Many years ago friends of mine had a big hit with the song Harden My Heart. The song is about ending a relationship that turns bad. The connection to abuse is palpable.
Cryin’ on the corner, waitin’ in the rain
I swear I’ll never, ever wait [trust] again
You gave me your word but words for you are lies
I’m gonna harden my heart
I’m gonna swallow my tears
Those words are exactly how I entered adulthood and I suspect they are the unconscious mantra of many survivors of long-term child sex abuse. That level of betrayal and personal violence for most of us came from someone we knew and trusted, and for many, someone we actually loved. For me this was probably the most destructive outcome of my abuse. How am I supposed to learn to let anyone else in when the boundary between love and abuse was not just walked over, it was shattered. If love equals being abused, then I guess I must live with both, or give up on love.
I’m gonna harden my heart
I’m gonna swallow my tears
We have a lot of science now to help understanding people living with severe trauma. Our brains are short circuited and rewired so when we feel a threat, imagined or real, instead of processing through the reason centers of our brain, we move to fight, flight, or freeze in a split second.
Everyone falls into one of those three reactions. Some are fighters. You can tell by the anger that is kept at the ready. Others take flight. I’m outta here! And a third group freezes. They often fall back into a victim mode and risk repeating abusive relationships.
As a child I froze. Then I did a lot of fighting back as an angry young man. Flight is the best description of me now. Once I feel crossed, it is over. No discussion. No explanations. I am gone and you are out of my life. Period. I am a pro at pushing people away. I have often said that I am tough as nails, which is an inaccurate description. My soft heart is protected by almost impenetrable steel.
Cryin’ on the corner, waitin’ in the rain
I swear I’ll never, ever wait [trust] again
Harden my heart, harden my heart
Living most of my life not having the slightest awareness of all of this, you can imagine I have a trail of people and relationships left in my wake. It also means that there are very, very few that actually know much about the man behind the tough bravado (except through my advocacy work).
The relationships that have survived are ones that never threatened me, or my secret. Family who were there before and after revealing are probably the most challenging. My learned patterns are that of a PTSD survivor, and that is entirely different from me as a survivor on a healing path. What happens in many conflicts within that circle is that I get frustrated trying to express my feelings, and I walk away feeling hurt, angry, and judged. I believe my reaction is actually based on fear of not being able to say no or defend myself. So instead of showing who I am, I run to the safety of my fortress, alone.
I’ve been waiting for a feeling [of safety] that never, ever came
It feels so close, but always disappears
Now I find myself at a crossroads. I no longer wish to be in relationships that I do not feel fully safe to be myself. The feeling of dissatisfaction and unhappiness has grown old along with me. I desperately want to learn to sit in a room with others and be able to express how I feel, without my protective walls going up.
It makes me start to sweat just thinking about that. How scary for that little boy in me that was so horrifically violated to imagine coming out into the light without protection. It is something I have rarely done one on one, and I’m honestly not sure I can, but if I am to give and receive the love and affection my heart longs for, I must.
(Un)Harden my heart, (un)harden my heart
A special thanks to Marv and Rindy Ross, not only for their amazing music, but their commitment to support others as they walk a healing path. Harden My Heart Written by Marvin Ross, Marvin Webster Ross • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc
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, 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 and dissociation can work fine as coping mechanisms, but they keep us in our box of loneliness.
Is it really worth it to stand up 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.
We’ve all heard of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It refers to changes in the brain and our functioning after an experience of extreme trauma. It can actually change our genes and the wiring of our brains. Military veterans and survivors of physical and sexual assault are common victims of PTSD. The new buzz phrase is “trauma informed treatment” for survivors of sexual and gender based violence. It is important to understand how trauma affects the brain to understand what the survivor is experiencing.
We also read things like the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE) or a book like Scared Sick, by Robin Carr-Morse to learn what devastating health issues may befall survivors of child abuse. I know, I have experienced many of those outcomes! I have also had survivors get mad at me for sharing the ACE Study with them. I hear, “Thanks a lot asshole, now I know how miserable my life will continue to be.”
But there is more to surviving trauma than the negative ways it changes us. There can be very positive outcomes. I have recently become aware of a new field of study called Post Traumatic Growth, a name coined by two researchers from University of North Carolina, Dr Richard Tedeschi and Dr Lawrence Calhoun. Now Jim Rendon explores their theories in the recent book Upside: The New Science of Post-Traumatic Growth.
