Living in a War Zone: What it’s Like to Live with PTSD

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TRIGGER WARNING: Please be advised that the topics in this post are related to sexual abuse/assault and my experiences as a sexual abuse survivor.

After the past couple of days being triggered by the Weinstein situation I thought it might be helpful for others to be able to look outside in on someone who suffers from PTSD. Posttraumatic stress disorder is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault. An estimated 7.8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, with women (10.4%) twice as likely as men (5%) to develop PTSD. About 3.6 percent of U.S. adults aged 18 to 54 (5.2 million people) have PTSD during the course of a given year.

Unless you’ve experienced PTSD it’s probably tough to imagine what it’s like living with PTSD. I describe it like living in a war zone. You know that you’re surrounded by danger and at any given time bombs could be dropped around you. There usually is no warning or signs it will occur. Once the bombs start to fall you frantically search out any way to take cover. This is very problematic when you have an episode out in public. Years ago when I was working for Xerox I was triggered during work. Thankfully I was working overtime and no one was around me. I felt so unsafe that I got underneath my desk for protection. That is what it’s like to suffer from PTSD.

Depending on the trigger and how extreme the fallout is from it will determine how quickly it will take to come out of that PTSD bubble. Often times I don’t even know that I have been triggered. Weeks later I find myself extremely depressed and feel like it’s the end of the world. It’s at my worst that I realize that I’m in a PTSD episode. I know that I have had a trigger but don’t always know what has triggered me… and I don’t ever find out. Occasionally if the trigger is profound enough I will know right away. Like for example, the whole me too phenomenon on Facebook. When the trigger is that profound it can push me over the edge.

Like I said most of the time I don’t know the trigger and it’s not always specific to a trauma, even though it’s probably somewhere there deep inside. Then there are times that the trigger corresponds to the traumatic event that caused me to have PTSD. When the trigger is related to the traumatic act it puts me into dangerous waters. This was true with me being triggered by the news of Weinstein and people sharing the phrase “not me” on social media. I have spent a great amount of time in PTSD bubbles that I have a better understanding of each episode of PTSD but it never makes it any easier.

My PTSD is centered around the sexual abuse that occurred when I was in my early teens. Most the time I’m not able to talk about it as it becomes too much. I’ve lived with it long enough to know that I need to be careful with who I share this information with, at least the details of the abuse. I can say that I’m a survivor but if I get asked questions about it I will put up the floodgates. Sometimes it’s just easier to not say anything, as most people will want more information out of curiosity. I control when and what I say when it comes to the sexual abuse. When you get triggered I don’t have that choice. It’s like opening pandora’s box. Once that lid has been lifted the flood water starts gushing out uncontrollably. It’s very much like in Alice in Wonderland when she starts to cry, it’s very easy to get washed away.

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It’s easy to push away a few articles and not have to know the details. When you are on social media anytime something big like the Weinstein news hits everyone knows pretty quickly. I started to see a few “me too” posts in my feed which wasn’t trigger as I could easily scroll past them and they started off being just those two words. Once it caught on my whole feed was filled full of victims admitting to have had some sort of sexual abuse. That’s when it started to be overwhelming. I learned a long time ago that I’m a sponge when it comes to others pain. It’s easy for me to get taken under from it, as the person becomes a mirror and I see my own pain.

I couldn’t get away from it. Once you’re triggered you can’t flip that switch back off. It’s just not possible. For me, when I’m triggered by something relating to the actual sexual abuse I get transported back to that time and place. So by Monday evening I was in the cabin that I was sexually abused in. Every door I tried to open would lead me back into that cabin. I could close my eyes and see every aspect of that cabin from the wooden walls to the musty cabin smell. I have a photographic memory of that cabin in all senses. I can hear the band that was playing in the messhall. I can feel the fabric of the sheets. When I close my eyes I can even walk through that cabin.

Once I’m transported back to that cabin then I start to have flashbacks of the sexual abuse. This is what really pushes me over the edge. The images are persistent and extreme. I relive every moment of the abuse. My mind races like I’m in a race to the finish line. It’s unsettling and alters every aspect of your life when you are in the belly of the beast. You try with all your might to get the images out of your head. In the past when I get this triggered it’s ended with me being hospitalized as it takes me to dangerous levels. I either become suicidal or feel like I’m going crazy… that’s how intense the flashbacks are.

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When you have a flashback you relive not only the physical assault but the feelings that arise because of the evil act done to you. Deep feelings of shame and guilt. A dirtiness that no soap will wash away. I didn’t just get triggered by the sexual act and the feelings that were attached from it but the rejection that occurred when I finally told my family seven years later.

At first I was triggered just on the size and scope of those affected by sexual abuse. People started to share personal stories. I couldn’t escape it. I was spiraling out of control already when I started to see some women question the validity of men also saying me too as well. One article I read said that male victims should just sit down and listen, that this movement wasn’t about them. These comments just stoked the fires of my PTSD. Each comment reminded me of a pain that occurred when my family didn’t believe me when I came forward about the sexual abuse. I was hearing my family tell me again and again that my pain and feelings weren’t valid… that I should just go back into the closet like a good little boy.

This is what it’s like to be triggered. You start to live these moments over again which I have done in the following paragraphs below. Once you start down this path you fall down the rabbit hole and can’t stop it until you come to the end. So if you don’t want to go through the gory details scroll to the end to finish this blog post.

It was then I went into the danger zone. I went seven years without telling my family. I didn’t tell anyone about the abuse because I didn’t think anyone would be believe me. Those seven years of my life were complete hell. Each day that passed chipped away any self esteem and self worth that I had. I remember crying myself to sleep at night because I didn’t think anyone loved me. My abuser was my cousin, who lived down the street from me with my grandmother. I couldn’t get away from him. All that time I knew this dark secret that I couldn’t share and I had to watch my parents love him. My grandmother didn’t drive so that meant my Mom had to drive him everywhere he wanted to go.

My cousin was the start of the family. Everyone loved him. He was the stereotypical jock. He was the captain of the Football and Basketball team. All the girls in school loved him and all the boys wanted to be him. I on the other hand was not. I was the boy who always wore sweat pants. I was the sensitive one. I didn’t fit my family’s mold of what a boy should be. Chad (I hate saying/seeing his name still to this day) was the son that my Father had always wanted. He hunted and fished. My father and him would go hunting all the time. Each time destroyed me. I so desperately wanted to tell someone but the fear was too much. He could do no wrong. This wouldn’t change when I came out about the abuse to my family. My worst fears came true.

While most of my family didn’t validate or believe me my Mom did… She never once doubted me and when she found out who abused me she wanted nothing to do with him. My father was different. He believed me but he didn’t care. The next day he went hunting with him. When my Father found out I was upset he told me that I needed to forgive and forget. The rest of the adults of the family chastised me. Being gay was worse than being a child molester. How dare he spread shame onto the family and say such horrible things about their beloved Chad. My Aunt told my mom that boys will be boys like we were just playing a game.

I wasn’t the only cousin in my family who was molested. I was just the only one who spoke about it. To make matters worse is that the adults of the family knew of the abuse and did nothing. When my cousin sexually abused me he stole my innocence and left behind the belief that I was unlovable and worthless. I became an object that he could own. I was bullied in school pretty frequently and whenever he saw someone bully me he would stop it… but then he’d turn around and bully me. I was his property.

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When my family rejected me they confirmed that I was unlovable and worthless. I had seven years of practice and by the time they were done with me I was left broken. When I came out about the abuse I also came out of the closet. While my Mother believed the abuse happened the news of me being gay took precedence. I lived in Southern Baptist family which was all about fire and brimstone. Being gay meant burning in hell for eternity. So you can imagine how my parents reacted to the news that I was gay. My Mom cried for weeks. I was called abnormal. Told over and over that I was going to hell.

The brunt of the emotional abuse was by the hands of my Father. He used the bible as a weapon. God we the jury, judge and executioner. The words he repeated and over brainwashed me into believing that I was going to burn in flames in eternity. If I had any self esteem left my father extinguished them that day. I was told that I would die of AIDS, that I had always wanted to lose weight and I finally would get that chance. He painted this picture of me dying alone in the hospital from AIDS. His words and voice are forever in my ear…

The next year was pure hell for me. I was cut off from everything. It almost destroyed me. Before I came I out I bought a computer. Living the rural Midwest there weren’t anyone like me nearby. The internet was a great refuge. I not only was able to connect to other gay people but also sexual abuse survivors. Well when I came out they took away that connection. I’ve never felt so alone and scared in my life. My father was right. I was living in hell. I got the typical responses like how do you know you are gay? or why don’t you at least try… My parents proved that their love had conditions and just furthered my beliefs that I was unlovable.

Finally things went back to how they were before. It was like I was back in the closet. Everyone knew but no one talked about. It ate away at my soul. I was never kicked out or forced into a conversion camp but how my family treated me would forever alter me. I would spend the next twenty years getting myself in similar situations which would further damage me.

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I’ve gone through periods where I would get triggered so deeply about the abuse that it would end with me being hospitalized. The first time was in 2000. It was the first time that the abuse sent me spiralling into a nervous breakdown. Pain is like putting air into a balloon. You can only put so much air into the balloon before it either explodes or goes flying around the room like a chicken with it’s head cut off. I couldn’t take the trauma anymore and went cray cray. I went from not being able to say his name to obsessively repeating his name over and over. I couldn’t stop saying his name. I was in the hospital for about a month and when I was released I went back to pretending like I was okay.

