This is something I wrote in conjunction with the sharing of my story of childhood sexual abuse. It was originally published August 9, 2012 on my now defunct My Thermos blog so I have moved it here for historical purposes.
At the time, these writings were a big step in my recovery process. Now they serve as a milestone of sorts, a way for me to see where I was.
I am 1 in 6.
I am a statistic, and thinking of oneself as a statistic is difficult. Typically we associate becoming a statistic as dehumanizing. Statistics don’t have names, they merely quantify. A statistic is a point on a graph, a blip on a chart, a hatch or tick mark, a notch, indistinguishable from the others and only having meaning as part of the larger group. We may think about 9 out of 10 dentists, or we may think of Borg, a nameless part of a collective, maybe identified as 7 of 9. I think of the Bob Seger song he once wrote about feeling like a number, being “just another spoke in a great big wheel, like a tiny blade of grass in a great big field.”
But I am a statistic. I am 1 in 6.
Much research indicates that 1 in 6 men have experienced abusive sexual experiences before the age of 18.
I am 1 in 6.
For many years I pretended that I wasn’t. I didn’t block my experiences, but I ignored them. I was a person, a damaged person, a hurting person but I wasn’t a statistic.
But now I am 1 in 6. I am sharing my story and taking my place among those who are survivors of abuse. I’m not proud to be 1 in 6. No one should have to be 1 in 6. But I am, it is a part of me, a part of who I am.
For me, acknowledging the fact that I am 1 in 6 is in fact quite humanizing. It lets me connect my life and my feelings to my experience. I am a person, I have a name. Events have shaped me, but they don’t own me. So I will tell my story, become 1 in 6, but I also become more “me” in the process, a step towards becoming the person I want to be, and could be.
Here is my story I wrote for Violence UnSilenced. It was published today. It is my story. It wasn’t easy to write. It’s not easy to share it with you now. I am terrified. But I am also exhilarated. It’s been a long journey to reach this point, and a journey that still has a long ways to go – but I think this is a very important milestone for me to hit along the way.
I want to thank Maggie at Violence UnSilenced for giving my story a safe home, and for her assistance in getting it published so quickly. Violence UnSilenced offers survivors the option to rush their stories if they feel they need to heard immediately. Some recent and very public events have led to a nearly 50% increases in hotline calls to support organizations by men. Men’s voices are rare but we are speaking out. We decided that by sharing my story now it can let others know that they are not alone, and that it is safe to share.
I had a secret. I folded it up to be really really tiny and then I put it in a small box, and then I set it aside. I didn’t block it. I never forgot it, but I put my secret in its box where it was safe, and where I was safe from it.
It didn’t really become my secret until years after. I was a child when I was sexually abused. I didn’t understand what was happening, or why. As years passed and I got older, that changed. The reality of the events became evident and then I felt the anger, and the shame. And I felt sad. So the secret became mine, and in the box it went, where it couldn’t hurt me.
It’s a nice thought to have such a box, one that can shield you from the secret it contains. In my mind I can see it, tucked away on a shelf somewhere. It’s not ornate, just a plain nondescript boring little box. There is no indication of the contents contained within.
The problem with the box, and where the whole analogy breaks down really, is that it’s a fallacy. The box isn’t real, and it certainly did nothing to protect me. Oh, I thought it was doing me good, but it’s just a stupid imaginary box, not nearly strong enough to keep the poison within it from seeping out.
And seep it did, colorless and odorless, out of the box and in to my mind and my body. It wasn’t the only trigger for sure, but I think it set the stage in so many ways for how I reacted to so many other things that life presented to me.
The sadness grew and I became depressed. My anger had lost its target — I was feeling it but the source was tucked away in the box (it was safe from me as well). As a teenager, I was ill prepared to deal with such feelings and anger doesn’t fade quietly. I directed it indiscriminately outward or more likely, internalized it, mirrored it myself. Low confidence, low self-esteem, I spiraled. I drank and drugged and when that didn’t work and my life was falling apart around me, I attempted suicide. I survived, as did the box. Therapy addressed the surface issues but through it all I kept my secret.