Talk about a dichotomy; one is a painful disorder and the other an awakening, and they are both supposed outcomes of trauma. What the hell? As it turns out, scientists are finally discovering that people who put a lot of effort into healing from trauma often grow in surprising ways.
As we begin healing, most of us start from a place of hurt, anger and often despair. We know that severe trauma is held emotionally in our minds and has no language, so that when we first tell or write our story, it give us words to help understand what happened to us. That is where most survivors begin and every one I know tells me that just telling their story helps them heal.
That process of speaking, writing and going to counseling is exactly what results in Post Traumatic Growth in many people. The amount of introspection and rumination of one’s life while healing often changes how we see ourselves, and our place in the world. For me, I had to find a way to put meaning into my life after all the pain and dysfunction.
Dr Tedeschi compares a traumatic event to an earthquake that damages a building. The challenge is to see the opportunity presented by this seismic event. “In the aftermath of the earthquake, why not build something better? Don’t just live beneath the rubble (which many of us do!), don’t just build the same old building that you had before….”
He describes 5 factors of post traumatic growth:
- Personal Strength (feeling personally stronger)
- Appreciation of life
- Relating to others in new ways (intimacy, compassion, showing up)
- New possibilities for life
- Spiritual change or growth
I have often wondered why I find survivors to be such amazing people. Many either work for, or started organizations that exist to prevent abuse or support survivors. Now I see that it is an outcome of growth from their healing process. “With post-traumatic growth, a person who has faced difficult challenges doesn’t just return to baseline, which is what happens with resilience,” explains Tedeschi. “They change in fundamental, sometimes dramatic, ways.”
“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, it’s insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” Cynthia Occelli
So to those of you out there who are just beginning your healing or wonder, “What comes next?”, think about the fact that often, new life comes because of the catastrophe, and it is not just course correction, but an entirely new direction.
In 1998 a 24-year-old woman was gang raped by four men, two of whom were football players at Oregon State University. A sexual assault evidence kit was given by the victim. An investigation was done and the young men were arrested and charged.
The victim decided to not press charges because the ordeal, as it was described by the DA, would force her to relive those horrible hours over and over again. It was just too much. You see, she had been sexually abused as a child and suffered domestic abuse later in life. In her mind she had “worthless” and “use me” written all over her. No way she could stand up to that as a single mother of two preschool children.
In 2014 John Canzano, sports writer for the Oregonian newspaper interviewed and wrote a three part story on that survivor, who now wanted her name used with her story. The article won awards for the reporter, and Brenda Tracy, who had had many successes in life since the attack in 1998, finally told her story that she had held inside for 16 years.
Once Brenda’s story was out everyone wanted to hear more, even the athletic department at OSU whose coach at the time of the attack, Mike Riley, had called the actions of the (alleged) rapists a “bad choice.” As far as I can tell Brenda has said yes to every request to speak and help create laws to protect, and new policy in colleges.
By the time the story was published the statute of limitations had long expired on Brenda’s assault. In 2015 along with other rape survivors, including Danielle Tudor, Brenda used her newfound public esteem to help pass an extension of the statute of limitations from six years to twelve years.
After some between legislative session meetings including Brenda, Danielle and others from the legal community, on March 2, 2016, the Oregon House of Representatives joined the Senate by passing SB 1600.“if a prosecuting attorney obtains corroborating evidence of the crimes of rape in the first degree, sodomy in the first degree, unlawful sexual penetration in the first degree or sexual abuse in the first degree, after the period described in subsection (2) of this section, the prosecution may be commenced at any time after the commission of the crime.”
WHICH EFFECTIVELY ELIMINATES THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS ON (most) FIRST DEGREE SEX CRIMES IN OREGON!
God willing and the signature of Governor Kate Brown, it will become the law in Oregon Jan 1 2017!
This is not just Brenda’s story or her success. It is my story too, and that of tens of thousands of other survivors just in Oregon. I was part of a group of survivors of child sex abuse who worked together to extend the civil statute of limitations on child sex abuse in 2009 from age 24 to 40, and then tried for the next 5 years to eliminate the criminal.
There is always a key (besides the years of pain and suffering) that pushes us forward to activism to help change a system by which we felt betrayed. I think Brenda’s key was Mike Riley using the phrase “bad choice” for her gang rape. Mine was when the Bishop used the phrase “an incident of sexual misconduct” to describe my three years of sexual abuse by my pastor. The Bishop went on to say my offender “was no longer a licensed clergy, but he now assumes a different role as a lay member of a local church.” Those minimalizations for our pain and suffering are things survivors do not forget.
