From my book and blog
17 what was the damage done?
One of the values of an online support group is you can ask questions and get real answers from real survivors of sexual abuse. There was nothing more revealing and helpful than being able to relate to kindred spirits. I asked a great many questions over the course of a year and a half. While I cannot use the exact answers or screen-names of the members who responded, I can summarize their answers. There were approximately 175 responses to this question, “What has the abuse cost you?” My childhood: Being able to trust: Fear of becoming a monster: Being able to feel: Being able to care about others: Feeling disconnected and distant unable to open up: Self-esteem: Poor performance in school: A positive self-image: My health: Everything, Sense of safety and Self-worth Sanity: The light I was born with: Optimism: Ability to be loved or feel love: Normality in life or a sense of pride: Knowing the difference between sex and love: Ability to cope: Faith: Emotional stability: My family: Confidence in myself or relationships:
As you can see, the list is long and painful. There were many variations on these themes but they were all saying the same thing, abuse is very damaging and costly. For the most part, I have felt many of the same feelings.
The single most shocking revelation for me was to realize how incredible strong denial could be. Alternatively, perhaps a more accurate statement would be how transforming and paralyzing fear can be.
Nothing has been more difficult for me to get a handle on. As I reflect on the magnitude of damage, hurt, and emotional distress, I endured, I am in shock. With all of this nasty stuff happening to me, how in hell could there be a thing called denial? And how the hell could it have such a reaching grip on anyone in this situation. I have had a hard time making sense of it. I guess fear must be the root cause of denial. I believed at one time, shame was the root cause. But when you think of it, it was fear with the shame that drove me. I must have felt so terrified by the thought of facing the truth, that it paralyzed my rational thinking and caused emotional blindness as a kid and young adult. The power of Denial is mind boggling.
If I were watching a movie and seeing a child being abused as I was, I would be overwhelmed with sadness and anger. The horror of seeing a little kid enduring so much suffering can only take your heart away. For the most part, I did a very similar thing in my quest to meet my anger. I had a hell of time finding ways to connect with it. I speak in depth about this in my chapter on anger. I used several techniques but allowing me to see the events of my life as a spectator in a movie theater, watching another child being abused triggered a great deal of anger in me. It was a very useful technique and when it came to my anger, I needed to be very creative in learning techniques for dealing with my anger.
For me the most painful damage caused to me was the loss of my wife, second only to the number of lost years, or years less fruitful as they may have been. At least they would have been different. It would not have matter how my life had turned out if I had not been abused, because any life would have been better than this one.
There is always damage done. And now science is showing there is real physical damage done to brain of abused children. The physical changes in the brain, brought on by the extreme stress of sexual abuse, predispose us to depression, and anxiety. Now that the medical researchers are finally taking abuse seriously, they are amazed at what they are finding. Because of the new discoveries about the effect on the brain has let me to reconsider depression and anxiety as an equally physical ailment triggered by emotional events.
It is sad; the common bond between so many of us is abuse. I don’t know how to quantify the question, “What was the Damage done? And I am not sure it can be. The damage can be so broad base and all encompassing, with a cascading effect on one’s emotional, physical, and psychological wellbeing that it makes it impossible to quantify. Few people understand much beyond the emotional damage done to an abused child. Most don’t know the brain changes physically, the immune system can be damaged, and the nervous system as well. These are very real damages. And these are only the unseen physical damages. The ones we silently suffer with, alone and isolated from any real understanding of why. But there is the damage that is physical that has no place to hide. My penis was frequently bruised and swollen and often times had sores with blisters. This was a result of my unwillingness (either consciously or subconsciously) to have an orgasm, which always force Ernie to work a-lot harder at accomplishing his goal. I can’t tell you how many times I could not take a gym class because it would have been obvious to anyone who saw me naked. There was frequent anal bleeding and soreness, all culminating with a penis fracture because of a particularly rough episode with one of Ernie’s losers. This fracture has left me with an exaggerated curved penis. It is embarrassing for me and I want to have surgery to correct it. When money allows I will. It is a constant reminder of my abuse and is as obvious as the slash on the back of my hand. It is a small slash that opened a large vein. I did it to myself with a razor knife. I was eighteen and just had an argument with Ernie and I was really distressed about my life so I just decided I had to hurt myself. So I intentionally cut the back of my hand. I wanted to cut the vein and I did. I bleed like a stuck pig. It was only an inch or less and I should have had stitches but I didn’t. Of course, recovery has shown me a better way to understand my feelings about these very real physical wounds. Concerning my penis fracture, my wife and most other women I have been with, did consider my condition an asset. One I sure as hell can do without.
