I recently attended my second MaleSurvivor
weekend of recovery where I was really able to dig in and get some serious work done. The Level 2 Weekend of Recovery offers some different programming from the Level I weekends and "Creating Our Personal Shields" is something that was not offered in the Level 1 weekend I attended in September 2007 however I do recall a similar t-shirt option that I now rather wish I had taken part in a year ago! Never the less, I wanted to share this with any men here whom are considering attending a Weekend of Recovery.
If anyone has any questions feel free to ask. Although what is on the shield is not important, I may take a photo of the shield and post it here if I so choose. If I do, I'll be certain to check with Little Brian or Bri to make sure that's okay with him
Anyways, the following is an excerpt from the schedule that outlines each activity at the WoR. This is to provide you with a little bit of context to go with my hangover notes..
Creating Our Personal Shields
A shield is used in battle, and as a coat of arms. It is a representation, a symbolic collection of what is most important to you or what it is you wish to aspire to. Shields are a metaphor about identity and about personal boundaries. They are representations, symbolic collections of what is most important, or what it is you would wish for yourself in your recovery. These shields do not require any particular artistic ability, but they enable you to express yourself in your own way, whether anybody else understands it or not. They are also a way to use words, or no words, to communicate about your recovery.
Participants can use many kinds of materials for their shields. Photos as boys or adults, magazine pictures, stones, leaves, cloth, paint, natural and scrap materials for collage all work wonderfully. We will be providing many materials for you to explore. But bring whatever you wish to use for the project. You might even surprise yourself at what you come up with to staple, glue or sew onto your shield. The important point here is to create something for yourself, like the t-shirts, that is meaningful to you and your journey, which is fierce, tender, strong--or whatever you wish. These shields will be portable. You will be able to take them home in your suitcases or in a plastic bag.
Admittedly, going into the weekend, "Creating Our Personal Shields" was one activity I was not looking forward to. I had a mental image of a group of grown men being treated as children for the sake of creating these collages or "shields". When the time came, I chose to participate in the creating of a personal shield, and was not only surprised at the outcome, I was truly moved as I gained new insight into myself that has already been instrumental in my recovery.
The activity started with sitting around large tables with my small group members. By this time in the weekend, I had already established something of a connection, trust and brotherhood with the other men whom were seated at my table. In the center of the table was a large box filled with all sorts of materials including magazine clippings, glue sticks, fabric, coloured paper, feathers, sparkly stuff, and just about anything else you'd find in a typical elementary school craft room.
We were each provided a 'canvas' with which to create whatever it was that our mind was about to come up with. The canvas was a large (approx 3' x 1.5') piece of cardboard with a makeshift 'handle' attached to the reverse. The rest was quite literally left up to us. The box was dumped out on the table and it was announced that I had an hour to work on my shield. It was really where things went from here that ended up being so profound for me.
Let's just take a look at the situation for a moment here: I'm seated along with 7 other men around a large table covered in miscellaneous craft supplies and a blank canvas. Beyond that there are a total of 48 people in the room. I'd like to venture a term for this as "situational psychology". Now at age 27, I can hazard a guess that I was last in a similar situation perhaps 19-20 years ago - age 7 or 8 - well into being sexually abused in childhood. To summarize what happened before I even start detailing it, in the next hour I was able to witness first-hand how I behaved as a child in such a situation as well as feel old-but-familiar feelings while remaining acutely observant of everything that was happening.
It took about three-and-a-half seconds from the start of the activity for a shift to happen in my mind. It was nearly instantaneous that I felt like a child again. Normally I would refer to this as dissociation however this was something much more observant. I was very present and still very much in control in that moment, but in terms of the activity, there were no words or adult-thoughts coming to mind. Instead, I did the work entirely based on very child-like feelings of what needed to be done.
