******TRIGGERS SUSPECTED******SPECIAL NOTE: I recently re-read this intro after some posts kicked it back to the top of the forum stack. I wrote it over three and a half years ago, and so much has changed that I felt it was important to reflect that here. I have grown quite a bit, and my perspectives have evolved as well - but I admit I never realized how much until I read what my three-and-a-half year younger self had to say. So I went through this carefully and added a bit more while trying my best to preserve that earlier voice. I think in so doing, these words may prove more useful to others with similar experiences. Interestingly, the view count on this post topped 10,000 while I was reworking this. That is humbling, but I also know that this is not just my story - it is the story of many here, some who have let me know how much this resonates with their own experience. The greatest honor is to be woven tightly into the fabric of shared experience here. I've stood alone with this for far too long. If my words have connected with one survivor, or one person who has a survivor in their life, or most especially given pause to one abuser - hence sparing a child from having to live out his own journey of healing - then that helps kill any second thoughts I may have for sharing at this level.
September 2015...........PREAMBLE: WHY I SHAREH
i - I suppose it's about time I did an intro - this and my post about my name and avatar
pretty well sums me up here in the forum until/if I post my so-called story.I
don't know really the difference between introductions
- a casual introduction explains little, yet a full story seems overkill. Since I often find myself repeating the essentials of myself to others, I might as well use the opportunity to post this as a reference. When you get to the end of this intro, I think you'll know pretty much who I am and why I am here.A
s a preamble, please keep in mind that I am spilling something out here that once occupied all my energy to conceal. So while I know this is a public share, it remains to me a sacred one. This breaking of silence and secrets is a strange and uncomfortable intimacy. But breaking secrets is precisely what has compelled me to put this out here. Consider for a moment if, while any of us were being abused, we ran across someone else our age going through the same thing. Imagine if we could sit together under a shady willow tree alone and just talk about it - really talk
like we couldn't do with anyone else. It would kill the notion we were alone, help us find an entirely different context in the utter confusion of what we were going through, give us the support we were aching for, and perhaps embolden us to speak out and stop it. And so I write.T
here is, of course, another side to sharing so publicly. I hope the eyes that move past this point do so for good reasons and in the proper spirit. Perhaps like most here, you are a survivor. There is nothing more powerful than suddenly realizing you are not alone with this. And to you, I want to share at a level deep enough to remove all doubt (albeit at the risk of triggers). Perhaps you have never experienced child sexual abuse (CSA) but would like to understand it. In that case, maybe by sharing my experience, it will define the problem deeper than the more sensational and superficial slant you might otherwise get from news media. And while you may have never have experienced CSA, someday you may see something, suspect something, or have to reconcile something that just seems wrong. I don't advocate hysteria, but if my story encourages you to take that second glance, that deeper look, then these words have some value to you as well. Maybe you are the parent of a child who was a victim, or the partner of a survivor. My hope is that this will give some insight from another survivor's perspective in understanding even a little piece of what they are going through. As a supporter, you don't need to supply the answers, only an ear to listen, and perhaps a hug to show that you are
listening. And finally, maybe you are an abuser - or have struggled with such thoughts. If so, I do not judge you, but challenge you. I do not presume to know that hell, but I saw my own abuser deal with his - and when those who could have helped him failed, I paid the price. So perhaps this survivor's perspective lends some credibility to my words: Dare to extract the deeper message being expressed here. Dare to open your eyes and see the incredible life damage such actions can do to a victim. Dare to seek the help my abuser never got but should have. Challenge yourself to understand that you
can be the biggest hero in a child's life - simply by being the best person you can be in your
life. I believe history shows us that great men are often not without great flaws - but those who are stronger than their flaws are great men.M
y journey has convinced me that every survivor's experience is a fingerprint, a result of an almost infinite combination of variables that define what, when, where, how and why it happened, the ages of victim and abuser, the number of victims and abusers, who they were to each other before the abuse, how it affected them, the frequency and duration of the abuse, the physicality and physiology of it, where it fell on the spectrum from gentle grooming to violence - and the infinite shades of character that define who the victim was when it started and who they had to become to survive it. This is my fingerprint. I am not a therapist or educated in any form of counselling. I cannot tell you what works and what doesn't, and I will not try. All I can do is share my story. But if some of the ridges of my fingerprint line up with yours, such resonance can be a powerfully healing thing............HIDDEN CIRCUSI
