Author Archives: randy

The Strength of Our Stories

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 9.29.53 AMI was asked to write a short blog for Sojourners online magazine to honor Women’s History Month, making violence against women a memory. The work to end intimate violence is something that needs everyone’s attention. This type of violence is without question the number one public health problem in the world today.

In America, sexual and gender based violence counts its victims in the millions, its monetary costs in the billions of dollars, with outcomes of destroyed lives and questionable futures for countless survivors.

The time has finally come for people of faith to enter the movement and bring the power of their numbers to address all forms of intimate violence. It is time for the silent majority to hear the cries of survivors and stand together to say “enough.”

I was raised by a Norwegian Lutheran mother and the son of a Methodist minister, a WWII veteran who came home from the war an angry alcoholic. As the youngest of three children with little to no voice in my family, I was mostly raised by my mother and two older sisters. I never had a positive male role model. My fondest memory as a young child was sitting on the edge of my maternal grandmother’s rocker while she fed me peppermint lifesavers and read Bible stories to me.

As a young teen my mother insisted……….

Continue reading: Sojourners Magazine

 

Randy Ellison

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Carrying the Weight

Refilling the Empty HeartI wrote this article for 1in6 Thursday Blog series. A few days later I had an experience where I became aware that a national prevention agency (one that I work with) was commenting on the need for survivors to “forgive” the people that abused them. I had a pretty strong reaction to that. It almost seemed to border on a form of victim blaming. At the very least it is potentially shaming for survivors that do not forgive in a traditional sense (even the Bible describes several different types of forgiveness.)

What human has the right to tell a survivor of child sex abuse (that is often too horrific to imagine) that they should forgive? It is tantamount to forcing a pacifist to pick up a gun and kill someone. I believe that is entirely the choice of the survivor based on their own needs and beliefs. Our healing path is one of our own choosing and progresses at a pace and distance determined by survivors themselves.

In this blog post I share a story that illustrates a healthy version of “letting go” of the person that abused you. It does not necessarily include forgiveness, but it can. What it does do is allow the survivors to reclaim their own power. Read on and see what you think.

“Hope you’re well. I’m having some anxiety this morning so I thought I’d reach out to a friend. No specific questions – just looking for some support I guess.”

I got this email from a young man that reached out looking for support in his healing from severe abuse by his biological father. He was in that place of aloneness and feeling anxious without being able to identify the exact cause. And yet he was able say he was in pain and ask for someone to acknowledge it. Just knowing that others are willing to sit with you and hold that space can make all the difference in the world. This is for you A.H.

My solution to anxiety was to numb it with alcohol and drugs. It worked, but it did not change one thing, and 4 hours later I was right back where I started. The anxiety for me was my body telling me I was trying to carry too much. And carry I did, for 40 years!

My friend, each step you are taking right now is helping untangle the tentacles of his evil actions from your being. If you stay the course, over time you will feel less and less the way you do today. Check out this little Zen story on carrying the weight of others.

Two traveling monks reached a town where there was a young woman waiting to step out of her sedan chair. The rains had made deep puddles and she couldn’t step across without spoiling her silken robes. She stood there looking very cross and impatient. She was scolding her attendants who could not help her because they were holding her packages.

The younger monk, noticed the woman and walk on by. The older monk quickly picked her up and put her on his back, carried her across the water, and set her down on the other side. She didn’t thank the monk, she just shoved him out of the way and departed.

As they continued on their way, the young monk was brooding and preoccupied. After several hours, unable to hold his silence, he spoke out. “That woman back there was very selfish and rude, but you picked her up on your back and carried her! Then she didn’t even thank you!”

“I set the woman down hours ago,” the older monk replied. “Why are you still carrying her?”*

It was only a couple of years ago I finally set down the man that abused me. It happened when I felt strong enough to be in a room with him (in a dream) without feeling his power OVER me. It was the power differential that kept me feeling weak and like a victim. I had to believe I was strong enough to not be intimidated anymore and that was after years of therapy and work. It took me using my adult skills to go back and deal with him as I am now and not as I was when the abuse occurred (a child).

For me, carrying the weight of the man that abused me kept a lid on my recovery. The reason being that we cannot change something that belongs to others, we can only change ourselves. So a key piece to a successful recovery is identifying what is yours and what belongs to the person that abused you and then set down that which belongs to him or her. What you have left are all things you can manage.

You are not alone A.H. We are but two of the 18 million men who have felt this way at one time and you honor other survivors to ask for support. Find strength in knowing others have walked this path and each found ways to deal with our past and not only overcome the pain, but been strengthened by living through it.

