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Wednesday, November 7, 2018

#MeAsWell: For What It's Worth

I have always had an interest in human nature.  I've always been fascinated in what makes people tick.   For whatever reason, I was a very sensitive kid and am a sensitive adult--which can lead to understanding or being able to read people/situations, but it also can lead to getting hurt more easily.  But, I digress.   I took an interest specifically in human nature as it relates to codependence and addiction as both hit close to home.  I've experienced addiction and/or codependence, from multiple perspectives--firsthand, as a survivor and as an observer.  So, I figured I could understand and intelligently talk about the subject matter.  Maybe a little bit of hubris, but you talk about what you are confident talking about.


Many of my blog posts are insights from watching others and the world around me.   However, some are from personal experiences--a few of which are deeply personal.  Anyway, when I do decide to share insight from (deep) personal experience, I do with it the goal of helping others. I hope they can  use what I share to relate to, identify with or gain knowledge from what a lifetime of experience has taught me.   I am not one who is prone to 'brag' about or verbally vomit my life story on Facebook  or other social media. So, I when I share deeply personal experiences, it is mostly with the hope that it is benefiting others.  Perhaps to a degree, sharing can give me a fuller opportunity to process or even heal a little bit, but I do sincerely hope I can help others.

What I am about to write as you might imagine has weighed on me for a lifetime and I've shared bit and pieces with those closest to me that I trust.  However, I haven't openly shared it for public consumption or even necessarily fully.

So, what are we talking about?  Good question.  I figured one day after my parents were gone, I'd write about my experience as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse (CSA).  I mean my experiences at the time and the effect it has had since. This as you might imagine is not an easy subject for me to write.  My intent is not to throw anyone under the bus or to humiliate or shame anyone living or dead.  For this reason, I didn't tell this story publicly until after both of my parents were gone.  Furthermore, there are some details I will leave out.

Why now? 


  • My parents are gone.
  • I feel it's part of the healing process.
  • The #MeToo movement has helped reduce the stigma of sexual abuse.
  • I want people to realize or not to forget that #MeToo is not or should not be limited to one type of abuse/circumstance.  It happens across all types of gender and age bounaries.
  • Why not, if I can help others relate, understand or become aware of warning signs (before or after abuse), then my unfortunate experiences will not have been in vain.

---


Let's start with what I do know:
  • My dad struggled with demons of alcohol and probably abuse too, sexual and otherwise.  I was shocked a few years before he died when discussing the subject with him, he said to me, "Well how do you think I learned?"   Wow.   
  • My mom struggled with codependence.  She just had always wanted to be accepted and loved and sometimes was a bit obvious with it.
  • My mom was a stay-at-home mom at least until I was a teen.
  • My dad was a workaholic and spent a lot of time when he wasn't working drowning his demons with alcohol.  I'm sure there was probably more to the story, but you know, not everything is told.
  • My parents raised six kids with my dad being gone a lot and my mom being the one had to deal with six kids.
  • Home life was dysfunctional.
  • There was not enough money (at least left after demon drowning) to attend to our basic needs such as decent clothing, not to say anything of our wants.
  • I was bullied as a child.
  • Let's be charitable our house growing up was neglected.
  • I remember my dad having girly magazines from as long as I remember.

I will not speak for others in my family who may have suffered abuse as well with the exception of my late brother where he talked a little bit to me about it.  I am not one to gossip, nor is it my right to speculate or write on the subject matter for others.  I speak only for myself.  That being said as you will read, I have reason to suspect that others in the family were harmed.


Against the backdrop of a dysfunction family, parents with their own issues, my emotional needs not being met and being shunned at school, it is easy to see that I was an at-risk youth.   There were two people that I was aware of that sexually abused me as a child.  One I will not speak about directly, but let's just say I was it was an older adolescent whom I looked up to and whom was likely abused himself.   The second one was an adult, a 'church camp counselor'.  Some of my older siblings went to a church camp which my church at that time participated in.  They had met this guy named Rick (and yes that's his actual name).  He's the reason when I am called 'Rick", I cringe and hate it.

