With my first experience of cognitive behavioural therapy behind me I do need to think about what I want to do next. My big struggle was to find a way to say something more about myself, to push beyond the outward purpose and need that I had commenced therapy with. It took me a few weeks to make myself say that I had been abused as a teenager, and once I had I experienced that curious relief which confiding in others brings.
My first internal question is – do I believe that sense of relief will persist with the more people I tell? If so, I guess I should just do some painfully honest solo improv show and reveal all in a pleasingly theatrical way. That might be a kind of fun. But it might also be completely humiliating. Which brings round why I don’t tell people about these things – is it shame? I don’t think so. I’m not sure either. I don’t feel that I’m or was the one at fault. I was a young kid – to pretend that I might have been in a position of power where I was the agent of my own choices is clearly false. I was vulnerable, and exploited. Some embarrassment is entirely reasonable, but I suspect it masks a self-hatred, an anger for permitting (or thinking I permitted, again making the naive assumption that I really had any control) someone to use me. We like to believe we’re in control – I certainly do.
As an adult aware of many contexts and the subtext of societal encounters it’s very clear that is mostly an illusion; sometimes it comforts, other times is does not. But it’s really important to grasp the degree of agency we truly have, or at the very least to maintain a healthy scepticism about it. I consider myself to be rational, I am more readily persuaded by a sane argument than a passionate one. It is a challenge to be balanced and rational when bad things happen. It’s also incredibly important. To attribute events to fate or the gods or randomness are all wrong. They either give you a false sense of hope or deceive you about other people and the world around you. There is a reason – it may not be a reason you like.
In my case the reason I was abused is because a sick, fucked up self-interested bastard concluded that his needs were greater than those of a young teen, found a way into the circle of trust within our family, befriended me (a sensitive, thoughtful and quite lonely boy) and ruthlessly exploited me and our family. I did not do anything wrong, this wasn’t my fault. I accepted the friendship of someone who seemed interesting, trusted and interested in my opinion and ideas. What’s not to like?
I’m okay with the idea that I was almost powerless, the fear of discovery and the shame that abuse causes are effective insulators for the perpetrators. You don’t tell because to tell seems worse than it continuing. And that’s a failure of perspective. I was worried about what my parents would think, how it would affect their relationship and how this fucker fit into our family and social events. Because I didn’t grasp the bigger picture of much of a betrayal of my Dad’s trust this was, how predatory this behaviour was. I was just too young and inexperienced in how awful people can be to imagine that this was anything other than my problem. That maybe this is just how friendships work. I can see and understand much of the manipulation now – I get it.
The sharing of interests – simply taking an interest… it works wonders for getting what you want.
Possibly one of the worst things about this kind of abuse of trust is that it involves the use of social tools and norms for these people to get what they want. And that can make life very confusing for the abused. In my case it was the normal social aspects of friendship, physical and emotional intimacy, the sharing of thoughts and ideas. After I’d managed to sever my ties and get at least physical distance I was left in horrible pain. Things had gone further than I’d feared they might, and I had no idea how to react. I didn’t know if what had happened was wrong, was my fault or what should happen next. I went with how it made me feel – horrible. That was enough to know that it should’t ever happen again and that I never wanted to see the guy again.
But I didn’t know how to separate out what had happened to me from what happens in normal friendships. And how could I, at the time? The whole lot was jumbled together. I’m pretty clear on the separation now, I think. I think I know, or am satisfied with my understanding about what behaviours belong in which relationships.
There are still some things I can’t disentangle though – I have an aversion to massage; I don’t like to be touched when I can’t see who’s touching me, otherwise my mind darts off to that dark place and I don’t see or feel the person who is touching me. That’s not great as I do get tense easily, mainly from being over-excitable and involved in activities, and being able to relax into massage would be helpful. I’m getting better though, in the right state of mind I can accept and enjoy a shoulder massage from The Lady M but I do struggle with anything more. The idea of being massaged by a stranger is horrific to me. I’m confused about sexuality too, but I think I’ll consider that more fully another time.
I guess my point, the point I was trying to make to myself is that perspective and the simple passage of the years (plus a decade or so of tears, drinking, drugs, depression and fucked up frustration) has enabled me to better grasp what happened, in a saner, less emotive way. Perspective matters – it’s all about me, but if I don’t understand the context that surrounds me then it’s about a screwed-up incomplete me.