From Victim to Survivor

Survivor as Abuser Myth
“The victim to victimizer theory of sexual abuse receives repeated attention in the professional and popular literature.
It appears that in the mind of the public and unfortunately in the minds of some professionals, all offenders are victims and being a victim is a direct cause of sexual abuse.”Murphy and Smith, 1996
Child Sexual Abuse Perpetrators who report being sexually abused as children typically range from 20-30%.(Hanson & Slater, 1988; Freund, Watson & Dickey, 1990; Murphy & Smith, 1996)  
Contrary to popular belief the majority of CSA Perpetrators have not been sexually abused.
 
“Childhood Sexual Abuse” An Evidence Based Perspective 
(Fergusson & Mullen, Sage 1999)

The counselling looked at every aspect of my life and it became clearer and clearer to me that my identity and the way I lived my life was as a victim. I was still living with the fear of being abused and in fear of my abuser.

I came to realise that the abuse had fundamentally distorted my development as a person; I had grown up as someone who needed to protect themselves from, rather than enjoy, the world. The abuse meant I saw people and situations firstly as potential threats, I had grown up being always hyper-vigilant and constantly on the defensive. Living this way was exhausting.

The longer the counselling went on the angrier I became, the sense of injustice and wrong that was done to me finally surfaced.

The next stage was, perhaps, the beginning of the end of the process.

I had given back the responsibility of the abuse and no longer felt shame or guilt over what had been done to me, I had accepted and now knew that what he did was abuse and was wrong, I even had the embers of self-worth. What came next was to look at loss and to grieve for what I had lost and for what might have been.

It took some time for me to gather the courage to even begin to think about what the abuse had cost me. Below are just some of the issues I needed to acknowledge and grieve over:

  • Loss of childhood
  • Loss of innocence
  • Loss of naivety
  • Loss of opportunities for happy memories
  • Loss of some memory
  • Loss of opportunity to develop a natural curiosity about the world
  • Loss of opportunity to enjoy the world, rather than fear it
  • Loss of healthy social interaction without suspicion and fear
  • Loss of nurturing relationship with self
  • Loss of innate Self-trust
  • Loss of innate Self-belief
  • Loss of innate Self-worth 
  • Loss of opportunity to develop my sexuality naturally
  • Loss of relationships, including that of my father
  • Loss of time and energy spent on the abuse, rather than on positive things 
  • Loss of education and improved work prospects
  • Loss of opportunities 

This was a period of huge sadness. I cried a great deal. I grieved.

How could I get all these losses back? The simple answer; I couldn’t; I had to let them go.

I also came to the conclusion that my recovery could not be based on regaining the specifics of what I had lost, but to reclaim the essence of them.

I could and would build my self-worth, self-trust, self-belief
I could and would build better and healthier relationships for myself
I could and would go back to college and educate myself
I could and would make new opportunities for myself
I could and would learn to enjoy the world and be less fearful.

I was moving on from being a victim of abuse to a survivor.

I began to think about life after the counselling and what I could do. Throughout my life people had seemed to trust me and I was a regular confidante for family and friends. My abuser had given the reason for abusing me as being too nice and too caring. Perhaps, I thought, I could also reclaim these qualities and use them in a positive way to help others overcome the issues they faced, I talked this through with my counsellor, who agreed.

I took the decision to start training as a therapist.

The Counselling

“Research continues to indicate a concerning number of children and youth, between 60–80%, withhold disclosure until adulthood suggesting that many children endure prolonged victimization or never receive necessary intervention.”  Ramona Alaggia, 2010.

My plan of 6 weeks of counselling, fell apart very quickly.

It was only when someone had been willing to listen to me that I realised just how much I needed to talk. The first 6 weeks flashed by and we had the review; both my counsellor and myself agreed to continue for as long as I required.

I cannot stress enough just how important it was to my recovery to be in control of how long I needed. So often now counselling is time limited, often JUST 6 weeks. This approach is so dis-empowering, immediately the survivor has the control taken from them and they are once again faced with little or no choice and control.

I know resources are limited, but to ask victims of abuse to open up and reach some level of resolution with such limited interaction is almost always asking too much. I also know that many services are unable to offer longer due to rationing, but there must be a better way. I am also often puzzled why people come up with arbitrary number of weeks, why 6, 10 or 12 weeks? Recovery for survivors MUST be led by them,recovery is about EMPOWERMENT and that means giving the victim CHOICE, CONTROL and POWER over their own future.