I don't know the precise point in time, but from what I can piece together, they had met this guy during the summer after I was 8, though it could have been the one before I was 8.  Anyway, this guy was associate with another church in our area (as I found out later) and somehow had weaseled his way into getting to be a camp counselor for the boys.  Anyway, some of my older siblings had mentioned about this guy and how he seemed like a nice guy and all.  Well, as I would later figure out predators tend to be attuned to at risk kids/families.  Anyway, Rick weaseled his way into my family first through older siblings and then getting the okay to spend time with us by my parents.  It is easy to question, "Where were my parents?" but I realize that this situation occurred long before the 'priest' sexual abuse and similar scandals surfaced.  This was a time in which we could leave our front door unlocked and even open without having to worry about being attacked.   In other words, a simpler world, a world in which having a having an adult male mentor aka Big Brother, especially one who professed to have good Christian values was seen as a unmitigated positive. 

So, Rick came to spend time with us, really he seemed to take special interest in the boys in my family and pretty well ignored the girls.  Perhaps should have been red flag number one, I don't know.  So, my dad worked a lot and had issues with the bottle and all that came with it.  My mom had her hands full with six kids. So, having someone to help was probably considered a blessing.  From my perspective as a kid, I was getting picked on at school, I felt shunned because I presented as poor and coming from a family with issues, I had few friends, didn't get the good dad time and felt like I couldn't bring anyone over do to a neglected house.  So, to me, I was grateful to have an adult willing to listen to me, who seemed to understand me and seemed to like me and be nice.

  Anyway, I don't know when it started, but I would guess between 8 and 9, he started grooming me.  I don't remember the sequence of events exactly, but if I had to guess based on my knowledge of what grooming is, he probably first talked to me and made me feel important, touched me on my shoulder or something 'harmless', rubbed my back, or eventually reached my privates--I'm still disgusted by saying this.  Let's just say, he probably 'got something out of it' if you know what I mean.  This happened at my parents house and and at a later point, why he was gracious enough to invite me over to his place.  I remember this continued until some time after puberty.  Some kids get sex education or spoken knowledge from their parents, some get it from a film at school, unfortunately, I was treated with this education first hand with a predator.  To this day, I am still humiliated by this.  Let's just say there is a word that people use to discuss 'sexual self-love' and he involved me in that and showed me things.  To this day, I cringe at the word and idea.  I don't know what if anything else more invasive happened than what I have mentioned.  Near the end of his time in my life, three things of note happened:
  • My late older brother Bill, God rest his soul, was treating Rick like a jerk (at least that's what I thought at the time).  I understood later and Bill told me later he was putting it all together and that he was upset because he wasn't sure what all Rick had done to him.  In hindsight, Bill was protecting us and I suspect his intervention helped lead to Rick backing out of the picture.
  • In the process of a call with Rick one time, he said more or less that he could called Child Protective Services (or whatever it was called then) on my parents and have us kids removed from our parents.  I don't remember him saying to hush about what had happened, but that would be the implication.  Obviously, I know now that a man preying on children probably wouldn't want to draw attention to himself that way, but back then it was a threat that I didn't understand.  Why was Rick saying that? 
  • When I was a freshman in high school I got a call from a 'long lost friend'.  His call was about as welcome as wetting the bed a couple years after I thought it ended.  Maybe that was a reason I had a problem with bedwetting, who know?  Anyway. I handed over the phone to a sibling and said, "Could you deal with this?"  That was the last time I heard from him.

The incidents with the older adolescent stopped when I was 17.   They seem to start around near the time that Rick had weaseled my life and were similar in level.  Let's just say, when I was 17, I was sleeping one time and came to find myself starting to be used a certain way that has the initials for Billy Joel.  I was too intimidated to stand up for myself and pretended to be asleep.  That was the last time I was taken advantage of, and definitely by a guy.

I will leave it at that.  I wasn't 'prison raped' to the best of my knowledge, but obviously just short of that.