I went back to work and everyday life while deep inside I was dying. I wanted nothing to do with talking about the past so I dug a hole into my chest and buried the pain. Fast forward to 2004. I finally was free from my past. I had moved to Chicago, away from the rural nightmare. I was surrounded by bright lights and gay people. It felt like I was in heaven. I finally found my home but my past caught up to me. No matter how much success I achieved and the happiness I found would equal to the beliefs that I didn’t deserve anything good. I slowly started to self destruct because the good things I had finally achieved scared me senseless. I had the greatest job I had ever had with equally great health insurance. My manager at Xerox was also the best I had ever had. When you work in customer service often times you are seen as a number. You’re a robot to management. If you are great at what you do they run you into the ground because the rest of the employees don’t value the work quite like you do. I finally had a boss who saw my potential and appreciated my hard work. I was even on track to get a promotion to be a trainer. I had even gotten involved with the LGBT group at GE, as a leader.

I had the most friends I had ever had. I was happy… really happy… I had my own apartment. A beautiful garden apartment. Like I said the past started to creep up on me and I started to unravel. I had never lived in a city with such a large gay population. I felt like a kid in the candy store. When you’re violated sexually it’s easy to feel like an object. My dating life up prior had only confirmed those feelings. Most men wanted only one thing from me and that always was sex. So I gave them what they wanted because I was brainwashed into believing that was my purpose. The lines between sex and love were welded together. The harder I tried to pull them apart the more entangled I became.

When your life is filled full of heartache, disappointment and pain you learn to numb out the pain anyway you can. When I came out and struggled to find someone to love me I desperately took anything I could. Something was better than nothing. Prior to moving to Chicago I fell in love with a man who just didn’t have the capacity to love me back. Though he made it seem like he could until he got what he wanted. Once I served his purpose he was gone. He was just another man who used me and then rejected me. My cousin was my first rejection and each rejection after that instilled the idea that I was property deeper. It was the final rejection before I gave up on love. I thought he loved me. About a month later he had a secret to tell me. He had an STD and didn’t tell me because he was afraid I wouldn’t be interested in him. I foolishly believed he meant for love but instead he meant sex. When my feelings for him because too much he ended things with me. He just used me for sex. The last time I felt such devastation was when my cousin rejected me. You see once he found that women could give him what he wanted he threw me away like I was trash. I forced me to love him like a painful addiction. He got me high on his attention and then left me to detox. He was my first love and my first rejection.

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This man who I loved put me in harms way because he wanted to have sex with me. I stayed with him even after he told me because I thought he loved me but he did not. Afterwards I gave men whatever they wanted. I couldn’t take one more rejection and trust being lied to, so I gave men what they wanted.

The internet was both a blessing and a curse for me. What giveth taketh away as they say. The abuse taught me that from pain comes pleasure. I was desperate for attention. Sex gave me that. If I could find guys who wanted to have sex with such a hideous beast like me then that must mean that I’m attractive. The pleasure from one night stands were intense but they didn’t last. I would leave through their door and into the cabin that I was abused in. I fell into this cycle many times. Sometimes I would spend hours even days looking for someone who would have sex with me. The longer it took to find a hookup the more desperate I would get.

Because I didn’t think I deserved anything good and had no value to my life I started to engage in risky behavior. My Father told me that I deserved AIDS so I did whatever I could to contract it through unprotected sex. It was a self-fulfilling prophesy. I was so worthless that I didn’t deserve to live. I was so miserable that even in my subconscious I wanted to die. Whenever I would hook up I would immediately feel dirty. I would always shower afterwards like I did when I was sexually abused. Each time I relived those moments over and over again. Then I would become suicidal which led me to be hospital again.

My time in Chicago was the first time I started to process the sexual abuse and everything that occurred because of it. I found an amazing therapist and started to open up slowly to her. I even joined a survivor group for me. I was making progress but it wasn’t enough to take over the bad. I couldn’t break the broken record of hooking up because deep down inside I believe that was all I was worth. I did what I always did and ran away. That was always my solution when life got to be too much. I went back into hiding. My time in Chicago included both the best and worst times of my life.

2006 was the last time I dealt with the sexual abuse. The abuse was a book that I put back on the shelf… I knew that it was there but I didn’t dare look at it let alone open it and read the pages. I went back to life and tried to survive like everyone else. I failed miserably. I moved to another city and got into a relationship with an abusive man. The abuse was always emotional but it was starting to lean towards the physical. I almost stayed because I didn’t think I could find anyone else… that was what I deserved. The last straw was when he tried to hit me in the head with a big stick. It was fight or flight. What could have been a wonderful life turned into turmoil because I invited the beast into my life once again. This time I didn’t wait for him to leave me, as it could have been my death.

Again I went back to faking it. I moved back home to Michigan. I struggled but I did what I always did and I survived. That came to a screeching halt when my Mom got Cancer in 2012. We found out the horrible news in April and by September she was gone. My worst fear had come true. While our relationship was flawed I knew she loved me. Through it all she was always there for me. She came to accept me being gay. She would even ask me about my dating life. One of the last memories I have of her is her standing up for me to a homophobic cousin of hers who did the typical he’s going to hell and needs to be saved. She let her have it. To have her stand up for me meant the world to me. I often wonder if she knew she was dying.

My Mom had a rare form of Cancer called Carcinoid because it was so rare not many doctors were able to treat it. We couldn’t find anyone in Michigan to help her and had to go to Nashville to get her help. She needed to have the tumor removed. We drove down to Nashville for her surgery. It never dawned on me that she wouldn’t return home alive. Sometime that first week after surgery she got an infection and had to have an emergency surgery. After the second surgery she had to be sedated and put on life support. The last 21 days of her life were in an ICU. During that time I didn’t leave her room. I couldn’t leave her side. I was a boy once again desperately holding onto the woman who gave me life. Up until the end I didn’t lose hope.

The last day of her life I was awoken in the early hours of Sunday morning to my Mom surrounded by Doctors, nurses and other staff. The only lung left had collapsed and her vitals had reached dangerous levels. They put her on dialysis and i was told if her numbers didn’t improve she would die. Hours had passed and her numbers continued to drop. She was dying and there was nothing I could do to stop. I stayed by her side until the end. I held her tight as I sobbed. The person who was always there for me to comfort in my hour of need was slipping away from my grasp. I had no one to turn to. I was alone in a big city, hours away from home. She was taken off life support. My tears drenched her hospital gown as I watched her flatline on the EKG machine. It was slow, one heartbeat escaping at a time… she was gone… I lost the one person who truly loved me.

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Life as I knew it was over. I couldn’t imagine a world without my Mom. Once again my mental health spiraled out of control. I had struggled with depression most of my life but I was always able to snap out of it. This was the first time that didn’t happen. Suicidal thoughts were pretty common for me when I was at my worst but this was the first time I had a plan. I didn’t want to live anymore. I couldn’t take the grief. No matter how hard I tried to escape that hospital room I couldn’t get away from the grief. I was drowning in tears. I had the pills in my hand ready to take. That’s how close I came to killing myself. Thankfully I put a desperate plea for help on Facebook. That was the only way I knew how to ask for help. Losing my Mom was another traumatic experience that added another level to my PTSD.

Again I was hospitalized but because I didn’t have insurance I was sent to a halfway like house. While I didn’t quite get the help I needed it did start the process of me getting the help. I was put on medicine and when I was released I was setup with a therapist. The next four years I stayed on my medicine and continued therapy. The past four years haven’t been easy by any means. While the medicine helps with the helplessness I still cycle in and out of deep depression. I’ve tried really hard to live on my own and start a new life one where I treat my mental illness like the disease it is. I never stuck with anything for very long. Stability wasn’t a luxury that I was given. I gotten use to having to pick up everything and moving. In fifteen years I had to move twenty times.

I’ve been on medicine since 2013. I’ve also consistently been in therapy even when I had to find a new therapist which I had to do four times in four years. The person I use to be would have given up after the first time. Trust is huge when opening your wounds to a stranger but my life hadn’t gotten so bad that I knew I had to keep pushing forward. So I kept jumping hurdles. In the last year I’ve had to move three times, not by my choosing. The last move was to the town near my family. Finally I thought I could settle down but it was not meant to be.

I recently discovered that while I’ve made a lot of progress since 2013 I have not been living. I have just been surviving and miserable at that. I’m homeless and have nowhere to go but a homeless shelter. Whenever I start to think of going to live in a shelter my mind goes to dangerous places. Lately my depression has been very severe. I go weeks without showering. Everything is a chore. Even brushing my teeth is like climbing Mount Everest. No matter how horrible I’m feeling I make sure to go to therapy every week. No matter what I know that I have therapy. It’s the only consistent thing in my life.

This is where we go back to the present day. We are outside the PTSD bubble, at least in the blog post. Sadly in real life I’m still inside the bubble trying to find my way out.

So life was hunky-dory (well not really) until a few days ago… This is what it’s like to be triggered. You get transported back into time. It’s unstoppable. It hooks you like a fish and drags you under the current. I already had a lot on my plate already. Homelessness doesn’t suit me. It doesn’t suit anyone actually but it’s the situation I’m in.

