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).

“Did you know you’ve broken your back?”

Greenpath Ventures was doing tremendously well, referrals were coming in, we had built up a really good solid relationship with our funders, I remember one in particular, who said we were “inspirational and one of the best projects they had ever funded”. We had even found a permanent home for our bushcraft courses!

We had been so lucky to find Ivy Farm on Mersea Island, 50 beautiful acres at the mouth of the Colne Estuary and Ralph the owner couldn’t have been more supportive and encouraging. After a couple of months of seeing what we did he even decided to join us as a trustee!

I had a history of back trouble and noticed it was becoming increasingly difficult to walk any distance. Following the trip to the Arctic, I knew I was in serious trouble.

I was now always in pain and finding it more and more problematic to walk even short distances, just 30 meters would seem to take forever. Any bending was agony, I couldn’t carry or lift anything, I had pins and needles and constant sciatica down my left leg.

The first doctor dismissed it as a pulled muscle and examined the wrong side. I changed my doctor. There was a dramatic difference. My new GP, took me seriously and immediately started to investigate the cause of the pain.

I had X-rays, MRI scans (the first of which was lost), several lots of physio. The physio didn’t help so I was referred to the pain clinic. I was now given spinal injections, more physio, a T.E.N.s machine and my pain medication was increased; I was now on morphine patches, Subutex as well as codeine, paracetamol, ibuprofen and heat packs, all with no avail. I was totally exhausted from the medication and being in pain.

Finally, I was referred to a spinal surgeon, Mr Blackman at Colchester General Hospital.

“Did you know you’ve broken your back?”, my consultant asked and then continued. “You really have 2 options; stay on the medication to manage your pain, but which will have to increase in time or to have surgery to fuse your lower spine”.

“If I don’t have the surgery what will be the prognosis?”, I asked.

“To be honest, you’ll most probably end up in a wheelchair and be on pain medication for the rest of your life”.

That came as a thunderbolt, “Okay, if I have surgery, I expect that will be a fairly small operation and most likely be key hole won’t it?” I asked hopefully.

“No, it’s a major operation, we’ll open you right up. First we’ll go through  your stomach and pin your spine from the inside, then flip you over, open your back up and do the same again. You’ll also be given a bone graft. It will take about 5 hours and it will take about 2 years to recuperate fully.”

spinal-fusion
Spinal cage
Image result
Bit like mine, but I’ve got screws front and back.

“Right”, I squeaked in reply.

“I have to tell you about the possible side effects” the consultant continued, “although they are rare, they could include; death, incontinence, impotence, paraplegia, a permanent limp, drop foot and nerve damage”.

I didn’t really have a choice I thought, I could hardly walk now, running GV was becoming impossible. I decided to go for the surgery.

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?

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.