from the past.”

THE SEPARATION REPONSE

       Primates have evolved highly complex ways to maintain attachment bonds; they are intensely dependent on their caregivers at the start. In lower primates, his dependency is principally expressed in physical contact, in humans this is supplemented by verbal communication. McLean93 suggests that language is an evolutionary development from the mammalian separation cry that induces caregivers to provide safety, nurturance, and social stimulation. Primates react to separation from attachment figures as if they were directly threatened. Thus, small children, unable to anticipate the future, experience separation anxiety as soon as they lose sight of their mothers. Bowlby has described the protest and dispair phases of this response in great detail.14,15 As people mature, hey develop an ever-enlarging repertoire of coping responses, but adults are still intensely dependent upon social support to prevent and overcome traumatization, and under threat they still may cry out for their mothers.57 Sudden, uncontrollable loss of attachment bonds is an essential element in the development of post-traumatic stress syndromes.45,88,92,138 On exposure to extreme terror, even mature people have protest and dispair responses (anger and grief, intrusion and numbing) that make them turn toward the nearest available source of comfort to return to a state of both psychological and physiologic calm. Thus, severe external threat may result in renewed clinging and neophobia in both children and adults.8,41,111 Because the attachment system is so important, mobilization of social supports is an important element in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

INCREASED ATTACHMENT IN THE FACE OF DANGER

       People in general, and children in particular, seek increased attachment in the face of external danger. Pain, fear, fatigue, and loss of loved ones and protectors all evoke efforts to attract increased care,8,41,111 and most cultures have rituals designed to provide it. When there is no access to ordinary sources of comfort, people may turn toward their tormentors.14,38,80,102 Adults as well as children may develop strong emotional ties with people who intermittently harass, beat, and threaten them. Hostages have put up bail for their captors, expressed a wish to marry them, or had sexual relations with them;31 abused children often cling to their parents and resist being removed from the home;31,80 inmates of Nazi prison camps sometimes imitated their captors by sewing together clothing to copy SS uniforms.11 When Harlow observed this in nonhuman primates, he stated that “the immediate consequences of maternal rejection is the accentuation of proximity seeking on the part of the infant.”114

       Walker145 and Dutton and Painter31 have noted that the bond between batter and victim in abusive marriages resembles the bond between captor and hostage or cult leader and follower. Social workers, police, and legal personnel are constantly frustrated by the strength of this bond. The woman’s longing for the batterer soon prevails over memories of the terror, and she starts to make excuses for his behavior. This pattern is so common that women engaged in these sorts of relationships become the recipients of intense anger for social service personnel. They are then called masochistic, and like other psychiatric terms, this can be employed pejoratively rather than conveying an understanding of the underlying causes and treatment of the problem. Walker145 first applied ethnology to the study of traumatic bonding in such couples. A central component is captivity, the lack of permeability, and the absence of outside support or influence.31,62,119,145 The victim organizes her life completely around pleasing her captor and his demands. As Dutton and Painter point out, “her compliance legitimates his demands, builds up a store of repressed anger and frustration on her part (which may surface in her goading him or fighting back during an actual argument, leading to escalating violence), and systematically eliminates opportunities for her to build up a supportive network which could eventually assist her in leaving the relationship.”

       Walker145 has clarified the operation of intermittent reinforcement paradigms in such relationships, applying the animal model of punishment-indulgence patterns. In child abuse or spouse battering, this mechanism is accentuated by the extreme contrast of terror followed by submission and reconciliation. When such negative reinforcement occurs intermittently, the reinforced response consolidates the attachment between victim and victimizer. During the abuse, victims tend to dissociate emotionally with a sense of disbelief that the incident is really happening. This is followed by the typical post-traumatic response of numbing and constriction, resulting in inactivity, depression, self-blame, and feelings of helplessness. Walker145 describes the process as follows: “tension gradually builds” (during phase one), an explosive battering incident occurs (during phase two), and a “calm, loving respite follows phase three). The violence allows intense emotional engagement and dramatic scenes of forgiveness, reconciliation, and physical contact that restores the fantasy of fusion and symbiosis.87,140 Hence, there are two powerful sources of reinforcement: the “arousal-jag” or excitement before the violence and the peace of surrender afterwards, Both of these responses, placed at appropriate intervals, reinforce the traumatic bond between victim and abuser.31,145 To varying degrees, the memory of the battering incidents is state-dependent or dissociated, and thus only comes back in full force during renewed situations of terror. This interferes with good judgment about the relationship and allows longing for love an reconciliation to overcome realistic fears.