Since the trigger has started I’m trying the best I can to not lose my mind… It’s not been easy. I come in and out of conscious constantly. Just when I think I have escaped the abuse is replayed in depths of my mind. You’re talking about the worst feelings you could imagine. At the heart of the pain is scared, little boy. Who is damaged and hurting. It’s like Voldemort when Harry Potter destroys the last horcrux. The forces trying to keep me down are just as scary and dangerous. The pit is the darkest of night. There is no light. There is only misery and suffering. These forces are always at my doorstep waiting for the first opportunity to drag me under.

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I might be weak. I might not be able to run any longer. I might be slow but I’m still moving forward… crawling… I’m fighting harder than I ever have before. I’ve not come this far to have some trigger do me in. For now I’m okay. I’m outside the cabin but I know at any moment I will be back in the bedroom where this all began. That’s the bad thing about being in a PTSD episode it’s like being lost. You have no map to guide you home. Sometimes the only way out of an episode is through a hospitalization. That’s where I’m heading. It’s where I must go if I ever want to make this a go. If I really am going to live I must go to the place of unknown. It’s scary to have to venture home in a land unknown. It’s like walking in the darkness. You don’t know if your next step will be your last.

But you gotta keep trying. Sure deep down inside I still believe I’m worthless and unlovable. Yes, I’m in a PTSD bubble and it’s unknown when I will find my way out. I have all of this fighting against me. It’s held me behind for too long. I’m tired of giving into it. I can’t do that any longer. It’s slowly killing me. I might be at the end of my rope but I still have hold of it. So I will continue to fighting and speaking out. I might not have a lot left but I have my voice… My will to fight… and my family…

I matter. My mind knows this. I’m aware that there is a disconnect between my mind and my heart. The darkness has my heart trapped and the path destroyed. I feel it deep within. It’s what’s kept me alive. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring but I know I want more out of life. I deserve so much more than the life I have lived. I somehow gotta learn a new. Start on a new path because I know the world needs me.

I might not have had the support and help I desperately needed so many years ago but I can ensure that others do. I will do this by continuing to speak out and share my story. My life has to have meaning and purpose. I know what it’s like to be rejected, cast out. To have others not believe you. To have your suffering go unvalidated.

Others might argue that the me too movement is not the time for male survivors to come forward. Some might think we should just sit back and listen. While the experience of male victims might look differently than a woman the pain is the same. The same thing is stolen from each gender. If you start comparing pain in terms of number and strength is when you start to slip down the slippery slide.

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Predators don’t stop with women. Men can fall into the power trap too. I understand that women have had to take the brunt of the abuse and have been most visible but to disregard another genders experience because of that doesn’t help anyone. If the rules of society will ever change then we must look at all aspects of sexual abuse. There are gender norms and rules that we must overcome. Misogyny is the symptom of the disease that is toxic masculinity. The cycle of abuse repeats when the victims stay silent. To silence male victims won’t break the full cycle.

Whenever is the right time to talk about abuse. People are arguing that by including men in the conversation will take away from the experience of healing but if things will ever change doesn’t all parties have to be involved. Sexual abuse is only talked about when something big like Weinstein comes to the surface. It’s talked about for a while but then everyone goes back to normal and nothing ever changes. We need to have ongoing conversations about sexual abuse. Predators are expecting us to stay silence. That is where they get their strength from. There are more of us than there are of them. Power has controlled them and they feel like they own the world. It’s up to us to stand up to them using our voices to remind them where they belong.

If people don’t want to talk about men who abuse women then they certainly won’t when the victims are men. I learned this from my family. Homosexuality is the ultimate break of the gender norms. Why else would so many have a problem with it? If society won’t accept consensual same sex attraction then nonconsensual doesn’t stand a chance. That’s why I believe it’s important that all victims be included because if we waited for our time it will never come. You can honor both experiences without taking away from another.

These gender rules are ingrained into our social consciousness. I was watching the Big Bang Theory the other night. In the episode Howard is freaks out when he finds out he’s having a boy. He freaks out because he’s afraid that he won’t be able to teach him to do the things that men do. The character was comparing himself to the gender norms of being a man that all men are sportsmen. Howard doesn’t fit the gender norm. Sure it’s a fictional situation but it shows the pressure that men have to endure. When you fall short in comparing yourself to the typical male then it’s very easy to feel less than. To those who take advantage of power they believe in the rules and will do whatever they have to enforce them… to keep them alive. These men feel like they own the world and can do with it however they see fit. I’ve been around men like this all my life.

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While many of the cases of serial predators like Weinstein victimize women there are enough cases where the victims are boys and men to take notice. One example are the countless priests who molested many boys. That’s the ultimate betrayal to be violated by a supposed man of God. Just like the Weinstein case the Catholic church knew about the abuses for years. Think about all the boys lives who were forever changed. Being violated as a child is something you just don’t get over. I was molested before I hit puberty. I didn’t know what sex was. I had my innocence was stolen. These boys were abused within the same power structure. Another example is the Sandusky case. Here was another man in power who sexually assaulted young boys. The abuse went on for years and many people were aware of the allegations. Like the Catholic Church those involved in the football program at Penn State didn’t do a thing and they knew about it for years.

Boys who don’t fit the masculine mold grow up feeling less, many of them are bullied. They’re called names like sissy and are seen as subservient. Many of these boys attempt suicide. Toxic masculinity sets up boys and men to fail especially if you are GBTQ. Many boys who are GBTQ are kicked out and end up on the streets. To survive these boys are forced into prostitution which leads to sexual abuse including rape.

Researchers have found that 1 in 6 men have experienced abusive sexual experiences before age 18. Prevent Child Abuse America states that sexual abuse of boys is common, underreported, underrecognized, and undertreated. Sexual abuse of girls has been widely studied, leading to awareness of the risk factors and prevalence. Unfortunately, there have been relatively fewer studies done on sexual abuse of boys, leading to inadequate knowledge about the facts related to this topic. Some of the studies that are available have a high degree of subjectivity, poor sampling techniques, and poor designs with few control elements. Underreporting is a result of many issues. Boys are less likely than girls to report sexual abuse because of fear, the social stigma against homosexual behavior, the desire to appear self-reliant (boys grow up believing that they should not allow themselves to be harmed or talk about painful experiences), and the concern for loss of independence. Furthermore, evidence suggests that one in every three incidents of child sexual abuse are not remembered by the adults who experienced them, and that the younger the child was at the time of the abuse, and the closer the relationship to the abuser, the more likely one is that the child will not be able to recall the event.”

Men are also not exempt from sexual assault. Male rape victims are less likely to come forward those who do are usually disregarded. Rainn states that 1 out of every 10 rape victims are male. They further state that 21% of TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming) college students have been sexually assaulted, compared to 18% of non-TGQN females, and 4% of non-TGQN males.

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Sexual assault in the military are also significant. In 2014, ten percent of the 18,900 victims who came forward were male. Male victims are also less likely to come forward due to the stigma attached to toxic masculinity and military culture. Men are supposed to be tough. They don’t talk about their problems. Jim Hopper, a psychologist and researcher, and Russell Strand, a retired Criminal Investigative Service special agent, spoke about an aspect of sexual violence not often discussed: sexual assaults on men. There is a reluctance in men reporting assaults. So 87 percent of men attacked are not reporting it and “these are real men in real pain,” Hopper said. The pain is compounded by shame. Being sexually assaulted brings additional feelings of shame to a man because it works against the ideal of what it means to be a man, he said. Men who have been sexually assaulted believe they are not worthy of respect, Strand said. “Most people who sexually assault adult men are heterosexuals,” Hopper said. “And those same heterosexual men who are assaulting men are often the same men assaulting women.”

Many males won’t get help, he said, because they feel they won’t be believed, understood or supported. “Part of that is they know most people don’t expect men to be assaulted, that this can’t really happen to ‘a real man,’” Hopper said. They are also afraid of their friends or teammates finding out what happened to them, he said. They believe they will be looked at as less than a man, that they will be ostracized and shunned. And, many victims see the assault as the death-knell to their careers. So while the numbers might not be as high as the victimization of women the numbers make no difference in the trauma and long-term damage to the victim. To silence male victims for that reason only furthers the narrative that men won’t be believed or validated.

The likelihood that a person suffers suicidal or depressive thoughts increases after sexual violence. People who have been sexually assaulted are more likely to use drugs than the general public. Sexual violence also affects victims’ relationships with their family, friends, and co-workers. Long term effects can include guilt, self-blame, low self-esteem, negative self-image, problems with intimacy, sexual problems, addiction, depression, anxiety and PTSD. Not all experiences are the same for all victims. Each survivor has a unique set of challenges to face afterwards. Toxic masculinity plays a big role in the male victims in coming forward and getting help. That was the my reasoning for not coming forward. I waited seven years to speak out and when I did I was faced with rejection from my family. I’m not alone. I’ve heard men get laughed out of police departments when they try to report a rape. Many men hold onto these secrets into their forties and beyond all due to stigma.

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Sexual assault can hit men in all aspects of life including at home and in the workplace. According to a recent survey, about one-third of all working men reported at least one form of sexual harassment in the previous year.  Of the 7,809 sexual harassment charges filed in 2011 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commision (EEOC), 16.1 percent were filed by men. By 2013, this had risen to 17.6 percent. Again many male victims don’t come forward due to the stigma attached to male sexual abuse victims. I personally was groped at one of my previous jobs and management didn’t do anything. I ended up quitting because of it.

