The Amazon

Having had the go ahead from the surgeon to undertake the trip to the Amazon, I now needed to plan it.

I decided to go with Randall Adventure Training for my trip to the the Amazon. They’re an American company and are globally recognised as being one of the best jungle survival training companies in the world.

I called my friend Guy, who I met on the Arctic survival course and asked if he fancied a trip to the Amazon, “Yes!” he replied, so we booked our places and went for it.

Here’s a link to their latest course:

2017 Jungle Course

Mike and Jeff who run the company are hugely experienced and have travelled and explored much of South America.

This really was a survival course, we took no food, no water, no spare clothes or shelter. We had a fantastic time; it was a real challenge and I couldn’t believe I was there! In the Amazon! Only 2 years ago I could hardly walk and now I was chopping my way through the jungle.

At the end of the 10 day course, I had literally hundreds of bites, in fact, the instructors had never seen anyone bitten so much and my back appeared in an American survival magazine! What fame! I put it down to having British blood, so much more appealing than American.

Making a jungle bed

There were many highlights, seeing and holding a boa and a sloth, building jungle beds, firelighting in the torrential rain, learning to use a machete, drinking from a water vine, seeing a myriad of insects, “simply” experiencing the jungle and while floating down the Amazon, on our personal homemade rafts, having fresh water dolphins come up and swim along side us.

But, what I truly learnt from this course, is to say “yes” to things that come your way, and…not to simply wait for those things to happen, but to make them happen! I could have put so many barriers and reasons for not going; my mental health, my abuse, my spinal injury, money, time away from work and family. I took a huge leap of faith and had a wonderful and life changing experience.

I am blessed with having a really supportive wife, family and colleagues, who rather than put obstacles in the way, encouraged me to go (but, maybe they really just needed a break from me! ūüôā ).

People ask me what is the thing I find most scary and frightening on expeditions; the answer is simple; the flying. I simply hate flying.

I am delighted that through my work, I have been able to go on to use these experiences and talk to community groups and schools and show that you do not need to be super human to undertake these types of challenges and hopefully inspire other people to follow their dreams.

 

 

 

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).

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.

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.

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.‚ÄĚMurphy 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.
 
‚ÄúChildhood Sexual Abuse‚ÄĚ 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 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.

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.