 

 

 

VULNERABILITY TO DEVELOP TRAUMATIC BONDING

       At least four studies of family violence40,48,63,132 have found a direct relationship between the severity of childhood physical abuse and later marital violence. Interestingly, nonhuman primates subjected to early abuse and deprivation also are more likely to engage in violent relationships with their peers as adults.134 as in humans, males tend to be hyper aggressive, and females fail to protect themselves and their offspring against danger. Neither sex develops the capacity for sustained peaceful social interactions.134

       People who are exposed early to violence or neglect come to expect it as a way of life. They see the chronic helplessness of their mothers and fathers’ alternating outbursts of affection and violence; they learn that they themselves have no control. As adults they hope to undo the past by love, competency, and exemplary behavior.46,87,145 When they fail they are likely to make sense out of this situation by blaming themselves. When they have little experience with nonviolent resolution of differences, partners in relationships alternate between an expectation of perfect behavior leading to perfect harmony and a state of helplessness, in which all verbal communication seems futile. A return to earlier coping mechanisms, such as self-blame, numbing (by means of emotional withdrawal or drugs or alcohol), and physical violence sets the stage for a repetition of the childhood trauma and “return of the repressed.”1,42,46,137

BIOLOGIC RESPONSES TO TRAUMATIZATION

       Chronic physiologic hyper arousal to stimuli reminiscent of the trauma is a cardinal feature of the trauma response, well documented in a large variety of traumatized individuals, including victims of child abuse, burns, rape, natural disasters, and war.2,78,84,107,133,142 Because of their decreased capacity to modulate physiologic arousal, which leads to reduced ability to utilize symbols and fantasy to cope with stress, they tend to experience later stresses as somatic states, rather than as specific events that require specific means of coping.142 Thus, victims of trauma respond to contemporary stimuli as if the trauma had returned, without conscious awareness that past injury rather than current stress is the basis of their physiologic emergency responses. The hyper arousal interferes with their ability to make calm and rational assessments and prevents resolution and integration of the trauma.142 They respond to threats as emergencies requiring action rather than thought.

       Chronic hyperarousal in response to new challenges is also found in animals exposed to inescapable shock.5 In fact, this phenomenon drew our attention to the possibility of using this animal model for the study of human traumatization.142 Human beings and other mammals are very similar biologically in respect to such relatively uncomplicated behaviors as fight, flight, and freeze responses. Exposure to inescapable aversive events has widespread behavioral and physiologic effects on animals including (1) deficits in learning to escape novel adverse situations, (2) decreased motivation for learning new options, (3) chronic subjective distress,94 and (4) increased tumor genesis and immunosuppression.143 All this is the result not of the shock itself but of a helplessness syndrome that is a result of the lack of control that the animal has in terminating shock.

       Several neurotransmitters have been shown to be affected by inescapably fearful experiences in animals; they have low resting cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF) norepinephrine, but under stress they respond with much higher elevations than other animals. Something has disturbed the organisms capacity to modulate the extent of arousal.37,95,115,116,142 Dysregulation of the serotonin system has been implicated in this.123,139 Serotonin is thought to be the neurotransmitter most involved in modulating the actions of other neurotransmitters;19 it has also been implicated in the fine tuning of emotional reactions, particularly arousal and aggression.18 Traumatization also causes dysregulation of the endogenous opioid system in both animals and humans. We will discuss this phenomenon and how this could explain the clinical phenomenon of compulsive re-exposure to trauma.

