Author Archives: randy

Degrees of Child Abuse?

Joyful HeartMore and more often it seems we are reading news about adult females “having sex” with teenage boys. It is good to finally see some press on this common form of abuse and also the fact it is being reported, but we do have a long way to go. There is a very disturbing aspect of these stories that always ends up in the comments and public discussion and it goes like this: “He’s a boy and he scored with a woman and now you want to call it rape? He got lucky, what’s the big deal?”

Well duh, that’s because legally and morally it is rape. In case anyone missed it, a child cannot “have sex” with an adult in this country, it is defined as child sex abuse among other things. The age of the offender or their gender does not matter, it is a crime.

Read more here.

Randy Ellison

 

This article was first published on 1 in 6 and Joyful Heart Foundation websites. Both of these organizations do amazing work to help survivors heal and teach a new normalcy and acceptance for the millions of people who were victimized sexually as children or adults.

It is with the aid of people like Steve LePore, David Lisak, and Peter Pollard of 1in6 and Mariska Hargitay of Joyful Heart Foundation that more people are hearing the message. Please keep sharing these articles and resources so that one day no one will have to suffer from gender violence.

 

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No More Regret

Refilling the Empty HeartWhen I thought of writing this article I pictured doing it in third person or anonymously. It was just too personal. I did not want people to read it and look at me with pity or think I am blaming. I am not. A big part of my life is being willing to share so that others may gain from my learning curve, steep as it is. I see this as a story of honesty, and gaining the strength and perspective to overcome and grow into ourselves. So, to those of you who have experienced trauma, especially childhood trauma, here is my hope for your healing.

Today is the 42nd anniversary of the passing of my mother to another realm. I went to a closed off space the day she died. Besides being in shock, which I never admitted, I think I was angry with her for leaving me in such a bad place. At times I am angry for things she did which hurt me and even damaged my ability to cope with the world. At other times I am angry with her for things she did not do, which in hindsight could have made my life so much better. There were times when she could have comforted me and she chose not to touch me. Often she would use my painful experiences as life lessons instead of just loving me.

She was judgmental with my father and often acted as though she did not like him, and then she told me in so many ways that she worried I would grow up to be like him. In her comparing me to him, and then rejecting him, a part of me always felt rejected as well. As a result many things I did throughout life became a constant source of shame. It is pretty much exactly like what we call autoimmune disease, where the body attacks itself. If my life was a play and I was the reviewer, it would close after opening night!

I know that my mother only wanted the best for me and never intended for her messages to be taken the way they were, but the fear she operated from did in fact have a huge impact. Her value system of love and kindness to all came through strongly, but so did her conditional love. Her acceptance of me was always predicated on how she felt about the last thing I had done. Later in life I learned the phrase, “What have you done for me lately?” which clearly states that acceptance and even love is a transient thing.

Having never had what is called agape or unconditional love left me vulnerable to the first person that offered it, which was my minister. My young life also left me wanting a nurturing and caring touch, which my minister offered as well before it crossed the line. My unfulfilled needs were first satisfied by him (grooming) and then used against me by a master manipulator. Where things went from there were entirely based on his pathology.

My journey of moving from needy, to victim and then survivor began as an innocent child and gradually built a hardened young man. My mother died when I was 22 and my rigid strength and determination (dissociation) helped me carry my secret for the next forty years. I am now convinced if my mother had lived, she was the one person I would have told my secret to and changed the course of my life. I actually confided with her more after her passing than before. It was safer.

The hardest and saddest emotion I have dealt with is regret; regret that I did not get the acceptance and love I needed from my family; regret over my lost childhood innocence; regret of the life that was stolen from me by my minister’s broken trust; regret that I was not the father or partner that I could have been; regret that my mother died; regret that I never addressed what happened to me sooner.

Unfortunately regret is a devastating feeling over things that cannot be changed. It has kept me from moving into the person inside of me that I dreamed of becoming as a child, and still long to be. Trauma has a way of doing that to people. We get stuck in self-destructive patterns.

