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Of abuse  [message #76202] Sat, 16 November 2019 07:44 Go to previous message

Has no life at all
Location: UK, in Devon
Registered: February 2003
Messages: 13737

I was sent this following piece after the author had taken great pains to anonymise it:

I Can See the Stars Again

I am reminded of the song Starry, Starry Night by Don McLean, where he sings about the stars. As a child I loved the stars. I loved the flowers and trees and animals as well, but I especially loved the stars. The thing is, all of that was taken from me and like Vincent van Gogh the subject of the song, I came close to losing my own life by my own hand.

You see, I was sexually abused as a young teen. If you've not experienced that particular fate it's hard to understand the impact those two words, "sexual abuse," can have on a person, years after the fact, when they're spoken. Thankfully, following some years of recovery work and therapy, I no longer find it debilitating to speak them.

One of the things I wondered about when I first began my recovery was how it could have happened? What were the various sets of circumstances in my life, that when gelled together, brought it about? My recovery work has shown me many of the answer to that question.

Life can be challenging to negotiate, even for a kid who's raised in the most ideal of circumstances. But take a kid like me who from the outset is sensitive, loving, artistic, nerdy, and who even at the age of five is physically attracted to other boys, then throw in some spiritual, emotional, physical, and insult to injury, sexual abuse, and he will probably spend most of his life attempting to unlearn the bad coping skills that helped him survive the abuse, and to learn the better ones he naturally would have learned over the course of his childhood, teens, and early adult life. He will experience troubled relationships. In fact, relationships of any kind will be a challenge for him, and sadly many who are abused never get past that challenge. Thankfully I did, and am still actively learning and growing in these and other areas.

Life started out well enough for me. My first memories are of being surrounded by love. I grew up in a large family. We lived in a small, country town, with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, all living with in a few blocks of us. When I was very small, as long as I was with an older brother or sister or cousin, I could roam far and wide with them, exploring, learning about nature, the flowers and trees and animals. I love them all. When I was a bit older I was allowed to roam the countryside unaccompanied, and I took full advantage of that freedom.

With so many cousins and neighborhood kids around you can imagine there was always something going on of interest to us. I especially loved the street games we played. On the long, summer evenings we'd play hide and seek, kick the can, or any other game that could be invented by a gang of youthful imaginations. Sometimes, during those games, I'd get distracted. They'd eventually find me laying on my back in the grass, gazing toward the heavens, looking at the stars. I could spend hours doing that, imagining what it would be like to fly from galaxy to galaxy, from planet to planet.

It must have been when I was four, nearly five years old that my world began to shatter. My family joined up with an offbeat, Christian sect that was quite conservative in belief and practice. It taught and practiced what I now recognize as shame-based religion. As I moved from my toddler years into early childhood, my parents, at least partially as a result of that religious affiliation, came to view my every question or misdeed as willful disobedience. Disobedience called for discipline, and in our home discipline meant my father's belt, most often wielded by my mother and for especially grievous offenses by my dad.

Along with the discipline came an overall withdrawal of the parental tenderness that had surrounded my life up to that point. With the violence and sometimes physical scarring there also came shame and emotional trauma. I felt like a lone pillar, solely responsible at that young age for trying to hold up the entire house of cards that was my life. My child's mind understood falsely that it was down to me. I could end up in heaven if I tried, ever so hard, and always did exactly the right things, or if I failed and that seemed far more likely I would end up in hell, and if that was the case, then the fault was mine and mine alone. I lived in constant fear of a vengeful God and a torturous hereafter.

This withdrawal of parental affection, combined with the advent of shaming discipline and religious terror left me vulnerable. All any kid wants is to feel secure and loved. Those things had been mine, only to vanish without explanation, leaving me alone and confused. A void was created in my life that cried out to be filled, and that need was soon to be met.

Shortly after my thirteenth birthday new neighbors moved in across the street, a mom, a dad, and a couple of young children. The dad's name was Robert, though all us kids were always sure to call him Mr. Smith. He was a slender, good-looking man with an engaging personality and smile that all of us naturally warmed to. His wife was a nurse who worked nights, and during those summer evenings, soon after they moved into the neighborhood, he became my friend. He had a large shop out back of his place where he did interesting things like work on cars and build things out of wood. When he wasn't busy doing whatever it is that responsible husbands and fathers do, he'd allow me to "help" him in his shop.