I’m not able to see how including men in the conversation about sexual assault takes anything away from women who are victims. Unless your argument is that all men are to blame, that somehow all men are inherently sexual deviants. I get it. I really do. Personally I don’t trust men, especially straight men. When I go shopping I pick the lanes that the cashier are men. I avoid eye contact with men. I have always felt more comfortable with women. Growing up all my friends were female. The men in my life who were suppose to love and support me were the ones to treat me poorly. This left me with a negative view on men. This was no different with gay men. I’ve been used for sex more times than not. I understand why women have the attitudes they do about me. This is why it’s important that I speak out and give me experiences on sexual abuse. Stigma leads to further victimization. It prevents victims from coming forward and getting the desperate help they need. Sexual abuse forever alters the lives of the victims. It’s not something you ever get over. You will go the rest of your life having to deal with the ramifications of being sexually assaulted. You’re outlook on life is permanently changed.

Men like Weinstein abuse others out of power. Toxic masculinity gives them permission to treat anyone like their are goods. In order to break the cycle of abuse we must talk about sexual abuse in the open. Doing so helps to extinguish the shame and guilt that occur because of the sexual abuse. As complex as sexual abuse is, the solution is multi-dimensional. If you argue that it’s a woman issue to you silence all the boys and men who aren’t accepted in the all boys club. Doesn’t separating the victims further adds to the power structure. When was the last time you saw a public campaign for male sexual abuse like the me too movement. The answer is probably never.

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What some probably don’t realize is that many of the men who had the courage to say me too were doing so for the first time. To speak out publically takes a lot of courage. It could have been the first step in them getting the help they need. Trust me male survivors are thrown a lot at them when they do come forward. If it could save one person isn’t it worth including all victims? Keeping male victims silent won’t stop these abuses from happening. The question that always comes up whenever a sexual assault scandal is publicized is how others can make a difference. I don’t have all the answers but I do believe that education and prevention early on will make a difference, at least in how quickly someone comes forward. The less stigma there is the more likely someone will come forward. Children need to learn about respect for their bodies and others. When I was sexually abused I didn’t even know what sex was and that was one reason I didn’t come forward earlier. If society only discusses sexual abuse during these scandals nothing will ever change.

Gender norms are harmful to those who don’t fall within the spectrum. Boys and girls grow up feeling less than. They hide who they are to fit in. Sexual abuse is just one symptom of toxic masculinity. Children who are judged unfairly by these rules often develop low self-esteem and self-worth. This only furthers the cycle of abuse. The longer it takes to get help the more damage it causes. The stigma attached to sexual abuse can lead to further abuse down the road when victims put themselves in dangerous situations because they believe they deserve it. Our society has the tendency to blame the victim. When you’re sexually assaulted you have a part of you stolen and it’s something that can’t ever be return. The abuser plants a seed in you that you’re worthless and unlovable. They manipulate and convince you that you’re an object. How society often treats the victims only confirms that the abuser was right. Often times there is no vindication for the harm caused. Many abusers get away with their crimes. This only adds the false beliefs inflicted upon the victim. The rejection from others, when you do come forward, only adds salt to the wound. It further damages you. I think how my family treated me did just as much damage, if not more. I went eight years digging my grave and building my coffin. By the time I came out about the abuse I was already laying down in it. My family put the nails in my coffin and buried me alive. When you have to dig your way out of the ground it forever changes who you are. I’ve spent twenty plus years trying to dig myself out of that grave. To this day that empty grave still remains ready for me to catch me when I fall.

That’s why it’s very important to speak out about all injustices. Those who are strong enough to take a stand are able to liberate others who aren’t able to. It takes a great amount of courage and bravery to come forward. Victims face a lot in their life and it can lead to a very isolating life. The sea of me too’s are a reminder of the strength in numbers. There are more survivors than there are abusers. We must stick together if we are ever to change anything. Pain is universal. Sexual abuse doesn’t save anyone. It inflicts poison into everyone the predator abuses. Someone’s gender doesn’t exclude them from damage. No one is spared from that damage.

Not everyone will understand all of this. My message is not for everyone. I learned that along time ago. When I told my secret I was liberated and got my voice back. While NO is a simple word in terms of vocabulary the strength behind it is more powerful than any other word in the dictionary. Speaking out is my way of saying no. Every day I’m alive I say no. To my abusers. To society. To family who didn’t believe me. To those who try to silence me.

To the stigma attached to sexual abuse. I hope to remind others that they’re not alone. No one should have to suffer alone or feel left behind. Others are consciously choosing to disallow male victims in order to control their emotions. While that might seem like a natural choice does it really make the pain go away and who does it help. It only makes people feel left out and forgotten. The more we speak out and stand up for these injustices the chances are better to prevent further lives being forever damaged. The ultimate goal should be to protect children, women and men. I can’t go back in time to stop the abuse from happening to me, nor can I reverse the damage entirely but I can use my voice in the hopes of saving someone from the pain and misery I have lived.

If you are looking for help here are a few resources:

http://www.malesurvivor.org/

https://www.rainn.org/national-resources-sexual-assault-survivors-and-their-loved-ones

 

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Boys Will Be Boys: The Cycle of Abuse

****TRIGGER WARNING****

One thing I’ve heard over and over in regards to the news that Harvey Weinstein sexually abused women for decades is why it took so long for the revelation to come out. More so why others involved didn’t step forward sooner. When people learn about something outside their comfort zone the natural thing is to question it. It seems illogical someone would hold a secret for so long. They use words without knowing the background and experiences of living with such a secret. Our society has a history of blaming the victim. It’s ingrained into our culture and everyday life. The messages are clear, that men are superior which makes them invisible whenever they use their power to abuse others.

If you look deeper than you can see that many of the victims in the Weinstein case did try to speak out and were usually silenced in some way or another. One victim of the abuse even went as far as reporting it to the police. There is even audio proof of the abuse but even still he was never prosecuted for the assault. This speaks volumes as to how victims are treated. When the victims do speak out they’re met with opposition both from the abuser and the public. They’re shunned back into silence. Secrets eventually find their way to the surface. People can question the credibility of all the victims because they’re privileged to do so. They’ve not had to live through the pain, guilt or shame. Often times how others respond to abuse is just as damaging. It reinforces the shame and guilt from the assault, echoing the voice of your abuser in your ear.

Another thing I see people questioning is why so many victims come forward at once. As if the more victims they are the more likely the news isn’t true. When you speak out about something as tough as sexual abuse you liberate others who have gone through something similar. So many of Weinstein’s and Cosby’s victims were silenced. It’s tough enough to face the abuse let alone a judgeful world that will most likely blame you. When someone is able to break free from the shame, guilt and public pressure it gives all the other victims strength. There is strength in numbers.

Predators like Weinstein get away with these crimes because of rules of society. One that blames the victim. The victimization from Weinstein was so widespread and lengthy that it became a legend in Hollywood. It’s the ultimate plausible deniability. Just look how our culture treats people like Woody Allen, Bryan Singer, Hugh Hefner, Casey Affleck, etc. We reward them with admiration and awards. The evidence is always there. Unless the evidence is too massive to overlook oftentimes the victims are disregarded and overlooked. For example, the Weinstein company. They knew about the abuse for years and tolerated it until the secret hit the press and the public. It was then that they cut all ties because it hit their bottom line. How many more predators like Weinstein are there in and out of Hollywood. Harvey Weinstein justifies his horrible deeds by brushing them off to a time that was different. Wrong is wrong, no matter how long it has been.

Using the excuse of well I didn’t know better is bogus. It’s how you reflect accountability. Regardless of the time in our history, the difference between right and wrong has always been clear. The lack of judgment and being a horrible person in the past doesn’t exempt you from taking the heat when you’re hold accountable years after. So while Feinstein might not treat women like that anymore (which I find hard to believe) it doesn’t erase all the years of abuse. The damage caused to the women he assaulted will last a lifetime. When you’re sexually abuse your soul is split into two. You will go a lifetime having to deal with effects from the trauma.

While women take the brunt of this abuse it occurs frequently to boys and men. There is this boys club where people justify the horrible deeds of men. It’s the boys will be boys mentality. I lived in a family with that philosophy. Being gay was abomination when being a child molester was not. If you don’t fit in with society’s rules of what it means to be a man you’re seen as less than and worthy of abuse. What it boils down to is misogyny.

When I spoke out about the sexual abuse in my family, many tried to oppress the revelations through denial and disbelief. Boys will be boys is how my Aunt responded to my Mom. As if sexual abuse was a pastime. The sexual abuse in my family was rampant and widespread. For years it was this dirty secret that everyone in the family knew. It was an unspoken rule to be like everybody else and not say a word. To talk about the abuse was to bring great shame to the family. The impact of shame completely outweighed the damage of silence. I was ostracized and made to feel less than because I was speaking the truth. I was rejected and blamed. I became the black sheep of the family. I was trying to break out of the cycle and everyone including my cousins tried to silence me anyway they can.

For years we pretended that the dark secret didn’t exist. It was swept underneath the rug with all the secrets. We were brainwashed into believing that sexual abuse was acceptable and common. The years passed. Family gatherings such as our annual Halloween party went on. We had a predator in our family and the adults knew that the abuse was going on. They did nothing. They were complacent and did just as much damage for trying to silence us all. The adults of the family didn’t stop it and more children were forever damaged by one person’s sick game.