I am tired of running into that same wall. My mind is tired of fighting itself. It is time for me to embrace the love my mother had for me and the love I had for her. It is time to accept the good that existed in the relationship I had with my minister and give back the abuse for which he is accountable. It is time for me to put aside regret and cherish all the good I have both received and given in my life.

The extremes of good and evil coexist within me, but now I choose to give more weight to that which nourishes my soul. I choose to move beyond regret out and let love and acceptance in. So on this 42nd anniversary of my dear mother’s passing, I move to a new phase in my life where my history, all of my story, strengthens me to live each day as well as I can. Let the light shine.

May it be so.

Randy Ellison

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Intention

Refilling the Empty Heart

 

For years
My entire life it seems
My intention has been survival
I used people to survive
The unclaimed pain inside me
I worked the jobs I had
Not as careers
But to survive hunger and homelessness
I numbed my discomfort
With alcohol and drugs

Survival has apparently been
My life’s work

 

 

When I began going to a therapist
It began as another
Manifestation of survival
It was to kill the memories I found
I could no longer hide from

A funny thing happened
Once I faced my demons
Survival was no longer important
I had to look for new meaning

I found it buried
Under the pain and suffering
Of other survivors

I found it in the eyes
Of a child
Hurting and not understanding why

I found it in the laughter and joy
Of children who have
Not known the pain
Of betrayal

It is my intention
To stand with others
Who want to make a difference
To work for healing
For the injured
And protection of the innocent

Let us stand together

Randy Ellison

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“Whiny’ teen couldn’t have been raped by teacher because he’s a boy” Really?

Tucker Carlson

Last week Fox’s TV show Outnumbered had TV personality Tucker Carlson as a guest talking about the female teacher charged with rape of a male student. Joy Morsi, a Queens high school gym teacher, is accused of having sex with a 16 year-old student over 30 times. Now another student has come forward claiming to have been sexually abused by Ms. Morsi as well. Addressing the issue Carlson stated, “It’s ludicrous that we are calling this a rape. Are you serious? I’m not joking a tiny bit. I’ll tell you what’s wrong to this extent:  he went and tattled to the police and destroyed her life. Are you joking? What a whiny country this is.”

Where do I start?? Being sexually abused or raped is not in any healthy way, shape or form a badge of courage for a boy. Having a media personality say on TV that reporting one of the most under reported crimes is being “whiny” will keep some boys from reporting and it reduces the believability of those who do report. He seems to suggest that for boys, all sex is good sex. Even though there are an estimated 19 million male survivors of child sex abuse in America, Mr. Carlson’s culture seems to want us to believe that being victimized is inconsistent with being a man. So according to him we either keep quiet and suffer, or we are whiny and exhibiting behavior unbecoming of a man. I chose the keep quiet path, and it didn’t work out very well for me, or for anybody I know.

How can we expect our sons to grow up healthy and have respectful boundaries with people, if we teach them this Neanderthal macho caveman crap? Stuffing your feelings is nearly always destructive, because our capacity to hold those feelings is far less than how often we experience them. The result is often an emotional train wreck.

Mr. Carlson says that the boy “pursued” the teacher. Well what child or teenager does not want the attention of an adult in power? I wanted the attention of my minister. I held him on a pedestal, but believe me, I never imagined that would include anything sexual. What if the “older female” was his step-mother? Is that still okay in Mr. Carlson’s code? Where would he draw the line? What if it was the boys’ mother or sister, because these are very realistic scenarios that happen every day. How about if it was a female pastor? Would that be a badge of honor as well, which is how Mr. Carlson describes being raped by a female teacher.

Is he suggesting if it feels good or you have an orgasm, then it’s all good? I’ve got news for you Mr. Carlson, just because a rape victim’s body responds to the sexual stimulus, does not make it okay to rape! On the Oprah Show, Tyler Perry called it being “betrayed by your body.” I think the proper term is biochemical, which is to say that our body is responding involuntarily.