And there is my mother’s wounded heart. Her pain reflects in her eyes, when I see her. I see into her heart. To most, they see my mothers’ smiling eyes, me, I am too connected to her pain not to be able to see beyond the sparkle in her eye. She is an incredible women, very strong, strength beyond the pillars of Olympus. But she is my mom and she is wounded. It is very hard for me not to feel guilty when I remember how much pain all of this caused her. We both know it was not either of our faults but it doesn’t help very much. She is my mom and it has taken a long time for me to come to grips with the pain all of this caused her and my dad.
And what of all the lost years of a healthy and growing relationship with my mom? Not to mention the rest of my family. Oh, we love each other tremendously, of this there has never been any doubt. But it is hard not be angry when I think of all the years I felt distant from everyone, especially mom. I didn’t want to be but I had little choice or I wasn’t strong enough to make a better choice. Mom is eighty-eight now and it sure feels good having a different relationship with her. It is as it should be and she knows it. We have occasionally talked openly about Ernie and the abuse. Just casually, I have no need to go beyond my mothers’ need to talk. I let her lead the conversations. She is healing also. Surprise! Yes, she was wounded also and she needs to heal, in a different way, and for different reasons. But until I healed I don’t think she could.
Our conversations have been brief and empowering. For the most part, she has expressed her strong feeling about Ernie, in her own gentle way. For my part, I try to keep her updated on how I am doing in recovery. It is important for both of us, for her to be in the loop, even if it is only casua1ly. If I am healing then it is important for her to know because it will help heal her heart. She is an awesome mom. She has never failed one of us. She is truly a saint with a heart of gold. The good news is, many of the wounds from abuse do heal, if you allow them to.
After everything is said and done, things come down to some very basic truths. The damage is real and intense, and can be emotional, physical, and psychological. Most of the time, the damage is all of the above. We were and are soldiers in a war. Most of us survive. And those of us, who have survived, have done so with wounds that penetrated our souls. Few understand the war on abuse has a 100% casualty rate. Everyone gets hurt. It is only a matter of how much. There are no winners, only the fallen and walking wounded. “Recognizing”, becoming” aware” of your denial is the first step in healing from the abuse. In a moment, the war on abuse ends and the pain of healing begins, when you step out of denial.
Recovery has taught me abuse did not weaken me as a person. The abuse tested my metal and showed me I am a very strong person in so many ways. Recovery allowed me recognize how incredible courageous we are, those of us who have been abused. For anyone to survive these trials; they have courage well beyond most. The human spirit never ceases to amaze me.
As to what others think? I don’t care what society thinks of me as victim or a survivor. It doesn’t matter to me anymore. I only know what I know. We are anything but weak. We are stronger than the abuse.
Know your enemy? The following is one definition of a pedophile from: www.way2hope.org
Types of Sex Offenders:
“Many have asked what the root cause of a sex offender is. Some have speculated that, at an early age, they were molested, which skewed their sense of reality. I was molested as a child, though I had no reference point to classify it at the time. Still, I know a lot of people who were molested who didn’t become sex offenders of any kind. Here are some top selling books on therapy for pedophiles and other sexual abusers. I suspect there are many sex offenders who were not molested as children, so, I don’t think there is a cause-effect relationship. The biggest cause I can point to is sexual addiction…an imprisoning and accelerating dependence on more exotic and intense sexual experiences. For more sexual addiction information and a self-test, visit our pages Addiction and Sex and Signs of Sexual Addiction. As the sexual addiction advances, the addict seeks ever more bizarre and forbidden forms of sexual expression, literally altering the sex drive from normal to the new behavior. Some become exhibitionists and shock others with a sudden flashing of nudity. Others turn to animals and inanimate objects. Some grope others in very public settings. Still others do so in private. Some become Peeping Toms. All of these have the potential to escalate into more serious sexual offenses, like child molestation and rape. We’re focusing here on pedophiles, habitual child molesters, but the solutions we’ll offer can help anyone with a sexual addiction. The earlier you get help the better, because every sexual action you take reinforces your addiction, adding one more lock to your prison.
Once a pedophile reaches the point where they feel they’re showing love, a very dangerous situation arises every time a child rejects them, or someone tries to stop them. Just like many rejected lovers, many pedophiles won’t stop. They may escalate and add violent force to the rape, murder the child, murder the whole family of the child…anything to get their pent up desire met. Often, once force is used, even in the case of murder, the sex drive gets attached to that behavior and the molester can’t achieve sexual satisfaction without the violence. If you find yourself attracted to children but haven’t yet moved into these extreme behaviors, get help to get it stopped now. It isn’t just curiosity…this is where you are headed. Stop it.”
Know your enemy; it was very disturbing for me to see this. But I had to understand both sides of the equation.