Post Op Challenge? How about the Amazon Jungle?

The surgery on my back was more complex than first planned and the operation took over 8 hours.

It was a bit of a roller coaster for the next few days; pain control medication was chopped and changed and I was fitted for a corset which I wore daily for the next 3 months. The OT’s had me walking the day after the operation and going up and down stairs the day after.

The operation was a success. I needed to do daily exercises and keep to a sensible amount of exercise, but in less than 6 months I was virtually pain free and was sledging in the snow with my 2 boys.

There has been irreparable nerve damage; I have a degree of numbness in my left leg and occasional pain in my hip, but I cannot thank Mr Blackman enough for such a phenomenal success; it was far beyond what I could have ever imagined or hoped for.

It seems strange now, that just after having such a positive result with the operation that I went into a deep depression about what I had not achieved during my life. This lasted several months, but I was not going to let this new opportunity go; I needed to do something that I had always wanted to do and started thinking about all the places I wanted to visit or the things I wanted to achieve.

I was very aware that I needed to let my back heal properly and that the convalescent period was 2 years. On my last appointment with my surgeon, I asked him if he felt it was okay for me to go to the Amazon jungle to undertake a survival course.

“Yes”, was his answer.

(Sorry for the lateness in updating the blog, had an illness in the family).

Greenpath Ventures; “Inspirational” and “Visionary”

The cost of mental health problems to the economy in England is estimated to be £105 billion a year.

Centre for Mental Health (2011), The Economic and Social Costs of Mental Health Problems in 2009/10.

Greenpath Ventures

Greenpath Ventures (GV) works with many professionals and organisations, who simply “get it!”; being outside and involved with nature is good for both your mental and physical health. Here’s some further information to confirm it! MIND Ecotherapy.

However, it’s also very sad to say, the idea of offering people with mental health issues the opportunity to undertake bushcraft is not meet with enthusiasm on all sides! When we first started out and people asked what the individuals would be doing on our bushcraft days, and I explained; “firelighting, foraging, learning to use cutting tools, archery and maybe even shooting”, quite a few professionals were very skeptical and sometimes even hostile.

Here’s an example of some of the things that were said to me:

  • “The activities are too dangerous for them; you can’t let mental patients use knives and fire”
  • “They have a history of arson, so don’t show them how to start fires”
  • “We (as in the clinical staff) are responsible for them, they can’t come, they may have an accident”
  • “We (as in the clinical staff) have to look after them and ensure they are safe”
  • “They self harm, so shouldn’t be shown how to use knives or axes”
  • “They have mental health problems, what would happen if people heard they had been shooting airguns?”

Now, I do understand some of the concerns and the reasoning behind some of these statements; I tried to explain that everything we did was under supervision and that we carried out risk assessments for every session, but sadly in the minds of some professionals, clients with  mental health issues could not be trusted enough to attend our courses.

This smacks to me of sheer blatant discrimination against adults who actually have “mental capacity”!

The MCA says:

  • Everyone has the right to make his or her own decisions. Health and care professionals should always assume an individual has the capacity to make a decision themselves, unless it is proved otherwise through a capacity assessment.
  • Individuals must be given help to make a decision themselves. This might include, for example, providing the person with information in a format that is easier for them to understand. 
  •  Just because someone makes what those caring for them consider to be an “unwise” decision, they should not be treated as lacking the capacity to make that decision. Everyone has the right to make their own life choices, where they have the capacity to do so.

The clients wanted to come, we were having fantastic feedback and the outcomes were exactly what clinicians would want. People were saying they felt responsible and trusted, it was improving their confidence & self-esteem and their mental health was improving. Regularly, people were saying our courses should be offered by the NHS as they were helping so much. How awful, that regardless of all these positives, people were often being denied the opportunity to attend because of the preconceived ideas of some health care professionals. So much for all the hyperbole of “client led services”.