“Sex” between an adult, in this case a 39 year old, and a minor, 16 in this case, is NOT an “intimate relationship.” It is morally and legally rape regardless of the sex of either. Most of the time my relationship with my pastor was that of mentor-student, but when we were in his office and he locked the door, it was offender-victim. He was powerful all over the state of Oregon and that building was the seat of his power. I was a 16 year-old boy and no match for a master manipulator. The power differential alone made a “consensual” relationship impossible even if it were legal, which is why it is not!

Mr. Carlson’s frame of mind is the same that, in some men, makes it okay to hit a woman. Sexual abuse of minors and rape are close cousins of domestic abuse. They all rely on abuse of power, secrecy and societies propensity to rationalize and turn a blind eye to that which they do not want to see.

I don’t hold out any hope for understanding from Mr. Carlson,* who is a child of extreme wealth and power from the one percent, but can the rest of us please move the conversation forward out of the dark ages? Male child sex abuse is real and so is the rape of men. Sometimes the offenders are women, but that does not mean it is okay. EVER! Being a man is not about “scoring,” or hiding your feelings Mr. Carlson, it is about being a good and kind human being that is capable of feeling joys and sorrows and sharing those with people who care about you.

If you ever had an unwanted or abusive sexual experience as a child, please ignore the message of Tucker Carlson and people like him. No matter what the circumstances were, seek help, tell a loved one, find a therapist, and if it is right for you, report what happened to the authorities. You are worth it.

Randy Ellison

Original story and link to video of interview: Outnumbered, Tucker Carlson

*Tucker Carlson

 

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Learning, Healing and Growing Part 29

Refilling the Empty HeartThe last article I wrote was about triggers and learning new ways to address them to produce different outcomes. I called it a reclaiming of my life. I am beginning to think that it is learning what well balanced and healthy children learn as they are growing up. But as they say, better late than never!

I shared that I had a problem with a person of power and potentially for the first time in my life I told them what I needed and set limits on what I would and would not do. I expressed my needs, and set a healthy boundary. That felt like a great success, but it was not the end of the story.

As the process continued I found my boundaries being pushed, like when you stick your finger in an inflated balloon. I was not inclined to move my limits, but the pressure was uncomfortable. In fact it made me feel terrible. How could someone I trusted, try to replace my limits with theirs? After weeks of trying to convince myself I had done something wrong, or was being unreasonable, I ended up with serious health problems and was sick in bed for a week.

One thing I have learned well is to listen to my body and my body was trying to tell me something. When I have managed to ignore all the other warning signs my body will finally scream stop in a way that cannot be ignored! My square edges just would not fit into that round hole. The message I was hearing was if I backed down from my position I would be “sick” from then on. It finally came to me that I was in an abusive relationship and the person who was trying to get me to change my values was not my friend after all.

I wrote an email ending our connection, and I felt better than I had in months. I thought I wanted and needed that for my future and yet things got instantly better when I let go. It amazes me how much strength and peace can come from letting go.

In the past I never would have had this experience because I never would have let anyone get close enough to betray me like that. After my abuse ended, I put up walls to keep everyone out. A major part of my healing process has been to take my walls down and let people in. I have just found out that makes me quite vulnerable.

Being vulnerable is not comfortable territory for most survivors. And yet my life is so much better today than it was when I thought I was protected, I will not consider putting my walls back up. The walls you see, keep out the good and the bad. I would lose the connection I feel to my own family as well as to all the great people and survivors that are part of my life today. I would rather be honest, vulnerable and living in the present moment and risk the possibility of being betrayed again.

If I want to experience the joy of life and connection to other people, I will be vulnerable to attack. But guess what? I am learning that I can even deal with the bad in life and still feel good about myself, and my choices. I think I am happier today after dealing with a bad situation than I have ever been before. Growth and healing can be painful, but also immensely rewarding. I know my life will have many ups and downs, but as long as I keep listening and learning I know I will find a lot of happiness along the way.

I can’t say that I know what I’ve have missed in life because of my abuse, but I can work to stay open to learning new behaviors that are not framed by survival, but may actually enrich my experience on this earth.

Randy Ellison

An earlier version of this article appeared at Joyful Heart Foundation.