n a nutshell, I was the victim of a long-term serial abuse case that my therapist characterized as "unusually intense." It was at the hands of an older next-door neighborhood kid - I was his little "side kick" and looked up to him like a big brother. We were best buddies despite our age and physical differences. When he got older he started molesting several of the 7-8 year old girls in our neighborhood, and I was one of the only boys (I was 12 when he started on me). Despite his ubiquitous interest in the little girls, his molestations of me were far more frequent. Since, as boys, we often slept together in sleeping bags in the basement or in a tent pitched in our wooded back yard, his access to me allowed much longer and more intense "sessions" with less threat of interruption. I remember a few times accommodating full consummation two or three times over the course of a single overnight. As I write this, I remember one morning in particular. I walked back to the house from the tent and my eyes were so puffy from lack of sleep I barely recognized the boy looking back at me from the powder room mirror. My mom laughed and said that it looked like I was awake all night. She had no idea. That was just one night in a pattern of repeated sexual episodes that became my "normal" and continued through my teens until I finally "ran away" to California (from New York state) in a focused effort to distance myself from him and ultimately from myself.A
mong those who were caught in his web was my little sister. The dynamics of that went deep. I was the protector not only of her but of all the girls of whom I was aware. I did so by "taking the bullet," knowing he couldn't shoot them if his gun was empty. Better me than my sister, I thought. I was already tarnished - so I figured if I was in for a penny, I was in for the whole pound. I can neither explain nor hope to understand all the psychodynamics that caused me, but I suspect the effects were significant. One of the results is that I still have a very tough time getting in touch with my anger. Seeing him molest the girls was deeply disturbing for me, but breaking up his sessions with them was a whispered effort. I felt like the Master of Ceremonies at a macabre circus - trying to keep the tiger at bay and everyone safe. Secrecy trumped everything - I had to be very cool and manipulative with him, even though I was the greater victim of his
manipulations. I was smarter than he was, but he was older and stronger. He had a tremendous urge and a relentless whining insistence that - despite my efforts - won for him my capitulation. Yet I knew that if I acquiesced, my sister and her friends wouldn't have to. At least, that is, until the next day. And the next. And the next. My perspectives were those of a child, and thus rather myopic.A
nger? It never seemed appropriate. I didn't understand what sex was when this started - although I knew instinctively that it was wrong - and I was too busy keeping a level head to spare my sister. I couldn't afford to indulge in the indignation the parents in the neighborhood showed once they found out. Their anger scared me much more than anything my abuser was doing to me, and many of us victims stayed hidden as the drama played out over our heads. Had the adults been as calculating as I, I suspect this guy would have been TREATED AND MANAGED instead of threatened with punishment (as if that would resolve the issue). To this day, I rarely get angry about anything and tend to be very even-tempered. Frustrated? Yes. Anger, however, has almost always proven itself to me as a useless emotion. How Spockian. I still shrink from angry people, tending not to trust them or their judgement............THE WOODSHEDO
ur abuser was caught when one of the girls awoke with nightmares and told her mother. The mother's husband was out of town on a business conference, so she approached my father, who was a medical doctor and well respected in the neighborhood. My dad in turn assembled a committee of two other fathers and they met in a closed session with our abuser. As a kid, I was not a party to that discussion, but was keenly aware of it. And so began the woodshed moment for my abuser - a moment where he was caught and where I should have been saved. But instead it paradoxically steepened my descent into his darkness.W
hile my father was helping to decide the fate of the abuser, my mother sat me down for a talk. It was in our finished basement. I sat on a bar stool and my mom sat across from me in a small armchair. Beneath us was the hideous orange and yellow shag carpet upon which was staged so much of the abuse, the furniture around us silent witnesses to my secrets.S
he paused to gather herself, then carefully stepped each word toward an answer she was not prepared to hear. She told me in a very measured pace that my friend did something that was very wrong and that he was in a lot of trouble. She proceeded to tell me what it was, and then asked Do you know what that means?