This also smacks, to me, of encouraging “learnt helplessness”; when clients were on our courses professionals would continue to treat them as incapable of looking after themselves, telling them to put their jackets on because it was raining. How was this approach helping people learn to become more responsible for themselves? People were often being treated as helpless and this is itself disempowering. Very simply; we treated people like adults and they responded as adults.

Nevertheless, GV was on a role! Including going into schools we were working with over 1,000 people per year, everything was going well. We had been members of ATTEND, from our very beginning and we were invited to be a showcase project at their AGM at Westminster Palace, London.

Funders and partners were describing our charity as “visionary” and “inspirational”.

Unfortunately, I was about to get some bad news which would dramatically affect GV.

Please take a look at our website and “like” us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/greenpathventures/

Moving On

In 2012/13 there were 23,663 recorded sexual offences against children across the whole of the UK.

In 2006, HEAL was awarded the Queens Award for Voluntary Service and several of us were invited to Buckingham Palace for tea with the Queen.

qavs_logo
Awarded to HEAL, 2006

Our service was saving the statutory services a fortune and the irony, that while the NHS, including Psychiatrists & Psychologists and Social Services were regularly making referrals to us, we were receiving no funding from them and were struggling financially. The cost of our entire service would be similar to the salary of one senior nurse.

The ever increasing demand and growing waiting list and being a parent was beginning to tell on my mental health.

Professionals often state that between 3-5 years is the maximum you should work solidly without a break in the survivor field. I had now been at HEAL for 9 years and my entire workload was abuse. I knew it was time to find something new, I was beginning to feel burnt out.

It was tremendously difficult to tell the members of my decision to leave. I gave plenty of notice and we worked on loss and abandonment a great deal.

I feel huge pride in the work the members, volunteers, trustees and myself did at HEAL. The courage shown by our members was awe inspiring and I felt highly privileged in working with those survivors and in the programme we developed together.

I was totally speechless and crumpled when it was announced that they had clubbed together to have a star named after me. I felt so humbled that these heroic people would think that much of me, to do something so special.

My Star, John Wills: Taurus 5h25m01s =24degrees57'36"
My Star, John Wills: Taurus 5h25m01s =24degrees57’36”

I had been thinking for some time what I could do if I was to move away from Survivor work. I had always loved nature and the outdoors. In my childhood and youth, I had used nature to escape from the abuse and regularly visited Hackney and Walthamstow Marshes. I would often see Kingfishers, Herons, Foxes and (the non-native and irresponsibly released) Red-eared Terrapins on my journeys.

I began to think, if I had used nature to help in my healing, then maybe others could also benefit. This was confirmed to me one day at a HEAL session. People were really low and we began to discuss things we had achieved or always wanted to do, many of the ideas revolved around experiencing nature and before long peoples moods changed dramatically. Just talking about nature was helping!

The idea for Greenpath Ventures began to develop.

I discussed the idea about starting a new charity offering bushcraft and other outdoor activities to adults with mental health issues with a few colleagues and friends, and to my utter disbelief, people thought it was a great idea!

I embarked on Bushcraft Insturctor Training at Plumpton College in East Sussex, passed the course and we formed Greenpath Ventures. I also wanted to further my experience of the outdoors and undertook Arctic Survival training in Sweden.

Me in the Arctic
Me in the Arctic

We formally launched Greenpath Ventures as a registered charity at Essex County Hall in May 2008.

gvlogo

Parenting as a Survivor; Sadness and Loss

This is the hardest and saddest post I’ve ever written.

baby_boy_crawling

I was so happy finding out I was to be a dad; completely over the moon; something I had always thought I wouldn’t do. As any parent to be, I had nerves and anxiety, but my past abuse didn’t matter when Yvonne was carrying our child.