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Triggers and Healing

Refilling the Empty Heart“A trigger is something that sets off a memory tape or flashback, transporting the person back to the event of his/her original trauma. The survivor may begin to avoid situations and stimuli that they think triggered the flashback. They may react to this flashback, trigger with an emotional intensity similar to that at the time of the trauma. A person’s triggers are activated through one or more of the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste.”*

I have had over five years of therapy, speak publically at least twice a month, write over two dozen articles a year and hear from survivors every day, yet I still find I get emotionally triggered at times. Here are a few of the triggers I have been experiencing in my life.

We moved back to Portland recently and I found a street near our apartment that made my stomach get in a knot every time I drove there. There is a retirement center on that street where my abuser took me once. I waited in the car while he went in. I don’t remember what happened before or after that stop, but whatever it was, it wasn’t good. The memory makes me feel like someone else’s property. A thing.

Since my realization I have made it a point to go to the coffee shop across the street from that center to change how I feel about being in that place on earth and to take back my power. I don’t want him to own that space or me.

Two days ago my wife and I drove to the Oregon Coast. She drove a route that took us through Corvallis where we both attended college. I originally went there six months after my abuse ended. I have discussed this period in my life with my therapist and written about it in my book, but when we drove down that road I went to a place I did not remember. I felt overwhelming despair and oppression. Even my breathing became shallow. I don’t think in all my recovery work I have ever really gotten in touch with just how disconnected I was, with no direction or grounding, and completely out of control. In hindsight understanding that explains a lot.

It turns out that one of my longest standing triggers (and most destructive) has been my aversion to people who I perceive have power over me. I have changed careers six times. Each time I felt like power was being used over me, I literally walked away from everything, including moving my family to a different town.

I recently found myself in a similar situation and with the help of some loving friends and family I changed my response. I sat down with the person in power and told them how it made me feel and then a true miracle happened. I set limits. I told them what I needed going forward. I actually protected myself in a healthy way.

Remember in the first paragraph how there is a tendency for survivors to avoid activities that trigger their trauma? In my life I want to identify my triggers so I can learn to change the outcomes. There are places no one should have to go, especially without support. Safety is critical to address these issues. For me it feels like the right time, and I have the need to go back to reclaim my life. I need those pieces to feel whole again. A healing journey leads to hope and grace. May it be so.

Randy Ellison

*http://psychcentral.com/lib/what-is-a-trigger/0001414

A version of this article first appeared @ Joyful Heart Foundation

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Masters of Our Universe

Refilling the Empty HeartDo you ever feel like people treat you in ways you don’t deserve? Maybe they act dismissive about what you have to say or tell you shouldn’t feel a certain way? Have you done work that you are proud of and either nobody seems to notice, or your boss ends up getting the credit for it?

I don’t know about you, but I have been feeling underappreciated lately. It’s an interesting turn of events because as a survivor I have spent the better part of my life not wanting to be noticed. For years I was totally comfortable letting others take credit for my ideas or work so that I could stay safely invisible.

Since I have come out as a survivor and shared my story, I think I am very proud of the work I do, but am I really? Last week in one day three different situations happened that I saw as disrespectful of me. First it made me feel bad about myself, and then it made me mad. What’s wrong with those people? Don’t they realize how hard I work?

And then I thought about the messages I give people, and all the ways I tell them, “it’s okay, don’t worry about me.” As I listed all the ways I give that message, I began to realize I’m actually telling people that I don’t count. Isn’t one of the main messages we learn as survivors is that our feelings are not important, or that other people count more than us?

Damn, I hate it when that finger I have pointed at “them” turns to face me. How can I possibly blame others for treating me the way I suggest they do? Let me be clear that I am not talking about the abuse we suffered. We are in no way responsible for that.

It is amazing how different it feels to “own” my part in how I am received by the world. I have spent the last few days communicating in a more confident way and following up with those I felt had been dismissive of me. It is not about being pushy or demanding, it’s a simple attitude that I matter, and it’s okay to express that. In one case it was “when you said x it hurt my feelings and here’s why.”

