In 1997 I moved from Ohio to the Netherlands. It was the first time I had been completely away and free from my parents even though I was 25. This freedom had an unexpected consequence. I began having a difficult time dealing with all the anger I had suppressed for years. I had hidden so much abuse from such a young age, and hidden the feelings right along with everything else. Suddenly being out from under the control of my abuser, I no longer had to fear him. I no longer had to hide the anger, sadness, shame and disgust; I could go on and on. But not having to hide it brought it all to the surface and being in a foreign country, only knowing my husband. I did not have much choice of an outlet. One of my first steps was to tell my mother, this time she had no choice but to believe me, as my abuser admitted what I claimed was true. It was rough, and I was attempting it with no support other than my husband. Our open communication lasted a short while, and I requested to cease all emails and phone calls for a while, which ended up lasting over a year.
So I turned to the Internet. At that time there were a great deal of websites dealing with sexual abuse, many with forums to interact with other survivors. I began posting to a couple of different forums. Each had its own personality or atmosphere, but at each forum, I was warmly welcomed and supported. No post ever went unanswered by some kind soul. It did help to talk about the abuse, to talk about my feelings, to hear that I was not alone with all that I was experiencing.
Of course, web forums alone were not enough to get me out of the deep depression into which I had sunk nor did it help me to leave the house. I began therapy; it was extremely awkward and clumsy. My therapist did not speak fluent English, nor was I fluent in Dutch. My husband, (who truly is the best husband to have ever and will ever exist on earth) went to every single therapy appointment with me to assist in translating. Starting twice a week, then once a week for four years. My therapy did not deal so much directly with my feelings and experiences surrounding the abuse, as it did with just getting me to become a stable member of society. It helped with my depression and anxiety with anafranil and a tranquilizer which I cannot recall the name. But it also helped me to apply, get and keep a job, getting me out of the house and on a routine. Still, due to the language barrier, a lot was not being addressed.
So I continued with the survivor forums on the Internet, with the blessing of my therapist. I continued to read everything I could find about processing these feelings. I read books, The Courage to Heal and its accompanying workbook was out on my desk constantly. I still felt something was missing, the words of support and encouragement began to feel a bit hollow and unsatisfying and I realized that while I was being heard and validated, I was not being heard and validated by the people I wanted, mainly my abuser and my mother.
It was then that I stumbled upon AReASON; the Association of REcovering Abuse Survivors & Offenders Network. While it had a lot in common with the websites I had been frequenting, it was different in one major way. Along with forums for survivors of abuse of all types, there was even a specific forum for male survivors only, as well as forums for partners and spouses. But the biggest difference was the inclusion of a set of forums for Recovering Offenders and A Roundtable for Survivors and Recovering Offenders to interact.
At first, I just read, and not just the survivor and roundtable forums, but I also dipped into the recovering offenders forums. Since I had no idea what was going on with my own abuser, I thought this might shed some light and answer some of the questions I had. How could an adult take advantage of a child? How could an adult think that the child enjoyed the abuse? Why did he do this to me? Just as every survivor’s story is different and unique to that person, there are similar feelings and experiences that most survivors have in common. I figured the same could hold true with recovering offenders. I read a post about a father who abused his daughter, confessed to his wife and was now facing a lengthy jail sentence, I read posts from someone who called himself a coach and was battling his inner demons, rape fantasies involving young males. There were many posts from men trying to understand how and why they had these urges and thoughts and how to control and deal with them. It was a lot to digest.
Eventually I felt comfortable enough to introduce myself and begin posting. At first I stuck to the survivor only forums, then moved out into the roundtable discussions. A lot of my first attempts at posts were support for other members, maybe a post about having a difficult day. But after awhile I was able to begin releasing some of the anger and betrayal I was feeling. I would project it out into the roundtable and not only survivors would respond, but recovering offenders would also hear, understand and even validate and own some of my anger as victim empathy. “I am so sorry you had to experience that” “Hearing your pain helps me to understand how my actions damaged my victim” etc
There came a shock when the site owner announced AReASON would be shutting down. I was not the only participant to feel panic. Thankfully, that wonderful man I married stepped in again and helped me to create a website we called Healing Together. We followed much the same format as AReASON in our forums and chat. And thanks to the help of the creator of AReASON, most if not all of the current participants found their way to Healing Together the day AReASON shut down.
