The following is what the beginning of recovery from childhood sexual abuse looked like for me. I'm writing this so that others in the process of recovery can see a little of what it might be like for them.
This part of the story involves recovering repressed memories (I will call them "RM") of childhood sexual abuse, and as such it may be triggering for some. Some may not believe in RM. I'd like to speak to that.
Are RM real? I've struggled with the question of whether mine are. Sometimes I still do. The events I remembered are too extreme for even me to believe sometimes. I can tell you that what I remembered has never changed, or morphed into something else, or into involving someone else (with one exception noted below). I can also tell you that I didn't want them to be true. Who would? I had no intention of ever using them for any gain. I did send a letter to the Catholic Church, but I never asked for, nor received any money from them. I had no reason to lie about what I remembered. I never confronted anyone directly (not that that is a bad thing). I only wanted the pain to stop.
I can find no scientific evidence that explains RM. I have been to Psychotherapy Networker Symposia where evidence of brain scans showing that those with RM (and PTSD) have electrically isolated parts of the brain that can be reconnected to the rest of the brain using EMDR therapy (and less efficiently with traditional therapy), but I can find no papers online to verify that. Perhaps those journals don't post online. I just don't know.
There is, however, a great deal of empirical evidence that they exist, and therapists who assume their clients are telling the truth can make good progress with their clients.
Do you believe that RM exist? Before my experiences, I probably would have said no. After my experiences of the last twenty years, I know better now. Some people think that therapists plant RM in their patients. I don't know whether or not any therapists do, but I can tell you emphatically that mine did not. Quite the opposite. Colleen (more about here later) was very careful to make a safe place for me to do my work, but at no time did she suggest anything. In fact, almost NONE of these memories of events came back in any therapists office. They came back in lots of places (more on that later), but very few in the therapists office.
One other thing: there are two basic types of RM; memories of events, and memories of the emotions connected to those events. The two are quite distinct and don't usually surface at the same time. What usually came up for me in my therapists office were the latter.
The final issue is, why care whether or not other people's RM are real? I guess the crux of the matter is, to what do people with RM do with those memories when they remember? If it is strictly to heal, I see no reason there should be a controversy over them. If you have a broken leg, and waving a maple switch over the leg sets and heals the leg, and no one has any scientific evidence that proves this works, does that matter? The leg is healed. In that context, it only matters to the person with RM whether or not they are real. Your opinions are irrelevant.
If that person is using those memories to accuse others of deeds they remember, then it's dicier. While I've already diaried that I have direct physical evidence (letters and an eye witness account), and a lot of circumstantial evidence, that verify that at least two of my recovered RM are true, I won't be addressing this issue in this diary. I'm not a scientist, and I can't speak to that. I can only discuss my experiences. I will say, though, that If I find you trustworthy, I'll believe you.
And there is also the issue on whether or not you believe me when I say that those two memories were actually repressed. If you don't believe that, well there's nothing I can do about that, and you will be wasting your time (and possibly mine) if you continue to read. If you feel I have enough credibility to at least give me benefit of the doubt, then read on. You may find this diary instructive.
If you'd like to watch healing happen (as ugly as that can be), join me below fancy orange dream cloud.
I started my tale here, and continued it here. I won't repeat much of that, as I don't want to bore my readers. I will start by providing a little back story, so that the rest of the story makes more sense. Oh, and if it appears I am dancing around certain facts/events, this is because I will of necessity be telling a little of other people's stories too, particularly that of Ms. BiM. Since I don't have the right to do that, I will tell of my interactions with others as briefly as possible. Except for the perps in the story. I will change their names, but that's all.
Twenty years ago, if anyone had asked about my past, I would have told them "I had a happy childhood" and mean it. Even now, I'm not sure why I thought that. I could only remember a handful of events from before I was eighteen. None of those were happy. What I did remember was rather innocuous really; I played the school marching band; I was on the track and cross country teams; I had moved with my family from a very small town to a less small town when I was sixteen. Stuff like that. But really nothing more, unless someone asked a specific question about a specific event in my past. I was then sometimes able to remember that.
