In a few weeks time I will mark the 10th year since I remembered being abused as a boy. Back then the first memories were horrible, shocking, tormenting and full of feelings. Life seemed as if it had been overtaken by the events of my childhood. What seemed distant memories came to life in 3D memories of events I had forgotten and had wiped out from my conscious memory. I say 3D because they were so real it might has well been happening for me in real time. I felt the feelings all over again of being abused and remembered the assaults as if they were happening to me now.
I really had to gather up all of my strengths to cope with and survive the next three years of memories and then after that I went through a period of rebuilding my life directions as I discovered that the area of work I chose as a young person was not at all suited to who I was now as a young man. I needed to find work in a field that respected and reflected the learning I had done about myself, in the light of my childhood experiences. Looking back on that time I see that the changes I made to my life following the uncovering of the memories as being positive and self affirming changes that helped me get on with my life. I learnt a lot about myself, about how children feel and perceive their world, about the need to value things that I had previously not noticed.
I'm a new person for discovering the truth about my childhood and with great pain facing that truth brought with it the opportunity to grow, to learn how to give and receive love, to relearn to trust people (some select group!) and to engage in healthy honest relationships that restored my faith in other people. Getting to the truth of my childhood was a painful and healing time that also restored my faith in God.
My story could begin with being born into a Salvation Army family and growing up in a middle class suburb of Melbourne, Australia, it could begin with going to secondary school and the bullying that I endured, it could also begin with my first job as an electrician. However I will skip all of that and hit the fast forward button and go right to my first memories then slowly work back. After telling my story I'd like to add some of the learning that took place, some of the changes I had to face and some of the struggles I faced in the first five years after remembering. Hopefully this will encourage others to show respect to the precious child within them, to undertake a process of recovering from the awful effects of childhood abuse.
Lets go to 1989 ten years ago. I had worked as an electrician from 1977 until 1989 and then moved on to do project management of large commercial building projects. I was part of an internationally based Real Estate company in Melbourne and being trained in this exciting and challenging field. Before I began to remember I felt that this new career brought with it lots of challenges that were part of me getting ready to uncover all of those buried feelings and memories. In order to forget and split off from my childhood memories like I did I had to shut down on my feelings, I did this by not noticing how I felt, by having a daily routine that avoided situations that were unpredictable that confronted my lack of feeling, that touched on my senses. I led a 'steady as she goes' life and this new job started to chip away at my well set up coping practices. For one thing I had to wear a collar and tie. Before then I'd only ever worn a tie at my wedding. What I began to notice was feeling extremely angry every time I had to put on that tie. I felt my neck get tight, I felt myself holding my breath and what changed was that I noticed my feelings and I hated that tie. Then a fellow worker began to play tricks on me. He would hide behind doorways and filing cabinets and when I would walk past him he would quietly come up from behind me and grab me in a rugby style tackle. At the point of getting caught I would freeze up inside and then this anger would rise up to the top of my throat. It got so bad for me that I confronted him one day and told him that I wanted him to stop this immediately. This was late 1989. I was 29 and this was the first time in my life that someone listened to me and stopped hurting me when I had told them to stop. My internal response to being grabbed on the scale of anger (1-10) was a red hot ten. I hated being caught.
A few weeks latter I went to the Christmas breakup party at the office. We went out o a nice Chinese Restaurant. We were seated at round tables and towards the end of the night when I was seated opposite the wife of a fellow worker, she turned to me in her drunken state and looking me directly in my eyes she said, 'doesn't your wife play with your balls when you make love'. This comment peeled me open emotionally. I felt my legs pull together under the table and then my genitals being touched. I felt sick inside and my mind was racing with feelings. I didn't know it at the time but I was beginning to remember being sexually abused as a childm, and I was having the first of many flashbacks.
Well that's not entirely true. About two years earlier I had a dream, which was horrible. I was actually thrown out of bed and I found myself curled up tight on the floor screaming in terror. All the dream was, was a mass of feelings of terror. No images just feelings, it was like taking a bath in terror. I was left shaking for about an hour afterwards. Now two years latter the door to my shut off memories was blasted through with this comment and the following memories of being touched. Then as time went on I began to uncover more. Much more.
