Today in therapy I had the realization that, after thirty years, I still blame myself for being sexually abused. Behind that blame is a lot of shame. While I knew there were still part of that blame still within me I didn’t know how deep and raw it was. I also didn’t realize how much remained after all these years. The last time I worked on blaming myself was in 2004. I spent almost two years working hard on the trauma. Prior to that time I had never really dealt with the abuse. During that time guilt and blame was something that I dealt with in length. I thought I had moved past it but I couldn’t be more wrong.
There were certainly signs but it wasn’t something on my radar. Lately I’ve struggled with flashbacks. I haven’t been able to hide from the abuse. Each year my Mom’s family would go on vacation up north in Michigan together. Usually that meant sharing a cabin with my Grandmother who raised my cousin. I can close my eyes and i’m in the cabin where I was abused at. I can feel the walls of the room. The couch I slept on each night after my abuser took what he wanted from me. The shower where I couldn’t wash the shame. The band that was playing next door. I vividly remember it all. My memory is horrible but that week is crystal clear. I remember and can feel the guilt and shame… the fear of not knowing what had happened but knowing it was wrong.
Walking up to my parents door, ready to knock, to tell them what happened but turning away when I feared that they wouldn’t believe me. Not knowing how I would tell them that my male cousin had just sexually abused me. Instead I turned to that aqua blue couch with the old fashioned cloth. I can feel the patterns and how uncomfortable the couch was. I remember waking up in a panic early in the morning fearing that my family would question why I wasn’t sleeping with my cousin. How could I tell my parents that I didn’t want to sleep in the same bed? So I went back into the lion’s den and waited for my cousin to get up. The next night I thought maybe it won’t happen again but it did. I would wait for it to happen… and then wait for him to go asleep… I would shower and sleep on the couch until the sun came up. Somehow I knew when to wake up. For the next week I repeated this pattern.
You are probably wondering how any victim could blame themselves and unless it happens to you it will seem illogical. My brain knows it wasn’t my fault but the other parts don’t. Guilt is a common occurrence for sexual abuse victims. It’s even more complicated when you are gay and your abuser is a male. Abuse is welded into pleasure and self-worth at an early age. When you reinforce these early beliefs for decades it becomes extremely difficult to pull apart that spider web.
It was during puberty that I became an object and my adult years confirmed that to be true. When I was abused I didn’t even know what sex was. I use to think that a woman got pregnant by touching feet with a man. That gives you an idea the frame of mind that I was in. My sexuality from the start was tainted. The abuse was the only thing I had to go by. I didn’t get to go through the typical thing teenage boys do. When something painful becomes pleasurable it becomes a vicious cycle. That’s where the guilt and shame stems from. If you find it pleasurable then you must have wanted that. Society does a good job of victim shaming. My family did when I finally told them eight years later. If enough people repeat these message then eventually sinks in. I was right to not trust my family the first night, which just made me feel even worse. Though I will say my Mom was different. She never doubted me and supported me fully. The rest of the family, including my father, were different.
My cousin was the star of the family. I was the black sheep. For eight years I held this dark secret and was forced to see my abuser often as he lived down the street with my grandmother. I grew up believing my family didn’t love me because of how close they were with him. My father loved my cousin because he hunted and played sports. I did not. I wasn’t worthy of his attention or affection. My grandmother didn’t drive which meant my Mom had to drive him everywhere he wanted. It killed me to watch and not be able to tell him. Many nights I cried myself to sleep.
The day after I told my father that I was abused he went hunting with my abuser. When he found out that I was upset he told me that I had to forgive and forget. All of this just furthered the dialogue that I deserved what happened.
This might sound fucked up but my cousin was my first love interest. I was groomed to fall in love with him. I didn’t ask for it. He took my heart. When he was done with me I was left with rejection, shame and guilt.
I blame myself because I didn’t stop it. That’s the problem with trauma from your childhood, it stunts your growth. So while my body and mind grew up the hurt part of me didn’t. Inside of me is that ten year old boy. So while I can verbalize it’s not my fault to my therapist, I don’t believe it.
