Author Archives: randy
I’m one of those people whose desk has countless stacks of things I want to get to tomorrow, next week….or someday. There are also all the little objects that I need to put away or file. I guess it represents just how messy life can be and that we always have undone things in life. The other day my wife brought to my attention that it was getting out of control. As I began to clear away the rubble (think tornado), I saw this stack of “stuff” underneath a stack of papers. It is in fact exactly the picture you see here, except I admit I did move the wrenches so you could read the title of my book.
It got me thinking about life, healing and purpose. I tell people that healing is not a destination, but a journey. I realized this was a picture of life. So here is what I see and what it means to me. At the bottom is the book that is the story of facing life after years (decades) of dissociation. I lived it and then wrote it on paper, first for myself, and then to share with others. I am so glad to have a living record of that period in my life. I never want to forget those discoveries and how I felt about them at the time, and hopefully others find value in sharing that experience as well.
Next I see the wrenches. They remind me that we are never just “fixed”. Often we are either too tight or too loose and we need to be adjusted to find good balance. I will say that I am glad they are both ratchets to make the adjustments easier than a plain old box wrench.
Off to one side I noticed a gas canister for my obsolete Porter Cable Bammer finish nailer. I bought it before I owned a compressor for nail guns. At the time I figured it would be a good short cut to buying a compressor, hoses, and different guns and then hauling all of that around. I find two lessons here. First is that there are no short cuts in life that are lasting. On the other hand sometimes we need a little “push” or propellant to get to the next step.
The band-aid is pretty obviously for the cuts and scrapes we get along the way. Those little “owies” can come from a variety of places or people and are not real serious, but they bleed just the same.
The bottle there is a natural product called Rescue Remedy. Now here is a dang interesting thing for a survivor to have on his desk. It was created to deal with emergencies and crises. It can be used to help us get through any stressful or traumatic situations, like an exam, shock, a car accident or…. Just a drop or two on the tongue and it is supposed to calm you. I also think it is important to share that it is a type of healing that is outside my frame of reference, but one I learned from listening to my daughter. That is new behavior for this man!
The thumb drive, or memory stick was sitting a few inches away and I threw it in before I took the picture. The book represents my trauma and my initial recovery with that. The memory stick is more, much more. As I have traveled further on my path I find that opening earlier memories and cleaning the taint of abuse off them is now important to me. I want to be able to feel the joy of so many memories that were lost or buried beneath my abuse. I loved youth group and church camp at the coast. I loved youth choir. I met lots of wonderful people whose memories have been stored with that ick feeling. There were fun times that are shrouded with that all encompassing shame. I had jobs I was good at and worked with people I liked that are hidden in the fog. The abuse worked in my life like tentacles wrapping around everything, good and bad, and dragging them down.
I want to uncover it all and take ownership of what is rightfully mine. I want to be aware of how I really felt about my life experiences and not to confuse that with what he did to me. I am taking them back to feel the joys and sorrows, highs and lows of my life. I am reclaiming my history. I am reclaiming my life.
A lot of us look forward to the coming “Holidays”. It is a time to be with family and loved ones, share meals, catch up on what others are doing and reminiscing past times together. Some of the salads and side dishes are a bit over the top, but the turkey and pies are awesome. Some love the stuffing and cranberries, not me. Gawd, I’ve even seen some take bites of them together. Ugh. We get over-stuffed, some drink too much and stay up too late, and some tell the same stories every year. All in all, it is a good time for one or two days and by the grace of God we forget the irritating parts before we gather again next year.
This is not how the “Holidays” work for everyone. Some of us cannot forget things that happened in the past, nor should we. If you are a survivor of child sex abuse, seeing family may be difficult at best, and impossible at worst. If you are one of the thousands suffering from PTSD from your abuse, just coming out of your house on a holiday may not be an option.
As survivors, many things happen at holidays that can trigger us. So here is the simple message I want to share. Be careful and take care of yourself. Try to keep an ally, a friend or partner, who understands and will support you close at all times.
If you are not comfortable dealing with some people you know will be present, it’s really okay to just say, “I’m not coming, it just doesn’t work for me.” If you get there and you do not feel safe, then leave. I don’t know about you, but I find it is so easy to fall back into the “I’m not good enough” or shame mode, and just accept comments or actions that revictimize me. As survivors it seems that denial, or dissociation can work as a coping mechanism, but for many it is also be a place we like to think we have grown out of.
Is it really worth it to stand up for yourself and protect yourself from those that would revictimize or invalidate you? My answer is yes; it is worth it because it honors you and your truth. You are worth it! It is your voice that rings up to heavens. The universe is in tune to your cries. If we learn to love and take care of ourselves we really can find comfort in our own skin. Living your story not only changes you, it changes those around you.
