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.”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.

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.