For many of the survivors I have worked with, being a parent is full of ambivalence and fear. Some battle with the need to protect their own children, while not wanting to upset them in the slightest. Some survivors find it difficult to relate to the role of parenting; after all what blueprint do they have to work from? If you’re a parent, where did you learn your parenting from? If the guidance you have been given is fundamentally flawed through abuse, what do you use? Many survivors have huge confusion over the necessary and appropriate boundaries to give a child.

The reality is a large number of survivors I have been involved with, take the decision not to have children at all; they either feel they can’t be good enough parents or don’t want to bring another child into the world to suffer. Please re-read that sentence and pause for a moment; just how sad is that? Through being a victim of a crime in childhood, they do not feel good enough to be a parent or view the world as so bad, they don’t want to bring another human being into it.

I had had years of support and counselling and was running workshops on Recovery, I thought I had looked at everything and was done with my own work. Out of the blue my world was rocked, I discovered my own recovery was not complete; the hardest and saddest part was still to come. Being a parent meant I was responsible for these 2 vulnerable children, I felt inadequate, could I look after them, keep them safe, when I hadn’t even manged to do it for myself?

Once again, my abuser was able to reach out and hurt me and influence my life. Being a parent had made me vulnerable and, as with my father, it was through a relationship with someone else, that he managed to get through.

Bubbles, Fun and Laughter?
Bubbles, Fun and Laughter?

A parents involvement with their child at bath time should be bubbles, fun and laughter. For me it was fear, anxiety and horror. It meant flashbacks of the abuse and what he did to me in the bath and the photos he took. I tried, but I never managed to bath my own children, it was too painful.

I can’t describe how sad this makes me feel, I actually have tears writing this; he actually affected my relationship with my children; that is something I cannot forgive him for. I was still paying the price for being a victim of abuse.

Looking at my own children enjoying their childhood and innocence and then going to work and hearing stories of people abusing children the same age as my own, began to take it’s toll. As my children grew up and became closer to the age I was when the abuse started, I started realising just how little and innocent I was when the abuse took place.

I then had to face yet another loss; the loss of enjoyment in watching and experiencing my children grow up without the ever invasive shadow of my own abuse impacting on the experience.

It was at this time, I knew I needed to break from survivor work for a while.

New Start?

Sexual abuse statistics vary between countries and reports, but are consistently alarming: Research indicates that up to 36% of girls and 29% of boys have suffered child sexual abuse; up to 46% girls and 20% boys have experienced sexual coercion.

(The 57th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights)

We left London with a huge sense of relief, moving away would give us the chance to start again without many of the old ghosts.

I secured a role working for the NHS in administration and also became a volunteer on a crisis helpline.

I remember being interviewed for the telephone role and I was asked if I had any personal history of mental health. I began explaining what had happened, “I don’t understand why any child would keep abuse a secret”, was my interviewers response. “Wow!” Not a great start I thought. Thankfully, this person was the exception and my colleagues on the helpline were a tremendous group of people.

Shortly after this I saw an article in the local paper regarding a community group looking for volunteers to help with a support group for adult survivors.

The group was called, HEAL (Helping Everyone Abused Live) and was kindly given the use of a room by the local MIND. At that time it may have been the first and only group in the UK to work with men and women together, regardless of the the type of abuse suffered. I called, an interview was arranged and I was taken on.

 heal
 HEAL, Helping Everyone Abuse Live

The first meeting was very memorable, I was the only man in the room with about 5 women and was viewed with a huge amount of suspicion and even a little hostility. “Why do you want to volunteer?”; I was challenged immediately, when I said that  I had been abused myself, the atmosphere changed completely. “It must have been worse for you, being a man” was the response. “Not worse, but maybe different”, I responded.

HEAL offered a weekly support group where people came and shared what was happening with them and how they felt. For a number of reasons, the Co-ordinator left and we held a crisis meeting. It was put to me; “Unless you can take it on, the group will have to fold”. I had never trained in group work or led many sessions, but couldn’t see these survivors left with no support, so I took on the role.