. I cast my eyes downward and muttered yes, afraid to look at her, choosing instead to fixate upon my penny loafers that couldn't reach the floor, swinging through the air as if wanting to run off to anywhere else but where they were. And then she asked that awful question I knew was coming. Did you do anything like that with him?
It was a question that would haunt me for years - both in its ambiguity and in how it was the only question anyone ever asked me with regard to the situation.I
was a trapped animal. There was nowhere to go. My words started spilling out before I could even think of what to say. I spoke to the rug. Well....maybe just once or twice... just to see why he was doing it.
I clearly remember my answer - just as clearly as I remember hating the words as they left my lips. How could I say something so daft and transparent? My mom wasn't stupid. I had no excuse, and the answer I gave was nothing but an excuse. I looked up at my mom and immediately started to cry.A
nd so I just broke down and pleaded. Please don't tell dad!
My secret was out of the bag. My mom knew it now, and suddenly all of my efforts were redirected in a desperate bid to have her hold my secret from my dad and keep my humiliation contained.M
y words had an unexpected calming effect on my mom. Her response was something like I'll have to think about it. I can't promise. We'll see.
She responded quietly and blandly - and I felt a shift in her countenance I did not understand. She then told me that everything was going to be okay in a way that made me doubt it would be. And that was that. It was never again brought up. We never talked about it after that. Nobody did. Ever.M
y life was suddenly and painfully contorted around questions. Did she tell dad? Why wasn't she pursuing more questions? Was it really
going to be okay? Was it as simple as having that little talk - and that was it? Perhaps I wished so hard for all this to go away that it actually did
go away. Maybe I had magical powers that way. What happened in the aftermath of my abuser's woodshed moment was a complete mystery to me and would remain so for thirty years.I
f my dad knew, he certainly was playing that hand close to the vest. He had
to know. Between talking with my abuser and talking with my mom, I figured there was no way he didn't. And my mom wouldn't keep such a secret from him. So then if he knew, why wasn't he angry? Was he trying to spare my feelings? Did he think the whole thing so disgusting he wouldn't even think about it, much less talk about it? Was I his most despicable, regrettable creation? One thing about my dad was that when he got angry, he rarely blew his cool. He just got quiet. I learned to fear those moments went he "went into his inner basement" as I used to think of it. He would invariably have a chat with me later about what a disappoint I was to him - discussions that would cut right to my soul - but only when he was good and ready. My dad played a mean poker hand with his feelings, and part of this nonchalance with me felt like a big bluff.I
remember it was during that week, shortly after the talk I had with my mom, that he and I were alone in the car together. I carefully formulated a question in a calculated attempt to draw a discussion and force his hand on what he knew and where I stood with him. And I asked him simply ... Dad - why did he do it?M
y father's simple reply left me perplexed. Because he wasn't getting enough love at home.
