This has been a difficult week with Thanksgiving kicking off the holiday season, which in and of itself, is its own little dirty bomb of mixed emotions. While I was taking a break from whatever marathon programming was on because of the holiday, I turned to the BBC where I saw the interviews with the ex-football players who were discussing their childhood molestation at the hands of their coach. Jason Dunford, Steve Walters, Chris Unsworth and Andy Woodward all sat there bravely exposing their pain to the world. I could tell where they were coming from just by the looks on their faces, but the one who stood out was Andy Woodward whose pain was on full display across his face and his eyes gave away their inner struggle, he looked absolutely numb but stunned by deep pain. I feeling I know all too well. I know that being there on national television was no small feat for them, especially as men. I commend their bravery because I know that they are putting themselves out there so that others might feel comfortable enough to come forward and shine a light on the horrible ugly darkness of sexual abuse.
I know this darkness all too well, as I too was sexually abused for years as a child by three different men in my family and that pain is still with me today. I’ve often equated recovery from abuse like being at the bottom of the ocean. In the beginning when you are at the bottom, you can’t see the light and all you feel is the weight of the pain and the experiences on your body like the full weight of the ocean above you. Every bad moment leaves a mark on you psychologically and physically. It makes it difficult for you to breathe and your body absorbs all the emotional and physical trauma with shows itself as pain. Back pain, lower abdominal pain, headaches, stomach issues etc. However, as you start to rise to the surface you realize that you need to do it slowly, so that you can adjust to the new level and the pressure doesn’t tear your body up. Eventually, you get far enough up that you can see the sunlight, faint at first, but if you just keep going it gets brighter and brighter until eventually, hopefully, you reach the surface. I’m close enough to see the sunlight, but still haven’t reached the surface.
Today however was one of those difficult days and I sobbed hard, which I haven’t done in many years. The effects of abuse NEVER go away but their grip lessens as you keep working on undoing the evil people have done. Realizations come in waves which can sometimes push you back down. My realization today was around money and relationships. While talking with a fairly new friend of mine, who didn’t know about my past, she was espousing advise on how I should start dating again after my break up form a nearly 7 year relationship. We have discussed the issues I have around being ultra-independent and not allowing people, particularly men, to pay for me. She then launched into a diatribe when I told her that I couldn’t even think about dating until I had a new job. She thought that being unemployed would force me to let men pay for me on dates and I could confront my discomfort. The conversation became quite passionate and I ended up yelling “I can’t let a man have financial control over me because he will hurt me!” Well hello left field where apparently my mother exists. When I was growing up, my mother, who wasn’t educated beyond her GED was incapable of caring for us financially on her own, so she always relied on men to help her and she wasn’t very particular. My mother had a special talent for marrying abusive asshole
During this conversation with my friend, my body started shaking and I fought back the tears. I have never said those words in my life. I never said so clearly that I connected men and money with physical pain but there it was. All of a sudden I had an urge to get out of the house because I couldn’t breathe, so I went for a walk with my best friend. However, as I was telling her about my conversation, I couldn’t hold back the tears, in fact I couldn’t hold back the sobbing. It was that type of crying that comes from way deep down that can’t be controlled and comes from the pit of your being. That deep body shaking snot slinging sobbing. After it passed I felt some relief, a bit lighter than before. That pain is so heavy and I can feel it in every muscle of my body. and it’s also exhausting so I went home and slept the rest of the day.
My bestie and I talked about control issues and my need to be fiercely independent aka control the outcomes in my life, however those behaviors weren’t necessarily serving me now. In fact, they have ruined many of my relationships. I simply don’t know how to really let someone in, I got the closest emotionally that I’ve ever been with my last boyfriend, but still kept him at arm’s length, just as he did me. I’m not even sure I know how to put my guard completely down but I need to find a way. Now I’m at the unique point in my life where I can re-imagine my life, I can shape how it goes from here. I can break those chains that tether me to my painful past. I can learn new ways of being that will bring me closer to people and make my relationships deeper and richer.
It’s hard as hell to face your demons and these are demons I’ve faced before, but the mother fuckers keep coming back like an evil Weeble that wobbles but just won’t fall down! FALL DOWN WEEBLE!! I’m ready to break through another level to get closer to the surface, however, it will take some time for me to adjust to this new level so my body doesn’t break in the process. Every part of my body hurts right now and part of me wants to avoid all of it and not look, but how can I? If I don’t deal with this new revelation I fear I’ll always be alone. So now what?
Well for one, I have to continue to work on feeling like I matter. I could see in those men’s eyes, that they struggle with feeling like they don’t matter or aren’t worthy and that’s a feeling I know all too well. It’s like my favorite suit and I’ve been wearing it for a long time. It’s time to retire the suit and go shopping for something much better which means I get to try on new things. It’s time for me to really work on loving myself and learning to truly value me on a much deeper level, to finally drop the shame, which is much easier said than done. I have learned one important thing, if you don’t take care of your business, your business will take care of you!
I know what is ahead for those men and I know where they’ve been. I can only hope that they have some loving, supportive, and strong people in their lives. It isn’t easy recovering from something so devastating that permeates every cell of your body and leaves an imprint on your life forever. For me, my abuse started before I was even old enough to know who I was, what trust meant, or what boundaries were. What I got was a crash course in shame, self-doubt, self-loathing, and hatred. It’s painful to realize that those lessons are still guiding my life today, that they have had more to do with who I turned out to be than the lessons I learned at school or at church.
I know for those men that they have struggled with worthlessness and shame no matter how well they did professionally or personally. I know they feel powerless and sometimes might even struggle to breathe. I wish I could speak with them and share what I’ve learned so far. I know that with people who love us and support us that eventually these open wounds will scar over. I know that if we don’t shrink from looking these demons in the face that we will get to a point where we can thrive and we will have more good days than bad. I wish them all the very best and am so grateful for their bravery and their vulnerability to step forward. I hope others follow their lead and step from the darkness into the light.