Overtime I came to develop a couple of close friendships with two people on the forums. One, a fellow survivor turned me onto gaming. She sent me a copy of Everquest and I discovered the ability to escape completely into another world. Often for long periods of time, ignoring much of life outside of my computer screen. Therapy kicked in and helped me find equilibrium with that.
My other friendship was with a recovering offender with a past that mirrored my experiences in many ways. It was through my conversations with him that I developed a desire to invite my mother and abuser back into my life. He also helped me to see that my abuser was not just the monster that I grew up envisioning all those years. But he was a man with a sickness, which instead of controlling or seeking help for, he fed and acted upon. But he was not just that sickness, and perhaps he may have even been thankful that I came out with the truth. Hiding those thoughts and actions feeds the sickness, making it more difficult to stop. Of course, these are my own conclusions based upon conversations with my friend. But it opened my mind up a bit to be able to include my abuser back into my life; at a great distance and in tiny increments at first.
I developed a great trust in my recovering offender friend. My husband and I took a vacation to the States and made arrangements to meet my friend and his wife in Utah. We spent a few days camping in the parks, hiking in Arches National Park, four wheeling in a Jeep in Moab. In the evenings, we would grill out, eat together then sit around the fire talking. I was completely comfortable around my new friends. His wife helped me to understand some of what my mother might be experiencing. How it is possible to still love someone that has hurt your children in unimaginable ways. How it is scary to face these accusations all alone. I was out of danger, on the road to healing. She was starting her journey toward healing and him toward recovery.
Sadly, we had to shut down Healing Together 10 years ago when we moved back to the States, and I have yet to find a similar web forum.
I can’t say that I realized this with such clarity at the time, but it helped me to continue on in my own healing journey. It helped me to accept my family back into my life. Now when I look back on those experiences, I realize how much it helped me to deal with my issues. The feelings and hurt that were not able to be addressed in therapy.
I now have a comfortable and dare I say healthy relationship with my entire family including my abuser. I harbor no more secrets. I hold no more shame. And while at times, I do still deal with some anger, I can now say it to my abuser, and talk about it if that is what I choose.
Delinda Andrews can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The standup comedian (Late Night with Craig Ferguson) opens up about her conservative Catholic upbringing, doing volunteer work in Jamaica and coming to terms with being lesbian. She and Paul talk about bad porn, being turned on by things we wouldn’t want in real life and the heavy burden of being co-dependent.
The 3rd generation Japanese-American psychologist shares his experience and observations counseling sexual predators (rapists and child molesters) at Coalinga, a lockdown mental hospital in central California and how he used Buddhism to help him cope.
I heard a man who was abused as a child refer to his body’s natural response to sexual stimuli as his “body betrayed [him]” and this breaks my heart. As a survivor of years of abuse from my father, I am well aware of the guilt and shame that come with growing to enjoy, crave and take an odd sense of pride in the misbehavior of my abuser. I used to really hate myself for letting those counselors tell me it wasn’t my fault over and over again and never admitting to them that once my body started responding to the attention, I had a few occasions of instigating an assault. ‘Assault’ is an important distinction that I did not make until decades after the abuse ended. You see, only in recent years have I come to recognize that no amount of enticing behavior or physical responsiveness from a minor would ever lead to sexual abuse from a non-abusive person.
My abuse began when I was almost 8 years old and my body did not respond to his fingers or tongue for 4 years. Despite the lack of response, my father continued his abuse. I grew used to it without enjoying it and while really disliking being coerced to touch, stroke and kiss his genitalia in return for the ineffective attentions he paid to mine. I did it though. Childhood victims usually do what the abuser they see as an authority figure wants them to do. We hear things like “not everybody does this. It is special between you and me” and “I am teaching you important things the others won’t understand.” We want to be special even if we don’t want the kind of attention we are getting. Sexual abuse usually starts before victims even know what any of it means and once we do know, our bodies have matured and we feel instantly guilty for enjoying it.
This is so wrong!
There is a huge, malignant cavity of an error in this perception.