May it be so for you too.**

Randy Ellison

*Quoted from Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth

**Originally published 1in6.org

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Drugs Are Not the Cage That Holds Us

KintsugiI know about drugs and addiction. I went to Alateen meetings sometimes as a kid while my father attended his AA meetings. I began experimenting with drugs and alcohol as a teenager and after the abuse by my pastor started my use increased. By the time I was 18 I was getting high in some form every day.

So you can imagine this article title caught my eye, The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think.* In the article, author Johan Hari tells us about the studies on addiction we have all heard, rats have access to two bottles of liquid. One has just water and the other is laced with drugs. The studies show every time that given that option the rats will drink the drugs until they finally die. We think we observe the same thing in humans.

In the 1970’s a researcher by the name of Bruce Alexander noticed that in all of these rat studies, the rats were alone in their cages. He wondered what would happen if he modified the experiment to add community, so he built a “Rat Park that was a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want.” He then introduced the two-bottle option: one, pure water and one laced with drugs.

Guess what happened? They drank less that one-quarter the amount of drugs than the rats that were alone in a cage. AND none of them did so to the point of killing themselves. His conclusion was that happy rats with good social connections don’t get addicted to drugs.

Professor Alexander did not stop there. He repeated the experiment by first putting the rats in isolation, gave them drugs and got them addicted. He then took them out of isolation and put them in the fancy “Rat Park.” He watched them first go through withdrawal, then stop their heavy use and then return to a normal non-addicted life. His conclusion was that addictive drugs are not the problem, disconnection is.

I have studied addiction as well as lived with it most of my life. I know the science around addiction and inheriting the predisposition to addiction from our parents. There is lots of brain science to support our traditional thinking around alcohol and drug abuse.

Now I would like to use myself as an example. I lived with my secret of being sexually abused by my pastor for 40 years. You can probably guess that I also used drugs for all 14,600 days of my painful secret keeping. Rarely did a day pass that I did not get high in some fashion.

I began using drugs less as I finally began therapy and addressed what had happened to me as a teen. After I began living my life differently and began having human connections again I stopped entirely. IT HAS NOT HAPPEN OVERNIGHT. At first it was on and off, but as I got healthier and really began having relationships with other adults, I no longer needed to go hide in my solitude.

I share this story not necessarily to challenge traditional thinking around addiction. I share it to show fellow survivors who have had similar issues with drugs and alcohol that there is an alternative that is not framed around addiction. Our cage was build by the abuse we suffered, not the drugs, so if we want out, we must deal with the abuse.

It took me forty years to figure out what is explained in this article. Hopefully others can read this and figure out there is a better world available whenever they are able to address the true cause of their pain.

May it be so for you.

Randy Ellison

This article was first published @ 1in6.org

*The Huffington Post Blogs 1/20/15 by Johan Hari

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/johann-hari/the-real-cause-of-addicti_b_6506936.html

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Boundaries

Joyful HeartWe are once again in the season that elicits feelings of excitement for some, dread for others and both for some of us. I have recently explored keeping healthier boundaries in place that allow for room to breathe and reciprocity.

Boundaries, what exactly does that word mean? Here’s what Wikipedia has to say: “Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify for themselves what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around him or her and how they will respond when someone steps outside those limits. Personal boundaries operate in two directions, affecting both the incoming and outgoing interactions between people.”

As a survivor of sexual violation over time by my minister, I learned different boundaries than most kids. Being victimized taught me if you want to use me, that’s okay, I have very little value anyway. After getting away from my abusive situation I put up some very thick walls that looked remarkably like a fort. I learned if I keep people completely away, then I can be safe. I was also willing to fight and destroy anyone who challenged my walls or me.

Those walls were my boundaries and in my mind, they made me safe. Cross them at your own risk! The problem for me and many other survivors is that those are not “normal boundaries” and therefore no one else knows where they are until they bump up against them. I must say this has made long-term relationships difficult at best. After I blow up, people often wonder “What was that about?” or “What did I do?” or “I wonder what’s wrong with him?”

The boundaries that my pastor/mentor/abuser broke were replaced with trauma-informed defenses. If you were going to be around me in my younger years you better get used to short limits and intolerance on my part……………………………..

Read the rest at Joyful Heart Foundation.

Happy Holidays!

Randy Ellison

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Do-overs

Refilling the Empty HeartWe don’t often get do-overs in life. Sometimes golfing with a friend they might give you a do-over if you hit a particularly bad shot, but most people would tell you life doesn’t offer second chances. Millions of people who have successfully completed a 12-step program might point out how much the 8th step is as close as you can come to changing the past. “8) Make a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.” It’s not technically a do-over, but it acknowledges our imperfect selves and suggests that now that we know better, we can do better.

That might seem like a strange reference for a survivor of child sex abuse. I was the protagonist in the story not the antagonist. I lived my life trying to cope with what happened to me and I was handicapped because I kept the secret. My abuser is now long gone and at this point the only thing holding my dysfunctions in place is ME! I have now made the choice to do my best to repair and rebuild myself into a whole and healthy person.