 STATE-DEPENDENT LEARNING

       Both Janet74 and Freud observed that early memory traces can be activated by later events that cause partial reliving of earlier traumas in the form of affect states, anxiety, or re-enactments. Their patients generally had a poor memory for traumatic childhood events, until they were brought back, by means of hypnosis, to a state of mind similar to the one they were in at the time of the trauma. In the past few decades, these notions have gained scientific confirmation with the discovery of state-dependent learning; for example what is learned under the influence of a particular drug tends to become dissociated and seemingly lost until return of the state similar to the one in which the memory was stored. State dependency can be roughly related to arousal levels. For example, state-dependent learning in humans is produced by both psych stimulants and depressants: alcohol, marijuana, barbiturates, and amphetamines as well as other psychoactive agents.32 Reactivation of past learning is relatively automatic: contextual stimuli directly evoke memories without conscious awareness of the transition. The more similar are the contextual stimuli are to conditions prevailing at the time of the original storage of memories, the more likely the probability of retrieval. Both internal states, such as particular affects, or external events reminiscent of earlier trauma thus can trigger a return to feeling as if victims are back in their original traumatizing situation. Thus, battered women who otherwise behave competently may experience themselves within the battering relationship like the terrified child they once were in a violent or alcoholic home.119 Similarly, war veterans may be asymptomatic until they become intimate with a partner and start reliving feelings of loss, grief, vulnerability, and revenge related to the death of a comrade on the battlefield but that are now incorrectly attributed to some element of the current relationship. Disinhibition resulting from drugs or alcohol strongly facilitates the occurrence of such reliving experiences, which then may take the form of acting out violent or sexual traumatic episodes.107

       During states of massive autonomic arousal, memories are laid down that powerfully influence later actions and interpretations of events. Long-term activation of memory tracts is observed in animals exposed to a highly stressful stimulus.51,81 This phenomenon has been attributed to massive noradrenergic activity at the time of the stress.129 In traumatized people, visual and motoric reliving experiences, nightmares, flashbacks, and re-enactments are generally preceded by physiologic arousal.30 Activation of long-term augmented memory tracts may explain why current stress is experienced as a return of the trauma.

“RETURN OF THE REPRESSED” OCCURS IN SITUATIONS OF THREAT

       Under ordinary conditions, most previously traumatized individuals can adjust psychologically and socially. Studies have shown this to be true of victims of rape,82 battered women,63 and victims of child abuse.53 Nonhuman primates subjected to extended periods of isolation may later become reasonably well integrated socially. However, they do not respond to stress in the same ways as their nontraumatized peers. Studies in the Wisconsin primate laboratory have shown that, even after an initial good social adjustment, heightened emotional or physical arousal causes social withdrawal or aggression.86 Even monkeys that recover in other respects tend to respond inappropriately to sexual arousal and misperceive social cues when threatened by a dominant animal.4,95,101 Animals with a history of trauma also have much more intense catecholamine responses to stress85 and a blunted cortisol response.25

       Stress causes a return to earlier behavior patterns throughout the animal kingdom. In experiments in mice, Mitchell and colleagues98,99 found that arousal state determines how an animal will react to stimuli. In a state of low arousal, animals tend to be curious and seek novelty. During high arousal, they are frightened, avoid novelty, and perseverate in familiar behavior regardless of the outcome. Under ordinary circumstances, an animal will choose the most pleasant of two alternatives. When hyperaroused, it will seek the familiar, regardless of the intrinsic rewards.99 Thus shocked animals returned to the box in which they were originally shocked, in preference to less familiar locations not associated with punishment. Punished animals actually increased their exposure to shock as the trials continued.98 Mitchell concluded that this perseveration is nonassociative, that is, if uncoupled from the usual rewards systems, animals seek optimal levels of arousal,10,122 and this mediates patterns of alternation and perseveration. Because novel stimuli cause arousal, an animal in a state of high arousal will avoid even mildly novel stimuli even if it would reduce exposure to pain.

“THE COSTS OF PLEASURE AND THE BENEFITS OF PAIN’

       Solomon127 proposes an “opponent process theory of acquired motivation” to explain addictive behavior that originates in frightening or painful events. He points out that frequent exposure to stimuli, pleasant or unpleasant, may lead to habituation; the resulting withdrawal or abstinence state can take on a powerful life of its own and may become an effective source of motivation. In drug addiction, for example, the motivation changes from getting high (pleasure) to controlling a highly aversive withdrawal state.