I was warned by my counsellor that things often get worse before they get better during the process and he was right. Revisiting the abuse opened me up more than I could have ever imagined.

Flashbacks increased. For those of you who are unaware, flashbacks are not just recalling memories, it’s much more like reliving them, you are not in the present, but back in the actual abuse. I also recovered more memories of being violated and that indecent photos had been taken of me. How had these been used? Who had seen them? Where were they shown? Just how much more there was to come I just did not know or if I could cope.

The old defence mechanisms started to kick in; minimizing the abuse and it’s effects. I tried to rationalise the past; “I had deserved what had happened”, but my counsellor would not relent; he threw challenge after challenge at me. “What would I say to another victim who had said the same thing?”…”Why then am I saying something different to myself?”.

What became clear was that my abuse and therefore my abuser was still in control of my life and that I was still living in fear and as a victim.

I can recall very easily a piece of homework I was given:

“I want you to do something nice for yourself”, the Counsellor said.
“Okay, I can do that”, my reply.
“…now the tricky part..”, my Counsellor continued”…not because I’ve asked you, but just because you’re worth it and for no other reason.”

I went back the following week having  been unable to do it. I didn’t deserve anything, simply for the reason I felt worthless and was full of self loathing; I even despised the child I had been and thought of him as pathetic and weak.

I desperately needed to give back the responsibility and the blame to the abuser. The guilt I had carried for the abuse was not mine, it was his. The shame I had been carrying for all these years, was not mine it was his .

As this process went on, the anger at being burdened with these issues and the injustice grew, I struggled with these feelings, they seemed overwhelming. In the past I had released or suppressed them with drinking/drugs or self-harming, but I was no longer willing to use these strategies and I wanted and needed to face these demons.

I didn’t realise it, but thanks to the the counselling, I was beginning to gain self-worth for the first time. I hadn’t deserved the abuse; what was done to me, was wrong.

My counsellor helped me understand that the “little me”, the abused child, had done the very best he could at the time, with what he had and that rather than hate him, he needed my love and understanding. “What would you say to him now, if you had him standing in front of you?”, my Counsellor asked. I collapsed into tears of sadness and pride at the courage that little boy had shown; protecting his own Mother, Father and family from the truth and in carrying the burden of the abuse all on his own, for so long.

This was a time of great confusion, all the old messages and lies I had been living with no longer rang true. What was I left with? It challenged my actual identity; if I was no longer going to be a victim of abuse, who was I?

The Work Begins

I do not remember how or where I stumbled across the details about SurvivorsUK, I think it may have been trawling through the Yellow Pages.

Finally, the help I needed
Finally, the help I needed

I do remember calling them and speaking to a female volunteer who actually listened and invited me to call back. After a couple of calls, I was asked if I’d be interested in one to one counselling or group work with them. After all my previous attempts had been shot down and had my experiences minimized by the professionals, I wasn’t sure if my abuse had been bad enough or if I was really that much in need of help.

We arranged for me to visit one of their co-ordinators to discuss what options would be available. Everything seems so blurry now; people really caring about the abuse, listening to me and wanting to help….why had it taken over 15 years and so much effort for someone to finally take me seriously? Was it too good to be true, would these people also let me down? I was filled with fear and anxiety at the prospect of opening up again, but went along anyway…what had I got to lose?

I met the co-ordinator who was very relaxed and open, he thought group work wouldn’t be a good option for me at this time and that I would benefit from individual counselling and he had the very person in mind.

I met my prospective counsellor for an assessment on both sides. He was completely frank and honest with me, explained that he was also a survivor and gay, I was asked if that would be an issue for me as my abuser had been a man. I could not believe it, I was being asked and given choices. I had no problem, felt at ease with him and the counselling started. It would be for an initial 6 weeks then a review, there would be no cost and I could go along as long as I felt I needed.

I had thought a great deal about the issues I would need to address; anger, guilt, fear, loss. It would take me about 6 weeks to get through that lot I thought, so that would be okay.

I went every week for the next 3 years.