I looked up to Robert. He told me in private I could call him that. It wasn't long before I followed him around like a puppy, and I realize now he easily replaced my parents for that sense of wellbeing and security that had vanished from my life some years previously.
I'm not sure of the timeline, but it was likely a couple of months later when Robert began touching me in increasingly intimate ways. Somewhere in my mind I know I understood that what he was doing was, as my mother would have put it, "nasty", but in all honesty I liked it. It was fun. It felt good, not to mention very forbidden, which made it seem all the more exciting. He was gentle, kind, and intimate and his actions felt an awful lot like love. Maybe not the kind of love that I'd lost, but at least it was something, and I soaked it up.

Over a period of several months his actions toward me moved from seemingly innocent touching to kissing, to nakedness, to sexual play, to intercourse. I admit I enjoyed what was happening. He called me his lover boy, and as I learned the art of pleasuring him he was consummately eager to reward me with physical pleasure as well.

But there was a dark downside to what was happening between us. From the moment Robert crossed the line from the "innocent" touching, to sexually charged fondling, something changed within me. As I indicated at the outset of this document, I had always loved and appreciated beauty and nature. I loved the sunrise, the sunset, the dandelions and the daisies that grew in the fields. I loved the stars. I loved the singing birds and the butterflies and all things connected with the outdoors and nature. Now, as the sexual aspects of Robert's activities developed, the sun no longer rose for me. The stars no longer held my interest. The birds no longer sang. The bees darting from flower to flower and from tree to tree no longer intrigued me, and in short I found myself sinking into a place of sadness from which there seemed to be no escape. I knew it was a result of what was happening with Robert, but at the same time it also felt like he was my lifeline. Having lost the security of a once loving acceptance from my parents, I felt like Robert was my only possible source for that security. He filled the role well, or at least was an alternative that kept me coming back for more. And really, what else was a kid to do? Without informed guidance provided by responsible, loving parents, such challenges are beyond a boy's power to understand, much less negotiate. That, I suppose, is why it becomes abuse; it is taking advantage of a child's vulnerabilities for the purposes of satisfying one's own lust.
Yes, I realize now, some decades later, that I was being sexually abused, but this was not clear to me at the time. What I knew was that I was receiving attention that on some level seemed to meet my needs. After all, any kid needs attention, don't they? I certainly wasn't experiencing the positive and loving feedback I needed in my home so where did that leave me? At that age I was not capable of making that distinction or of acting in my own self interest to prevent the damage that resulted.

With the retrospect of passing decades, I'd say the sexual abuse continued for approximately three and a half years. For probably the first two years he was very caring, solicitous even, but things changed. His demeanor towards me became sinister. He was mean. His sexual appetites shifted from gentle lovemaking to what can only be described as forcible, sometimes violent rape.

The next year and a half was not much short of torturous for me, yet I was completely under his power, unable to do other than remain at his beck and call. He was careful never to leave visible marks on me. Nonetheless he would often slam me around as he raped me, and his violence was as often emotional as it was physical. He would belittle, shame, and tease me mercilessly; there were accusations that I was cheating on him with other men or boys, and a myriad of other mental and emotional tortures from which I knew no escape.

It came to a head one day when, for reasons that to this day are unclear to me, something within me snapped. I'd had enough. Although I doubt at that age my mental processes had developed to the point of being able to reason things out, I think I had been pushed so far that I recognized I had nothing left to lose. Following a particularly horrific session that combined physical and emotional violence, I told him calmly yet pointedly that if he ever touched me like that again I'd do whatever it took to make it stop. I'd tell my parents. I'd tell his wife and children. I'd tell the pastor of his church. I'd carry a knife with me at all times and I'd cut him. I'd do whatever it took to make him stop even if it killed me, and I made clear to him that I didn't care if he was killed in the process.

To my amazement, that was the end of it. He never touched me or spoke to me again. I was free. Or at least I thought I was, but as most survivors know, the abuser stays with us for many years, if not the rest of our lives. His old, evil tapes continue to play in our minds for as long as we are willing to concede him that space. In my case I heard his shaming voice, along with the shaming voices of religion run amok ringing in my ears for more than four decades after the abuse ended.