I made an oath to myself that I would work to see the end the criminal statute of limitations on sex crime before I die. Thanks to Brenda Tracy’s courage and John Canzano for helping her tell her story, I can go in peace… Well, actually there is a lot more to do. We need to add child sex abuse 1, production of child pornography, trafficking and a few others. But what amazing progress we have made!
I want to close first with a mountain of gratitude to Brenda Tracy and her amazing courage. I also want to honor these individuals who courageously shared their stories of child sex abuse at the capitol in Salem since 2009; Letty Merritt, Greg Hatton, Howard Kenyon, Lela Vox, Margie Boulé, Karla Benson, Vaughn Tidwell, Jessica and Gabby Barton (please forgive any omissions). There have been hundreds of others who have spoken, written and worked hard to see this day, including our dear friend and ally Kelly Clark.
In the end the change happened because of people telling their stories. And each time a survivor shares their story it empowers others to do the same. And then over time it changes the world around us for the better. So if you want to see more changes like this, help support a survivor to tell their story and we will fill the world with amazing people like the ones mentioned in this article.
May it be so.
Read Brenda’s story as told by John Canzano here.
We are told not to use the word victim. Nobody wants to identify with being victimized. The words that are preferred are survivor and thriver, or warrior for those who are out leading the movement on many fronts.
I have spent the last 7 or 8 years moving from victim/survivor to thriver/warrior. I have written dozens of articles about learning to take back control of my life after I began therapy. I am a different man today than I was even two years ago, but something is nagging at me.
As I began to heal, I got more comfortable with myself, and being around others. Although I still had (have) trouble like many survivors with feeling inadequate or not good enough. If I send an email and don’t hear back right away, I start thinking of what I said wrong to make them upset with me. Sometimes I do not attend events or gatherings because I just don’t feel comfortable being part of a group. I am truly an introvert. I tell myself there is nothing wrong with that, I am just taking care of myself.
That care means I am safe, I am comfortable and I feel nurtured. Evidently, because I didn’t feel that way as a child or it was taken away from me, I created that space for myself. The piece that I am having trouble with is…..
Read the rest of the article @ 1in6/ Joyful Heart Blog
Note: In an attempt to share healing messages and information on the movement to end child sex abuse I am sending this out to people I think are interested. If you would prefer to not receive this blog, just hit the unsubscribe. If you have any trouble with that let me know and I will take care of it. If you are not getting this emailed and would like to just sign up on the homepage. And please consider sharing this post with anyone you think might be interested.
I have written recently about hiding myself and my talents out of fear, which at least in part is a result of being abused as a teen. As I continue down the healing path new thoughts come to mind about my future, who I am and how I want to live the rest of my life.
When I started High School I signed up for choir. It turned out my teacher had produced award-winning choirs for over two decades. It also turned out that as much as I liked music, I was not the best of singers!
My mother, in her desire to help me, paid for private voice lessons for a year. I learned more about singing and breathing, but no matter how many opportunities were made available, singing was not one of my talents. I think the main problem was tone deafness!
Flash forward to today. At the church I attend there is a woman who has a beautiful soprano voice. As I listened to her sing a solo I couldn’t help but think she would have benefitted greatly from the singing instruction I had as a youth. The more I listened I realized there was not a thing wrong with her voice. It was confidence she lacked. She was tentative and reached for notes that she could easily get on top of. I had this urge to contact her and tell her to let loose when she sings. Let the notes come from deep inside. I longed to hear her full voice.
That led me to think how most of us hold back from our gifts. We aren’t sure of ourselves or we worry what others will think. There is a saying in healing circles, about people being uncomfortable in their own skin. What would my life look like if I used my talents with confidence? What would your life look like if you walked the earth confident and proud of what you are good at? Wow, can you imagine? I’m guessing it would be like getting around on a pair of roller skates.
As a survivor I can say that life has been a lot like being tied to stakes with little room for movement or freedom of choice. My talents have always had a closed lid on them. I use them when I work, but somehow I do not experience joy at my own successes. I rarely walk away from a job saying to myself, “that felt good.” There is a saying that goes like this:
Sing like no one is listening.
Love like you’ve never been hurt.
Dance like nobody’s watching,
and live like it’s heaven on earth.