A long time ago I figured out that healing from child abuse is not a destination, but a lifelong path. What I did not realize is all the places that process would take me. Oh, the places you will go and the people you will meet, the wrongs you can right!

Please click this link to continue reading about my most recent unexpected experience. Joyful Heart Foundation

Randy Ellison

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Welcome Home

Refilling the Empty HeartI have never gone backwards in life. My pattern has been to always be looking for what’s next, sometimes even to the exclusion of whatever is happening at the present moment. My forward momentum is often so determined that it is not uncommon for people to literally jump out of my way when I am walking somewhere. I guess I must have some core value that there is always something better out there and I am going to charge forward to find it.

When I began facing my abuse, things began to change for me. I started appreciating people and where I was. I have spent long hours looking back; looking at my abuser, the impact on my life; my parents and their systems that contributed to me becoming victimized; how my “coping” was destructive to me, my family and those around me. I have worked to look back to heal, reclaim lost parts of my childhood and become more whole.

A year ago I thought my future was in Portland, so we moved from Ashland on Halloween Day. As a survivor I am well aware of broken boundaries and betrayal and unfortunately that is exactly what I ran into. But fortunately I had done some serious work over the last few years on healing, so this time around I was able to set a healthy boundary and protect myself. I want to point out that it is not uncommon for our healing to reach points that it can make people around us uncomfortable. It is possible for our health to shine a light so bright that it may illuminate the secrets or dysfunction of others.

So my journey had brought new challenges and yes, mistakes. I was hurt by what felt like betrayal, but I am now looking at all the new contacts and new experiences I’ve had as a result of my time in Portlandia. I also got to grow some relationships with people I had not worked with much previously. I am having fun and find it exciting to be active with people who, like me, just want to do whatever they can to help survivors and prevent future abuse. I am also developing more of a connection to faith groups who I think can potentially become the leaders in this movement.

My partner Helen and I had both missed our family and friends in Ashland as well as the small town culture. After following me in my drop and run lifestyle for over forty years, I listened hard to what my partner thought was our best next move. So after 11 months in Portland we decided together to return to Ashland.

I am finding an entirely new experience upon returning to place we were before, instead of just moving on down the road. Almost every single person I have spoken to has said the words “Welcome Home!” I have never returned “Home” in my life. What an incredible feeling to be welcomed into a community. A place we love and we belong.

I lived all my life looking at the world as linear and I have always looked down the tracks with few glances back. I even started this article thinking that way. As I began to get my mind around these unexpected receptions something dawned on me, life is not linear. Live is circular and the circle has come back around. Now maybe I can fully appreciate all the richness and beauty that I have so often just left behind without a thought. We are not leaving someplace this time, we are coming home.

Randy Ellison

 

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The Time Traveler

Refilling the Empty HeartA week ago, I received the most amazing gift. I was offered the chance to travel back in time, by participating in a week-long camp for young boys that have experienced abuse. The camp sponsored by Sparks of Hope, was their first boys camp.* Ten boys had the opportunity to be unconditionally loved, understood, and had the pleasure of choosing their own activities and food. They were in a safe place and were encouraged and empowered to be themselves.

It’s one thing to look back to re-create our past as survivors in our healing process, it’s entirely different to see a parallel to your own life in real time! We were each matched with one “Little Buddy.” My guy is just starting his path of recovery. He hasn’t spent a lot of time examining broken trust or having been betrayed. He just knows someone he loves hurt him and then he had to go live with strangers and learn to call them mom and dad. And he makes it clear that he still loves his family and misses them.

This article was published on 1in6 and Joyful Heart Foundation websites.  As you read on I hope you think about the incredible trauma and soul injury suffered by 10-20 percent of our children and what you can do to help stop this epidemic. If you are interested in being a counselor or support person at a camp for recovering kids contact Lee Ann Mead @ leeann@sparksofhope.org. It is time to step up to save the next generation from this life long suffering. Click below to read the rest.

Read more at the Joyful Heart Foundation

Randy Ellison

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Living in the Void

Void: Lack of matter or a vacuum. Perfect. That is exactly what I wanted. The pain of betrayal was just too great to be able to fake it for very long at a time. It’s not like I was a hermit or anything. Looking back I had some good connections here and there, it’s just that they didn’t make it very far into my consciousness and then I retreated into my void. The only place I really felt completely comfortable and safe.

The door was locked and there was no phone service. I usually got high in some fashion to make sure nobody could get through and I could safely hide from the world (oh, I suppose the memory of what I survived too!). No pressure to do things a certain way or say the right thing or wonder why he did that to me, just peace.

Read the whole article at Joyful Heart Foundation.

Peace,

Randy Ellison

 

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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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