The Beginning of my Recovery

So there I was, a complete mess; emotionally, physically and mentally shot. The relationship I was in with my then girlfriend (now my wife) was falling apart.

But, it’s the littlest things at the most unexpected times that can often start the change. In my case, it was a puppy called Milly.

I was living in a squat on my own, I could come and go as I pleased, get as high, drunk or out of my head as I wanted and it didn’t matter to anyone else. But, as soon as I had Milly it all changed, something outside of me needed me, was reliant on me, depended on me and I couldn’t let her down.

Me and Milly, the puppy that saved my life
Me and Milly, the puppy that saved my life

Milly was a rescue pup, if I didn’t take her, I was told she would have been “taken care of” whatever that meant. She was a nervous wreck, the runt of the litter and the last of the pups to be homed and was living in a broom cupboard. If you raised your voice she would hide under the table or behind a chair. From the moment I took her we were nearly always together for the next 14 years.

I couldn’t kick the drink, drugs or destructive lifestyle for myself, but I needed to do it for her. I simply couldn’t neglect her. I wasn’t the perfect owner by any means and made mistakes and let her down at the beginning, but she just kept loving me and slowly over time, I kicked the drugs and then the alcohol.

Even though things had improved, I was still battling the mental illness and depression. I knew, despite how the professionals had treated me the root cause of the issues was the abuse. One evening the BBC transmitted a programme on abuse and there was a helpline you could call after the show. The next day when everyone was out, I picked up the phone and got through to a woman who ran a group in North London. I spoke for about 3 minutes and she spoke for about 40 about her abuse. I was perfect for her group she told me. I never went.

I was now driven to overcome the abuse, I went into Foyles bookshop and bought the book “Victims No Longer”, read it from cover to cover and then reread it. It seemed I was finally on the right track and that book was a significant milestone in helping me in my recovery. I kept it by my bedside and was constantly dipping in and out of it.

 The book that started the change
The book that started the change

I tried to talk to my mother and girlfriend about the abuse, but they said it was upsetting me and that I should stop. If a TV programme came on that had abuse in it my girlfriend would turn it over. I was becoming increasingly frustrated with their efforts to protect me from the pain. I needed to feel it, I needed to express it. I knew they meant well and were thinking of me,  but it wasn’t helping.

One of the tactics used by my abuser was making me feel responsible for protecting my family, “they wouldn’t understand our special love” he had told me, “you would only upset them if you told them, so you must kept it secret”. So from the age of 8 I had been groomed and given the burden of protecting others by carrying the responsibility of keeping quiet about the experience.

Again, the abuser was being proven right; if I dared mention the abuse those around me were getting upset, so once more I put the lid on. This time the lid just would not stay in place, I had opened the box and it was staying off. Again, I looked for help, but this time with dramatic effect.

Legacy of Abuse

Adult Survivor Health Issues

Those who have experienced serious childhood trauma such as physical, emotional or sexual abuse may have twice the rate of cancer, heart disease and chronic bronchitis than those who have not had such trauma.Dr Ron Acierno, Behavioural Medicine, 1997: 23 (2) pp53-64

Self Harm ~

79% of people who self-harmed had histories of childhood trauma.Van der Kolk et al. 1991 & Robert Anda, “Adverse Childhood Experiences”, American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 1998: 14 pp245-258

Suicide~

Adults who experienced childhood abuse are 12 times more likely to attempt suicide than those who did not.Vincent Fellitti

People often ask me “Didn’t your Mum and Dad know about the truancy or the drinking or drug taking?” One skill that abuse gives you is the ability to keep secrets and hide feelings; I had hidden sexual abuse from 8 years of age, hiding the drinking, drugs, truancy and mental illness was a doddle. I had even learnt how to forge letters; no one had ever picked up on the forged letters and signatures to and from school!

The drinking had begun in my mid-teens during the truancy and I had some good times; I think I must have been among the top tipsy visitors to the free museums in London and regularly visited the British, Geffrye and London. I would spend hours walking around central London and if I had chosen a career as a Black Taxi Cab Driver I would have had a head start with “The Knowledge!”

In my previous update, I told how I had tried to get help from the NHS and had been totally let down, now I sought help from another source.