That was his answer. To a 13 year old boy, it was nonsensical. Love? What did love have to do with it? It was an adult's answer that spoke to something abstract but didn't speak to its essence. My truths were in the physicalities. And with that non-answer, his bluff remained intact. His poker-face countenance remained unchanged. His response left me without any clue about whether he knew of my involvement or not. That was my shot, and I wasn't about to bring it up again.A
nd so I defaulted - perhaps as any child would - to my worst fears. I figured that my dad knew I was touched. He knew I didn't stop it and that I didn't say no loud enough and that I let it happen again and again. My abuser perhaps even shared with my dad how I responded to his touch and seemed to like it - maybe in an effort to put the blame on me. So perhaps my dad knew all
my dirty secrets. And so maybe it was a small gift that he wasn't ready to talk about it. For I was all to happy to oblige his silence on the topic. Perhaps - like my wish about my mom's interrogation ending - this, too, would simply vanish like a bad dream due to my magical powers of wishing it was. And if I wished hard enough and long enough, maybe he would completely forget, and with time we would once again enjoy the healthy father-and-son relationship we both wanted but suddenly couldn't have. I was too toxic a child, however, for that to happen anytime soon.T
he parents came very close to a decision that would hand our abuser over to the police. But their final decision was to keep it quiet and avoid what would have likely been a difficult trial for everyone. The solution to the problem was to throw me back into the lion's den to save the girls. I was perplexed about why my own father insisted that I help my friend through this rough patch and keep him from the girls (as I was literally asked to do), because I was almost certain he was aware of how mixed up in it I was as well.B
ut like a good soldier, I took it on. I was hopeful that my molester - who was once like my big brother - would be "normal" again. I thought we could forget the nasty stuff we did and just get back to being like we once were. And for a while, he seemed humbled, contrite - perhaps even malleable. I was intoxicated with the belief that I could not only do the job I was tasked with, but recreate him, rebuild him into something better. I was thirteen and possessed all the magic and optimism of my age. He seemed sadder in those days immediately after he was caught, and so I committed myself to raising his spirits. I pushed bike rides, swimming, one-on-one hoops. I was in charge, meeting my responsibilities to my dad and to my friend, and feeling an empowerment the situation fed - an empowerment that was really just an illusion. His demons quickly crept back, and his contrition did not last long............LOSING TRUSTM
y molester knew that I was tasked by my own father to ensure that he stayed away from the little girls. It took only a few days of abstinence from his crimes to fuel an even more ferocious urgency as he started in again with me. He told me that he wanted to do it again with the girls but didn't know how to stop himself. He begged for me to submit to him. He whined for it. I tried to reason him out of his desperation, but nothing I said seemed to work. The biking wasn't enough. Neither was the basketball. I knew I was supposed to help him. And he sure reminded me of that - with an ultimatum of conscience: if I did not submit, he would have to violate his promise to my father and touch the girls again - and that would be on me. You don't want that, do you?
The memory of that supplicating slide back down into his darkness has never left me - how the magic of better possibilities evaporated. It felt as if the whole neighborhood was in collusion with perpetuating the mess I was in. I had reason to fear that my father knew what we were hiding as well as others - that they were all keeping my dirty secret, that everyone
- my molester, the girls, the adults - would all be fine if I would just shut up and quietly submit. My dreams fed that delusion. I remember vividly a recurring nightmare in which my parents - and other adults - were standing behind my molester, waiting their turn with me. Of course I never experienced incest or even the hint of that. But my shame was scorching. I would wake up and avoid my parents and siblings. I began losing trust especially with my more pubescent friends, convinced that they would do the same with me given half the chance. I had neither trust nor concept of healthy boundaries - they were meaningless. Anyone who got too close to me was suspect, even simple smiles had ulterior motives
, and as I got older, anyone who found me attractive was by definition sick and dirty. I started wearing baggy clothes before baggy was in style just to hide the curves of my body. I hid my eyes behind sheepdog bangs of long hair.M
any speak of child sexual abuse and the loss of trust. Of course my "big brother" friend certainly lost my trust. But then I started not trusting friends, even family. My dubiety grew like a cancer - extending to relatives, teachers, authority figures - and robbing me of the healthier relationships I should have been building. Every smile had a price, every touch had a more malignant intent. My trust in simple, innocent graces started to erode. But the biggest loss of trust was with myself. The embarrassment (is there a better word for it?) of my body's response to the abuse was something I neither wanted nor understood, but it happened despite mustering every ounce of my will. It vexed my conscience and impugned my sense of integrity, and I judged myself harshly. My abuser just couldn't help himself - like an out-of-control freight train with no brakes. He was insatiable. But even though I knew he was the more guilty party, I expected far more from myself