When I was about 34, my wife started going through a really rough time. It turns out that she was about to be doing a little bit of healing of her own. Once that became obvious to both of us, I did my best to support her. But I was under a lot of stress. I was working full time (as was she), and in my spare time I was studying for a Ph.D. in science (as was she), and trying to be supportive of her during her healing. It was just too much. I was sitting in her school office on day, when I got a very weird feeling like I was looking out of someone else's eyes. I found myself looking for a rope to hang myself. The office was in the basement, and there were girders near the ceiling that would have worked nicely. That spell broke after a minute or so, and I was quite shaken. I decided that I needed a therapist. Not because I needed therapy. God forbid. I only needed someone to talk to about the stress of supporting my wife during her healing process. She had a therapist, so I chose someone (a man) in the same practice. I saw him for about six months.
At about that time, my wife and I were sitting watching Forrest Gump on TV. We got to the part in the movie where Forrest was in a church choir:
At that very scene, I blurted out "I was an altar boy". Until that time, I had no idea I'd done that. My wife looked at me and said "Really? You never told me that." And I replied "I just remembered it." I thought that very odd, but didn't give it any more thought.
That night, however, while I was laying in bed, I saw something in my mind's eye, as though I was remembering a movie. I saw the torso of a man. He was sitting on a metal chair, he had no clothes on, and he was quite erect. I saw it very clearly. I could tell that he was blonde and circumcised. And I was about to give him a blow job. And the realization hit me: he was a priest. I knew, KNEW, that he was my parish priest and that I had blown him, and I knew it had happened more than once. [Side note: This was twenty years ago, LONG before pedophile priests became common knowledge. I certainly knew nothing about it.] I felt horror and revulsion, the feelings that anyone would feel if they knew a boy was about to blow a man. I didn't feel any of the feelings that were actually attached to the memory. That came latter. When that started, my whole world imploded.
The emotions that came out at the time were really intense, and none of them were good. There was a war going on inside me. What I remembered can't be true. I had to have made it up. But why would I make it up, and if I did, why was I so upset about it? This is a priest we're talking about. A priest! Priests don't do things like that. They don't. They can't. They're the next thing to god!!! I didn't think anyone would believe me anyway. Anyone except Ms. BiM. She was always there for me. Always believed me. I can tell you quite honestly right now that I would have killed myself then if she hadn't supported me. [But no pressure, honey!] And she was in therapy and needed my support!
The odd thing is, it kind of made sense. It brought a lot of little pieces of my life together that didn't fit before. For example, as an adult, I've always known how to give a really good blow job. I knew exactly what to do to prolong it, or what to do to end it quickly. I knew what men liked and what they didn't. I had no idea how I knew that, but I did. I certainly had never done any such thing. I was a virgin when I met the future Ms. BiM, or believed I was, at any rate.
So, I went to see my therapist and I told him what I remembered. He seemed quite excited by it. I think that was because he thought we had had a "breakthrough". The problem was, he had no experience with PTSD, or RM, and he didn't handle it well. I was in a sea of agony, drowning in it, and he was doing nothing to alleviate it. He was trying to get me to let it out, actually increasing the pain. After weeks of this, I decided to get another therapist. Ms. BiM was pushing for that all along. She knew a woman who had a similar past who had a female therapist that was very good.
I told her "No way. I'm not talking to a woman." I'd always believed that I had rot inside. I had a human-looking shell on the outside, but if anyone looked closely, they'd see the rot. That went double for women. That was a funny thing to believe when I told, and was believed by, a woman , but there you have it. [As an aside, I spend nearly all of my marriage waiting for her to admit she saw the rot, so I my feelings on in this particular case were the same as I had for all other women.] My feeling about men and women were polar opposites. Women were always good. Always. They never made a mistake. Ever. Men were evil. Always. They couldn't be trusted. Ever. The latter went double for me, as I saw myself as the worst example of a man. I was sure that if I told a woman what I remembered, she'd see the rot and then she'd use every bit of scorn and vitriol she could muster to tell me that I disgusted her. I couldn't take that. So, I found another man to be my therapist.
At about that time, I became obsessed with finding out who had done that to me. I made a list of all the parish priests I could remember. I lived in Maryland at the time, and Catholic University was nearby. I went to their main library and found the book records of which priests served in which parishes. As I made my list, I found that I had missed one priest on my earlier list: Father Cyrus. I had no memory of him. At all.
I called my mom and asked her about him. Mom taught catechism, so she worked with the parish priests we had and knew them all quite well. Mom told me, amongst many other things, that he was the only blonde priest we had while I was growing up.
At about this time, I had another memory. This time, I was being sodomized on my parent's bed. I was face down, so I couldn't see who was doing it, but I did see one arm. My head was turned to the right so that I could breathe, and I could see his arm in a sort of push up position, holding himself up. I saw that he was blonde. I assumed at the time that it was Father Cyrus again, but it didn't feel right. Some instinct inside told me it wasn't him, but I had not yet learned to trust my instincts. And, I didn't want to believe someone else was involved. One was bad enough.