In other words live life with abandon. So here is my challenge to myself and to you. Write down the things you think you are or might be good at and put a star by the ones on that list you enjoy and have fun doing. Now commit to doing those things more often and make time every day to do at least one of them.
There is a story in Matthew about talents. In that case it refers to money, but it applies to anything of value. We have a choice to bury them, as I did, or use them and watch them grow! We need to shut out our self judgment and reprogram ourselves to fully embrace our talents to give them light to breathe and grow. If it is true that the greatest obstacle to human growth and happiness is ourselves, why not move out of your own way?
I recently renewed my contractors license to help pay expenses. Last week I worked on a sewer pump for a woman. The job was dirty and smelly and it took several days to get it working right. And yes, the pump came on and shot sewage at me! When I told my friend what I was doing, her reaction was ick! I came back with how good I felt, because with my skills and patience I solved a problem this woman had worried about every day for five years.
How much richer our lives would be if we wore our talents like a new set of clothes. Watch me walk down the street in my beautiful coat of many colors, an outfit made entirely of me. And then I wake each day and put on the real me as I walk out the door. Here I am feeling good about myself. I can then see and appreciate you and me in a whole new light.
May it be so!
When I was young it was common for adults, teachers, parents etc. to talk about somebody having a chip on their shoulder. It was a reference to holding a grudge or having an angry attitude.
My parents used it to describe me when I would walk around angry, just daring somebody to cross me. It didn’t matter who stepped up, I just wanted a fight, not physical, but just somebody I could take my anger out on. These days, the saying is “You want some of this!?”
Well I outgrew that kind of blind frustrated adolescent anger… or so I thought. As I look back it was present with me my whole adult life. I believe being abused and unable to emotionally process those feelings contribute to that dysfunction, but I think a lot of us go through life a little pissed off for lots of reason. Always ready with a middle finger for the driver that goes around in the right lane and slips in just ahead of our front bumper, or a quick word to someone who cuts in line at a store.
When I addressed my abuse in therapy over a period of years I changed a lot. I thought I had gotten in touch with my emotional self. I tried to be more open and direct with people. I even got feedback that I was different and easier to be around.
Over the last year or two (while I wasn’t looking) that anger began to take hold again. I would go on a total rant while driving yelling at other drivers and I found myself thinking how other peoples lives would be so much better if they would just do things my way. Randy’s rules; and yet holding that anger and resentment I lost track of myself. I got buried under the mounds of frustrated anger.
It was like I had too many power strips plugged in and no surge protector. The only pressure relief valve I had was yelling. I was holding all my frustration with life and the ills of the world, adding more every day, until I finally just popped like an overfull balloon. It all culminated this summer when I blew up in an angry outburst at a family gathering. And of course like we often do, I took it out on innocent people and jeopardized my relationship with those I love. I believe that when we hold our emotions and do not have a healthy outlet for them, they are going to come out anyway, generally in an inappropriate and destructive way.
It took me a while to get through rationalizing my actions to the point of taking full responsibility. What is interesting is what I did to release it all. First I ate a large helping of humble pie for my actions. It is amazing how healthy it is to just to say I am so very sorry for what I said and did. I was wrong and I hope you can forgive me at some point (it helps get you off your high horse, if you have been sitting on one).
Next I unplugged from the news and electronic media. I had overloaded to the point I could not deal at all. Stopping the flow of negative news and events into my psyche gave me time to empty all that pent up emotion. My learning curve was that it all fell into two categories. The first were things I couldn’t personally do anything about. The second were things I could change, but I often kept my mouth shut out of fear. It is not necessary for me to tell people every time I think they are wrong. I will speak up when I see injustice and feel the need to add my voice to the oppressed or to defend myself when necessary. I find I can have the most impact, by walking my time on earth just being my values. People do notice.
As I said earlier, I don’t think you need to be a survivor of child abuse to find yourself a container for frustration and anger. I think it applies to many of us. If you find yourself pissed off a lot of the time, I hope my little story here will help move you to a healthier place. In closing I will share a piece of wisdom I somehow lost track of.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
And wisdom to know that I need pull back periods to stay healthy.
May I learn to respect the wisdom of nature that every living thing needs different seasons over a year’s time, every year, to replenish and sustain life.
May it be so.