While in my own experience, I never drew a connection between my experiences with Robert and my attraction to boys, or of being gay, or his abuse making me gay, I understand how pernicious the myth is that sexual abuse can 'turn' someone gay. Sexual orientation is something that's a part of us. I'm as much an illustration of that truth as any other man or boy. I know beyond doubt that from at least the age of five before I met Robert I was attracted to other boys. I liked girls well enough and as a small child I surmised that I would grow up to marry one. But even at that early age other males took on a role in my thoughts that girls never held. While at that age I did not understand what sex was, as I drifted off to sleep at night my fantasies were about other boys. I wanted to hold, cuddle, and kiss them and tell them I loved them, and in my fantasy world they would return my adoration. What the sexual abuse stole from me was my right to explore in my own way, and at my own volition what my sexuality was, and it's proper place and meaning in my life. It took my innocence, leaving in its place a deep shame and self loathing.

My thoughts of physical intimacy with and toward other boys had found expression in my early experiences with Robert, but when that all went horribly wrong I was left in a state of confusion and the deepest of shame not because I was gay, but because of what had happened. By the time I was fifteen years old I had sunk into a depression so deep that I no longer ventured from my room, other than at my parents' direction to complete a chore, or to go to Robert, or to school or to church or to whatever kids event the church would sponsor during the week that my parents required me to attend.

Spiritual abuse, it seems to me, may well be the most devastating of all the abuses. For me it was every bit as devastating, if not more so, than the other abuses I experienced, due to it's impact on the spiritual core of who I was and am. Even after the sexual abuse ended, I continued to live in fear of a vengeful God. I was certain I was destined to burn in hell. This was a fate I was loath to consider; yet I knew it was my ultimate destiny. The terror of it occupied nearly every waking minute.

I spent my youth in that dark place, alternately fantasizing about my latest boy crush, be it a neighbor kid or a celebrity teenage heart throb (David Cassidy and Donny Osmond were favorites). It became a vicious circle. I would pleasure myself to thoughts of a boy before sinking into a deepening shame about what I had just done. From there I'd move on to fearing God's wrath for my activity, planning to kill myself as a means of escape the overwhelming anguish, repenting of my "sin," praying fervently for forgiveness, holding out as long as possible before starting the cycle over again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

By my junior year of high school I had reached the point where I wanted it all to end. Knowing by now I was not capable of pulling the proverbial trigger myself, I hit on a plan I believed would accomplish that goal for me. One night I packed a duffle bag, and when the house was quiet I stood at the door preparing to push through it, heading out into the night to begin my journey to San Francisco. I wasn't completely ignorant of what would happen once I arrived there. I knew that unless I got lucky I'd be living on the streets, and I realized what I'd probably have to do in order to survive. But that eventuality held no fear for a boy who'd already been there and done that, and whose deepest desire was for life to be over.

It was as I paused at the door of our home that night that a shift occurred in my thinking. For a number of years I had believed no one cared, but as I stood there I realized that my history teacher, a man I looked up to, did care. He liked me for who I was and interacted with me in a way that showed he cared. About me. He'd recently assigned a special project. I'd spent a lot of time working on it under his guidance, and I was to present it the next day in class. In that moment, as I paused at our front door, the thought of disappointing him loomed huge in my mind. I did not want to do that. He'd been encouraging and excited when we'd last talked, and I realized that I needed to be... No, I had to be there to do that one last thing before I vanished into oblivion.

So I stayed, and from the moment of that decision onward the world around me gradually brightened. The night of depression didn't vanish, but at least it receded before a gray morning light that gave way to cloudy and sometimes breaking skies, if not bright sunny days. It was a start, a life-saving moment, but the sun didn't come completely out for another 30 years.

I finished high school in survival mode, getting by day-to-day, with no skills to formulate a plan for my life or to consider making a career. When I graduated I went to work and became moderately successful as a mid-level manager in a manufacturing environment. I was good at what I did, mostly, but I carried a distrust of others and a fear of authority. I often reacted badly in certain situations with my bosses, who thankfully could see past my faults to my capabilities. I realize now, how capable I am and how badly I have underrated those capabilities. Still, I got by and lived at a functional, sometimes rewarding level of existence.

But I also lived in fear. I feared my boss. I feared the police. I feared authority. I feared what might happen if I lost my job or took a risk. What if I quit staring at the ground long enough to look someone in the eye. What if I would ask a girl or God forbid a guy on a date. I lived in fear of looking up at the stars because the mud of low self esteem I was tramping through was more familiar and comfortable. I'd come by it well, after all, from religion, from the way my parents emotionally and physically abused me, and from the sexual, emotional, and repeated, physical rape at the hands of Robert. As a result I feared to risk reaching for the stars when I knew for a surety that I could place one mud-encased boot in front of the other without much fear of failing at that. I'd been doing it for many years. I'd become accomplished at it. I'd built a no-risk life that never took my memories back to those dark days of my youth. I was good at avoiding thinking about them, let alone remembering.