The first thing I did was to ask the members what they wanted and needed.They felt the weekly support group was not working and that they wanted to have some direction and focus to the sessions. Jointly, we set up a monthly schedule, with different activities such as discussion groups on topics decided on by the members. Over time this gradually developed into more and more structured workshops and the open support group was actually dropped by the members themselves.

We struggled with low numbers for sometime, then suddenly, numbers began to increase and at times we would not have enough chairs, with people needing to sit on tables. Now men came as well and we were working at maximum capacity.

We needed to make the decision to expand. We became a registered charity, secured more funding and opened our own premises.

tudor_house

Tudor House, the home of HEAL

Momentum continued to gather; we were now also actively involved in training staff from other agencies in working with survivors.We went from one group a week to four, which included a drop in, a Carers/Supporters Group and a Creative group, which culminated in having our own exhibition.

We now had a 2 year waiting list to join our groups, with nearly 120 people on it at anyone time.

HEAL Creative Exhibition, Colchester 2006

HEAL Creative Exhibition, Colchester 2006

…and paraphrasing, the immortal words of Ernie Wise, here’s a poem “what I wrote” for the exhibition:

didtheangles

Personally, my life was also about to change, as I discovered I was going to be a father!

Knawing Self-Doubt

Worldwide, approximately 40 million children below the age of 15 are subjected to child abuse each year.

(World Health Organization (WHO) 2001)

I started training to become a therapist, but felt a fraud. Could someone as damaged as I had been really become a counsellor or psychotherapist? The old feelings of not being good enough started to creep back in and undermine me.

Despite all the positive feedback I had from the tutors I had nagging doubts which I took to my counsellor. He said he saw the qualities I needed in me and that even if I couldn’t trust myself, maybe, I could trust the trust others had in me. So I borrowed that for a while and continued.

I felt I needed to talk to one of my tutors openly about my reservations and doubts about myself. I disclosed my abuse and ongoing battle with the depression and OCD. The tutor said these issues should not prevent me becoming a therapist and that he had had the same history and conditions. For a while a huge weight was taken off my shoulders, I could do this I started to say to myself. I completed my 2 year Psychotherapy Certificate with a merit. 

The doubts remained; I felt I needed more training and continued adding one more course after another. Always dismissing the last one I had obtained, “If I had managed to get it, then it couldn’t be that good or useful” I kept telling myself. The ruminations of self-doubt and lack of self-belief continued to haunt me. I had proven time and time again that I was capable of passing academic and vocational training, why then did this self-doubt persist? 

I feel this is one of the more insidious aspects of abuse, the ongoing lack of innate core self-belief & self-value and not placing any value in what you achieve. Always striving for something external to provide that recognition or affirmation that you are achieving or are “good enough”. 

I sincerely hope the above does not simply sound like me whining away; the reality for many survivors is that these negative core beliefs continue to operate long after the abuse has finished. They have become part of our identity. We have held onto them for years and they were instrumental in our development into adulthood.

My counselling had come to an end and had helped me enormously, but now I needed more than ever to take what I had learnt from that process, live it, believe it and continue to claw back everything that had been taken away from me.

I had believed that completing the counselling would have meant completely recovering from abuse and that I would have no issues left. What I hadn’t appreciated was that I would need to continue with the battles for many more years. There was more work to do and it seemed that many of the issues would only be dealt with through time and perseverance.   

I also came to the conclusion that recovery doesn’t flow in the one positive direction; you bounce back and forward, from victim to survivor to thriver to victim. 

This is true for everyone, regardless of being abused or not; everyone has victim days;

“Why did I chose this shopping aisle?…. The other ones are always faster” 
“Why is it always the motorway lane that I’m in that gets congested?”
“This always happens to me!”.

I often use the following diagram to see what voice is talking in my head.

vst

It was during this period that it became clearer to me and my girlfriend that we were not happy at all living in London, I was still bumping into old friends (and their habits), it was the right time for us to move away and rebuild our lives.

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.