Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Shot In The Chest

When I first started counseling everyone suggests you pick a couple of key areas to focus in on and make them your specialties, and so I immediately picked Marriage and Parenting as my top favorites I wanted to get good at doing.  The problem was I seemed to have more and more people coming to me dealing with having been sexually abused, and we immediately loved each other.  My counseling style has always been very "tell it like it is" with far more truth spoken than tact, so while I am compassionate and encouraging I'll also kick you in the butt when needed.  My picture of the perfect counselor for someone healing from sexual abuse was a kindly older woman who would hold their hand and cry with them while sharing encouraging Bible verses, and that wasn't exactly me.  So it kind of shocked me that all these women felt so comfortable talking to me about something that for many of them I was the very first person to ever know about their abuse other than them and their abuser.  I mean women who have teenagers and husbands of 20 years who have never ever shared that when they were younger someone hurt them in one of the worst ways a human being can be hurt.

Given, to date, I have never had a single client come in who said they were there because they were abused as a kid.  They come in for depression, anxiety, trust issues, marital problems, being either obsessed with or repulsed by sex, boundaries problems, same sex attraction, addictions, etc but these were just symptoms of the core injury that needed to be addressed and healed.  Their stories broke my heart and made me angry and I found that without exception that anger was exactly what the women needed.  Not more sadness, not more shame, and certainly not pity, but something came alive in them when I said I wish I could have ten minutes alone in a room with their worthless piece of crap father.  So having a brash counselor tell them it was not only OK but necessary to get good and mad at their abuser turned out to make me a good fit.  You can't forgive someone if you haven't gotten angry, otherwise you are just sweeping it under the rug with denial.  The many men I have talked to that were sexually abused NEVER would have talked about that with a female counselor and usually expected me to respond like any other neanderthal in the locker room by high-fiving them for getting sex so early.  The women that shared it with me not only felt validated and understood, but in a wonderful way I could never had predicted but God ordained I was able to be a healing, healthy, safe relationship with a man.  A man that knew all of their secrets and didn't shame them, a man who wanted only health and healing for them rather than their preconceived notion of what all men want from them.  For some I was the first man in their lives that gave to them rather than taking, that loved them for who they were rather than what they could do for me, and who saw them how God views them so they could do the same.  I'm pretty good with marriages and parenting, but looking back I really believe my greatest impact has been on the men and women I have walked alongside as they heal from sexual abuse.

Still, years later I couldn't figure out why I had such a heart for sexual abuse survivors, why I was so beneficial for them, and why God kept bringing them to me until just within the last two years.  I was reading a book on sexual abuse and it was pretty good, but back in the appendix there was a frequently asked questions section that had a little note on men who were sexually abused.  It basically says when asking a man if he has sexually abused don't ask "Were you sexually abused," because they'll usually say no.  Ask "What were your first experiences with sex" and you'll get a totally different answer.  So it pops in my head in that moment that I had access to media with full nudity and sex scenes as a kid, and by adolescence there were a couple of incidents where guys my same age messed around with me and I assumed because I considered most of those things enjoyable at the time that it couldn't be "abuse."  That was when I was forced to reconsider what sexual abuse was, as I knew from my many clients that God designed sex to be pleasurable and so therefore just because something feels physically good doesn't make it any less abusive.  I also knew that just because you weren't held at gunpoint doesn't mean there aren't power differentials and consent is impossible for a child that doesn't know what sex is anyway.  Any time emotional pain is difficult for people to grasp I just transfer it into what it would look like as a physical wound and it seems to make more sense.  If a man kicks your front door in and points a gun at your child's chest and pulls the trigger while smiling it is clearly damaging and evil and wrong.  If the neighbor kid who is the same age as your kid brings over his dad's handgun and the two kids are playing around with it and it goes off shooting your child in the chest it is still damaging and evil and wrong.  The scars are actually the same.  Anytime someone is introduced to sex in an inappropriate way, earlier than they are ready and able to process, it damages a person's soul and it will show effects across their lifetime.

I don't intend to compare my extremely minor abuse to anyone else because I know better than any of you reading the depths of depravity human being are capable of and the damage potential therein.  What I do want to say is that maybe we have the wrong view of sexual abuse and that it is a huge disservice to victims everywhere.  I say sexual abuse and the average person thinks of a disgusting pedophile that drives up in a black van and offers a kid candy to get in the back so he can viciously rape them, which I am sure happens but it is definitely the exception to the rule.  Most people in my generation got that stupid idea from the stranger danger campaign that taught us to watch out for creepy guys on the playground looking for a lost puppy.  The truth is it is fathers whose number one job is to love, nurture, and care for a beautiful defenseless child but instead use their position of power and authority to terrorize their little girl every time mom goes to the store.  It's the cousin, the family friend, the uncle, the grandfather who tries a little more and a little more usually because they were abused and think it is normal.  It's the who slaps his 12 year old son on the back with a smile and hands him a stack of Playboys, or the parents who watch graphic nudity and sex scenes or even porn with their kids in the room assuming they are too young to know what is really going on or that it will be over in just a minute.  It's the boyfriend in the back seat of the car that pushes past the "no" because she's had a few beers and doesn't really know what she wants.  It's the little boy who goes off to Christian summer camp and has another camper or even a counselor do things to him that feel good in the moment but feel dirty and disgusting and confused afterwards.

This post was basically to expand what sexual abuse is so that people can begin to see wounds that may need healing, as well as maybe to better protect your kids from the real dangers out there.  Stats are fuzzy as it is something no one talks about and few people admit to, but most estimates say one in four women will be sexually abused at some point in their life and one in five men will be, so next time you are in the mall or at church and you realize there are easily a hundred people you'll pass that have been sexually abused you won't feel so alone.  Next post I'll lay out how sexual abuse affects people on into adulthood so that you can know what needs to be done to heal and reclaim what was stolen and damaged.

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