. He was simply defective. But what was my
excuse? Eventually I just ran away from it all with all the naivety of believing I could. I found I could run to the other end of the continent, but in the process I never succeeded in distancing myself even an inch from me............REPEATING THE PATTERNB
ut I tried. In California, three thousand miles from home, I attempted to reboot my life and bury the boy I was. I went there to forget who I was. I dyed my hair and changed my name. I gave myself a ticket to be whoever I wanted to explore being - as long as it wasn't the boy I was - the boy I left back home. I thought I might be gay but wasn't sure. I was dating girls and guys both. I will spare the detail here, but I still managed to put myself into abusive situations. You would think that one who was abused would have learned to avoid anything approaching re-victimization. But I have since come to understand that bad circumstances can become like comfortable old shoes. They are frayed, the shoelaces are broken and have holes in the soles so your socks get wet. But they have molded to your feet. They become a known fit. There is a comfort in known discomforts. We put these old shoes back on perhaps because we feel we deserve nothing better. Or maybe we've so thoroughly rehearsed the script that playing into these known roles is nothing - until we discover that we have stepped into a situation we did not anticipate. So that happened to me in California. As I did when I was a kid, I just didn't look back at it. And my talent at not looking back was certainly well-practiced by then.I
t took a long time for me to see the truth of what happened to me as a child. I knew
who the "bad guy" was. But so what? The point was moot - it was beyond my power to make him "good." But I sure as hell expected more of ME. I judged myself as if I could have salvaged my integrity, my honor. And the same-sex taboo condemned me before I could even launch out of the starting blocks. There was no finish-line of justice or help to run towards even if I tried. Societal hang ups were powerful silencers. I saw what happened to me as a gay
issue when in fact it was a boundary
issue. Those episodes became my secrets, pieces of memory I packed away and tried to forget. It took me years to see through the lies I told myself and to understand how the deep grooves of my past patterned the years of dysfunction that followed. It also took a single defining event in my adult life - the death of my father - to finally open my eyes and see it. And it took a good therapist named Marc to guide me to the truth. If you are reading this, Marc - you might recognize me from these words. I've come far, thanks in large part to you. You taught me how to walk back to me............OPENING MY EYESW
hen I went through therapy ten years ago, I was so full of self-deluding constructs that I simply couldn't see that what happened to me as a child was molestation
. My past was deeply entrenched in the lies I told myself. It was supposed to be "grief therapy." I was inconsolable for months after the sudden death of my father, and it soon became clear that my grief was not abating. A friend gave me a card with a number, and I made the appointment. When the therapist took me for a walk down the dirty trail into my past, I figured - okay, if this is the stupid game I have to play - then fine. I'll talk about what he wants and then we can finally discuss what I was really
there for. But those sessions opened my eyes to everything I had closed them to. Marc was brilliant - letting me do all the talking, but his questions were smartly-planted guideposts, marking the trail he knew I needed to walk. His talent - I believe - was that he had an uncanny sense about precisely where I did not want to go - and a sense of where he knew I needed to go - and he didn't let me get away with skirting around those places. He never judged. He never summarized. He simply let me hear myself. And I discovered that the truths I had created just did not stand up to the truths that were spilling out of my mouth. I was a small prepubescent boy submitting to full sexual intercourse - countless times - with a bigger, fully pubescent male 3 years older than me all under the threat that he'd molest my sister if I said no! And when I said yes
, he'd molest her anyways. But - hey - that was MY fault, right? It's amazing how much I managed to kid myself for so long. Unlearning those lies I told myself was an adventure into my soul that was as dark as it was fascinating. It wasn't an easy journey, and I was a skeptical and reluctant patient. It was like slogging through a muddy swamp in heavy boots - embarrassing, awful stuff to dredge myself through - in large part because I owned every sin. It was a trail of tears, a hard look in the mirror for the first time in my life. And at the end of that path was waiting a kid I dismissed and packed away with all the other memories. A kid I wouldn't look at, and nobody else really did either. A kid who was abused by his molester, only to then be blamed and neglected by me. In so doing, I essentially amputated myself from my childhood. I built my adult life on a broken foundation, and wondered why nothing seemed to work out - in school, in relationships, in work.I
f I could sum up in a simple three-word sentence the biggest lesson those therapy sessions taught me it is this: Look at it.