Over the next two years I had a solid time of flashbacks and memories. What happened is less important to me now, than how I felt as a child and how I needed to recover who I was after the memories surfaced. What I learnt about that time was that as six-year-old neighbors sexually abused me. A mother and her 12-year-old son (who was shown what to do by his mother). I was also tortured with electric shocks and had drops put in my eyes so I couldn't see. At times I was given ether to knock me out. After remembering the sexual abuse I had a break of about 4 weeks in memories. I thought that this was it. Finally it's over. What I discovered was that I had run my marathon only to discover I had been treading water and needed to start all over again. The following memories of the torture made the sexual abuse seem like a trip to Disney Land. (not to down play the effects of the sexual abuse either when I say this.
In my recovery I was fortunate to find good help. I went to counseling for a year and during that time uncovered more memories and found new ways to handle my feelings. I ended up leaving work and being unemployed for three years (doing part time work and studying) I was in no fit state to cope with full-time work at this stage.
One of the important pieces of learning was that the things that bother me now are connected to past experiences. When I say bother I really mean hate! I kept a journal a notebook of all my flashbacks and dreams. My dreams were full on memories with feelings. Because I had been given drops I couldn't see, but I didn't know I was given drops at first so in keeping a diary I was able to see the progression of my memories.
Boy is this important. Lets look at some that I made. I hated anger, if anyone got angry I left. If I felt angry I would shut down, swallow my feelings and get on with life. I felt sick every day when I went to work as an electrician. I couldn't think straight; I was only able to function if people told me what to do (and their were plenty of them!) I hate wearing a collar and tie; I hated being touched on my neck. The only Hospital I ever went to was the eye and ear Hospital for a dozen injuries to my eyes and when it came to being given eye drops I would freeze and hold my breath, I hated needles, the smell of dentist rooms (ether), I hated being caught, being confined in small dark places, and most of all I hated getting electric shocks at work. I would feel sick inside and very angry with myself.
These are the situations that had connections. And another. I was at work installing security alarms. The client's home was a concrete yard with two large dogs. The yard was hardly cleaned and it smelled of dog droppings badly. I hated this smell. It made me feel sick, very sick inside. And I hated dogs. Then three weeks latter my journal records remembering having them set their dog on me licking my genitals, me feeling sick about this and them having the dog do his business on my face. It's no wonder I feel that connections are important. I believe the things we hate are strongly connected to those earlier traumatic experiences. It's as though our feelings are the roadmap to our earlier childhood experiences. It's no wonder the things I hate are so strongly connected to the terror I experienced as a child.
I'd like to leave behind what happened. This would take up many more pages as two years of memories contained many other forms of abuse that created a very hurt boy, who ended up hating himself, not trusting other people, holding onto many secrets, confused, wanting to die, (I remember wanting to die at a very young age) and whose very body was full of torment. Apart from the physical and emotional wounds I had to contend with the spiritual wounds within the boundaries of my faith and the learning about God as a child that took place side by side with the abuse. This created a real mess. Messages about myself, about other people, about God, about life itself all mixed up with the abuse and programmed into my being as a very young child. All of these carried forward into adult life, and all mixed up together. Unraveling this was a long journey and an important one.
During the time of remembering I wrote down my thoughts, memories, feelings and dreams. This helped and one day I decided to write my story. I didn't know where to start. I knew that writing helped me unload. It helped by saying to myself I don't need to remember to remember. The memories were so important as my truth began to surface but you know that to hold onto them particularly so many is to tempt emotional ruin. It's just too much to remember everything and have memory space left to live!
In telling my story I wanted to tell it from the child's viewpoint. It was my child that had been so hurt. He knew the secrets; He held onto them, He internalized messages that set the path for how I as an adult related to situations, feelings and people. So in a sense it was the child who needed to be re-parented, cared for, held, loved, have his faith in people, life and God rebuilt, restored and renewed.
I can't talk about my childhood experiences without mentioning its effect on my understanding or more significantly my experience of God. To me God had turned his back on me, I was a dirty rotten no good for nothing low life, who deserved to be hurt, who was headed for hell. My self-image and my view of my creator was badly twisted and engrained in my life. Undoing this and then rebuilding it was horribly painful and difficult.