My family had always been Church goers, in fact my brother, who I’m very proud of and close to, is a Minister and Team Leader in the Midlands. Surely, I thought I would get some resolution and understanding of the abuse through the church. I had myself been going regularly for several years and had a period of relative stability, I had even managed to get to college and clawed some “O” levels together.  Before long, the “old demons” began playing their mind games again. This time I would seek help from the Church rather than the health service, I expected more empathy and understanding than previously experienced.

With a huge amount of fear I disclosed my abuse to a senior Minister, his angry response…”You’re making too much of it, you need to pull your socks up!”….almost word for word the same as the GP. My second attempt to a female minister, rare at that time, and her officious response; “I think you’re making excuses for your behaviour and making far too much of it”.

Again, my abusers words came back to me, “…no one will believe you, you’re making too much of it” and once again, he had been proven correct. Well, if he had abused me because I was too nice and what he had said before was true it was time to change. So I thought, out with the nice guy and trying to seek help, instead I became the archetypal angry young man; resentful, fearful and looked for refuge in drinking and drug taking.

It was shortly after this that my father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

Up until the abuse I had been my father’s shadow and had been inseparable from him. One of the worst results of the abuse for me was the irreversible damage it did to my relationship with my father. It began with my utter shock and disbelief that neither my father nor mother could see what was happening and come to my rescue. Surely they were my protectors and should have known and be able to see what was happening week in, week out, when I was sent to stay with the the abuser each weekend. The second result, and perhaps worst, was when I first disclosed to my family.

One evening I crept into my older brothers bedroom and told him I had a secret and that he couldn’t tell anyone.  As soon as I had finished telling him what was happening, he said he had to tell, he did exactly what I had prayed and hoped for. We went to my mother, who said we needed to tell my father. We were a traditional family and dad was the head of our household.

I was a nervous wreck, shaking and quivering, I told my dad what had happened. “Are you sure?” he asked, “You must be mistaken, ***** wouldn’t possibly do something like that”. My world collapsed, never before or since, even during the very worst of the abuse, had I felt so alone and abandoned. At that one moment my relationship with my father was changed forever and we would only really bridge that gulf on his deathbed…but, even so, I am so thankful we did.

It would take me years of therapy and also becoming a father myself to understand why my dad had responded the way he did. The abuser, had not just sexually abused me, he had abused my father’s trust, my mother and father, my family and all those who placed faith in him. I can now understand and appreciate that the last thing you want to believe and hear is that your child has been sexually abused. You would prefer to think the child had simply made a mistake, you would prefer to believe the trust you had placed in another person to take care of your child had not been cruelly abused and your own judgement of a person who claimed to be a dear friend was correctly placed.

Now the drinking and drug taking became out of control and by my early twenties I was both an alcoholic and drug addict caught up in a vicious spiral of uppers and downers.  I would take speed to get me up in the morning and to the pub. The added bonus of speed  meant I could drink even more – the down side, I couldn’t sleep and so needed to take other drugs to sedate me. This cycle went on and on for several years damaging both my mental and physical health. I became more paranoid, aggressive and had dramatic mood swings, I developed major kidney pain, heart palpitations and lost a huge amount of weight.

At the height of my drinking and drug taking
At the height of my drinking and drug taking

I went to the doctor who sent me for an ECG and echo-graph of my heart, the nurse asked me if I was an athlete as I had an enlarged heart muscle which was usually found in high performance athletes. In fact it was a result of taking the speed for so long and putting so much strain on my heart.

The self-harming that had begun during the actual abuse escalated dramatically during my teens. It had begun with head and face butting walls, I now punched walls and objects and  broke a knuckle. At that time I also cut myself and to this day I do not sun bathe, I avoid swimming and taking my shirt off in public due to the scars I have on my stomach. I began to put myself into more and more potentially dangerous situations in attempts to self-destruct.

My drinking and drug taking was out of control and I was on a course of destruction that was clearly the result of the abuse, I had sought help numerous times and been either refused, ridiculed or dismissed as self-indulgent or attention seeking. I did not know where to turn or what to do, I had finally resigned myself to living with the guilt, the shame and self-loathing that was my life.

Finally, something changed….