Prior to me, there was one other person who tried to speak out… my Mother. She didn’t know my secret but she knew someone else’s. When she spoke out she was chastised and shamed back into silence. Her cries were disregarded. My Aunt whose child was the predator didn’t talk to her for years. There was no way that her golden boy was a child molestor. How the family treated my Mom sent a clear message to the children to shut up. To be good little children. Be seen, not heard.

The predator would strut his stuff at family gatherings like he was the top dog. He knew that no one would stop them and could do whatever he wanted. He terrorized my cousins. We lived in a big family. By the time he was done he’d sexually abused most of my cousins. He didn’t stop at our family and started to branch out to other children in the neighborhood. Eventually he got caught molesting a girl next door. The lawyer his parents hired ended up getting him off.

To this day he’s never been prosecuted for the many crimes he committed. He’s never received help. He’s what you call a serial child predator. It haunts me to know that he’s probably out there abusing children and there is nothing that I can do to stop him. I had even heard that years ago he was coaching a boys basketball team in the same town we grew up in.

To my knowledge no one in the family has ever confronted him… Most of my cousins grew up damaged in some way or another.

When you try to speak out about a secret those who are trying hard to hide them will stop at nothing to keep them hidden, including those who were damaged from that secret. I was 18 when I first spoke out about the sexual abuse in my family. I had went eight years of hiding my secret and wallowing in my shame and guilt. I couldn’t hide my pain any longer.

You can only put so much air into a balloon before it explodes or goes flying around the room like a chicken with it’s head cut off. I couldn’t take it any longer and exposed my secret to my parents. I was free just for one moment. The secret was free but the shame and guilt remained.

I didn’t just come out about the abuse that day. I had another secret, I was gay. The fact that my abuser was a male was of great shame to me. It was one of the reasons I waited so long to tell anyone because I was worried that they wouldn’t believe me. I remember walking up to my parents door the night I was first abused. I was about to knock on their door before the shame set in. How could I tell them about the abuse when my attacker was my male cousin. So I showered and pretended like it didn’t happen. To this day I still remember the couch I took refuge in that night. I can feel the fabric. I can see the pattern.

My Mom never doubted me. She always believed me. The rest of the family did not, including my father. Well he believed me but he just didn’t care. The next day he went hunting with the cousin who sexually abused me. He told me that I needed to forgive and forget. This was the same man who told me that I was going to die in the hospital alone from AIDS because I was gay.

There is a lot of stigma still attached to sexual abuse. It’s a subject that so many don’t find acceptable to talk about in the open. It’s easier to talk about when something big like the revelation of Weinstein happens. We need to start talking about abuse in the moments in between. Silence deafens the cries of victims. It continues the cycle. If we don’t speak up and out about these horrible deeds these perpetrators will continue to hurt more people.

Until society stops blaming and shaming the victims nothing will ever change. There is never an excuse that justifies a crime. Sexual abuse has never been acceptable. The difference between the present and the past is that more people hold the perpetrators accountable today. We have more courage and strength today than we did yesterday. This happens when victims become survivors by speaking out and giving a voice to others who aren’t able to speak.

When you’re sexually abused you lose your voice. The ability of saying no is taken from you. Your body, mind, heart and soul are violated. There isn’t an aspect of you that’s not affected. I was ten years old when I had my innocence taken from me. It was stolen and it’s not something that can be returned.

I’ve not always had my voice. I’ve not always been able to say no. There are times still that I lose my voice. I have to fight daily against the demons of my past. When I am finally able to verbalize the world NO, I am free. The strength behind this word is powerful and doesn’t match the smallness of letters.

When I feel like I can’t speak it’s the strength of other survivors that inspires me and reminds me that I still have my voice. I know that the other side is loud and persistent. They expect us to be silent. They’re depending on us to keep our mouths shut. I refuse to remain silent. I know that the words that don’t escape my belly are the ones that could open the door for more harm to come at the hands of a sexual predator. I share my story in the hopes that I might reach someone in need. It’s so easy to feel like you’re alone when you’re dealing with this sort of trauma. So many victims continue to be silenced. They oftentimes have no one to turn to so they go anywhere they can whether it be addictions or suicide. If you’re able to come out on the other side it becomes pivotal to stand up for those like you. While I didn’t have the power to stop the sexual abuse when I was a child I now have that power returned. When I share my experiences, both the good and bad, I liberate others to do the same in return.

Escaping the Lion Den

TRIGGER WARNING for those survivors of sexual abuse/assault I talk about my childhood sexual abuse in detail. I also talk about sex in general, so if that makes you feel uncomfortable you might not want to read any further… 

 

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As I listen to Sia’s new song, “The Greatest.” I thought about how I felt yesterday. A prisoner of the sexual abuse. For too long I’ve been a prisoner of something that I didn’t do. It might have happened 30 years ago but I’m still chained to that cement block deep within the pits of hell. Stuck in the lion’s den waiting for it to clinch its sharp teeth into my flesh, ripping me from limb to limb.

I find myself in these situations where I do things that I don’t like. I force myself to do them. I wondered why that is? What is it about myself that I put myself in situations that are ugly or at least feel ugly. I’ve really tried to dissect the reasoning behind it. Yesterday was one of those days. It’s like I relive those days over and over. Am I trying to control the past? Do I think I can fix it? It’s not something you can fix. My mind knows this but my heart doesn’t.

Maybe the why’s don’t matter but I’d like some insight in order to gain will power. I don’t like to be in those situations. It’s pretty common for sexual abuse survivors to have a complicated and complex sexuality, especially if it happens when you’re a child and/or teenager. It’s especially complex if you’re in the middle of puberty. The abuse becomes hardwired into the person you’re blossoming into. So by the time you hit adulthood you’ve based your world on a lie. That you’re worthless and an object for men to use and abuse… however they see fit. You don’t matter. As an I adult I know that’s a lie but as a child I didn’t. I created a universe where I wasn’t worthy of love both platonic and romantic.

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For a good thirty years I’ve let the abuse weigh me down. I’ve become a prisoner to it. The abuse metaphorises into various aspects of my left. I’ve settled so many times that I built a house upon that shaky foundation. A house filled with bars and no doors. A deep pit with no way out. Life has always been complicated for me. I’ve struggled more times than not. Until recently I was bogged down by it all. Tonight I started to go down that road by thinking something negative. This time it was I can’t do this but before I could even finish the sentence I stopped myself. Not today Satan I said. I can listen to those voices anymore. They’ve always led me wrong.

This certainly hasn’t been the first time in my life that I’ve struggled but I’ve noticed this conviction that I didn’t see before. A kind of fuck it attitude. When you stop giving a shit (about the bad stuff and the people hurt you) you release their control on you. So when a new hurdle is thrown at me I clear it easily. Each climb up the mountain I become stronger. Nothing or no one will keep me down. I haven’t always felt that way.

Coping skills are something I’ve always struggled with. I’ve always had the toolbox but I didn’t believe I deserved to use them. If you’ve been put through enough in your life you eventually have this WTF moment and say wait a minute. I don’t deserve this. It’s when you become so miserable that you can’t stand yourself. In the past when someone hurt me I would take it personal like it was reflection of who I was and my loveability.

The sexual abuse was the first time I personalized something that someone else did to me. It wasn’t my choice. Being gay and a sexual abuse survivor also presents many complications especially if you’re love life has mirrored that first violent act. Being a victim and an object became apart of my personality. It taught me to give myself to those who don’t deserve it. So it’s not surprising that I’ve gravitated towards those are unworthy of my love and attention.

Acting out sexually isn’t something new for me. I went through a very dark period of my life where I was very sexually promiscuous. Sex became a compulsion. I can remember exactly when I started to go down that dark path. I had fell in love with this man who just used me for sex and put me in harms way. I stayed with him even afterwards thinking I could get him to love me and it never happened. That act reinforced the abuse. When you’re gay and your abuser is also a male it really fucks you up. Love and sex are cemented together. You’re first rejection is your abuser, or at least it was for me. He groomed me to fall in love with him then when I was hooked he rejected me in a violent way. I still have the scars.

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I was forced into puberty before I was ready. It was a violent non-violent act. I guess in a way I was raped. Wow, I had never thought about being forced into puberty. I was ten years old if that. I didn’t even know what sex was let alone an ejactulation. Back then parents didn’t have those kind of conversations about the birds and the bees or at least not that early. I didn’t have the luxury of time. I still remember the first night and the pain I felt. Becoming a man is a right of passage but when the first time is forced upon you then it becomes a nightmare. Prior to that night I never had any sexual feelings whatsoever.

You can imagine not knowing what was happening to your body. I thought I was dying. I wasn’t allowed to have self exploration to decide what I liked and didn’t. Actions turned into words, words into feelings. After he was done.  I waited for him to fall asleep then I went into the shower and tried to scrub the dirtiness off. While I didn’t know what happened I knew it was wrong. There wasn’t enough soup in the world to wash away the shame. I finally gave up and went back into the lion’s den, the bed we were sharing.

You might be asking yourself why would he go back to that bed??? I’ve asked myself that a million times. After I got out of the shower I went towards the room my parents were sleeping. I even went up to their door to knock but I stopped myself. I thought they’d never believe me that my male cousin did what he did. I didn’t even know how to put into words what happen. My family had a tendency to not believe when I told them something, so I thought why would this be any different?