In the Christian tradition, in the teachings of the bible the Apostle Paul introduces a very interesting thought. He says that our bodies are the Temple of God's Spirit. This statement sums up my experience of God and of my childhood hurt. In looking at the abuse I have to say without doubt there is a God and there is a devil an evil force. If this is true then putting this together in seeing that if God's temple is our body then the opposite evil force is out to destroy every reminder of God and a good starting point is a child's innocent body.
I found that God was able to restore his temple in time. You can see that our self-image takes a battering as a result of the abuse and it's this that needs restoring.
One thing I've noticed in talking to many survivors is that the wrong person gets blamed for the abuse. I get to hear the 'if only's'. 'If only' I had told someone, 'if only' I had listened to my child, 'if only' I hadn't gone out that night, 'if only' I didn't go to that school, 'if only' I had lived in a different street, I could go on! Then we hear the courts, why do you wear those clothes, why, why, why? All of the blame pushed onto the victim/survivor and none of the responsibility placed where it belongs with the perpetrator. Same goes for God. I've yet to speak to a survivor who doesn't have an opinion about God and it's usually not nice. He gets blamed for the lot. I was no different. I went through a stage of blaming him for the lot too.
What I finally saw was being on the blame train didn't help me move on.
Back to this innocent boy who grew up blaming himself for the mess he was in. As an adult I had a choice to deal with this hurt boy. To turn my energies towards helping him to see that the messages he got about himself, life and God were not based on a foundation of love, trust, respect, ect. I began to tell my story, to write it down, so that I didn't have to remember to remember it, so I could unload my emotional investment in it and turn to recovering. But it was an awful, horrible, terrorizing story and if people were to read it how could I present it. I then turned to the real need to let little John tell it. He had never been asked how he felt, he had been hurt, he learnt that it was better not too feel, at least then you didn't get hurt, he had messages about himself that big John wanted to eventually see being changed.
I started by seeing that curled up in the corner of my heart was a very hurt boy who had never been given the chance to have his say, never knew he could safely talk about it, felt rotten about himself, ect. I saw the need to ask him. 'I'm the big person, surely I need to take responsibility for caring for this hurt boy', I said to myself. So I did ask him. I wrote a letter to little John asking him to spill the beans on his secrets, to tell me what it was like. I mistakenly believed that given the chance he would open up, spill those beans and that would be it. Boy was I in for a shock. He replied by saying, 'who the hell are you! Go and talk to someone else! And what's all this stuff about hurt?, I'm all right, don't talk about hurt. All I want is to have fun'.
This rocked me back to ground zero. But I did have one thing going for me. Persistence. I didn't give up easily. I thought to myself fair enough, you don't trust anyone so I have to go slowly, let's have that fun, and then build a relationship, then we might return to feelings. I found that after the relationship was built up little John was able to unload his feelings, his secrets and then it was over to big John to educate little John, to care for him, to allow him to grow up in an home that valued him, that was safe, that loved him, that allowed him to talk without being shammed.
After this happened we re-parented this hurt boy and began to deal with the God questions. And we returned to more hurt, allowing healing to take place and constantly rebuilding his shattered sense of self-esteem.
As an adult when this had taken place I was ready to face the where to now questions. I can't return to being an electrician! Little John would not like that! Indeed he deserved better, much better. So I retrained and ended up as a Social Welfare Officer in a job that I love and which allows me to support others to handle their own need to deal with painful experiences.
What helped me in my recovery?
A family that didn't give up on me! A wife that was just as persistent as I was.
Keeping a diary, telling my story to people who listened and cared, but who didn't tell me what to do! Being held when I felt the need, having a teddy to cuddle, cry with, and hang onto, Learning that I could say no, that my needs were important, making a 'nice things I can do for me list' and doing them! Deep breathing to release feelings, relaxation, counseling, massage, being able to sort out who was going to be supportive and who was going to use me, finding a way to work out whether something I was being asked to do by others was going to be helpful in terms of my recovery or whether it was going to be a hindrance, finding a Church that allowed me to be me in the middle of my mess and finding a faith that had room for this mess and gave God time and room to handle it.
Writing my book and receiving letters from people who had found room to listen to their inner child and learn to allow him or her time to talk and time to be loved and respected for the precious child they are.
I have rattled on a bit. I may write more about some issues and ways I have been able to be me and deal with the pain of a hurt childhood. That's if people would like more!