When faced with the reality of what I lived through,
My dad said, “You must be mistaken.”
My mom said, “You did it. You’re the pedophile. The gays did this to you.”
A man in my mens’ group said, “I don’t believe a parent would bloody their own child.”
A man in my outdoor group said, “I want you to consider, are you perhaps gay because of what your dad did to you?”
A pastor said, “Gay people want to legalize pedophilia.”
A leader of a boys’ mentoring weekend invited me to share my story at their weekend. So I shared my story with a group of wide-eyed teenage boys. Immediately after, a boy came forward and shared his own story of surviving sexual abuse. Then, after the weekend, the leader told me, “You’re not safe. I wouldn’t trust you with my son.” Then he circulated a letter banning me from that organization. When asked for what reason, all he could say was ‘your body language is seductive.’
These are the messages I learned to tell myself.
After years of silently ‘supporting’ me, my best friend, who is also a trauma therapist, said, “I love you. I have a hunch that you weren’t sexually abused. I believe you’ve experienced significant trauma, but not sexual abuse.”
The ‘false memory foundation’ says ‘What could cause a person to believe sincerely in something that never happened?’
A guy I dated briefly: ‘Get over it.’ ‘You’re stuck in the past.’
Several years later, on Christmas, my dad sent me an email. ‘I believe in awesome. Here’s a picture of your baby nieces playing in our living room.’
In front of two strangers in a car, a life coach blurted out. ‘I had a revelation about you. That you are really sensitive and you need people to use extra finesse around you because your dad raped you.’
Later, he said, ‘What’s new? You’re always angry. Always playing the victim card. I will delete you from my contacts and send you love.’
Many people didn’t say anything at all.
Some people changed the subject.
Others silently left my life.
The first organization I went to for help, a feminist organization, had three female therapists ‘evaluate’ me from behind a two-way mirror. After one hour of watching me, they entered and pronounced that they were ‘pleased that you have not repeated what was done to you.’ And that was it.
My memories of the events of my childhood are like looking thru a long, narrow tunnel into a scene that is sometimes sweet but often harrowing. My body re-lives pain, but I have been curled up, eyes shut. I focus and breathe through it. Churning for years. Crying in the bath tub, sweating in the jungle, soaring together with other survivors, and gradually opening up again, to a new balance.
I carve out a silence within me, relaxing deeper past the cacophony of peoples’ judgements, to a still place, from which I can catch a glimpse of the real me. This innocent playful little boy. This tenacious, adventurous man I’ve become. Sometimes struggling to stay connected, sometimes hiding.
I am still returning to this work more than 30 years later. It does get better.
When I reach out, there have also been many positive responses to my story:
“I believe you.”
“You’re not alone, Mark!”
“You are perfect as you are.”
“I see your beautiful boy.”
“I support you. Go go gadget.”
“Your story is one of courage and hope. Thank you so much for sharing.”
“Wow. Your story is so moving and inspirational.”
“We’d like to feature your story on our website.” .. “radio show” … “journal.”
“You are truly an inspiration and a true warrior.”
“You changed my life.”
Parents that brought their kids to meet me. Kids that love and trust me.
Over time I have learned to trust my own body, and the healing process. To let go of those coping mechanisms of denial, doubt, shame and fear, as I open up to me and the world again. To recognize that people sometimes respond negatively to child abuse because we all have work to do. And to surround myself with people who support the process of transformation.
It frees me to release the shame by putting the difficult parts of my story out there. I no longer have to hide. I no longer have to repeat these messages to myself.
I no longer have to carry this burden that was never mine to begin with.
Child abuse is not my problem. It is our problem.
Healing is not my job. It is our job.
I invite you to consider how you are responding to abuse in your life?