by R. Kevin Flood
When I was growing up I learned the hard way that I was the only person I could trust. I grew up in an alcoholic, sexually abusive household. Even at an early age I was proud that I could do things by myself and not ask my parents for help. As the years went by I embodied the concept of personal self-reliance as a necessary way of life for me. I lived in that abuse house for 18 years and self-reliance was my first—and frequently, my only reaction to any situation. What I could not do was bring myself to ask for any kind of help. I thought for many years I could do everything I needed for my life, for myself. I was wrong!
The fact is that self-reliance can work for and against you. As a person in recovery, and because we are frequently in isolation from other people, it is easy to slide into self-reliance as time passes. Being in charge of yourself can be the goal. But doing it without a long period of sustained recovery work, can leave us doing everything we need for ourselves, and perhaps not very well.
In a lot of homes children grow up learning trust, intimacy, self-esteem, a sense of agency, and a sense of the world as a safe place. Sex abuse victims grow up developing strategies to keep the memories and feelings of the abuse from overwhelming us.
.My initial strategy of developing self-reliance kept me from having to deal with my abusive parents and the memories. As time went by I also added excessive behaviors such as alcoholism, high risk-taking, workaholism, binge eating, and several other behaviors. These all were developed by me as a means of dealing with my abuse feelings and memories. High self-control behavior was needed on a daily basis to keep myself feeling in control, as opposed to how out-of-control I felt during the abuse.
All of my strategies were really behavioral adaptations of an abused boy
All of my strategies were really behavioral adaptations of an abused boy; the alcoholism cost me a good wife and two jobs, the workaholism got me good jobs but alienated many of my co-workers, the high risk behavior put me in the emergency room more than two dozen times. I developed many new feelings to mask the abuse feelings and memories.
Unfortunately, many of us find our way into adaptations that are damaging to us and our health. We delve into alcoholism, drugs, porn, aggression, hostility, isolation, and conflicts with the law and other negative behaviors that are hard to control. The roots of many of these behaviors are started in our abuse period and most of us took the strategies into our life after abuse. We can begin to see these behaviors as our personal symptoms of our abuse. The feelings that we mask can emerge in spite of our behaviors/symptoms and these can be overwhelming and result in the need to finally ask for help. We developed solutions that kept us from having to confront the abuse memories directly.
When solutions become the problem
Men can suffer in silence because that’s what we think men are supposed to do. I know in my struggle with self-reliance there were many times I should have asked for help and didn’t. This has lasted over forty years and I find myself still having some problems with asking and receiving the help I need. We can sometimes be trapped “inside” our symptoms and not even realize why we have them and where they come from.
If our symptoms have taken hold of our personalities and we can’t see living without them we need to be extra cautious in how we handle them. If we’re the “strong man” in the group we have likely closed ourselves off to many of our feelings, our emotions. If we can’t adjust the behavior, our emotional solitary confinement will continue. This hard work takes courage and a new perspective on living. For starters, we need to develop the ability to be compassionate and kind with ourselves.
Post traumatic growth can happen if we allow ourselves to be available to the world we want to live in. In my AA world (alcoholics anonymous) I spent years trying to show up and be invisible. After my pain got so overwhelming, I started to share what I was really feeling and the struggle I had everyday just to show up. Instead of a judgmental response accompanied by “and don’t come back”, I was met with compassion, empathy and humanity. I realized those things had been there all along, I was just blind to them. I hadn’t yet met up with the MensHealing program. After I did and told my whole story for the first time to a group of men, I felt I could be a lot less defensive about trusting people.
You survived the abuse. You’re going to survive the recovery. -Unknown
Thanks to Kevin for sharing his learned wisdom from his healing journey. If you would like to share something you have learned or comment on this post please leave a comment below or reach out to me at email@example.com. I’d love to hear from you.
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Be well. Stay safe. Take good care.