I felt I needed to tell someone what I remembered, someone that would believe me. I chose my brother Collin. He lived near me. I sat in his living room on the couch. He was in an arm chair, facing me. I told him I had something to tell him, something I remembered that upset me. So I told him about my two memories of Father Cyrus. His reaction was quite strange. He got up and paced the room. He didn't say anything for a minute or so. Finally, he said "do you remember any distinguishing marks, anything that would prove who it was?". I told him no, but I was disturbed by the question. Why would he ask such a strange question? I remember he was quite antsy, and couldn't sit still. He asked if we could go for a walk, so we did. What we talked about, I don't remember exactly, but I do remember giving him more details.
About a week later, I got a letter from him. This seemed odd, as he he lived near me, and had never written any more than a short sentence in a Christmas card before. The letter said a lot of things, none of it nice. He told me that he knew for a fact that what I "remembered" could not have happened, and that I was making it up. If I continued with this, it was going to kill our parents, who sacrificed everything, EVERYTHING, for us. I was an ungrateful son, yada, yada, yada.
That letter was like a kick in the stomach. I felt shame and guilt. But I also felt anger. A LOT of anger. I sent a copy of the letter to my baby sister. I had told her what was going on with me, and she was quite supportive. She was outraged by the letter and sent Collin a scathing letter in response. She sent me a copy. I don't think I'd ever felt as much love for anyone as I did for her when I read that. She believed me! She chose me over Collin! I instantly forgave her for getting birthday parties and presents when I never did.
So, I started with my new therapist. What a nightmare. I told him about how I was forced to give blow jobs and I didn't think anyone should ever force a kid to do that. He countered with "Well, there are tribes around the world that use forced oral sex as a right of passage into manhood, and those boys turn out alright." I was stunned. I went home, and never went back.
I had reached the end of my rope. I couldn't find a man who would be a good therapist for me. I was considering suicide once again, when Ms. BiM suggested once again I go to see Colleen, her friends therapist. Finally, I agreed.
And Colleen saved my life.
In the very first session with her, I told her what had happened to me, and she was very sympathetic. I broke down. I had what I was later told was an abreaction. I started to act, and feel, as though I was six years old, and terrified. I thought the abuse was going to continue at any minute.
Colleen decided that I needed to be hospitalized. Seeing as how women were perfect and always right, I agreed. I went to the hospital from her office. I was there for the better part of a week, and the experience was traumatizing. This was a psychiatric hospital, one where to door clicks shut when you enter and you can't get out again unless the doctors there say you can. Which may be never. I had a number of people evaluate me. The men didn't think I should be there. I was calm, rational, lucid. In short, I was an adult. When the women evaluated me in my room, they would find me hiding under the bed, a scared six year old. I'm told the staff meetings were interesting. The men thought I should be released. The women thought they were nuts. I didn't understand it at the time, but I was soon to learn, that what I was remembering was called RM, and that I had DID and PTSD. I had a fragmented personality. The men saw a protector part, because I believed they were there to rape me. The women saw my six year old, Billy, because I knew that they wouldn't. Women didn't do that kind of thing. Anyway, after they figured out what was going on and determined I was not a danger to myself (they were wrong) or others (they were right). I was released after a few days, and my therapy continued as an outpatient, and with Colleen.
Therapy actually proceeded rapidly, but it seemed to me at the time that it wasn't moving at all, as I had such long journey ahead of me. Colleen spent nearly a year teaching me containment: a way to contain my feelings (but not shut them off entirely) so that they didn't overwhelm me. She didn't allow me to make any real progress until she felt I was in a safe enough place, with my containment skills in place, to proceed.
And proceed we did. Memories started coming back, one after the other, each worse than the last. But, as I said above, not actually in therapy. Sometime in that process, I remembered that the sodomy on my parent's bed was perpetrated by my brother Collin, who is my only blonde brother. The one I had told! Jesus, how could I have been that stupid! [I've never told him this. That wasn't the point of my therapy for me. But I will probably address this in another diary.]
When the memories of the gang rape started to surface, that was about the time I tried to kill myself again. Exact chronology is difficult to reconstruct because I wasn't always the one driving the car called Bill. But I started to remember the gang rape from across the room. I didn't feel any of the emotions I felt at the time of the event. Those came later, and that nearly killed me too. And I didn't remember the event while IN the body until I did EMDR. YMMV, but that process was like surgery without anesthesia.