       In contrast with drug taking, which initially is pleasant, many initially aversive stimuli, such as sauna bathing, marathon running, and parachute jumping, may also be eventually perceived as highly rewarding by people who have repeatedly exposed themselves to these frightening or painful situations. Parachute jumpers, sauna bathers, and marathon runners all feel exhilaration and a sense of well-being from the initially aversive activities. These new sources of pleasure become independent of the fear that was necessary to produce them in the first place. Solomon concludes that certain behaviors can become highly pleasurable: “…if they are derived from aversive processes they can provide a relatively enduring source of positive hedonic tone following the removal of the aversive reenforcer. Fear thus has its positive conquences.”127

       Solomon and colleagues have applied these observations to imprinting and social attachment. Their research showed that young animals responded with increasing distress to repeated separations.66 Habituation did not occur, and attachment in fact increased, provided that the imprinting object was presented at fairly regular intervals. Starr130 demonstrated that there is a critical decay duration, the time that it takes for the withdrawal response to the original stimulus to wear off. If the reinforcing stimulus of the imprinting or attachment object is presented at intervals greater than the critical decay duration, increased attachment does not occur. However, animals earlier exposed to repeated separations are more vulnerable to increased distress upon later separations: “repeated exposures to the imprinting object took less time and fewer exposures than did the original exposures.” The strength of the imprinting eventually decays by disuse, but some residues of past experiences remain and facilitate the reactivation of the temporarily dormant system. Readdiction to nicotine and opiates occurs much faster than the initial addiction. If Starr is correct, similar processes account for social attachment to aversive objects and thus “the law of social attachment may be identical to the law of drug addiction.”130

       Solomon and coworkers established experimentally that animal and people become habituated to the original stimulus, whether it is morphine, parachute jumping or marathon running, but the withdrawal syndromes that follow a large number of arousing events retain their integrity over time, and recur when the original stimuli are reintroduced.127 Thus, the positive reinforcer loses some of its power, but the negative reinforcer gains power and lasts longer: parachute jumpers continued to feel exhilarated after jumping, even when they feel less year beforehand. Solomon hypothesized that endorphins are secreted in response to certain environmental stresses and play a role in the opponent process. We have recently found evidence that supports this view.

ADDICTION TO TRAUMA

       Some traumatized people remain preoccupied with the trauma at the expense of other life experiences137,141 and continue to re-create it in some form for themselves or for others. War veterans may enlist as mercenaries,128 victims of incest may become prostitutes,47,120,125 and victims of childhood physical abuse seemingly provoke subsequent abuse in foster families53 or become self-mutilators143a Still others identify with the aggressor and do to others what was done to them.21,39 Clinically, these people are observed to have a vague sense of apprehension, emptiness, boredom, and anxiety when not involved in activities reminiscent of the trauma. There is no evidence to support Freud’s idea that repetition eventually leads to mastery and resolution. In fact, reliving the trauma repeatedly in psychotherapy may serve to re-enforce the preoccupation and fixation.

       Many observers of traumatic bonding have speculated that victims become addicted to their victimizers. Erschak33 asks why the batterer does not stop when injury and pain are apparent and why does the victim not leave? He answers that “they are addicted to each other and to abuse. The system, the interaction, the relation takes hold; the individuals are as powerless as junkies.”

ENDOGENOUS OPIATES AND ATTACHMENT

       Thus Starr,130 Solomon,127 Erschak and others may be right in postulating that people can become physiologically addicted to each other. There is now considerable evidence that human attachment is, in part, mediated by the endogenous opiate system. Research in non-human primates shows that social attachment is related to the development of core neurobiological functions in the primate brain. Early disruption of the attachment bond causes long-lasting psychobiologic changes that not only reduce the capacity to cope with subsequent social disruption but also disturb parenting processes and create similar vulnerability into the next generation. In recent years knowledge about the brain circuits involved in the maintenance of affliative behavior are precisely those most richly endowed with opioid receptors.83 Behavioral studies show that the endogenous opioid system plays an important role in the maintenance of social attachment. According to Panksepp and colleagues, the separation response in rats can be inhibited with doses of neuroactive agents to have yielded reliable behavioral effects. Minute injections of morphine abolish both the separation cry in rate infants and the maternal response to it.100,103-105 Morphine-treated mothers (1 mg per kg) disregard male intruders, often attempting no defense of their offspring at all. One mother permitted a male intruder to eat her pups.