It's been said that we are never ready to process the traumas of the past until the day comes when it is possible to do so. I've got no clue what that process involves, but for me I know that just like the day I told Robert where to get off, and just like that night I knew I could never intentionally disappoint my teacher, there came a day when I was ready to begin my healing journey. One bright, hot, summer day in my mid-forties the world as I knew it came crumbling down around me.

I don't know what the trigger was, but I experienced a breakdown. I couldn't stop crying. I cried at work. I cried at home. I cried during my commute. I cried in bed at night. The emotional pain was excruciating, unending, and could not be avoided. All those years from preschool through high school and into my adult life, I'd never cried. I'd never mourned the loss of emotional security with my family. I'd never mourned the advent of the sometimes-severe whippings or the shaming and emotional cruelty that replaced that security. I'd never mourned the loss of my sexual innocence or the resulting loss of my enjoyment of the beauties of nature that surrounded me. I'd never mourned the way the intimacy I shared with Robert, abusive though it may have been, shifted to rape and violence. I'd never mourned any of it, and now I was mourning with unbelievable emotional, physical pain. I wondered if it would kill me.

Gradually, however, I came to understand that I had the strength to persevere. It took me five months and the unquestioning cooperation of a dear friend, but eventually I was able to make an appointment with a psychologist. From that moment forward I've seldom looked back.
One of my goals in therapy was to improve my relationship with those in authority. Keeping my job was understandably rather important to me. I knew if things continued on their current trajectory I would most definitely lose it. My therapist assured me that as we progressed in therapy such concerns would come under scrutiny as a matter of course.

He was right. I remained in therapy with him or other mental health professionals for a number of years, and though we seldom addressed specific life situations directly, many of my interpersonal difficulties with my boss and others ceased to exist as problematic concerns. As I talked about things with my therapist, in group therapy, in online discussion forums for survivors, and in public speaking engagements, a number of realizations or "lightbulb moments" came to me.

In an early such instance I had the epic realization that what had happened wasn't my fault. That made me a little misty eyed but wasn't the end of that particular lightbulb moment. Not three days later I was watching the film Good Will Hunting, where the therapist character, played by Robin Williams, is telling the young Will Hunting, played by Matt Damon, "It's not your fault." Will is startled and tries to deflect the message. But the therapist persists: "It's not your fault. It's not your fault. It's not your fault. It's not your fault," and finally Will accepts the message and falls into tears. I wept, too, as I watched the scene, because I knew in that moment, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that the losses I'd experienced as a kid and the abuses I'd endured were not my fault. I bore no responsibility for them.

Do you have any comprehension of what that meant to me? I'd guess that only if you've been through things similar to what I've experienced would you ever begin to know, and then I'd guess that you can relate to those feelings altogether too well.

Some years have passed now, since those early days of my recovery, and life for me looks much different. I'm no longer afraid of my boss or the police or other authority figures. I no longer bristle with visible anger when I receive an answer that I don't like. I no longer berate and verbally assault the bank teller or the grocery clerk when things don't go my way. I no longer suffer debilitating trust issues with others. And I'm no longer afraid to look up and see the stars instead of plodding one mud-covered boot in front of the other for fear of falling. And best of all, I refuse to live in the shame.

Abuse of any kind is a horrific thing, especially when directed at an innocent child. Its impact is devastating to the spirit, to the very life, happiness, growth, and budding maturity of a child. Many never survive, not because the abuse kills us but because we kill ourselves when the pain becomes to great. In my case I survived... and I'm grateful.

I am gay. I know that, and at this point in my life I'm certain that the God I love is more than okay with me just as I am. Yes, I have grown children. I do not regret that. My life is what it is. I did the best I could given the hand I was dealt. I can either be content while taking steps to improve my life and my relationships or I can spend my days regretting the past.

Of the two options I choose not to look at the past, at other people's mud I got on my feet as I made my way through life. Now, at least figuratively speaking, I choose to look at the stars and once again dream of flying from galaxy to galaxy, from planet to planet.

I have also placed it on the main site for others to find more easily

Author of Queer Me! Halfway Between Flying and Crying - the true story of life for a gay boy in the Swinging Sixties in a British all male Public School
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