This is the Introduction to What About Me?
Don’t feel alone, embarrassed or ashamed.
Many men have been through it.
We’re all vulnerable. Believe me.
You could be a labourer, salesman, businessman or carpenter. It doesn’t matter. It can happen unexpectedly.
When it does, you’ll feel like you’ve been hit by a knockout punch. It strikes with a force you’ve never felt before.
If you’re lucky, you’ll find the inner strength that it takes to shake it off, find your legs and get up from the canvas to fight.
Rest assured, though, your life will never be the same again. I can guarantee you that.
It happened to me several years ago. It seems like such a long time now, but it’s a moment I’ll never forget.
I was sitting on the couch in my apartment, watching some TV with Liz – who was then my girlfriend and is now my wife. We’d been dating for a while and I was comfortable around her.
I didn’t think about it much at the time, but I’d noticed she was always a little distant. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but sometimes when I’d try to get close to her she’d get uptight and move away. Other times, while spending time together, she’d just go very quiet and say nothing at all. A few times, for no apparent reason, she’d erupt like a volcano.
I figured it was just her personality.
That night, though, I learned that something else was bothering her - something that was deep inside her, something you couldn’t see or touch, something she couldn’t control, something which was ruining her life. As I sat there watching TV, I noticed that I was being studied. Liz was staring at me with a very strange look, as though deep in thought.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, unaware that her answer would turn my world upside down.
In an instant, she blurted it out.
“I’ve been getting harassing phone calls,” she said. “And I know who they’re from – my stepfather.
“It’s just one of the ways he tries to harass me,” she added.
“He sexually abused me when I was a young child and now he is still trying to control me.”
There was a long period of silence.
I searched for something intelligent to say. Here I was, suddenly presented with a very startling and unsettling revelation. I was dumbfounded. Inside, I felt like a bomb had just exploded.
Liz stared at me, waiting for some type of reaction.
I really didn’t know what to think. I’d had a good upbringing. It hadn’t entered my thoughts that such things happen in this world. As a child and adult, I’d lived a life sheltered from abuse. It was something I only read about – something I’d seen only on TV or the movies. I’d never really given the problem much thought. It didn’t happen to people I knew.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think it happened to real people – especially the girl I was dating.
Questions began to flood my thoughts. I didn’t know how to react.
I sensed she was telling the truth, but I still found it hard to believe.
After several minutes of silence, I spoke up.
“What do you mean?” I asked. “Why would your stepfather do such a thing?”
Liz paused for a moment then went on to explain how her mother had caught him red-handed.
“So what’s your mother going to do about it?” I asked. “What has she done about it? Is she going to call the police? Is she going to leave him?”
The questions came flooding out. It all seemed perfectly logical to me that something would be done. How could somebody stay with a guy like that?
Liz was evasive.
“Well,” she said, “I don’t really know. My mother said she’d handle it.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, he’s always trying to harass me. One time, when I was younger, he put pubic hairs on my toothbrush.”
Suddenly I was enraged. How could somebody be so demented? How could a grown man do such a thing to his stepdaughter? What could I do to stop it? Why hasn’t Liz done something about it? I turned to ask her.
At that moment, though, I could see that Liz needed a listening ear, not a lecture. So for the next several hours she talked and I listened.
She told me about her childhood and how her stepfather sexually abused her. She told me how she’d wake up at night, only to find him watching her with a strange, mad look on his face.
She told me how he’d ruin her clothes, embarrass her in front of her friends and family and, in later years, get jealous when she dated boys.
She told me how he kept the family moving from house to house out of fear that one of the children would get close to neighbours and squeal on him.
She told me about the episodes in the bathtub, the attic, all of the times she tried to tell somebody and how nobody listened or did anything about it.
She told me what happened when she first told her mother about the abuse, how her mother listened, then told the stepfather, and how later, when the stepfather cornered Liz alone, he called her a dirty little bitch for telling on him.
She told me about the sleepless nights, the nightmares, flashbacks and feelings of hatred towards men that she’d kept locked inside for years.
She told me of how the stepfather continued to harass her, how in her older years he still abused her, not physically anymore, but emotionally – through comments and phone calls.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but while I listened to Liz recall the nightmare of her childhood sexual abuse, I had taken the first steps on a very long, arduous and rocky journey that would change my life forever. From that day on, I’d learn more about a strange and very distorted world – a world I didn’t know existed – the world of the childhood sexual abuse survivor.
