We 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
I 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.
When 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.
The last article I wrote was about triggers and learning new ways to address them to produce different outcomes. I called it a reclaiming of my life. I am beginning to think that it is learning what well balanced and healthy children learn as they are growing up. But as they say, better late than never!
I shared that I had a problem with a person of power and potentially for the first time in my life I told them what I needed and set limits on what I would and would not do. I expressed my needs, and set a healthy boundary. That felt like a great success, but it was not the end of the story.
As the process continued I found my boundaries being pushed, like when you stick your finger in an inflated balloon. I was not inclined to move my limits, but the pressure was uncomfortable. In fact it made me feel terrible. How could someone I trusted, try to replace my limits with theirs? After weeks of trying to convince myself I had done something wrong, or was being unreasonable, I ended up with serious health problems and was sick in bed for a week.
One thing I have learned well is to listen to my body and my body was trying to tell me something. When I have managed to ignore all the other warning signs my body will finally scream stop in a way that cannot be ignored! My square edges just would not fit into that round hole. The message I was hearing was if I backed down from my position I would be “sick” from then on. It finally came to me that I was in an abusive relationship and the person who was trying to get me to change my values was not my friend after all.
I wrote an email ending our connection, and I felt better than I had in months. I thought I wanted and needed that for my future and yet things got instantly better when I let go. It amazes me how much strength and peace can come from letting go.
In the past I never would have had this experience because I never would have let anyone get close enough to betray me like that. After my abuse ended, I put up walls to keep everyone out. A major part of my healing process has been to take my walls down and let people in. I have just found out that makes me quite vulnerable.
Being vulnerable is not comfortable territory for most survivors. And yet my life is so much better today than it was when I thought I was protected, I will not consider putting my walls back up. The walls you see, keep out the good and the bad. I would lose the connection I feel to my own family as well as to all the great people and survivors that are part of my life today. I would rather be honest, vulnerable and living in the present moment and risk the possibility of being betrayed again.
If I want to experience the joy of life and connection to other people, I will be vulnerable to attack. But guess what? I am learning that I can even deal with the bad in life and still feel good about myself, and my choices. I think I am happier today after dealing with a bad situation than I have ever been before. Growth and healing can be painful, but also immensely rewarding. I know my life will have many ups and downs, but as long as I keep listening and learning I know I will find a lot of happiness along the way.
I can’t say that I know what I’ve have missed in life because of my abuse, but I can work to stay open to learning new behaviors that are not framed by survival, but may actually enrich my experience on this earth.
An earlier version of this article appeared at Joyful Heart Foundation.
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.
This is probably the most complicated and least understood aspect of child sex abuse. 90 percent of all perpetrators are known to the victims, with 30-40 percent coming from the victim’s immediate family and only 10 percent strangers. The other 50-60 percent are composed of older kids, babysitters, teachers, ministers, coaches, and leaders in youth serving programs. So to state the obvious, in most cases victims are already in a relationship with their offender before the abuse starts.
Offenders take the otherwise normal relationship into new territory in a very calculated way that is usually so gradual that no one notices the difference. It is not uncommon for the even the victim to think this is a normal part of the relationship. What becomes so destructive is that even if they know on some level that there is something wrong, there is no way for a child who is a victim of power and control to rationally separate the abuse from the normal parts of the relationship. The grooming behavior of the offender validates the victim and the abuse invalidates them. I believe most child victims think the abuse is either normal or brought on by their own behavior. As a survivor I may have many rationales for why it happened, but no matter what, I know in my heart it was something I did or did not do. The mantle of shame is mine to wear.
So now the real offender is off the hook. I have completely separated the abusive behavior from them. The positive results to me are many. Not facing the truth helps keep me sane. I have to see the offender likely daily, so now with the abuse locked away under my guard, I can “normalize” my relationship with them. When I am around my abuser in public everything is normal so no one suspects what I have done. The interesting part is that on every other level I can have great respect and deeply love my abuser and as long as I keep the secret locked away, it is easy to show love for him or her.
In my case my offender was my minister. I idealized him. He was my mentor. Everyone, including me, thought he was an amazing gift from God. I wanted to grow up just like him, but I knew I could never be that good. After the abuse ended, I would still go see him on a regular basis. Three years later he performed my wedding ceremony. A year after that he performed my mother’s memorial service. I continued to see him on a decreasing basis until I was in my early forties.
I never once thought, you bastard, why did you do that to me. It was my self-esteem that suffered. I was the one with shame as a constant companion. It never dawned on me that keeping the secret was hurting me. Some part of my brain figured that was the way to be “normal”. Nothing wrong here! Unfortunately that denial and dissociation could not possibly be more destructive.
If you find yourself where I did, open your mouth and begin speaking your truth. Find someone safe and just blurt it out. That is the start. I think you will find you have a lot to unpack once you risk starting. Be prepared, this healing thing is not a destination, but rather an unending journey. Here’s the spoiler: as long as you stay the path you will go to amazing places, meet incredible people, and see, hear and feel things you never imagined. Safe travels and may your journey be blessed.
I am reposting this article I first published over a year ago. It was written by someone I know only as Benny who posted this on a site called Rape is Never Justified. It has brought more comments from people in similar circumstances who just have no guide in navigating the complexities of having feelings for someone who could rape you. As a result this will be the subject of my next post. May all of you who are struggling with this issue find some small solace in that fact that you are far from alone! rse
Maintaining a Relationship With One’s Rapist
by Benny – RNJ Peer Advocate on Monday, September 19, 2011 at 6:17pm
In my last blog, I shared my story with you all and so this week I feel more confident in talking about maintaining a relationship with one’s rapist. In my case, my rapist was my boyfriend and so I continued my relationship with him, for quite some time actually. As odd as this may seem to certain people, it does happen pretty frequently. There are plenty of cases (85% of rapes) where the perpetrator is a boyfriend, or a date, or any version of an acquaintance and so there is some relationship established already. So after such an awful, traumatic experience, why would anyone choose to continue the relationship with the perpetrator? Many reasons actually.