Actually I skipped a step. I didn’t go back into that room right away. I went to sleep on the couch in the cabin we were staying at. Every year my whole family would go on vacation up north in Michigan. Sometimes we would share a cabin. This summer was one of those occasions so that meant kids sharing beds. I can remember that cabin very distinctly like I was just there. Everything from the hallways to the kitchen. I can close my eyes and I’m there. The room especially I remember. It’s probably because that’s what I concentrated on when it was happening. I hid underneath my pillow praying for someone to rescue me but no one came to save me. I remember this small window with white sheer curtains. I can feel how rough the knotted wood walls were. I can see the upright small shower with my tears in the drain. I see it all.

 

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This isn’t the sofa but it’s close. It was firm and not comfortable at all. It has that weird pattern that a lot of furniture had in the 80’s.

I remember the color, pattern and feel of the couch I laid on until sunrise. As to not be suspicious I went back to the monster bed. I had no excuses to give whey I was sleeping on the couch. I woke up like nothing happened but it had. My soul was forever altered. While I remember everything about that night I don’t even remember what happened thereafter. Well until the next night when I had to go back into the lion’s den. I knew my parents would question why I didn’t want to sleep in that bed so I went back. I had thought maybe it won’t happen again but it did. It was like that night was on repeat. I would lay down pretending to sleep, hiding in my pillow and it would happen.

Again I’d wait until he was sound asleep. I would quietly sneak away like a mouse to try to shower off the filth so much that it burned. I would lay back down on that couch letting my tears turn into rain. Somehow I knew when to wake up in time to go back to that room. After that night I lost track of when the abuse stopped. Sometime in the week, as our vacations only lasted a week. Each night I would repeat the steps until they became an instructional manual of who I was.

I hid that secrets for over three years. I told a good friend when I was in 8th grade for the first time. I didn’t tell anyone else until I graduated High School in 1995, seven years later.

The bed is suppose to be a sanctuary of rest and relaxation but for a sexual abuse survivor who was assaulted in their bed that turns into hell.

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Thirty years and it just dawned on me that I’m still doing the same thing. I keep going back into the lion’s den because that was what I was taught to do. Yesterday as I was in the middle of a sex act I looked at the person and thought this wasn’t what I wanted. I thought to myself what in the world was I doing. My mind knew this was harmful but I keep doing it. I would initiate the victimization that I was doing to myself. I’ve been reliving that night over and over for the past thirty years.

For the past four years I wanted very little to do with sex. I was rather repulsed by it most the time. I either go from not wanting to be touched to wanting to have sex all the time. There are no inbetweens. Now that I live in place where I can have people over I have the opportunity to act out. Loneliness leads to desperation which leads to sex and usually bad feelings. A good portion of my sexual experiences I’ve showered afterwards just like I did that week. Each time it would never wash away the shame, guilt or dirtiness of it all. More than half the sexual partners I’ve had I haven’t enjoyed nor found the person attractive. I would get myself in the situation and want out but didn’t feel obligated to end it. So I gave the person what they wanted. For a long while I was always in control with the sex but I was still the victim. Two tortured souls using each other. It was still doing the same thing. Repeating the abuse over and over until it resulted into bloodshed.

While I’m not in full sexual compulsion I’m on the outer edge and that frightens me. Those days were some of my darkest. During 2004-2005 most sex acts ended in me being suicidal, and in two circumstances ended with me being hospitalized. I was self destructing in the way of unprotected sex and useless sex. I was giving guys what they wanted. I thought if someone I love was going to use me I might as well be the one giving it away, then no one could take it away from me again but that’s just as harmful… giving it up.

I’m still giving it up. Giving the person what they wanted even if it means harm to me. It usually means giving the person what they wanted in them wanting to get used. I become the monster in their nightmare but they don’t even realize that it’s a nightmare as it masks itself as a wet dream. So many gay men have been hurt and are reliving it daily. So desperate for love that they resort to the next best thing which isn’t.

Love for a survivor is also complicated because at an early age you get an altered view of what love is. I became attached to my abuser so much that I would find myself trying to get myself in the same situation that caused me so much pain. So not only do you have the shame of the abuse happening but the shame of enjoying parts of it. The sexual abuse was all I knew about sex, so therefor I thought that’s what love was. So I wanted the attention and affection that went along with it. I went from complete agony from what happened for the first year to fantasizing about it when I truly hit puberty. I wasn’t allowed to fantasize about the things gay youth do both because of the abuse and being in a homophobic family. So all I had to go by what happened to me. So that just added to the shame. How could I fantasize about something that destroyed me.

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I was a child I didn’t know better. I was groomed to behave the way I did. Even when I grew into my teenage years I still didn’t have sexual feelings for either of the opposite sex, other than my abuser. Each time I would you know what I would feel the same kind of shame and dirtiness I felt when the abuse happened. Each time I prayed to God saying I wouldn’t do it anymore and I would always fail. I took the blame right away when it wasn’t mine to carry. As I grew older the shame and guilt grew with me. It wasn’t until 2000 until I started to deal with the abuse deeply. It was during this time that I began to realize that I wasn’t to blame.

It wasn’t then that I came out about the second part of the abuse where I’d go out looking for it. That I had never told anyone. For many years I harbored so much shame and felt like I was the monster because I wanted it. The first time I tried to get in the same situation with my cousin was when we were a few years older. Our families were on vacation together, this time everyone had their own separate cabins. I desperately tried to find a reason to sleep in the same bed as him. I don’t know how I did it but I did. All I wanted was to be close to him. I wasn’t really prepared for what happened next. Again I woke to him pleasuring me but this time orally. Again I didn’t know what in the world he was doing. I didn’t know what oral sex was. I tried to get him off of me but he wouldn’t budge. Again I was scared until ejaculation happened then it was this intense pleasure.

The next day I felt the shame. I was for sure that I had AIDS, that’s how misinformed I was about sex. I mean I thought people had babies by touching feet for the longest time. I didn’t know any better. I would continue to get myself in similar situations the next year or so. Situations where he’d pretend to be sleeping and he’d perform oral on me. I didn’t realize until an adult that he wasn’t sleeping. All that time I thought I was forcing myself onto him. It wasn’t until my therapist told me that you can perform oral when you’re sleeping. I really thought he was. The first time it happened I didn’t initiate it at all, he did it all on his own doing but after that I was the pursuer. I held a great amount of shame and guilt for that part, I still do.

Once he started High School he was done with me. It was the first time I had my heart broken, how fucked up is that? He got me hooked then he threw me away as I was nothing. I was nothing. What pleasure I had went away very quickly, after the rejection. The personalization of the event grew deeper as I was forced to live in his shadow. Chad was the star of the family and our High School. All the girls wanted him and all the boys wanted to be like him. To my family he could do no wrong. He lived with my grandmother down the street from me. My grandmother didn’t drive so my Mom drove him to wherever he wanted to. It killed me seeing how my own parents were with him. I grew up thinking they loved him more than me. Eventually I believed they didn’t love me at all. That they’d rather have him as a son than me. I barely could get the attention I so desperately needed from my own Father yet my abuser earned it freely from my Father. I wasn’t like my Father at all. I didn’t hunt nor did I play sports but my he did. I cried myself so many nights feeling unloved.

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Growing up I was always bullied, especially on the bus. It was like I was his property coming to my aid but then turning it back towards me. It was like he didn’t want anyone bullying me but him. He had this cocky, better than though attitude. I remember one day he noticed that my fingernails were growing out a bit and he scolded me for not cutting them. To this day if anyone says anything similiar to me I get triggered horribly. I always worry people are judging me on whether my fingernails or toenails are too long. Just yesterday I was hiding my feet from my neighbors as we sat besides the pool talking. They weren’t even that long but they were long enough for me to be embarrassed. That’s how an abuser gets inside your head. No matter how hard you try to untangle the wires inside your mind you always get trapped in them.

I had started to discover that I was gay in my junior year of High School. I didn’t know my attraction towards other men meant I was gay. I remember finding a straight porn advertisement pamphlet on the street and getting excited by the men in it. After then I would try to find anything with naked men in it. I would find the artistic male model magazines in bookstores like Barnes and Noble and stare at their bodies. I was fascinated with their figures and it wasn’t quite sexual feelings. I didn’t really start having those until I was in my 20’s. I would call these party chat lines and listen to the guys talk. I found comfort in hearing their voices and again it wasn’t sexual for me. I longed for the affection again.

Eventually I couldn’t take the lying, hiding and being something I wasn’t. My Mom found the numbers of the chat lines. I remember she confronted me about them before our trip to Disney. She asked me what the numbers were and I acted like I didn’t know. She dropped the issue and I had thought she had forgot about it until we got back from Disney. She confronted me and asked me if I was gay. At that time I didn’t even know that I was so I said no. I then pretended to be confused about girls, which I had never any thoughts about girls in that way but to get her off my back I acted like I was insecure with them. I remember one night pretending to go on a date with a female classmate as a cover. Instead I went to a 50’s restaurant by myself.

The following year my Mom would ask me about how things were going on the girl front and I pretended to like one of my good friends. When I graduated High School I used the money I received from my open house to buy a computer. Living in a rural area I wasn’t exposed to much culture or anyone like me. Being able to get online opened me to a brand new world full of people just like me. It was then when I realized that I was gay. I was also able to find support with other male survivors. I remember this one penpal I had who I had a huge crush on. I never saw his picture but I still remember how his letters made me feel. Finally I was talking with others who had experienced the same thing as me. Up until that time I thought I was alone.