I want to take this one step further. When I was still in major denial about my abuse I worked for a man that I had little respect for. Guess who worked hard to contribute to his success and then never got any credit for their work? Yep, me. Now, guess who I blamed? Yep, him.

Now here’s the twist. I finally figured out I could not control anyone’s behavior but my own. I decided to “own” my part of the dysfunction. After no communication for 14 years I wrote him a letter and told him of my journey of healing and how bad I felt about treating him with total disrespect for the years I worked for him. I got back the most compassionate email I have ever received. We are actually becoming friends!

My message is this: The more we take responsibility for what happens around us the more satisfaction we find. If you don’t like what is going on in your world, do something about it. If you don’t like the way people treat you, tell them. We are truly the masters of our universe.

May the force grant you the courage to change the things you can. You will be amazed. I know I am.

Read more on Joyful Heart Foundation website.

–By Randy Ellison

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Widening the Lens

Refilling the Empty HeartWe had friends over for dinner last week and they shared a story that made them slightly uncomfortable and sent me into apoplexy. They get together with their neighbors a few times a year for a potluck dinner and visit. At the latest gathering someone asked the group about their first kiss. This seemed to bring up some fond childhood memories for most of them and made for some shared laughs.

Next they asked about their first sexual experience. Evidently a few stumbled on this one since they were sitting next to their spouses and partners. Even though this is a subject most of us would not readily discuss, it seems to be a new “fun” game for oldsters to play at gatherings.

A little background on why I found this so disturbing. My therapist recounted a story for me in therapy one day. She was speaking at a sexual abuse awareness conference for faith communities and several of the attendees went out for refreshments at the end of the day. The group proceeded to ask a similar question that the neighbors had. “Where was your first sexual experience?” After a few of them had responded my therapist spoke up and told them she had a slightly different perspective. She shared that she had a client (me) whose first sexual experience was in his church, in his minister’s office. Mouths dropped open and people were rather shocked. Blown out of the water more like it.

None of those people had ever pictured anything like that before. But I’ll bet it does not surprise a lot of you, does it? It is real life experience for many of us as survivors that most people cannot even begin to picture. I’m sorry if that is your memory and I’m sorry it’s mine.

Last fall I was a speaker at a conference on sexual violence. My topic was “Why Boys Don’t Tell” about being victims of abuse. Although the talk was quite well received I did one thing that upset more than a few of the audience. In my desire to get people to understand some of the trauma that many of us have lived through I tried a little exercise. I ask everyone to close their eyes and picture the person they admired most as a child. I then asked them to picture that person performing sexual acts on them…… repeatedly…… over time.

I have no doubt that this was more than a little unfair and upset some of them enough to let me know in no uncertain terms on their evaluations. But my hope is that people begin to understand what it is like to live with those memories and that there are an estimated 20 million men and 30 million women who have similar childhood memories. Therapy goes a long way to heal these wounds. So does the understanding of our peers of what it means to live as a survivor and the effort and work it takes to heal from the trauma. I also hope that sharing stories like these helps pull back the blinds a little bit to shine a light on child sex abuse.

So next time you find yourself in a conversation about childhood sexual experiences, maybe it’s time to widen your lens. They are not all fond memories for everyone. And if you are a survivor, sharing your story in a safe environment goes a long way towards healing and understanding. May we each find the grace of sharing our pain in a healthy way and to be compassionate listeners.

Randy Ellison

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Trauma Wisdom from Catherine Woodiwiss

Refilling the Empty Heart“Tragedy has twice visited the Woodiwiss family. In 2008, Anna Woodiwiss, then 27, was working for a service organization in Afghanistan. On April 1, she went horseback riding and was thrown, dying from her injuries. In 2013, her younger sister Catherine, then 26, was biking to work from her home in Washington. She was hit by a car and her face was severely smashed up. She has endured and will continue to endure a series of operations. For a time, she breathed and ate through a tube, unable to speak. The recovery is slow,” writes David Brooks.