So this holiday season I hope you intentionally choose places to go, and people to be with that love and support who you are and the journey you are on.
Go in peace.
A version of this blog was published on 1in6.org and Joyful Heart Foundation.org websites.
Probably the most rewarding aspect of being an advocate is hearing from other survivors who are starting their healing journey. I hurt for the difficult times I know they will have, but I also know the joy they will experience as they learn to like themselves and open their lives to other people. In the last week three male survivors have reached out to me. One was going to meet with his congressional representative to ask for a federal law on child sex abuse with no statute of limitations. The state laws just aren’t cutting it, according to him. He was angry and I understand that. The next two wrote about my book Boys Don’t Tell: Ending the Silence of Abuse. One man had just bought the book and had this to say:
“I have pushed this trauma away for so long, through addiction, self hatred, low self esteem, medicated for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, ADD, Panic and Anxiety disorders and so forth……I can’t have a healthy relationship and my trust issues are enormous and the list goes on. I am looking forward to finding hope and recovery that I so desperately need.”
The next letter came with greetings from the Philippines. It was from a man who said he lives in poverty and does not have the means to buy the book, but feels he needs it and will put it to good use if I will send him a copy.
“I have been looking for reading material on male sexual abuse. It is difficult to find here in the Philippines. I am religious seminarian training for Catholic priesthood.
I am interested in your area of expertise and wonderful advocacy in life not just because I am working toward a professional practice in psychology but more on a personal level. I am trying to understand myself more…I am beginning to find some connection.”
I always look for the circles and how they come together, and these three certainly overlap with pain, shame, anger, lack of understanding of self, and more pain, unbearable pain. These men’s lives do not just intersect because of what they endured as children; they are in a similar place because they are all reaching out for support as they start their healing. Every survivor I have met who is in recovery will go to extremes to help another on their journey. It’s kind of like we are all Alcoholics Anonymous sponsors; if you are hurting we are there for you, day or night.
One of the significant issues with male survivors is that we generally believe we are alone, the only one. In fact, most of us are alone because of the walls of protection we build around ourselves. I have used the phrase “I felt like I was tied in that chair, while he touched my skin.” I think a lot of us felt as though we were tied with ropes because we had no control over what was done to us.
What I find interesting is that some of us, myself included, have lived for years or decades as though those ropes were still there. It is only when the pain becomes too great, or we are triggered in some way that we first reach out to another human being to share our burden. It is at this point that the ropes begin to unwind and we can breathe for what to many of us, feels like the first deep breath we have taken since before the abuse started. And as the oxygen travels our bodies, the tears begin to well up as we release the hurt.
At church last Sunday they sang a beautiful song by Pat Humphries, “We Are One” about Korea and their country divided by war. It made me think of all the men who have survived being sexually abused as children, only to live a life alone behind our walls at war with ourselves and the world. So as you take that first breath of air, remember there are 19 million men in this country who, in some form, have had similar experiences. You are not alone, and those who will help and support your healing journey are many. We are here to bear witness to your pain and celebrate your recovery.
So I want you all to know that I truly believe that we are one. Brothers. Together we can and will overcome. And yes, a book is on its way to the Philippines.
I wrote this poem when I first began my healing journey. I wrote it on a plane on the way to see my daughter and tell her about what had happened to me as a child. As I thought about my relationship with her, I realized she really didn’t know me. For her whole life every time she got mad and judged me I just pulled back inside my walls where I wallowed in self-pity and self-loathing. I knew her disgust with me was well deserved and that feeling about myself became my norm. My life was mostly consumed by feeling bad about myself. I never knew it could be any different. I send this out to every person who has kept a secret that is eating up their lives and only dreams of a breath of fresh air and a ray of hope. There is hope, and I am living proof. If I can recover and heal, anyone can.
Secrets and Lies
What happens when we distort the truth
and store it in our mind as lies?
To protect it we construct smaller lies
and place them around it like a bunker.
If the lie is big enough we build walls
to protect it as well.
We try not to go there for fear that something will change
and the monsters will get out.
In our zeal for safety we keep others far away
in the hope they won’t notice our fortress.
The years pass and when we check on things
they look the same….. All Clear.
Change is gradual and we take no notice
of the increased weight of our burden.
We also miss seeing it when the wall gradually
encircles more than just our secret.
Life goes on and we are not aware of the pieces of ourselves
that are now behind the walls.
Given enough time our secret and it guardians
work their way to our center.
As the fortress inside us expands we lose more
and more of ourselves to its growing hunger.