Well my parents began to question why I was online all the time. Again I was confronted with questions this time more sternly. I couldn’t take it anymore and burst out that I was gay and had been molested. The dam had broke and the emotions flooded out. Well that didn’t go well at all. The abuse to a backseat to being gay. I had my internet took away, including my phone. I was forced into isolation and I was shut out of the new world. Shunned, scared and alone. That event just reinforced what I had felt the four years prior with my parents not loving me. I was treated horribly and shunned for who I loved. I was told the friends that I had made online weren’t going to be there for me when I was dying from AIDS in the hospital all alone. My father also told me that I had always wanted to lose weight and that I would by getting AIDS. I was called abnormal. Told I was going to hell. My mother cried for weeks.

If I hadn’t been fully broken that ripped me in half. 

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Originally I wouldn’t tell my Mom who it was that abused me. The next day she forced it out of me. While my Mom wasn’t supportive of me being gay she was finally with the abuse. My Father was a different story. The day after telling them what my cousin did my Father went hunting with him. When my Father returned he saw how upset I was and he told me that I needed to forgive and forget. I still remember that moment as it happened today. It still hurts me just the same. Twenty years and it still pierces my skin, cutting me to the core.

Coming out about the abuse I became an outcast in my extended family. I was the black sheep. In our family we didn’t talk about the sexual abuse that happened to most of the cousins in my family and we had a big family. The adults let the monster walk around in open like nothing had ever happened. My cousin wasn’t the monster. The mastermind of all the abuse was one of my older cousins. Who molested most of the cousins except me. Everyone knew what he did but they did nothing!!! They let him come to family functions and he paraded around like he was the shit. The one other time that someone spoke out about the abuse was my Mother years before I did. She confronted my Aunt (his mother) with what he did to my sister. My Aunt wouldn’t talk to my Mom for over a year afterwards.

Being gay was worse than being a child molester in my family. Now that’s fucked up but that was my reality but I couldn’t hide anymore so I had to live as lepar. It was my cross to bear and they nailed me to the cross. I was the monster for speaking out. How dare I bring shame to the family. I was suppose to be a good little boy and sweep it underneath the rug. My worst fears came true as many didn’t believe me. How could our poster boy for perfection do something like that. I must be lying. My relationship with my Grandmother ended as well and she cut me out. She was another person who was suppose to love me and treated me horribly. My Aunt laughed it off as boys will be boys, like we were playing in a fucking sandbox. What the fuck does that means??? I still can’t figure it out. Child Molesters are okay but being a democrat you’re the evil one to her. You should see her facebook wall littered with so much negativity it would turn Mother Teresa into a sinner.

I finally have the strength to realize that they’re the ones with the issue but it still hurts like hell. Even tonight I started to go down that road looking at her wall. I quickly closed out of the browser saying to myself that was all her, and had nothing to do with me. It felt good to be able to say that. My Father is the same way. It’s hate this and that. How can people live their lives like that. I don’t know how they sleep at night.

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Whenever one of the hurt souls tries to swim to swim to the surface towards the light all the other hurt souls desperately try to pull you back under. They don’t want you opening your wound as they fear they will have to open theirs. That’s how my family treated me. Why couldn’t I be like everyone else. They had to suffer in silence so why couldn’t I?

I use to hate my cousin. I still don’t like hearing his name, nor do I like seeing it written out. I avoid anyone with that name. I don’t trust them. I’ve forgiven his boy self but I’ve struggled to figure who he is as an adult. I realize that he was groomed as well by the main perp. Who still to this day has never had to pay for his violent sins. He destroyed so many lives. I blame the adults of the family just as much. I now blame him for my pain. I still have so much anger. I’ve let go of a lot of it but it still poisoned my blood. Another thing I need to work through.

All these things just reinforced that I was worthless, unloveable and an object. It also told me that I didn’t deserve anything good or pure. They taught me that I deserved less. When you are forced to live in hell you believe that’s all that’s out there. Everything is scary.

So I continued to search for others like the ones who caused me harm. Dating was no different. I went for the guys who were emotionally unavailable who discarded me when they were done, much like my cousin. I was rejected by most of the gay population for being fat and those who did find me attractive only wanted me for my body. Neither wanted me for my heart and soul. It slowly ate away at my soul until I had very left to give. Just lay there and take it. That’s all you’re good for. So I gave the men what they wanted.

I still find myself falling into that trap both inside and outside the bedroom. I don’t think I ever had stability in my life. I can’t run any longer as I’m too old and worn out. I’m so desperate for stability I can taste it. I’m tired of settling but growth takes time. You don’t build a world on lies then expect the new world to grow overnight. It doesn’t work that way.

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Lately my current living situation has mirrored many things in my life both with the sexual abuse and the dysfunctional dynamic at home. So much I’ve started to flashback about everything and I mean everything. It jars you, no matter how many times it happens. In a matter moments you’re transported back to that time and place. You can feel, hear and smell how everything was. Just a little bit ago I could smell the cologne my cousin use to wear. It was strong and unsettling.

You can’t control flashbacks, they just happen like dreams in the middle of the night. Last night was the worst flashback I’ve had in over ten years. The last time I had a flashback(s) this intense it sent me to the hospital. Thankfully this time it didn’t but it felt like I was close. I’m fearful that they’ll continue to grow. All I can do is wait at the battle line with my sword and shield. Flashbacks are very much like a battle in war. When the bomb is detonated you’re left to pick up the pieces and it can take days, sometimes weeks to adjust.

The sexual abuse hasn’t always affected me so deeply. I’ve gone periods where the beast was hibernating. While it didn’t affect me directly it was behind everything that caused me pain. It was the monster pulling my strings. The last ten years I didn’t want to talk about the abuse at all. Even in therapy recently it was a subject that was off limits for me. I could say it happened but I couldn’t give any details about it. This is the first time in ten years that I have opened the wound back up. Tonight was a sign that I have more work to do. I’ve uncovered a big heap of pain.

Now I see why I continue to lay down in the lion pit. It was how I was trained to be. I was told that I was meant to be torn apart by the lion. I was the meat, the prey. Well fuck that. I refuse to lie down any longer. The next time the lion comes to rip me apart I’m going to take my sword and pierce it’s heart.

“I’ve got stamina. 

I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier
I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist
Like it doesn’t exist
I’m gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry
I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier”

derekredhair

If you’re a male survivor there is a great website for help/support:

http://www.discussion.malesurvivor.org/board/ubbthreads.php?ubb=cfrm

Support for sexual assault survivors (I’ve never used any of the websites below but found them on google and thought I’d share in case they’re helpful to someone). I wish I had a recommended site for Women. If anyone knows of one leave me a comment.

https://www.rainn.org/

http://www.joyfulheartfoundation.org/

http://overcomingsexualabuse.com/

http://www.aftersilence.org/forum/index.php

and a list of recommended books:

http://www.pandys.org/recommendedreading.html

You’re not alone. There’s a huge network of survivors in this world who know what you’re going through.

If you feel unsafe please consider calling The National Suicide Prevention Hotline:

1-800-273-TALK (8255) , 1-800-799-4TTY (4889)

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

 

 

Til It Happens To You

You won’t know how I feel… Couldn’t be more of a powerful statement and for anyone who’s been at the end of victim shaming it really rings true. It’s common to hear things like it gets better in time or pull yourself together when you’re falling apart. We live in a society that interrogates the victim rather than the abuser. If you grow up in that world how else would someone feel if they’ve endured the abuse and are faced with coming forward.

From the start of Lady Gaga’s performance of Til It Happens To You my eyes began to leak to the point where I thought my eyeballs were about to burst from the sockets. I could hear my voice in her vibrato, it was loud and clear.

I went years of being silent, afraid what would happen if anyone found out. The silence ate away at my soul, it forever altered me. To this day, I still remember that first night going to my parents bedroom door and stopping myself from knocking. I was afraid that they wouldn’t believe me. I mean who would believe that my cousin was sexually abusing me, him being male as well. So I wiped away my tears and fell asleep on the couch. When morning appeared I tip toed back into the lion pit (the bed where I was abused) in order to not alarm anyone.

I woke up like nothing had happened and continued to do so for a week until our supposed vacation had ended… but the hell had just began for me. While most boys were going through puberty naturally I was forced into submission of it all. My innocence stolen in a matter of minutes. That was my first interaction with sex and it was more damaging than a lightning bolt to the brain.

For years, I hide it all… I grew up believing that I deserved it, that it was my fault. Why else would it happen to me? My body turned into a piece of meat, property for whoever wanted it. I gave away my soul like a stack of newspapers. I burrowed myself into that black abyss for the next seven years. I watched life pass me by. I desperately wanted to scream bloody murder by my lips were paralyzed. I had to put on a brave face and act like everything was okay but it wasn’t.

I was groomed into believing that was what love meant, to have it all taken from you. You’re not worth the salvation. So you suffer on, cry into your pillow and go on. No one even noticed that I cried myself to sleep almost every night. It was like my tears were attached to a silencer.

For SEVEN years I watched him raised up by my family. They all adored and loved him. I was the chunky, overly sensitive black sheep. I actually grew up believing my parents didn’t love me, that’s how damaging abuse is. If I didn’t speak up how else would they have known. They had no idea that I was dying inside every time they did something for him or praised him. My cousin was the star quarterback, the captain of his basketball team. The girls all wanted to be with him, the boys all wanted to be his friend.