It sounds simple, but my whole life was about not
looking at it, about keeping secrets and redefining truths. I stopped looking at it when it started. The adults stopped looking at it, too. Nobody was looking at any of this. Therapy revealed some hard truths. I wasn't going anywhere in my life because I had no idea where I was coming from - or even who I was. Just looking
at it was all I needed to do - but that was a major effort and I could not have done it alone. I just needed to open my eyes - and amazingly, once I did, everything in my life started re-aligning itself. And while my life remains far from perfect (if there is ever such a thing) - it is certainly far from the imperfect that it was. It helps me to understand that - for me at least - there is no endpoint, no gleaming moment called "recovery" where I stand on a mountain peak in the sun, triumphant. In fact, for me there is no "recovery." There is nothing to "fix." There is only the journey of opening my eyes with an honesty that stopped when I was twelve - and in the end, I finally own myself, damages and all. I have discovered that it is enough in this life just to do that............WHO I AM TODAYS
o who is Eirik today? I am an educated professional, in the middle of my life (admittedly an assumption), enjoying a stable and healthy relationship of several years, and am generally happy. I am also wounded, remain dysfunctional in many areas, and am still coming to terms with who I am. A lot was stolen from me. I'll never know the man I might have been had my abuse not occurred - but I suspect my life would have been quite different. I am still learning to rebuild myself, but I can usually say that I am a better man today than I was yesterday. And that little boy I neglected? He's the best part of me. He is my core. He's the light that shines out of me, reflected in the smiles of everyone around me who matters. You'll see him here now and then - occasionally in my avatar or my signature - smiling despite what was happening. He had an amazing resilience and an effervescent spirit. His dad called him a super ball - the harder he hit, the higher he'd bounce. And maybe that dad could have been proud of him had he known what that kid was trying to do. It took me years to finally understand that the boy I was did the best he could, holding everyone's secrets, trying his hardest to spare others from falling prey to the darkness he knew, navigating X-rated problems that confounded even the adults - problems he didn't understand and for which he felt there was nowhere to turn for help. And he dealt with all of that carrying nothing more than the tools of a child - the perspectives of a 75 pound kid who just wanted to ride his bike, swim, play pickup basketball and sandlot baseball until the sun was too low to see the ball, and who believed in magical things. He returned every smile and was an easy mark for bullies. He was a powerhouse in a slight little package, and he was the strongest man I ever was............THE COSTT
he price I paid? Here's just one. My dad told me when I was still a young teenager that despite getting on my tail about being irresponsible and immature, "You're a real good boy
and I'm awfully proud of you." A real good boy? Proud? He obviously had no
idea how nasty and dirty I was. He - like all the adults in our neighborhood - had not a clue of the subterranean filth flowing at his feet. And I certainly wasn't about to disabuse him of his flawed notions. I took that compliment like a hungry dog snatching a forbidden pork chop from the dinner table - and hid forever. He gave
me a compliment, yet I felt I stole
it, greedily keeping it until that day when I was pure enough to earn it - that day I could step proudly into his regard. But that day never came. I kept him at arm's length to preserve his delusions - and then I suddenly lost him forever (he died during a risky surgery). His last words to me were these (and yes - I remember them precisely): I never knew you like I wanted to - you are such a private person. But I know you love me.That's
what was stolen from me. I think about that when the news media focuses on the sex
of child sexual abuse rather than the deeper human loss it creates. And I think about that when I hear the louder voices drown out the quieter victims, defining the crime within the narrow self-serving perspectives of their own moral indignation. Because as loud as they are, they don't own it. We as victims do. And when those voices quiet down and the monster is locked up forever, the victim is left alone with quiet shame and shattered secrets. And those other voices go back to their less sullied lives. It is what we are left holding that destroys us, that sometimes even kills us. This is what I believe - this is what my journey has taught me. Because while non-consensual sex is a theft of the body, it eventually stops. But the secrets and shame it plants stay hidden under the skin of every survivor, and gradually eat holes through the soul............EPILOGUE: A SMALL VICTORYO
ne of the events that brought me here to MaleSurvivor was an email from a girl just a few years ago - completely out of the blue - who thanked me for being her "hero" all those years ago. I had walked in on her and my perp, and told her to get out just as he was starting to undress her. And the funny thing is - I barely remembered it. There were so many. But I can pretty much guarantee I took the bullet. She was spared. And she now has a beautiful family. She told me that if I didn't step in and rescue her, that family of hers may have never existed. I don't have a family. But I'm the dirty little hero.