Where our heart once beat is now a war zone
dominated by our defenses.
We hold up a cardboard cut out for the world to see
so they don’t notice our missing pieces and lies.
We can’t understand when friends and family
don’t recognize us or say we’ve changed.
The real surprise comes when we look in a mirror
and we don’t recognize ourselves.
Change is in the wind. This month has seen incredibly diverse news on sexual assault. As we grapple with the cultural change necessary to eliminate, or at least curb the rampant gender violence, progress is being made in some areas, side by side with continued ambivalence to the issue.
The first article that popped up was from ESPN News with more on the continuing saga of Jerry Sandusky and Penn State. Prosecutors convinced a judge that ex-President Graham Spanier, ex-Vice President Gary Shultz and ex-Athletic Director Tim Curly should stand trial. The three will be charged with perjury, obstruction, endangering the welfare of children, failure to report suspected abuse and conspiracy.
District Judge William Wenner called it “a tragic day for Penn State University.” From where I sit, it is a grand day for survivors and children. Isn’t it time we hold the secret keepers responsible for what is happening daily, hourly in our communities to children and vulnerable adults? Albert Einstein said, “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”
Continue Reading: 1in6/Joyful Heart
We had a local case of a 24 year-old assistant swim coach (who just happened to be the coach’s son) charged with rape and sexual abuse of a 14 year-old High School freshman over a period of months. As is often the case, when it was reported in the media, language was used that left the impression that somehow the victim (excuse me, alleged victim) might have been just as responsible as the offender.
The result is what we seem to see so often, victim blaming. “She wanted it. She came on to him. It’s her fault. She threw herself at him. He’s such a nice guy. Now she’s trying to ruin his life…” I wrote the following article about the damage that can be done with the words we use. They do in fact represent our attitudes.
“…children are never responsible for being abused in any form, no matter what the particular charges or circumstances are. There is always some type of manipulation on the part of offender to gain power and control over the child or adolescent. Our children need our support and protection- without exception.”
Read the full article here.
A little over a year ago I wrote about an experience I had speaking with young male survivors of child sex abuse. It was called Help the Children Heal. Last week I spoke with what one would assume is the opposite end of the spectrum. I was invited to speak with young male offenders, who were mostly minors. They had all been mandated to be in this program by the court. I was told that 3-4 of them were survivors as well. It was made clear to me that all of the boys had a history of some type of abuse from sexual to emotional and/or difficult lives including homelessness and actually being abandoned by their families.
I found myself in the same place as I had when I spoke to the survivors; I was unable to prepare a “talk”. My preparation became one of centering myself to share my story and to be present in the room with the boys. I had faith it would go where it needed.
As I shared my story of struggle and denial and all the distortions that manifested in my life, I could see understanding in the eyes of the boys. I told them about my addictions and how they replaced my relationships with other people. I would choose getting high over being with those I loved. I explained how I thought I was tough, but in reality I was scared. My “toughness” was just a cover for my fears.
My drive to control everything and everybody around me was based on creating a false sense of safety for myself and my family. Some survivors like me, seem to feel if we exert enough control over our lives then nobody can get close enough to hurt us or our loved ones. I want to make it clear, that at least for me, this comes from a place of fear, which only became clear after extensive therapy.
We talked about the lifetime impact of child abuse and factors of why boys in particular tend to not tell. I also shared what got me started on my healing process and the amazing changes in my life since I faced my abuse. That led to how much choice they could have on becoming a different person by addressing all of what had happened in their lives and the consequences of their actions. They could take responsibility and change their lives or they could grow old with regrets, as I have done.
The damage done by abuse is immense, but the incredible thing is that change and recovery are entirely possible. And it is available to each of us whenever we are ready to address our innermost fears. I told them that if I could redeem my life, they could certainly redeem theirs.
One of the boys had just been arrested the day before, but the group leaders felt he would benefit from our visit, so he was brought in, in leg-irons. My emotional reaction to him was overwhelming. He was probably 17 give or take, and at least to my eyes, his soul was bleeding out from where those chains touched his skin. No con here, just a tired and broken child. That is how I saw most of them, broken and hurt children, children broken by society, us, you and me. We failed them. This group of boys “felt” the same to me as the young survivors I had spoken with earlier. I thank God that I had enough loving family around me that I never ended up in jail for some of the things I did, although I certainly could have.
I was moved almost to tears as I said goodbye to them. I had an uncontrollable urge to give the young man in leg-irons a hug, which I knew was not possible. I did the only other thing I could think of; I went up to each of them, took their hand in mine, looked them in the eyes and wished them success on their journey.