       Blocking of opioid receptors with naloxone causes increased huddling in nonhuman primates, whereas activation of brain opioid systems can decrease gregariousness.34,104 Lack of caregiving during the first few weeks of life decreases the number of opioid receptors in the cingulate gyrus in mice.13 Panksepp and colleagues have shown that the loss of social support decreases brain opioid activity and produces withdrawal symptoms; emotive circuits mediating loneliness-panic states are apparently activated or disinhibited. Re-establishment of social contact may, among other neural changes, activate endogenous opioid systems, alleviating separation distress and strengthening social bonds.103 If brain opioid activity fulfills social needs, opioid blockade might be expected to influence such other forms of gratification as sex. Indeed, opioid systems interact with the brain systems that regulate sex-steroid secretion,56 and naloxone facilitates sexual behavior in some mammals.49,96

       High levels of stress,3 including social stress,97 also activate opioid systems. Animals exposed to inescapable shock develop stress-induced analgesia (SIA) when re-exposed to stress shortly afterward. This analgesic response is mediated by endogenous opioids and is readily reversible by the opioid receptor blocker naloxone.79 In humans elevations of enkephalins and plasma beta endorphins have been reported following a large variety of stressors.26,28,73 In testing the generalizability of the phenomenon of SIA to people, we found that seven of eight Vietnam veterans with PTSD showed a 30 percent reduction in perception of pain when viewing a movie depicting combat in Vietnam. This analgesia can be reversed with naloxone.107,143b This amount of analgesia produced by watching 15 minutes of a combat movie was equivalent to that which follows the injection of 8 mg. of morphine. We concluded that Beecher9 was right when, after observing that wounded soldiers require less morphine, he speculated that “strong emotions can block pain” because of the release of endogenous opioids. Our experiments show that even in people traumatized as adults, re-exposure to situations reminiscent of the trauma evokes as endogenous opioid response analogous to that of animals exposed to mild shock subsequent to inescapable shock. Thus, re-exposure to stress may have the same effect as the temporary application of exogenous opioids, providing a similar relief from anxiety.50

       Field113 has suggested that normal play and exploratory activity in infants are dependent on the presence of a familiar attachment figure who modulates physiologic arousal by providing a balance between soothing and stimulation. She, Reite,115,116 and others have shown that in the absence of the mother, an infant experiences by psychological disorganizing extremes of under- and overarousal. This soothing and arousal may be mediated by alternate stimulation of different neurotransmitter systems, in which the endogenous opioid system is likely to play a role, especially in subjective experience of safety and soothing. Endogenous opioids decrease central noradrenergic activity,6 and their activation may thus inhibit hyperarousal. Childhood abuse and neglect may cause a long-term vulnerability to be hyperaroused, expressed on a social level as decreased ability to modulate strong affect states. “On a continuum from low to high physiologic arousal there is an optimal level for every organism. The shape of an individual’s optimal stimulation curve may depend on the level of stimulation received during early experience.”37 As a result, people who were neglected or abused as children may require much higher external stimulation of the endogenous opioid system for soothing than those whose endogenous opioids can be more easily activated by conditioned responses based on good early caregiving experiences. These victimized people neutralize their hyperarousal by a variety of addictive behaviors including compulsive re-exposure to situations reminiscent of the trauma.

 CHILDHOOD TRAUMA, ENDOGENOUS OPIOIDS, AND SELF HARM

       If recent animal research is any guide, people, particularly children, who have been exposed to severe, prolonged environmental stress will experience extraordinary increases in both catecholamine and endogenous opioid responses to subsequent stress. The endogenous opioid response may produce both dependence and withdrawal phenomena resembling those of exogenous opiods. This could explain, in part, why childhood trauma is associated with subsequent self-destructive behavior. Depending on which stimuli have come to condition an opioid response, self-destructive behavior may include chronic involvement with abusive partners, sexual masochism, self-starvation, and violence against self or others. In a recent study, we found that patients’ reports of early childhood physical and sexual abuse were highly correlated with self-mutilation and self-starvation in adulthood.143a This controlled study supports numerous other clinical reports about the relationship between childhood abuse and self-destructive behavior.52,106,118 In these people, self-mutilation is a common response to abandonment; it is accompanied by both analgesia and an altered state of consciousness, and it provides relief and return to normality. The pain, cutting, and burning are apparent attempts at “repairing the cohesiveness of the self in the face of overwhelming anxiety.”35 This pattern is reminiscent of spouse abuse described by Walker:145 “tension gradually builds, an explosive battering (self-mutilating) incident occurs, and a ‘calm, loving respite’ follows.”