The surfacing memories had an odd property. If they came up, and I had a bad reaction to them, sometimes they disappeared again. At those times, I would know that something had surfaced, but I had no clue what. Usually they surfaced again at a later time. But I'm pretty sure some never did. I think that doctors can give you a certain kind of drug during certain operations so that you are awake and responsive during the procedure, but you don't remember it afterwards. If that's true, it was something like that.
As the years went on and the memories kept coming back, I learned to recognize the feelings I would have when a memory was trying to surface. It was like I had a governor in my head that would decide that it was time to bring a memory out, and it would let me know that one was coming. If I felt that I was strong enough to handle it, I would let it happen. If I had a knee-jerk "god, not NOW" response, it usually went below the surface again. One time, my wife and I were sitting in the middle of a busy restaurant, and I felt the feeling. I told her what was happening. I sent the "bring it on" message to the governor, and it came out. And I was a mess, like Ugly Cry mess. She had to get me to the car as quickly as she could. Telling it to come out then wasn't the smartest thing I ever did. But I knew that if I didn't, it may never surface again. And I WANTED it out. I didn't want to ever have to hold it in again: any of them.
So, I remembered the gang rape that took place when I was six, and how my other brother's friend tried to strangle me afterwards, the abduction and gang rape when I was eight, and my parents being angry that they had to go looking for me, meeting Father Cyrus when I was nine, being the main course for his buddies at sex parties at about the same time, and remembering my mother taking me to those parties. It seemed to me that every time a major memory came out, it was worse then the last.
And the last one was the worst; not stopping my baby sister from being gang raped by the same group that raped me a month earlier. I still struggle with the shame of that, even though I was six and the four boys involved were fifteen, and prone to homicidal rages. I never told her of that memory. I didn't think she remembered, and I didn't want to be the one to force it to the surface.
Eventually, the memories started coming more and more infrequently. And after that, I didn't remember anything new, and I had no sense that there ever would be anything new. Most of the last of the "memories" were the feelings attached to events I already remembered.
I haven't had any new memories for years now. I'm pretty sure that I've vomited up as much as I'm going to in this lifetime. And I think it's enough such that I am starting, after twenty years of therapy, to be happy sometimes. But only sometimes. I'm still in therapy. I still have parts, and always will. They get along pretty well now. [I'll save their story for another diary.] I have a number of issues that are related to my past that are negatively impacting my present, though I'm making good progress on them. But, I am for the first time hopeful that I won't end up like my father (also for another diary), and I will someday lead a happy life. I guess we'll see.
Here are some helpful links if you are a survivor (or a partner of one).
- SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)
- RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network)
- Male Survivor a great resource to find a support group or a therapist in your area (including overseas)
And if you are a survivor (or think you may be), please consider joining the House of LIGHTS group, or find a therapist that specializes in sexual abuse. Some (several of mine over the years) specialize in sexual abuse of boys. The House of LIGHTS has been nothing but supportive to me. I wouldn't have posted this diary without their help and support.
I hope you learned a little about the effects of child abuse. The floor is open.
Recovering RM had one other good side effect: I also began to remember the good times I had as a kid. [Believe it or not, there were good times too.] Those didn't surface in the same way as the bad memories. They were just there at some point, and I could recall those things with no trouble. I can't say when this happened, only that it did.
House of LIGHTS (Loving Inspiration, Giving Hope To Survivors). A place for survivors of physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional abuse, assaults, and bullying. A place for the people who support them. A quiet place for all voices to be heard. A safe place where we can learn to educate, support, and protect our children and each other.
In House of LIGHTS diaries we tell our stories, heal, support each other, and learn how to protect and empower our children.
LIGHTS: Loving inspiration, giving hope to survivors: LIGHTS.
We have a purpose: To heal ourselves, to speak for the victims, and to change our culture. The silence is over. We accomplish our goals one story at a time.
Everyone is welcome. That said, we do have a few house rules:
This is a community diary for survivors of emotional, psychological, physical, sexual abuse and assaults. Emotions run high in these diaries and comment threads. The experiences are personal, life altering, and traumatic. We ask that you be respectful and allow everyone the space to speak their own truth as they know it.
If you are supportive, even if you have not been a victim, welcome! However, if you cannot be respectful of the stories and comments, please leave now. And most importantly, please comment and interact only as YOU feel comfortable.