As I walked away the tears did come. I had gained so much perspective from the time spent with these boys. It does not justify their behavior, nothing can, but each of those boys was a victim as well; a victim of not enough love and attention that every child needs and deserves.
Going to church was a required when I was a kid. No matter how much I complained, my mother always said that if I listened I would hear something of value. Once I started going to church again after a very long hiatus, I find I automatically listen for a message. Some morsel that can help me live a better life or be a better person. My takeaway last Sunday was open the doors. Nothing, and I mean nothing good can happen if we keep our doors closed. We cannot be in a relationship, we cannot be heard, we cannot learn from others and anything we create exists only in the dark. We tell ourselves at least we are safe.
Living without having our doors open is like trying to live without eating. And yet this is how I lived for most of my adult life, a survivor’s life that was almost entirely based on never being a victim again. So my existence was one of hiding and protectionism, no risk and therefore no possibility of reward.
In my recovery I have been teaching myself to open my doors to people, relationships and new experiences. In lowering my walls I have converted what I previously perceived as great risks, into what I now find exciting, stimulating and rewarding. My desire to feel better and heal my broken self has motivated me to risk trying new approaches to life. The old ones just weren’t working.
From this point forward I will be visualizing physically opening a door to life. I am willing to give up the protection of my walls for the beauty I now know exists outside. What do I have to lose? I have lived with disappointment, anger, sarcasm and skepticism all my life, so even if I have a bad experience once in a while, I can deal with that. The gain from living a vulnerable life has become enriching food for my soul. It is a hundred times more powerful than the pain I felt living in denial.
Because my doors are now open and we can see each other, I want to thank all the people I have been meeting for the spiritual connection you seem willing to share with me. I am finding our differences no longer matter. You are not the ogre, sloth or ignoramus I thought you were. Our clothes, lifestyle, ideology, skin color, or sexuality become superficial. I can see your soul through your eyes and it is there that we are all connected.
Wherever I meet you, in church, at a conference, online, or in a coffee shop I am going to try to remember how special you are and what our encounter can mean to both of us if we are willing to open our doors. As you walk your healing path, think of what your world might look like if you stop letting the potential downside determine your actions. I think you will be amazed at the richness that comes to your door. I am.
I have been using the visualization of open doors for less than a week now and I am finding incredible things happening in my meetings and my life. A very strange thing happened just two days after I consciously decided to open my doors. Now this story is so strange that I will suggest that if you do not believe in the supernatural or are not interested in extreme stories you might just stop reading right now. The story I am about to tell is entirely true and it happened just as I am telling it.
To set the stage a little I would like to remind you that a lot of survivors like myself have strong issues with self-worth. In fact, that is probably the most repeated theme in everything I have written. The thoughts of I’m not good enough, and when you try, then “who do you think you are” occur on a daily basis. In my life this did not begin after I was abused, it was part of my family system and now that I think about it, it may actually have contributed to me becoming a victim. Later in life my abuser always showered me with praise to gain my trust, which I now know as grooming.
My mother (and father) never just told me I had done well. Praise always came with a caveat of what I could do better next time. As a result I have lived a life, never having heard the words “good job Randy” from my mother. I guarantee you it has had a huge impact and created major self-imposed road blocks in my life.
So, back to the story, last Monday night I was awakened from a sound sleep by a voice that merely said “Randy”. It was as clear as if the person were standing right next to the bed. I was instantly wide awake and had no memory of being in a dream. I had no idea who it was and I was a little scared. I listened to see if something was wrong in the house, but I heard nothing.
The next morning as I was driving to Portland I called my rather psychic daughter about it, and she told me was that it was a woman and no more. I then called a friend of mine who understands psychic phenomenon and has helped guide me on my life path and I asked her about it. She asked me who had been on my mind lately. I had not been aware of it, but I told her my mother had been on my mind. She then asked me to think about what my mother was trying to tell me.
Since I have become an advocate for survivors of child sex abuse I have had the privilege of working with some amazing people in bringing awareness and helping change a system of oppression towards child victims and survivors. And yet I struggle with my worth and I believe I have limited my own impact by being self-conscious. Who do I think I am? The weight of these thoughts have been on the rise of late.
Well you will never guess what mom came to tell me. She wanted to tell me that I was a good person, my work had great value and she was proud of me. This sounds pretty hokey until you imagine a mother saying it to a little child. And that is exactly who she was speaking to, a five year-old me. I know this for sure because when I imagined that was her message, my response was “it’s hard, but I’m trying to do good mommy.” And then I cried. I cried tears of loss, tears of love, tears of release. My mother has been dead for 41 years and yet I believe she intentionally came to me in the middle of the night, so I would hear her, to give me something she never gave me in life, that unconditional statement we all need to hear from the person that is most important in our lives, “I believe in you.”