I don’t want to believe it. I wish I didn’t. That belief has affected every aspect of my life. When good things happen to me I believe I don’t deserve them so I run away from them. My two years in Chicago were some of the best days of my life. I had my own place and a good job with benefits. I had the most friends that I had ever had. I was involved with the LGBTQ community. I had all of this and it wasn’t enough. I didn’t deserve these wonderful things so I self destructed. No amount of therapy could stop that and I had an absolutely wonderful therapist. I didn’t deserve her either. I tried really hard to be a productive citizen who didn’t have a mental illness and I failed miserably. While my time in Chicago was some of the best times it was also some of the worst. I was hospitalized twice. I had never stuck with any job longer than a year. My job in Chicago lasted 1.5 years but I was on short term disability twice. Life became too much and I returned back to the only thing I ever known.
I was groomed into accepting the bad as the truth. The darkness is comfortable. It’s all I have known. What will it take to overcome these beliefs? I’m not sure. There is a part of me that wishes I could just put the lid back on pandora’s box and pretend like nothing is wrong. Unfortunately that’s not possible. Once the abuse is out in the open it takes a long while to process. The flashbacks are troubling and I can’t control them. I wish I could deal with the trauma without them. It’s not as easy as wishing them away. It’s not a thought that you can make go away. A flashback is so much more than a thought, it’s an experience that uses all the senses. Very quickly you are transported back to that time. Every door you open leads you back into that room.
Others might think that I’m falling apart but honestly I’m doing great considering what I’m going through. In the past this type of awareness would have meant hospitalization. So far I haven’t had to go. I certainly have had moments where I was close to that but I have been able stabilize myself. I don’t think I have had this level of awareness. What makes this time different?
I think for starters I have stopped comparing myself to others. At least to the point where it prevents me from moving forward. I’ve stopped trying the person that others needed me to be. I will never be the typical person who works full-time. I have tried that for the last twenty years and I have failed every time I tried. I have started to take my mental illness serious for the disease that it is. I must manage the symptoms like someone with Diabetes. Each time in the past when I would try to work full-time I would crash into a downward spiral of depression. Workplaces only allow so many sick days before you’re fired. They don’t understand that with PTSD that there are just some days you can’t be convinced to leave your house. Each job that I lost would cause me to lose my insurance and housing. The instability of the last twenty years has also contributed to the deterioration of my mental health.
So what is different about where I’m at today? For starters I have medicaid which allows me to receive continued treatment. I won’t lose this for not working. I know that many people won’t understand my decision to go for SSI disability but they’ve not had to live my life or endure what I have. I’m trying really hard to break the cycle. Going back to work would be a short term solution that would end with me quitting from a nervous breakdown. The next one could be my last and I can’t risk that. If I lose my insurance then I was certainly have another breakdown.
I’ve been in therapy since 2013 and have been on medicine since then as well. This is huge for me. I have never stuck anything out like this. It’s honestly my lifeline. Being on SSI disability will allow me to become more healthy. I won’t have to worry about losing my healthcare (that’s if Trump and the GOP doesn’t take it) from not being able to work. No matter what I know that I can go to therapy and get my medicine. Those two constants have become my stability. SSI will just add one more aspect. I’ve never had stability. Honestly I don’t think I have ever been this stable emotionally.
I have a therapist now that I really like and trust. I have seen various therapists the last four years and this is the first time I have been able to trust someone enough to talk about the sexual abuse in length. Today’s session was tough and I was able to get through it to the point it did put me in dangerous water. So that’s definitely progress.
My stability has allowed me to open up more about the trauma. Being able to recognize that I still blame myself is huge. I just need to continue what I’m doing. Keep moving forward. My therapist in Chicago told me that healing is like an onion, there are many layers. I really feel that I have hit the core or at the very least really close. As tough as it is to be aware of the abuse and the trauma it’s allowing me to heal.
I am able to verbalize that it’s not my fault. A month ago I didn’t even realize that I still blamed myself. Awareness is half the battle and I’m one step closer to believing that I deserve good things. I will continue to process the trauma until I don’t have to anymore.
I was a boy. The responsibility is not mine to own. I didn’t ask for it. I didn’t want it. I was groomed. I deserve love, respect and happiness. I have to stop letting my cousin and others control my body and happiness. I’m not an object. I wasn’t meant to be used or have things taken from. For the very first time I’m taking care of myself and able to see things more clearly. It’s allowed me to have some difficult realizations about myself and admit that I never really stopped blaming myself for the abuse. This was a huge step today and hopefully will allow me to heal. I’m one day closer to believing that I didn’t deserve the abuse, that it’s not my fault. It never was.
It’s not my fault.