--

I told my story above, as much as it made me cringe, because I felt it was time. Over time I've put it together and realize the long-term impact it has had.  So, it is time to share that from my perspective.  In no particular order:

  1. I was sexualized very early.  I didn't have the luxury of normal self-discovery, but it was forced on me.   As you might imagine this led to problems in my teens and into my adulthood.  It has led to unhealthy relationships and mistakes in and out of relationships.  It has led to an excess focus in my life upon sexuality.
  2. I got approval when as a kid, "I allowed myself to be used".   For a long time I saw myself as allowing sexual misconduct. In other word, Rich if you had been stronger, you would have put a stop to it.  But, they don't call it the 'age of consent' for no reason.  Kids, especially, but not limited to preteens are not expected to have the wisdom, judgment or power (physical or emotional) to make those kind of determinations or be able to be able fight back against those who would take advantage of them.
  3. My sense of my orientation was messed up.  I think to some degree over the years, this has probably led me to 'prove' myself.  After all, I didn't 'stop' same sex predators from taking advantage of me, so maybe I was 'okay' with it.  I'm not here to judge or condemn others for their orientation or lifestyle, so don't get my wrong. However, a kid shouldn't have those issues thrown in their face, especially without consent.   However, I realize now that my questions about my own orientation were totally unfounded. 
  4. I was concerned that perhaps I'd could turn into into that which I fell victim to.  I think there is a tendency (or at least there was) for people to presume that childhood sexual abuse survivor (CSA) will be at high risk of becoming a perpetrator themselves.   I was oversexualized very early and a teenager and probably gave off those vibes in spades.  I felt dirty, naughty, 'perverted', etc.  I realized when I was in my early to mid 20s and was around kids, especially my young niece, and felt nothing but love and wanting to protect her, that my fears  were totally unfounded.  If anything, I came to realize what happened to me made me more likely to a) never want a kid to be harmed, b) be aware of what harms kids, and c) never want to be remotely perceived as being anything but appropriate.  When I was dating someone and she told her mom about what happened to me.  She expressed that her mom was concerned that kids who are abused turn out to be abusers.  I felt victimized again.  Not only was I abused as a child but I was portrayed as a potential predator that way.   It felt like a huge slap in my face and disregard for what I'd learned from being a survivor of CSA.
  5. Major, major, major, I can't stress how much I mean major distrust of people, especially males.  I was 'taught' at an early age that people act like they like you, but end up only liking you for what you can do for them or what they can 'get' from you.  Getting bullied as a kid and having an 'old school', deal with it, often insensitive male role model didn't help. However, from what I know now, my dad was only following the example he was set (and probably was abused himself).  Anyway to this day, if I sense a male is seriously trying to take advantage of me in any way or trying to negatively affect my life, I get POed.  I can accept and forgive a lot.  Even if they would never be able to find out that I  privately forgave them, I forgave those whom hurt me sexually as a I child.  However, my biggest pet peeve is arrogance, especially from a male, when it is utilized to 'get something' or take advantage of myself or my loved ones.  That's a hard thing for me to swallow.  I'd hate to be a future boyfriend of my daughter who thinks I will tolerate that for a moment.
  6. I find it hard to give up control--including affection.  Unfortunately for my wife, I cringe often when she gives me a friendly rub on the arm or something like that.  The loss of control in such a personal area of one's life as a kid, can fuel a need to 'control' that area in later life.  That's a hard thing to fully recover from.  It is second nature her to show positive attention that way and unfortunately, sometime I have to remind her that that can be uncomfortable for me. 
  7. My self-blame for what was done to me, unfortunately made me susceptible to always blaming myself for my failures (or what I saw as my failures).  It's proper to take blame for a failures when they actually are things you really shouldn't have done or for those things which you really should have been more cautious about.  But, beating yourself up for being too different personality-wise than someone your dating, for example, is a sign of being way too critical of yourself.
  8. Generalized anxiety disorder.  Anyway, who has this knows this can at times be debilitating.  I used to have occasional panic attacks as late teen/early adult.  Confidence and experience have led to me being able to overcome those, but not the generalized anxiety.

Some of these things, I put to rest, like questions about orientation or the risk of me becoming like those hurt me.  Other things I have made progress with including self-blame. But, some things like giving up control, I still struggle with.