It is natural to explain this all away as self created because it is what I needed at the time, but let me finish with the exclamation point she put on it to make sure I knew it was her. After analyzing all this while driving up I-5, ten feet in front of my car windshield an owl flew across my path. I think I have seen an owl like two or three times in my entire life. When I got to my destination I looked up the meaning of owls.
“It should be clear that the owl was honored as the keeper of spirits who had passed from one plane to another. Often myth indicates the owl accompanying a spirit to the next world – winging it’s newly freed soul from the physical world into the realm of spirit…You are being called upon to open your eyes, ears and mind to the truth of a situation; to listen to the wisdom deep in your heart and soul. That still small voice is trying to reach you in some way. To assist you or help you in a current challenge you may be facing.”
A story so base, the love of a mother and a little boy needing to feel that love and wanting to please. Sharing this story makes me feel vulnerable, but there you have it. I think I know what it is going to mean to me in the coming days and years, you can decide if it has any value to you. Whether you are a on a healing path as a survivor of child sexual abuse or some other trauma, I hope you can hear the words, I believe in you. I believe in you. Now try this, I believe in me. Re-read as often as necessary.
It is said that maintaining a feeling of gratitude is the greatest contributor to joy in life. It is also listed as a primary trait in people who live longer than average. I can see how this makes sense. Negativity causes stress and stress affects the body in very real ways. What is now called toxic stress, has been proven to have massive physical and emotional impact including shortened life spans.
Sounds simple, be positive and appreciative, live better and longer. Be negative and a complainer, be sick and die younger. Read that sentence again, because it is the only answer you will find in this article. From here on I just have questions.
How do we move beyond our problems and injuries to feel real gratitude? I don’t have future financial security. The stock market crash and real estate values took most of what we had built up for retirement. After a lifetime of using and abusing alcohol and drugs I have had to give up my instant, “feel good” mood stabilizers. After 42 years of marriage we still have to put effort into “staying together” and maintaining a healthy balance. I find it is extremely difficult and it takes constant effort to be the person I want to be with my immediate family, instead of falling back into former negative behaviors.
Our future seems to fade into a mist. Is talking about child sex abuse and worry going to be the only things that will fill my mind and hold my interest? What will tomorrow bring? Will it be the same or worse than today? The contacts and activities that are satisfying, feel good for at most a few hours and then they are gone, lost in memory. Maybe my former “mood Stabilizers” helped me hold on to those feelings longer. Perhaps the bridges in my feel good neuropathways are in fact all made out of artificial stimulants.
Okay, here’s a thought. Oregon has spent millions and millions of dollars replacing all the bridges in the state because they were old and could not withstand current traffic or earthquakes. I’m beginning to think I need to replace all the bridges in my brain one at a time. Does it make sense to take out the old artificially supported bridges and replace them with positive thinking and gratitude?
I know it’s possible, but really, after sixty years of taking short cuts and denial can I really change? Somehow I survived being sexually abused for three years as a teenager. I survived over forty years of risky behaviors including alcohol and drug abuse. Can I find joy without 2-4 glasses of wine a night? Is there something better than withdrawing into my own private little world that feels as comforting as a womb?
What do I have to be grateful for? A partner who has shared almost everyday for 44 years with me; two daughters who are amazing human beings and I am extremely proud of; six grandkids who drive me crazy at times yet fill my life with incomparable value and give me hope for the future; sobriety (some days unsure on this one); meaning in my life and work; the opportunity to help others; a lifestyle that ranks in the top one percent on a worldwide basis (way more than adequate food, water, housing, clothing and transportation); health; the right of personal choice everyday. I could fill pages with all my gifts. I’m thinking that when something is in too much abundance it looses its value. Do I really have so many blessings that they don’t mean much to me? That’s sick.
Here is where I am going to start today. A friend gave me a tiny blank book with parchment paper. I asked her what it was for and she said whatever you want. I’m going to take it out of the drawer and begin writing daily blessings in it. When I have a good conversation or do something that makes me feel good, I’ll write it in that book. Four things have happened this morning I can write and it’s only 10. As I add to the book I will see past entries, and at the end of the day I will read what I wrote just before bed. Then when I get up tomorrow I will continue building my book of gratitude. After days, weeks and months maybe the bridges in my brain will be supported in a new way to create pathways to satisfaction, joy and gratitude.
There are no guarantees but it seems worth the try to find fulfillment in the midst of all this abundance. Happiness is not the result of how many gifts we have, it is the result of what value we place on our gifts.