My Abuse

National Commission of Enquiry into the Prevention of Child Abuse, October 1996
  • One million children are abused in some way each year, 50% of those abused (now adults) never reported the abuse.
  • In 67% of cases the abuse started before the age of 11years.
  • In 50% of cases the abuse lasted 2-18 years.
Unfortunately, my own story is so, so similar to that of many other victims of child abuse.
Aged about 10 years old, photo taken by my abuser

My sexual abuse started when I was 8 years old and went on for the next 5 years. It was only disclosed to my own family and the perpetrator was never prosecuted.

My abuser, photo taken by me at Beachy Head

The person who abused me was a senior civil servant, my father’s supervisor, highly regarded in the literary world, public school educated, wealthy; a “model” of respectability.

The results of the abuse took many forms;

Education and Leaving School
I went from being in many top sets at school to almost complete truancy, many of my teachers didn’t even recognise me when I occasionally “popped in” for a look around to see what was going on. The result was I left school with one “O” level in Art and that was only because I turned up for the exam and knocked out a drawing on the day.

The ’80’s in the UK was a time of high unemployment, and with no real qualifications I simply went on the dole for the next 2 years while I battled my declining mental health.

Mental Health
My mental health problems started during the abuse.

The deepening anxiety meant I began to develop Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) around 9 years of age and this progressed throughout my teens and early twenties, sometimes it would take me 2-3 hours to get outside the door after checking and rechecking  every door, window, gas tap and light switch numerous times. One thing that many people who do not suffer from OCD don’t appreciate is, that it is not just the physical rituals that are debilitating, you also have ruminations and mental rituals which are just as crippling; reciting number sequences or going over and over what you have done and trying to remember every sequence of a day, absolutely convinced you have done something terribly wrong or forgotten something of major importance.

The depression began when I was in my mid teens and at 16, I finally summoned enough courage to seek professional help and went to see my GP. I remember very clearly being petrified about talking about what had happened and fearing not being believed. With a dry mouth, I opened up to my doctor, who listened for about a minute and then told me;

“Pull your socks up and get on with your life, all this happened to you in your childhood and you should be over it by now”.   

At that moment everything the abuser had told me came true. He had said that no one would listen or believe me and that I was making too much of it. If he was right about that, then logic told me he was right about all the rest; I had deserved the abuse and it was my fault. The reason my abuser gave me for the abuse was that I was “too nice”, “too innocent” and “too trusting”, he had done it for my own good, to help me become more worldly.

The depression continued to worsen and at 18 I was put under a psychiatrist for depression and anxiety. This professional was supposed to be very good and highly competent, she asked me was there anything I needed to tell her, I explained about the abuse in a very quick and off hand way.

She asked me, “Do you think it has affected you?”
“No” I replied, testing her to see if she would challenge me and not allow me to get away with it.
“Then just forget about it” was her response.

Shortly after I took an overdose.

When she came to see me in hospital, she was very surprised, “What are you doing here, I thought you were doing really well”, she said.  I stopped seeing her soon after and found an alternative way to deal with the effects of the abuse.

The next blog, will look at my drinking and drug addiction.

Hello world! I’m a Survivor!

Me as a child
Me as a child

I’ve resisted for a long time to go really public about my own experiences of surviving child sexual abuse. Not because of shame, guilt or unresolved issues, but more because I wanted to protect my nearest and dearest from these issues and how other people would react. It is very sad, that even today, being a VICTIM of abuse does make a difference on how people relate and react to you.

Well my kids are now more grown up and my wife, Yvonne knows all about the abuse and has been through my recovery with me. I discussed with my two teenage sons about going public and if they felt comfortable with me doing it. Independently of each other they both said; “If it can help other people you should do it”. I was so proud of them.

I do not want this blog to be me writing about how damaged I am or about how bad my abuse was. What I want to do is give people hope….and there is always hope, that with the right support and help, you can recover from the trauma of child abuse.

So the £64,000 question (or $64,000 for any Americans out there!); what is recovery? When I use that term, I do not mean forgetting or necessarily forgiving, I do not mean never feeling sad or unhappy again. For me, recovery is reclaiming my life and taking back control and making the very best of what I have and accepting life “warts and all” (Oliver Cromwell).

Another reason for this blog is that there are simply not enough resources, stories or coverage on male abuse; I just hope I can help a little in addressing this issue. So for those who are interested, my next post will be the beginning of my story.

If this blog can help just one person, then it would have fulfilled it’s purpose.