Six months ago I wrote this prayer:
Oh Lord, enter this broken body and weave new pathways. I am weary Lord of trying and failing. I will never quit, but I do seem to make the same mistakes over and over. Old patterns die hard and yet if they don’t die, I fear I might. Please Lord hear my cries, wrap Your loving arms around me and give me courage and hope. May it be so.
It’s hard to know where to start when I have been thinking about this subject all summer and I find it is a circle. The thing about circles is that once you start one, they just keep going without end and from the inside it is not readily apparent where you are.
If we follow circles we end up back where we started. That can be good if we are fixing a mistake or completing something, but if nothing changes it is just a repeat. It’s kind of like watching reruns of our favorite TV show. After a while we can turn the sound off because we have the lines memorized.
I believe I have discovered the same thing is true in life. After living six decades on this earth, I see a lot of patterns. When I look outward the patterns are easy to see in perfect focus. That’s when I look at others and see them making the same mistakes over and over. When I look inward to things that are close up, the patterns are harder to see. It’s kind of ridiculous that we call that farsighted!
So it is, that I now find myself writing about something I was totally unaware of in my recovery. We are told that we were victims only at the point we were assaulted. It is described as a point in time. Afterwards we become survivors. Being a survivor makes it sound like we have skills, and we do. We learn how to survive each hour of the day. It does not indicate the quality of our days, just that we make it through. And it certainly says nothing about happiness or joy.
In the movie “Six Days and Seven Nights”, after crash landing on a deserted island, Anne Heche asks Harrison Ford “Aren’t you one of those guys that you can send into the wilderness with a pocket knife and a Q-tip and they build you a shopping mall?”
Those are the type of skills I have learned very well. I know how to fix things and make things work. Now when people, relationships, emotions and boundaries get involved, that is an entirely different story. Those are the parts of me that being victimized as a child got rewired. That is where in times of stress I fall into a victim stance, which has never served me well.
At this point in my life I find I am looking around saying “This looks familiar, haven’t I been here before?” We hear psychologists talking about the fear response of “fight, flight or freeze.” The pattern I learned from being a victim of abuse was flight.
So here is the circle I find myself in. I work for you and you know I am a good employee (okay, with a bit of an attitude). But that is only on the surface. What you don’t know is my real skill is in making things work and I don’t want you to know that, because if you do, I will be seen. As a person who was victimized, I really would rather not be seen, because people may find out my secret and then I will feel vulnerable and unsafe.
So here is what Randy did. I would become friends with the number two person in charge and I would offer my skills to them for free. Most number two people want to be number one, so they would gladly take my offering and present it as their own. This accomplished several things for me. I got to use my skills, have impact, and I could stay invisible!
Win, win. Right? Not so much. Here’s how that played out. After a period of years the number two person began to take me for granted, and I began to want more appreciation for my contributions the success of the company. I would begin to begrudge getting little credit for my efforts. Then I would quit, pack up my marbles and my family and move on. I would then start a new career (which I did 5 6 times) somewhere else and do the same pattern over again. I even continued a variation of that after I began advocating for survivors. I left people saying things like, “What’s wrong with him?” or “Where did Randy go?”
As I look back now I see my life with entirely new vision. I created a system where I could function in the world without being seen for who I really am, to the point of giving my talents (self) away to others, just so I could be invisible. The shame I carried controlled my life and kept me isolated.
What I did in my work I also did do in my relationships. Remember I am not a fighter. When people misjudge me, I let them. I never defend myself. I just pull back into my private world, the only place I am completely safe and comfortable, and close the door.
I know survivors of child sex abuse who do not leave their homes, ever! What I find interesting is that I do not see my life so very different from theirs now. I snuck around the world in my invisible cape and the people around me were totally unaware of the roles they played. They were actors in my play. Unfortunately I am now thinking that the play was based on living as a victim, and if it ended that way it would be called a tragedy.
I share this story in the hope that anyone who has been victimized might recognize some ways that they set the stage to feel like victims again. I do in fact want to be seen for who I really am. I want to take ownership of my talents, as well as my shortcomings. That is the only way I can break out of my circle based on being victimized as a youth.
Some people refer to it as breaking the chain, but the chains are long gone. I have been the gatekeeper and I now choose to open it. As I take these steps, I can now see in the distance a new world with me in it and the possibility of something called self respect.
I no longer want to fear being Randy.
May it be so.
I 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.**
*Quoted from Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth
I 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.
This article was first published @ 1in6.org
*The Huffington Post Blogs 1/20/15 by Johan Hari