About withdrawal - this was one of the first things I noticed about what was happening. Instead of chatting with others during the activity, I instead became meek and quiet. That came along with other feelings that didn't have words attached to them. I felt different from everyone else at the table. I was later able to recognize that it was almost an alien feeling, and that of being inherently flawed in some way and extremely unsure and almost scared of creating the wrong thing. The active reaction to these feelings was to disengage in discussion around the table and slip into my own little world where nothing else really mattered. The only time from this point forward that the other people at the table were even acknowledged was when I required supplies that were being used by others.
I picked up all sorts of materials that were available. Mostly focusing on the many magazine clippings and words and headlines. Each time I found something that 'felt right' I would slide it underneath my cardboard and save it for later. It was as though I needed to hide those things away first and make sure they were "right" later on. I spent over 30 minutes simply mining through the materials in this fashion. If the "adult me" was in control, I would've been attempting to find things that would support an idea that I had. In this moment everything was different. Items had to "feel right" to make it into my protected lair of 'stuff'. All in all, I didn't really have a plan in mind as to what the shield would end up looking like.
Eventually the size of the shield just felt wrong. I started cutting it down to be a proper size. It was around this time that shapes started coming to mind. Without a plan, I freehanded a specifically shaped shield which felt just right. It was then time to paste on the materials that I had chosen. All magazine clippings of various patterns, colours and one 'item' being a close-up of a men's wristwatch. A number of words were there too. It was with these words that "Time 2 Change" was pasted underneath the wristwatch. At the bottom of the shield an image of a peaceful sailboat was pasted separated from the remainder of the patterns and imagery that made up the rest. It was over this image that the words "Never Again" were pasted.
With 10 minutes remaining the shield seemed completed though it didn't seem to be "mine" as much as "little Brian's". It was at this point I decided to paste on my first-grade portrait from elementary school; a photo that was taken possibly only a few days or weeks after abuse started in my childhood. I also created a bit of a makeshift frame to go around the portrait and decided it was time to call it quits. I was then left with a very uneasy feeling of what I'd just witnessed, and mountains of raw data to process and see if I could make fit into place.
As someone who has often struggled to call myself a "survivor of childhood sexual abuse", these observations have become extremely important for a few reasons. The most noteworthy reason being that, for the first time in my life, I was able to really witness myself as an "abused kid". I'm someone who blames myself frequently for everything that happened. I constantly fail to understand how I could continually return to something that was hurtful. What I saw in that hour was not a child who had everything figured out and was in control of everything, rather, I saw a child that was confused about himself and his place on this earth. I saw a child whom was extremely unsure of everything around him and was fearful to even engage in discussion with his peers. I saw a withdrawn boy whom felt a need to hide and make like the world around him didn't exist just to function in a way that appeared normal.
I look back at pictures of my childhood and see a child whom was always smiling and hyperactive. This is what, up until this past weekend, I have always believed about myself - that I was a great fake-artist whom relied on hyperactivity to cover the "me" that really was hurting and alone. A huge problem for me is that I've never been able to truly recognize the 'hurting and alone' part for what it was in childhood as it has been long buried and hidden from the world and even myself. Witnessing these feelings and actions in that hour serves as something 'tangible' that I can now hold on to as I attempt to come to terms with the toll that abuse has taken on my childhood and adult life.
The whole experience was really like watching a video of myself as a child; except this video had details that audio/visual equipment simply cannot capture. Old emotions and feelings surfaced that were long forgotten. Beyond that I was able to get a glimpse of how children think. The mind of a child is pure and simple. The things I project from my adult mind on the child inside are truly unfair and I think I really can understand just how confusing everything was for the 6-16 year old whom was abused.
I am so glad that I chose to participate in this activity. It's not every day that you are given a chance to stand behind a young version of yourself and be completely in tune with everything that they are thinking and experiencing. The big question for me now is how long will it take before I break out the scissors on the magazines in the household and create my own box of supplies. Unfortunately for me, I can't summon a room full of people to recreate those circumstances and that's just a part of what makes the Weekend of Recovery program such a powerful healing tool.
All the best,