This article caught me eye because it was titled, “The Art of Presence” and being present has been the key to my personal recovery. I followed the article back to the original, “A New Normal: Ten Things I’ve Learned About Trauma”, by Catherine Woodiwiss. Her wisdom on surviving trauma is awe-inspiring.

Her words remind me that trauma permanently changes us. There is no going back, so now we must choose what our lives will look like. It also reminds me that the best we can do for other trauma survivors is just to be there for them, hold them in love, so they can rebuild their lives.

Here are Catherine’s ten things.
1. Trauma permanently changes us.
2. Presence is always better than distance.
3. Healing is seasonal, not linear.
4. Surviving trauma takes “firefighters” and “builders.” Very few people are both.
5. Grieving is social, and so is healing.
6. Do not offer platitudes or comparisons. Do not, do not, do not.
7. Allow those suffering to tell their own stories.
8. Love shows up in unexpected ways.
9. Whatever doesn’t kill you …
10. … Doesn’t kill you.

I love the perspective she shares that the first stop after trauma is that we lived through it. Some of us spend the rest of our lives surviving which is what I did until 5 years ago. Some of us, with determination and lots of support from loved ones and friends find new paths.

I invite you to read Catherine’s article in full to share her wisdom.

Randy Ellison

Resouces

David Brooks, NYT

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Why it Matters

Refilling the Empty HeartWhy does what happened to you matter? Why does what happened to me matter? Why does telling our stories matter? What difference does it really make?

Why does it matter forty years later that my minister abused me? Well, for starters it had a huge impact on my life that affected what I did or didn’t do, and why. When we live in total denial of a major trauma that happened in childhood, our entire reality is distorted.

Before we share our story, all we can do is hold it inside our bodies. That means we carry it in our mind, stomach, liver, intestines and every cell in our body. And let’s not forget these stories of abuse have poison in them. As I have heard said, holding our tongue is like drinking poison and expecting the other guy to die. But in reality we are holding the poison which becomes more toxic over time. Healing can only begin when we spit it out.

Because I had never spoken of what happened to me, every decision I made in life was in response to the trauma I suffered as a child. In theory I was a survivor, but as long as I held on to the toxic stress of child abuse, I was giving victim reactions to most all the input that came my way. It was not a choice I made, it was programmed into my brain to respond to people and situations as though they might be a threat to me. I was wary of everyone, quick to write people off and always on guard.

I just heard from a 71 year old man that said he hopes he has not waited too long to tell his story. It is never too late to tell your story and the person that it will matter to most is you! The person it mattered to most when I began therapy at age 57 was me. My quality of life had suffered immeasurably, and I was just plain tired. You have to want it or need it more than the perceived safety of keeping the secret and the pain (poison) locked inside.

I wanted more out of life than just living as a survivor. I wanted to feel again. I wanted to have a real live relationship with another human being. I wanted to be able to love and be loved, touch and be touched. All of these things sound so very basic and yet I gave them up in order to be able to keep my secret. To be honest, in my case it probably took a year before I realized how much others really meant to me and how much I had given up.

Finding some sense of justice mattered to me as well. Justice has a different meaning to every survivor. Reporting my abuser became important. The places he had been a minister needed to be notified so they could look for others that might have been victims and needed help. In the process the faith community became aware of what had happened in their building and had the opportunity to discuss what they could do to make sure it never happened again.

I think it is important to note that the church did not embrace my report with open arms. I had to persist over time to get their attention and support, but it did finally come. Without survivors telling their stories this would never happen. No one can be as passionate about child abuse as a survivor and it takes that passion to get peoples’ attention and eventually their understanding.

Telling my story has changed many more lives than my own. It has changed my relationship with my partner whom I have been married to for 42 years. It has changed how I am with my children and grandchildren. It has changed my church and my community.

Whether your story is at the beginning, middle or end, it matters because you matter! Telling your story matters more than you can ever imagine. Besides giving new life to you and those you love, it will give people you have never met the strength to share their story. The more we share our stories, the more we heal and the more our families and communities heal.

Imagine a world without child abuse and one filled with healthy adults. That’s how much it matters.

 

Randy Ellison

 

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