I was good at keeping my secret. Therapists, counselors, teachers, doctors, family, friends — I told no one. I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision to not tell. I think about it a lot now and I really do think that I had separated myself from it to the point that I had convinced myself that it just wasn’t relevant, it wasn’t related to any of the issues I had. I mean, how could it be? It was tucked away and I was safe from it.
High School was followed by college, followed by dissatisfying job after job. Friendships started and faded. A natural shyness escalated to so much more, reclusiveness, anxiety, depression. Looking back I can see peaks and valleys but through it all there is a veil of gray that covers it all.
It wasn’t until December 2010 that I shared my secret for the first time, some 35 years later. By then I could visibly see the poison just oozing out of the box, pretending that I was safe wasn’t working. I could see how it was directly affecting me and my relationships with others.
It was really the strength of one relationship I had that allowed me to finally confront what had happened in my past. I met Gina in 1989 and we became fast friends. We started dating in 1992, married in 1993, and she is and always will be the very center of my world. Even with that though, we shared our life together for nearly 20 years before I told her of my abuse. I started therapy again soon after but this time I was determined to get it right, I was all in, no bullshit, no secrets.
If the box was slowly leeching out poison before, once it was opened it became a steady flow. Yeah, truth shall set you free and all, but I had a big fucking mess to clean up first and it wasn’t going to be easy. Over the course of the next year and more I became more withdrawn, I rarely left the house. I don’t talk to other folks that often.
Do you see what I did there? I shifted from past to present tense. That’s because this is where I still am now. Therapy is hard work. Actually dealing with the past sucks you know. It hurts, and some days I feel worse than I ever have. But I’m working on it. I’m working really fucking hard.
I use a lot of analogies in my therapy. I like analogies a lot, they help me express things in a way my brain understands. They also tend to present what I am thinking and feeling in terms which ultimately let me see that there is a commonality to what I am going through, it’s not just me. One of the analogies that occurs to me most often is that of me and my life right now are like a severely damaged space craft. There’s been a war, heavy casualties, and I’m sort of just drifting lifelessly through space. I am unable to restore full functionality all at once, in fact I probably need to shut down all but essential life sustaining systems for a while. Shields Up!
With all but primary systems offline I can do the work to get things back up and running. It’s arduous, tedious, and sometimes well beyond my capabilities. I take things slow, doing too much too soon will overload the system. So now I’m drifting and slowly bringing some things back online. ‘Coffee with friends’ has run successfully a few times now, that’s good. ‘Attend a big graduation party picnic’ froze up entirely just recently, we’ll revisit that one later.
Therapy is an ongoing process, a journey. I won’t wake up one day and just be better. One thing that I know I need to do to stay on course is to identify and celebrate my wins, my victories, no matter how insignificant they may seem. I talked to a stranger. I didn’t panic in a potentially difficult situation. I followed up on plans. I finished a project. I seem to be noticing a few more of them than usual lately. Each is a flicker of a life coming back online, and for the first time in a long time I feel like things ‘could’ actually get better.
I’m not sure they will get better and I am fearful of being overly optimistic but I am going to latch on to “could” with all that I have. It’s a strong word, a hopeful word. I don’t know for sure what is going to happen — but you know what — I could actually do this.
I would very much like to give thanks to my Gina for her unwavering love and support and inspiration. I would not have gotten this far without you.
Thanks as well to CL for being a friend during this extremely difficult time. I can’t even begin to let you know what that means to me.
I also want to thank all the brave people who have shared the stories before me. You have paved the way to make this possible. I can only hope that I can do the same for someone else.
If you are currently being abused or were abused in the past I encourage you to safely seek help. If the need is immediate dial 911 or go to an emergency room. Please do this now or as soon as it is safe for you to do so.
Some Additional Resources:
1in6 is an organization dedicated to providing information and support for men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences, in addition to their friends, family, and partners. They have some really outstanding resources for getting help.
They also offer additional information about the 1 in 6 statistic.
The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) is also a tremendous resource in addition to providing a confidential 24/7 telephone hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE(4673)
The NoMore Organization also has a thorough page of resources and helpful links.