By Kevin Flood

My abuse story started when I was 6 and went on for many years with many perpetrators.   It was organized by my parents and so I was around perpetrators every day.   I dissociated very early and fear was a constant presence.  Fear permeated my every feeling and was the constant in my life for many years, including many years after the abuse stopped.    One of the sad and true facts about sex abuse is that it can seriously disrupt our lives in the same painful way no matter how often the abuse occurred, once or many times.    No matter what age we were, nor no matter how many times we were abused, we were all children and had years of emotional and intellectual development to go before becoming a fully developed adult.  I know my development was distorted and every day was filled with fear and anxiety.  At eighteen I was finally free from my perpetrators and immediately experienced dissociative amnesia and lost all memory of the abuse until I was 55 years old.

We’re not born with fear, we learn it as we go along

As my memories returned so did the fear and anxiety of my youth.   We’re not born with fear, we learn it as we go along.   Given the complications of our survivor emotions, it is understandable that our fears can be many and confusing.   As sex abuse survivors, we can carry fear and anxiety with us every day and not fully understand why we have the feelings.  We’re likely to have experienced isolating ourselves, hyper-vigilance, disrupted sleep, perhaps nightmares, the need for control, feelings of detachment and shame.  Shame likely being the centerpiece of our feelings.

Some may have a clear sense of why they feel the way they do, but most of us struggle with denying that the experience happened, who the perp was, how much we were damaged and a variety of other denials.  I’m not by my nature a fearful person, but I became one for a long time. I became preoccupied with fear and confusion about what was going on in my life.   I became very anxious and every day turned into waiting game for the disaster I felt was coming to get me.    

I feared I would expose my true self

Fear is a very powerful feeling. I feared I would expose my true self: after all, I knew” I was a phony all along.   I feared my phoniness would be discovered and I’d lose what I worked hard for.  That also meant I would not get what I wanted in life.   The saying  “we’re only as sick as our secrets” is so true, and my biggest secret was that I was a phony.   At age 55, I wondered how far into my life would I bring the beliefs, fears, expectations and assumptions of my damaged child.   

The disaster did arrive a few months after the memories returned, I could no longer do my job at work.  My fears and anxieties were overwhelming me every day.   It was only with the help of those around me that I kept my job.   I needed help at work and help with my emotions that were starting to spill out of me.   As trauma therapist and writer Judith Herman (1992) explained: “Trauma enhances the need for protective relationships, but one of the harms of trauma is that it also violates human connection.  This can make such relationships difficult to establish or maintain”.    For me, the lack of trust in other people made asking for help a torture that I had to learn to endure if I was going to get better.  I was terrorized at the thought of therapy but with my wife’s help I finally began seeing a therapist.  I stayed in my “don’t trust anyone zone” for some time before I could clearly grasp why I was seeing a therapist.   Therapy was the biggest risk I took in recovery and the basis for all the positive changes I have been able to make.

I needed to learn how to live in the present

As therapy progressed I began to understand my lack of trust had been based on who hurt me growing up.  It had nothing to do with the people around me now: the abuse was decades ago and I needed to learn how to live in the present.   The people in my life and those who I wanted to be in my life, weren’t my enemies and weren’t “out to get me” in any way.  My fears gradually diminished and I realized I needed to connect with empathetic and understanding people who made me realize I wasn’t alone in my difficulties. (My special thanks to Alcoholics Anonymous-AA- and the many growth opportunities it gave me)) The pain and fear we carry from trauma can lead us to isolating ourselves.  I still tend to do that but can break away from it by remembering I have friends, AA meetings, by volunteering to join groups and staying engaged with the world I live in.  Telling my story with the help of MenHealing and growing stronger because of it has played a significant role in my recovery.

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.          H.P. Lovecraft

Always remember the recovery goal:  Progress not Perfection

I welcome feedback.  rkevinflood@gmail.com


Thanks to Kevin for sharing his journey with us.

Till next time: Be well. Stay safe. Take good care.

Mike

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