       Bach-y-Rita7 studied men who were in prison because they habitually took out their frustrations on others violently. He found that they started to self-mutilate in prison when no external object of violence was available. Thus acts of violence that the perpetrator regards as horrible may, in fact, produce somatic calm.

       The evidence for involvement of the endogenous opioid system in self-mutilation is fairly good. A recent study found increased levels of metenkephalins in habitual self-mutilators during the active stage of self-harm, but not 3 months later.27 Opioid receptor blockade has been found to decrease self-mutilation.60,117 The specific biologic factors that account for the relief felt by these traumatized people who habitually harm themselves or others are still unknown.

TREATMENT IMPLICATIONS

       Compulsive repetition of the trauma usually is an unconscious process that, although it may provide a temporary sense of mastery or even pleasure, ultimately perpetuates chronic feelings of helplessness and a subjective sense of being bad and out of control. Gaining control over one’s current life, rather than repeating trauma in action, mood, or somatic states, is the goal of treatment.

       Although verbalizing the contextual elements of the trauma is the essence of treatment of acute post-traumatic stress, the essential elements of chronic post-traumatic reactions generally are retrieved with difficulty and often cannot be dealt with until reasonable control over current behavior can assure the safety of both the patient and those in the patient’s immediate surroundings. Failure to approach trauma-related material very gradually leads to intensification of the affects and physiologic states related to the trauma, leading to increased repetitive phenomena. It is important to keep in mind that the only reason to uncover the trauma is to gain conscious control over the unbidden re-experience or re-enactments. Prior to unearthing the traumatic roots of current behavior, people need to gain reasonable control over the longstanding secondary defenses that were originally elaborated to defend against being overwhelmed by traumatic material such as alcohol and drug abuse and violence against self or others. The trauma can only be worked through after a secure bond is established with another person. The presence of an attachment figure provides people with the security necessary to explore their life experiences and to interrupt the inner or social isolation that keeps people stuck in repetitive patterns. Both the etiology and the cure of trauma-related psychological disturbance depend fundamentally on security of interpersonal attachments. Once the traumatic experiences have been located in time and place, a person can start making distinctions between current life stresses and past trauma and decrease the impact of the trauma on present experience.137

       Self-help organizations for people with addictions or with backgrounds that include childhood traumas or parental addictions have elaborated a model of treatment that appears to address many of the core issues of repetitive traumatization. These groups provide people with both human attachments and a meaningful cognitive frame for dealing with the sense of helplessness that is central to these problems.. They focus on the development of “serenity,” which can be understood both as a state of automatic stability and of being at peace with one’s surroundings. These groups teach that the way to gain this serenity is by learning to trust, by surrendering, and by making contact and developing interpersonal commitments. They provide a support network that attempts to avoid the barriers that people create to bolster their individual differences, and they thus endeavor to circumvent the shame of being helpless and vulnerable that perpetuates social isolation. Shame and social isolation are thought to promote regression to earlier states of anxious attachment and to addictive involvements. In these circles it is said that: “No pain is so devastating as the pain a person refuses to face and no suffering is so lasting as suffering left unacknowledged.”23 There is emphasis on living in the here and now, generally with the acknowledgement that in contrast to victimized children, adults can learn to protect themselves and make a conscious choice about not engaging in relationships or behaviors that are known to be harmful. The underlying assumption is that conclusions drawn from a child’s perspective retain their power into adulthood until verbalized and examined. In a group context, victims can learn that as children they were not responsible for the chaos, violence and despair surrounding them, but that as adults there are choices and consequences.23,137

These groups also teach that in order to avoid repetition, one has to give up the behavior, drug, or person involved in the addiction. Acknowledging the addictive quality of the involvement is known as overcoming denial. Avoiding acknowledging the feelings promotes acting out. Traumatized people need to understand that acknowledging feelings related to the trauma does not bring back the trauma itself, and its accompanying violence and helplessness. There must be emphasis on finding replacement activities and experiences that are more rewarding, successful and powerful in the immediate present. These may include being of help to victims of similar traumas as one’s own.

