Recovering My Stolen Self
When I was eight, I exchanged my plush toy dog for a pen and paper — and I’ve been a writer ever since. Short stories, poems, and eventually plays: I write whenever I’m inspired. This is what actually set me apart at school and at church. Nobody understood why I wasn’t into cars, sports, and video games. As a result, I was bullied constantly at school. I was a loner.
In grade 6, our teacher assigned weekly journal entries for us to hand in to her. In the beginning — like everyone else — I’d write about what I did over the weekend, or where I hoped our family vacation was going to be in the summer. But over time, I began to use this as an outlet to open up and really trust my teacher.
I had been sexually abused, and journaling was a sort of release from the pain I was keeping inside.
But I said nothing about the abuse to her. I was too ashamed, too embarrassed. At the time, I thought it was my fault, and like everything else, I must have brought it on myself. I was abused between the ages of four and six, and I felt like there needed to be secrecy.
As I got older, I felt ashamed, betrayed. I doubted myself because I wondered: if I didn't speak up to begin with, was it because I enjoyed it?
I did not believe in myself. I thought of myself as someone who would never amount to anything in my life. I trusted no one and only spoke when I was spoken to. Like the bruises I got from the bullies at school, I somehow must have deserved to be taken advantage of in such a way. I tried to bury the memory of the abuse, but the side effects were obvious: lack of self-esteem, lack of trust, lack of confidence. I loathed myself to the point where I started to give myself bruises, and I actually believed that I deserved the pain that I was causing. I was numb to everything else but my physical pain: at least I felt something.
High school proved to be more difficult. I doubted myself, and I kept thinking about the time I was sexually abused. Why didn’t I say anything? Was it because I enjoyed the experience? My abuser had no idea how psychologically damaging it was to me. I finally felt a sense of self-worth when I was accepted into the theatre program in college. Studying theatre permitted me to dream, to be challenged, to be alive. But I was very good at keeping my secret, and I still hadn’t opened up to anyone about what had happened to me. I had blocked out most of it.
At 22, I began to form real friendships with people who truly loved me for who I was. But the reality of my past kept haunting me. If I was to be fully whole and free, I had to face the secret that was hidden deep inside my heart. These friends included me in activities that I had never done before because I was rejected in high school. I had a hard time being the recipient of real friendship and love. My past was hindering my future.
There was so much shame, and I still had not managed to tell anyone about it.
During this time, I started to have flashbacks and dreams about the abuse — which were just as painful as the experience itself. Sometimes, it almost seemed like it was another violation: I would wake up thinking someone had been in the room and that it had happened again. There was so much shame, and I still had not managed to tell anyone about it.
The fear of rejection was tormenting me again. But I took a chance and told a close friend about what I had gone through as a child. It was a major breakthrough. The best form of therapy is having close friends who treat you with dignity and respect, and who are willing to listen whenever you need to talk. I also learned to accept love and to believe that I was worthy of receiving such love.
Often times, as men we don't stress how important it is to actually dig deep and talk about the issues we face. As a male victim of abuse, I thought it would further reinforce the impression that I was weak.
But talking about it out loud, taking the step of confiding in someone, was just what I needed to let go of the pain. Dealing with my own pain has also enabled me to be available for others to confide in, without any fear of judgment or rejection. Talking about it, accepting others' genuine acceptance and love, refusing to accept any responsibility for what happened: these were the necessary steps that led me down the road of healing.
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These issues can be hard to face. If you’re considering harming yourself or others, please read this!