I use the term survivor because any woman who has experienced childhood sexual abuse, incest or molestation truly is a survivor in every sense of the word.
In this book, the word “survivor” is used to refer to any woman who is healing from childhood sexual abuse – be it a wife, mate, lover or friend. I most often interchange the word “wife” and “survivor” merely because it fits more easily into the writing pattern. I use the term “supporter” to refer to the one who is trying to help a partner deal with the effects of childhood sexual abuse. A supporter can be any male partner, a husband, boyfriend or relative.
The perpetrator, of course, is the person who committed the act of sexual abuse on a child.
In this book I draw on my own personal experiences and those of others to try to answer some of the questions you may have about childhood sexual abuse, explain how it affects the survivor, and make suggestions as to what you can do to try to help her cope during this difficult period.
While I don’t profess to be an expert, I do have first-hand experience. Having gone through the ordeal of helping a survivor heal from childhood sexual abuse, I believe my experience and advice can help you deal with some of the issues you may face as you help a survivor.
This book will give you some insight into the world of the survivor, why she feels certain things, why she says certain things and why she sometimes seems very detached while going through the healing process. Hopefully, I can enlighten you about your feelings and how to deal with them.
Childhood sexual abuse can have a devastating effect. It can cause deep-rooted and long-lasting emotional problems for the victim.
The abuse steals innocence from a child and never gives it back. It takes away a child’s security, replacing it with horrid and terrifying experiences, memories of which will last a lifetime.
You’ll understand what I mean as you begin to learn more about the roller-coaster world of a child sexual abuse survivor and how it has affected her daily life in terms of lost opportunities.
If you’re reading this, I suspect that you’ve already taken a step on the road to helping a survivor heal the dark wounds of her past.
If you have, chances are you’ve already experienced some of the pain and anguish that comes with the healing. You’re probably now searching for some solutions to this emotionally charged puzzle. It can be an overwhelming experience and you may be inundated with emotions and problems of your own as the survivor begins the healing process.
I don’t know if it will be any consolation to you, but the fact of the matter is that you’re not alone.
Millions of men around the world are helping survivors of childhood sexual abuse. More and more men are in the delicate position of dealing with female partners who’ve been abused.
The survivors could be wives, girlfriends, co-workers or family members.
The number of victims of childhood sexual abuse is larger than we ever imagined, as women of all ages confront and try to heal the wounds of their past. In recent years, women have been flocking to therapists, support groups, crisis and sexual assault centres.
These women are newlyweds and young mothers. They’re also women who’ve raised families and are just now finding the time and energy to deal with the trauma of the past.
The statistics which have come to the forefront are overwhelming, to say the very least. They’ll also make you sick.
Surveys have indicated that:
- A girl born today has a one-in-four chance of being sexually abused before she reaches the age of 10.
– The average age of an abused child is 11, but it is not uncommon for children three years old or younger to be sexually abused by someone.
– The problem directly affects 75 to 95 per cent of all families.
The statistics are all very sobering.
And if you’re helping someone heal from childhood sexual abuse, there’s a good chance you’ll need help. You’ll need a roadmap to help you deal with and understand this new world.
When Liz told me about the harassing phone calls, and then the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her stepfather as a child, life as I knew it had changed.
I was suddenly in unfamiliar territory, with no training at all and no books to help me cope.
I found out quickly that once you are part of this new world, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to turn back. The peaceful, happy place you once lived in is now gone. In its place is a world full of problems, anguish, tough decisions and seemingly endless challenges.
It’s difficult to work through this process without some guidance.
This book is about helping you to understand what the survivor is going through so you can be a help, rather than a hindrance, on her journey.
As you’re reading, please keep in mind that the expressions, opinions and advice in this book are based on my first-hand experiences with my wife Liz. I hope to give you some insight into how you can best get through this healing process with a survivor. I cannot replace a good therapist or counselor. In fact, if you’re helping a survivor, I suggest you enlist the services of a counselor. But this book may help answer some of the questions you might have. It might enable you to work through issues on your own and point you in the right direction by giving you the right perspective of someone who has been there.
As the husband of someone who went through the tumultuous process of healing from childhood sexual abuse, I have a good understanding of the problems you might encounter. I can’t guarantee that the process will go smoothly if you read this book, but I can say it will make you better equipped to deal with the myriad problems that may arise.
There is little doubt that finding your way around in this strange new world can be a difficult – and sometimes very strange – journey.
At times, it will test you to the limits. But, hopefully, with the help of this book, you’ll stay on the right path.