       Psychotropic medicines may be of help to decrease autonomic hyperarousal and decrease all or none responses. Lithium, beta blockers, and serotonin reuptake blockers such as fluoxetine, may be particularly helpful. By decreasing hyperarousal, one decreases the likelihood that current stress will be experienced as a recurrence of past trauma. This facilitates finding solutions appropriate to the current stress rather than the past.139 The use of medications that affect the opioid system should be regarded as experimental and at this time needs to be avoided except in life-threatening cases.

 

       In our last study on patients with borderline personality disorder Judith Herman and I (unpublished data, 1988) asked our self-mutilating subjects what had helped them most in overcoming the impact of their childhood traumas, including their self-mutilation. All subjects attributed their improvement to having found a safe therapeutic relationship in which they had been able to explore the realities of their childhood experiences and their reactions to them. All subjects reported that they had been able to markedly decrease a variety of repetitive behaviors, including habitual self-harm, after they had established a relationship in which they felt safe to acknowledge the realities of both their past and their current lives.

SUMMARY

       Trauma can be repeated on behavioral, emotional, physiologic, and neuroendocrinology levels. Repetition on these different levels causes a large variety of individual and social suffering. Anger directed against the self or others is always a central problem in the lives of people who have been violated and this is itself a repetitive re-enactment of real events from the past.

       People need a “safe base” for normal social and biologic development. Traumatization occurs when both internal and external resources are inadequate to cope with external threat. Uncontrollable disruptions or distortions of attachment bonds precede the development of post-traumatic stress syndromes. People seek increased attachment in the face of danger. Adults, as well as children, may develop strong emotional ties with people where intermittently harass, beat, and, threaten them. The persistence of these attachment bonds leads to confusion of pain and love. Assaults lead to hyperarousal states for which the memory can be state-dependent or dissociated, and this memory only returns fully during renewed terror. This interferes with good judgment about these relationships and allows longing for attachment to overcome realistic fears.

       All primates subjected to early abuse and deprivation are vulnerable to engage in violent relationships with peers as adults. Males tend to be hyperagressive, and females fail to protect themselves and their offspring against danger. Chronic physiologic hyperarousal persists, particularly to stimuli reminiscent of the trauma. Later stresses tend to be experienced as somatic states, rather than as specific events that require specific means of coping. Thus victims of trauma may respond to contemporary stimuli as a return of the trauma, without conscious awareness that past injury rather than current stress is the basis of their physiologic emergency responses. Hyperarousal interferes with the ability to make rational assessments and prevents resolution and integration of the trauma. Disturbances in the catecholamine, serotonin, and endogenous opioid systems have been implicated in this persistence of all-or-nothing responses.

       People who have been exposed to highly stressful stimuli develop long-term potentiation of memory tracts that are reactivated at times of subsequent arousal. This activation explains how current stress is experienced as a return of the trauma; it causes a return to earlier behavior patterns. Ordinarily, people will choose the most pleasant of two alternatives. High arousal causes people to engage in familiar behavior, regardless of the rewards. As novel stimuli are anxiety provoking, under stress, previously traumatized people tend return to familiar patterns, even if they cause pain.

       The “opponent process theory of acquired motivation” explains how fear may become a pleasurable sensation and that “the laws of social attachment may be identical to those of drug addiction.” Victims can become addicted to their victimizers; social contact may activate endogenous opioid systems, alleviating separation distress and strengthening social bonds. High levels of social stress activate opioid systems as well. Vietnam veterans with PTSD show opiod-mediated reduction in pain perception after re-exposure to a traumatic stimulus. Thus re-exposure to stress can have the same effect as taking exogenous opioids, providing a similar relief from stress.