Regardless of your age when you read this, do the math on your situation. How old were you or the victim when it started? Imagine yourself at the abuser’s age at that time. Would you ever be inclined to treat a child the age you/they were the way the abuser treated you/them? Notice that I said “treat a child” because there is a distinct difference in fantasy and action when it comes to pedophilia or anything else. I fantasize about ramming the oblivious sphincter riding his brakes in the fast lane, but I don’t act on it. Fantasy is fantasy and I heartily encourage all forms because they do not endanger or damage anyone. Actions, on the other hand, that result in the abuse of a minor are what I am referencing. So, let’s say puberty HAD actually kicked in. What if that child pursued and wanted you? The healthy response is, “No, acting in a sexual manner toward that attention seeking child is sick.” Process that for a few minutes. It is sick to perform sexually with a child. Nothing about a child’s behavior or appearance warrants, justifies or excuses pedophiliac behavior. Who is sick in a scenario where an adult who knows better stimulates a biological response in a minor who does not? The person whose body is doing what is was made to do in a sexual situation? Or the immoral succubus that betrays their position in the victim’s life and does things they have no right or business doing?
You know who else is abusing the abused children in their lives? The people who say shit like A.“you should not have done/worn/said ______” or B. “you must have wanted it” or C. “I bet the little pervert enjoys it.” Perhaps you do not know any better but your comments and associated behavior are damagingly wrong. Let’s get this straight once and for all. A- there is no such thing as a behavior/outfit/comment that warrants, justifies or excuses pedophilia. Nothing. Period. B- Children naturally crave attention and affirmation. We are coming into ourselves and look to adults for these things. Sexual assault is a far cry from acknowledging a child’s attributes in a positive healthy way. And C- There is nothing perverse about having a natural response to sexual stimuli. This is especially true when it is instigated by someone of trust before the victim knows what is happening in their bodies much less the appropriate boundaries for such behavior. We are battling our respect for the person based on how others view them, our discomfort at having to hide something for them and our bodies sudden changes. Puberty is difficult without sexual abuse. Teenagers in otherwise normal situations go through emotional roller coasters once their hormones kick in. How insensitive are you to assign guilt to these children for the actions of an adult? Do you go to hospitals and chastise victims of drunk drivers or war veterans for their wounds?
Let me give you an idea of what happened to me as a result of the guilt I lived with from my own conscience and the comments I heard from relatives. I grew to think myself naughty. My body gaining curves was something I wanted to keep up with classmates but worried about because it garnered attention from my abuser. I had the message from him that my responses were a good thing and the physical affirmation that it felt good. AND I had the clear disgust from everyone else towards my abuse. So, of course I was completely conflicted and translated it all together to mean – sexual stimuli feels good to me so I’m disgusting. I also took the lessons and descriptions about parents loving their children and doing anything to protect them and decided that the lack of protection I received from them couldn’t mean they loved me less. They are my parents, of course they love me! Instead, I proceeded to let others disrespect and hurt me and still credit them with loving me as much as I wanted them to. I often said things like, “I know they are not good at showing it, but I also know they must love me as much as I love them.” Sound familiar to you or about someone you know?
As a victim of sexual abuse from the ages of 8 – 12 I would like to scream from the mountain tops that we are great people who should love and respect ourselves, our natures and our bodies. We must demand the same from everyone in our lives. I’d like therapists to grasp the turmoil and not patronize their clients. I want family members to join forces to help victims separate the wrongness of the abusive situations and the absolute healthiness of the human body’s response to sexual stimulus.
What else can I say or do? I would like you to share this with anyone you know because abuse is pervasive in society and you never know who is battling their own childhood scars.
Thanks for reading. I’d love to know your thoughts.
You can reach Lia by her Facebook page
Two sons of Holocaust survivors, Michael Rozbruch and Amir Tiles, sit down with psychotherapist Joel Schwartz whose grandparents are also survivors and they discuss the PTSD’s ripples still being felt today within the families. Amir’s father, an 85 year-old Polish survivor also joins them.
Thanks to podcast guest Susan Hagen for turning me on to this and Amanda Curtin for developing it.
Childhood Bill of Rights
A child has the right
Developed by Amanda Curtin, Center for Change, Cambridge, MA