I grew up believing that NO ONE wanted me…

To the point where one day I just exploded. One too many cracks in the dam to support any more tears. I was proven right. I had reason to doubt other’s believing me, as it came true. A father is suppose to protect his children, instead he went hunting with my abuser the next day. I was told to forgive and forget. How can you forget something like that, not the abuse but your Dad telling you that your feelings didn’t matter. It’s not something you ever get over. Another boulder piled on my grave.

Boys will be boys, others in my family said. Just get over it. He would never do that. I was shunned and exiled. How dare I speak up? My place was to stay silent, take the abuse. That’s how courage was repaid.

More times than not survivors pay the price of coming forward. Rather than lifted up others tear us further down. They’d rather add to the pain than face the reality and truth that something like this could happen. Sweep it under the rug.

“Until your world burns and crosses, until you’re at the end of your rope… til your standing in my shoes I don’t want to hear nothing from you… because you don’t know… til it happens to you… you won’t know how I feel…”

That’s what I’ve been yelling for so long. I’ve screamed so loud that my vocal cords are scorched. You do whatever you have to survive and I have. I won’t ever hear the words I need to hear from the people who’ve done me wrong and even then it would be too late. I’d rather have Lady Gaga sing to me any day. Her words are like kisses upon my pillow. That’s the power of coming forward, other’s hear the ballads of your bravery. Those who are struggling and so desperate to for some comfort. Someone to believe them, and not tell them it’s their fault. Most people don’t come out and say it’s your fault but it’s in the reflection of their words and actions.

For the last two hours I have listened to the song on repeat. Each time the melody is just as loud and clear as the moment before. I’ve cried so much I’ve ran out of tissue. The song is the anthem of the unbelieved, the castaways… There will be others who just won’t get the message, who will say things like what a mediocre song. This song isn’t for them. It’s for you and me. It’s for any survivor of sexual abuse/assault.

There’s great power and taking a stand. Just like when the survivors joined Lady Gaga on stage holding hands with messages like not your fault and survivor written on their forearms. Having a voice is such an important tool for a survivor something so many take for granted, the ability to speak up and be believed. While NO might only have two letters in it, it’s one of the most powerful words ever spoken. We’ve had that right taken away for too long. This song is saying NO… to being silent… to speaking up…

Often times I feel my voice disappear. I can sing it loud and clear when it’s standing up for someone else. I’m a great champion for others… myself not so much. I’ve tolerated less for so long that I’ve forgotten there is any other way. That’s what is so great when others stand up it gives you the strength and courage to do the same. Whether it’s reporting it for the first time or the hundredth time. Healing is a lifelong battle for a survivor. There will times that your sea is calm. All it takes is one big wave and you relive those moments all over again.

You can’t control flashbacks (of the event) anymore you can control whether or not it’s going to rain.  Your brain is the camera and that negative is forever polarized into your consciousness. Often times it won’t take much. It could be a smell or a sound and instantly you’re back where it all began. I still can clearly picture the house where the abuse happened. There are a lot of things that I’ve forgotten as I’ve gotten older, that isn’t one of them. I remember the shower where I tried the filth off. Soap doesn’t reach your soul. I can close my eyes and see every part of that cabin. Anything to not see the act in that bed. Focus on the wall, on the curtains just don’t look down. Hide beneath your pillow and pretend you’re sleeping.

Until it happens to you, you’ll never know just how damaging sexual abuse is… and how prevalent it is. If we don’t speak up, nothing will change. That’s why the message of this song is so very important. To say to society it’s not okay to be marginalized.

It gets better in time we are told. I’m almost forty and it hasn’t got better but damn it all I’m determined to be happy. I fight daily, more than anyone will know. I shouldn’t have to fight so hard but that is the reality of life. I’m tired but I will keep on moving forward. My life has to mean something. If I can give comfort to another brother and sister who’s hiding from the same kind of demons then that will be my purpose.

I’m tired of feeling damaged, broken… unlovable… Currently I’m in the fuck it attitude. I’m done trying to convince others to believe me. I’ve spent most of my life desperately trying to plead my case with people who are both blind and deaf to my tears. I’ve done just about everything to drown out the pain to the point where I just want it all to end.

In the end, no matter why, I’m still here. There is great strength in that statement. I could be homeless tomorrow but I’m still here. I can’t let those who’ve hurt me win. I just can’t. I don’t want my life to have been in vain. I see Lady Gaga living her dreams (and her fears) and that gives me courage that one day I can do the same. Turn my pain, the hell into art in order to help others. I’m learning to embrace the light one day at a time.

I don’t know how I’m going to obtain it or when but I’m going to hold on until I achieve it. The future is unknown and I’m not confident about most things lately but there is one thing I’m certain about… My future is going to be better than my past. I will keep walking until I find my home.

If you’re reading this and have felt the same know that we walk the same path. I know how it feels to be alone, to feel so desperate it drives you mad. Hang in there. You’re worth it, as I am. I know how you feel…

Huggs

 

Giving Survivors a Voice!

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As a survivor of sexual abuse it’s common to feel like you’ve lost your voice. Saying a simple word like NO becomes very complex and difficult. Often times you are so desperate to scream out those words like STOP and only air escapes your mouth. It’s easy to become helpless and hopeless.

Coming out as a survivor is never easy and at times even as difficult as the traumatic act itself because often it’s clouded with doubt and negativity. In a perfect world a victim survivor should be embraced with love, understanding and validation but often the opposite happens. Shame is a common and occurring feeling for the survivor. This is only amplified when other’s discount the trauma you have endured.

For a male survivor this is very true. We live in a world where society tells us that Men can’t be rape or victimized because we are suppose to be strong and invisible. When your abuser is also a male that can really make the event even more traumatizing, especially when you have to tell others what happened. The shame of having another male abuse you might bring you to secrecy to cover up the abuse because what it might mean to others that you allowed another man to abuse you.

That was the first thing that crossed my mind after I was sexually abused, what will other’s say that another male touched me in that way. Honestly I didn’t think anyone would believe me, so I chose to hide it and the longer I hide the abuse the more shame I felt. The shame grew until it was taller than Mount Everest but secrets have a way of coming undone. After trying to climb that horrible mountain I grew tired and weary, to the point where I couldn’t climb that mountain anymore.

The risk of coming out didn’t come close to the pain of holding it in. Just like a balloon I couldn’t hold in anymore shame and finally one day I exploded, and everything came gushing out.

 

Yesterday I saw an article posted on Facebook about Project Unbreakable, an initiative to increase awareness of the issues surrounding sexual assault and encourage the act of healing through art. As I read and viewed the pictures the tears began to swell up and gush down my cheeks like a river overflowing.

Project Unbreakable has featured over two thousand images of sexual assault survivors holding posters with quotes from their attackers. As I read each picture in the article I began to think about my own sexual abuse and wondered what I would say in my picture. Instantly I was stumped because my abuser never said a word to me because everything done to me was when he thought I was sleeping.

As an adult I beat myself up for not standing up for myself. I’ve wondered a million times what would have happened if I would have let him know I was awake and why did I return to that bed each night knowing what could happen. I blamed myself over and over again, until it became my fault because I coulda, woulda, shoulda stopped him!!!

For a moment I thought I didn’t fit into Project Unbreakable because I couldn’t write his words but then I remembered it wasn’t his words that hurt me, it was his actions… and then I realized I had every right to be apart of Project Unbreakable. While he never verbalized his words what he did to me spoke volumes and I had filled in his blanks with words he was saying to me by taking my innocence.

“You deserve this!”

“You’re weak!”

“You’re powerless!”

“No one will believe you!”

“I will beat you up if you tell anyone!”

“I’m God!”

“You don’t matter!”

“You’re an object!”

I could fill a book with everything he said to me…

For eight excruciating years filled full of pain, silence, secrecy and a victimization. I didn’t know there was another way, nor did I believe I deserved anything else.

When I came out of the closet about the abuse I was met with anything but compassion. Those eight long years were only enforced that I should have stayed silent. I think how others in my family handled the news traumatized me just as much as the act itself.

My father made it clear of this by going hunting the next day with my abuser. When he found out that I was upset, he told me that I needed to forgive and forget. Here was someone who was suppose to love and protect me telling me that I had no reason to be traumatized and that I should just move on with my life. His words cause me to relive the shame and hurt from the ripping of my soul.

When you are sexually abused the person rips a hole in your soul. It is the attempted genocide of a persons soul. A child without their innocence grows up feeling less, vulnerable and unprotected. They grow into adults without being able to shed that clout of shame, fear and ugliness. How others respond to their trauma can only add to all of that.

It has taken twenty years for me to realize when other’s respond to your abuse with dissent, disbelief and negativity it’s their own shame that they are trying to hide. It’s much easier to cover the abuse up and pretend that it never happened, than it is to face it and bring it to daylight. They are blinded by their own guilt and shame, and the fears what others will think about them. They do everything they can to protect the families reputation. I call it sweeping it underneath the rug.

There is still so much stigma in regards to sexual abuse, making it very important that we continue to spread awareness to help protect others. Bringing the abuse to the light of day will only help the healing process and give survivors the much needed voice. It will also give others the courage to stand up and use their voice that previously they didn’t know existed.

We are not alone. While there will always be others who will try to silence us, doing whatever possible to keep the secret hidden, there will always be others who will give us a platform to use our voices. Those who offer healing, love and understanding.

If you are a survivor and would like to share your story by picture you can send an email to Project Unbreakable.

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