       Childhood abuse and neglect enhance long-term hyperarousal and decreased modulation of strong affect states. Abused children may require much higher external stimulation to affect the endogenous opioid system for soothing than when the biologic concomitants of comfort are easily activated by conditioned responses based on good early caregiving experiences. Victimized people may neutralize their hyperarousal by a variety of addictive behaviors, including compulsive re-exposure to victimization of self and others. Gaining control over one’s current life, rather than repeating trauma in action, mood, or somatic states, is the goal of treatment. The only reason to uncover traumatic material is to gain conscious control over unbidden re-experiences or re-enactments. The presence of strong attachments provides people with the security necessary to explore their life experiences and to interrupt the inner or social isolation that keeps them stuck in repetitive patterns. In contrast with victimized children, adults can learn to protect themselves and make conscious choices about not engaging in relationships or behaviors that are harmful.

 

 

 

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Massachusetts Mental Health Center

Harvard Medical School

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Characteristics Observed In Male Sexual Abuse Victims

by Ken Singer, LCSW

Denial of Vulnerability

Difficulty recognizing that what happened was sexual abuse. High need for control in interactions with others. May appear stubborn and rigid for control in interactions with others and frequently engage in power struggles, or seem passive, codependent and conforming. Both are protection from feelings of vulnerability.

Confusion Regarding Sexual Orientation

Orientation is exhibited in many ways. Some men claim heterosexuality but are sexual with other men. Some homosexual men question their orientation and wonder how they might be different had they not been abused. Other men may not engage in any sexual behaviors with males or females and are unable to determine their sexual orientation.

Confusion of Emotional Needs With Sex

Needs for nurturance may be identified as sexual. Many needs may have been met through the sexual abuse and sex continues to be viewed as the only way to be cared for. Real relationships with other men and women are often seen as threatening and sexual behavior may actually be one of the few ways to relate superficially and still have some needs met. Societal norms encourage men to equate sexual prowess with personal value and discourage direct expression of emotional needs. Some men become “Don Juans” or give the impression they are “super studs” as a way of proving to themselves and the world that they are not gay or weak because of their victimization histories.

Gender Shame

Confusion and anxiety regarding masculine identity. Extremely uncomfortable around other men. Does not like to be touched by men and often avoids situations where he may be seen unclothed. Because he does not feel part of the group, he is often isolated with few male friends. Shame is especially powerful regarding feelings about masculinity. “Real men” don’t get abused, they can protect themselves. Internalized male models are shaming or nonexistent. May exhibit more feminine characteristics as an attempt to separate from negative masculine image or to avoid identifying with the male abuser.

Multiple Compulsive Behaviors

Sex, food, chemicals and work are examples of common compulsive behaviors used to satisfy an internal drive to continually push oneself to avoid feeling pain and to meet dependency needs but is not productive or helpful.

Physical and Emotional Symptoms

Hypertension and frequent chest pains. Recurring dreams or nightmares of being chased or attacked, choked or stabbed. Difficulty urinating in public restrooms. Depression and anxiety.

Pattern of Victimizing Self or Others

Most victims do not become offenders. Many dysfunctional behaviors may be seen as an attempt to feel more powerful, punish oneself or numb the unwanted feelings connected with the abuse. This may involve passive-aggressive behaviors or subtle put-downs. Some men, act out by exposing, obscene phone calling or voyeuristic activities. Anger toward self can involve suicide attempts or putting oneself in a high risk situations which could lead to injury or death without actually attempting suicide. Victim may react to a current situation as if it were similar to the childhood abuse experience. Victim feels powerless and cannot see the current situation for what it is. Coping mechanisms mimic survival means used during childhood. May actually become involved in abusive relationships as an adult that are in many ways similar to the childhood sexual abuse experience.

Boundary Transparency

Unrealistic fear that others can see their failures and vulnerability. They fear they can do nothing to protect themselves. This inability to protect self and feeling unsafe can result in difficulty establishing even minimal trust. Other reactions include anxiety, rage and withdrawal. May have a history of boundary intrusions other than sexual abuse, especially physical and emotional abuse.

Chaotic Relationships

Many difficulties around intimacy, autonomy (self-sufficiency) and commitment to a relationship. Extreme and intense swings in needs for closeness and distance with others. The need to be cared for and have dependency needs met is in conflict with fear of vulnerability and re-victimization. This behavior repeats the victim-perpetrator experience with the partner when that person alternately becomes a perpetrator and a protector.

Poorly Defined Sense of Self

Self-protection has resulted in submersion of self with little internal locus of control. Behaviors are similar to codependency.  Importance placed on attempts to avoid feelings of confusion and vulnerability.

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