I guess the takeaway I have to give from my own CSA survivor experience and to some degree from that of others that I have known:


Beware of the signs of a predator:
  • If a grownup takes what feels like an inordinate amount of interest in your kids, beware.  I'm not talking about someone who loves kids.  I'm talking about someone who tries TOO hard to relate to them and seems TOO eager to try to gain their acceptance.  That could be a huge red flag.  I believe this is usually a you'll know it when you see it sort of thing.  In other words, don't accuse in your mind anyone who gives kids positive attention, but if it seems way off, there is a good chance that it is.  While, it is important not to make accusations or suggestions lightly, it is also important not to dismiss them because 'it couldn't happen' or 'he or she isn't the type'.
  • If someone, especially a grown-up seems too willing to be too affectionate with them, beware.  I'm not talking about a pat on the head or a quick warm hug.  I'm talking about more drawn out and more methodical or more blatantly obvious affection.  Once again, this is an area in which it is important not to make accusations or suggestions lightly or blow affection out of proportion--especially when the giver is a close relative.   However, it is just as important not to automatically dismiss out of hand either.  A parent or caregiver who is open-minded, I believe can usually differentiate on what is 'too much affection' as given by another towards their kid.
  • If someone, especially, a grownup seems to want to spend too much time with them, especially alone time, beware.  This can be true for those whom they are related too (formally or not), but it can also be true with a relative stranger as well.  I remember in my own situation, Rick, when he was in his 'predator zone', would tend to only want one of us immediately around.  I didn't put it together at the time, but it makes sense now.

Be aware of the signs of CSA.
  • A kid is unnaturally inappropriate.  I'm not talking goofy giggly talk of preteens of silly immature talk of kids hitting puberty or locker room talk of boys wanting to fit in.  I'm talking where you sense a child is way too focused on sexuality.   This doesn't mean automatically they have been sexualized early, but it can be a HUGE red flag. 
  • If a kid shuts down or their behavior suddenly changes.  In other words, they seem to be in protective mode or they seem darker in personality than usual.  This can include their seeming complete disinterest or even distaste for dating.
  • A kid spends too much time trying to be private or trying to keep everything private from parents and others.  Kids need their space to figure themselves out and they need their space to develop healthy relationships.  However, CSA can cause kids to become more curious at an early age.  A huge boundary has been crossed with CSA and therefore, crossing other boundaries such as porn and early sexual involvement with other kids probably isn't as taboo for them that it should be.  They know it's 'taboo', but they also have been taught on some level that boundaries are flexible anyway.  To get over this conflict, kids they can resort to hiding their 'taboo' behavior.  A sign of this can be an excessive need for privacy and to 'hide' their behavior from parents.

Be aware of the long-term affects
  • Distrust of others, especially of, but not necessarily limited to those in authority.  After all, CSA is usually, but not always perpetrated by an authority figure who should have been trustworthy.
  • Sexual dysfunction.   Either too sexual or completely closed off sexually.
  • Relationship problems including mistaking sex for love.  After a CSA survivor was 'taught' that positive attention that way means that they are loved or appreciated.
  • Disregard for consequences of their actions at times.  This can include legal consequences, but I'm not specifically meaning that.  The concept is a huge barrier was blown through early on, often without consequences for the one(s) who did it.  This can send a message that barriers are a speed limit sign.  That is something should be followed, but which is largely ignored by many, if not most people.  After all, their own boundaries have not been respected, so what do boundaries matter anyway  In my own life, it took getting older, having a child and my brother Bill's suicide to bring me to maturity in some ways. 
  • Long-term anxiety (if not dealt with early).
  • Self-doubt.  Why did I allow this to happen.


The best thing we can do as parents is to be engaged with our children.  We can't always protect them but at least if we are engaged, we give them a better chance of being protected.  The better we know our kids, the better we can protect them or become aware more quickly if they are in danger or have been harmed.

I hope and pray my story has been helpful to at least a handful of people who may have read this.

Thanks, for spending your team reading part of my life's story and what it taught me.

-- Rich

* Why did I put #MeAsWell?  I think the whole #MeToo thing has been politicized too much and I'm not interested in making a political statement.  I'm not bashing #MeToo as there is so much bravery in #MeToo.  I just wanted to go a different route.

* I picked this song because, while it doesn't speak of CSA, the sense I get with this song is a loss of innocence of a generation.  Obviously, I can relate.