As it seems we live increasingly in a society of critics, I want to share this poem from my book, “Boys Don’t Tell”. In my recovery I discovered how I stayed behind my walls and took cheap shots at those around me. I have also become aware that a lot of us do this. It is so much easier to find fault in others than it is to fix ourselves. There is so much we would have to own if we did take a good inventory, and there you are just like a sitting duck. I chose you.
It Don’t Take No Talent to be a Critic
It’s so easy to find fault
Other people’s shortcomings
Are as easy to spot
As a crooked picture on the wall
Are you going out looking like that
Can you believe how nasty she was
I’m sure you did the best you could
What a horse’s ass
Did you see how much he drank
Are you going to leave that there
Did you see the gap in that trim
You know that beam isn’t level
What did you say?
Getting a haircut soon
You must be tone deaf
Want a mint
Plug up the toilet….. again
You can’t do anything right
Learn to drive, asshole
Seems like maybe
Every time we say these things
We hurt ourselves
As well as the people
We say them about
Kinda like we bring the whole world down
No skill involved
Just shoot at will
I been thinkin’
Maybe the real talent
Is in sayin’ something nice
I ain’t kiddin’
If I say somethin’
That makes you feel good
Then you smile
That makes me smile
And maybe we make
The world a little better place
I know this means
I been wasting my life
With my witty jabs
And clever observations
To help make you a better person
Funny, I thought you would take it better
I never found much acceptance
I always cared,
Just seemed to get further with sarcasm
I want to try a different way
Better late than never
Gonna take notice of what is right
Not what’s wrong
Just think how much more
We could accomplish in life
If we felt better about ourselves
And each other
I want to fill my world
With good thoughts
Want to share them with you too
by Randy Ellison
I am on the road today headed to the OAASIS “A Ray of Hope” conference in Portland, so I will make this short. Yesterday I posted an article and comments on invalidation. To me this is a major piece of the abuse syndrome.
I was the third child of 40 year-old parents and my siblings were four and eight respectively when I was born. Needless to say I did not have much of a voice in the family structure. When I was writing the article yesterday I was picturing how I was constantly ignored and invalidated growing up. Then I met my perpetrator and he was a master groomer and made me feel very validated. Then of course reality sets in and we are completely invalidated.
As I wrote the article I was picturing how all this affected me. I forgot that it is not all about me and when I report on some aspect of my abuse, others respond with how it affects or affected them. We don’t live in a bubble and our actions affect those around us. I was reminded of that fact when I got a call from a family member upset at my blog. Through her tears she told me that was what I did to her. Shit! I knew she was right and I probably knew it when I posted my comments but I was self-absorbed at the time.
I have written about the impact we as victim-survivors have on our loved ones and how the victim traits get passed down. It feels innocuous and safe when I say it like that. When my family calls me on it and says I did that to them, it hits home.
I am so sorry and I promise to try to remember how my words and actions affect others. I’m sure I will screw up again, but by the Grace of God and the voices of my friends and family I will learn.
Here is a blog I never expected to write. Do you fight feelings of attraction to children or adolescents? I have discovered that it is evidently fairly common and if you have not acted on it, it is nothing to be ashamed of and you can get help. I can tell you from living on the other side of this equation, as the victim, the destruction this wreaks is worse that you can imagine. Please make the call BEFORE you act! You will be saving two lives; that of your victim and yours as well.
If this doesn’t apply to you, please consider passing this along, as it may help others. And thanks to Stop It Now for producing this effective material.
Twelve Questions About Your Behavior Only You Can Answer
Do you need help?
If you are wondering about your own sexual thoughts and behaviors toward children, we encourage you to answer these questions honestly. They are designed to help you decide whether you may need help. Take a few minutes to ask yourself the following twelve questions.
If you answer ‘yes’ to more than one question, we encourage you to seek help from a professional. Please visit our Online Help Center at http://GetHelp.StopItNow.org for information, guidance and referrals. You can also call the Stop It Now! Helpline for more information at 1.888.PREVENT (call for available hours).
Answer YES or NO to the Following Questions:
- Have you ever felt a sexual attraction to children or underage teenagers (a boy or girl 17 years old or younger)?
- Have you kept secrets from others about your attractions to children or underage teens?
- Have you looked at or purchased pornography that showed children or underage teens?
- Have you ever secretly watched children or underage teens (window peeping or voyeurism) or exposed yourself (exhibitionism) to children or underage teens?
- Have you bought children or underage teens gifts, offered favors, or given them money in order to get them to trust you and like you? If so, were you hopeful that you could touch them sexually, or get sexual good feelings from them?
- Have you shown pornography (or material that is sexual in nature) to children or underage teens, or intentionally left it where they could find it?
- Have you ever told yourself “age is just a number” or “he/she is mature for his/her age” or something similar to make yourself feel better about your sexual thoughts or behaviors toward children or underage teens?
- Have you ever wanted to stop either looking at child pornography or sexually fantasizing about touching children or underage teens — but did it again?
- Do you find that romantic/sexual fantasies about, or sexual behavior toward, children or underage teens interfere with your relationships at home or work?
- Does your sexual attraction to children or underage teens conflict with your spiritual beliefs or moral values?
- Has your sexual attraction to children ever left you feeling worried, frightened, ashamed, hopeless, different, alienated from others, or suicidal?
- Have you ever felt that your life would be better if you were not sexually attracted to children or underage teens?
And for help: http://www.stopitnow.org/ohc/312
by Randy Ellison