As recovering addicts and/or survivors of childhood sexual abuse, we often compare what we went through to that of others. It’s human nature. We think to ourselves, well what they went through was so much worse than myself, what gives me the right to complain. Or conversely, we look at another and say, oh come on, that’s all? We constantly do this.
I remember sitting in my first few NA rooms, listening to story after story and thinking, I’m not like these folks at all. I’m no crackhead, walking the streets, selling my body for a $10 high. Or I would rationalize, I’ve NEVER shot junk in MY veins or shared a needle with a disease-riddled body. Then one day I heard a story not so different from mine. It’s what therapists and sponsors call “your moment of clarity”. It’s when you finally come to terms with your own addiction and figure out, an addict is an addict is an addict. It doesn’t matter what the drug is, or the background your come from or even what you’ve done to get high. It’s when you acknowledge that you have no control over the drugs that control you.
And being a survivor of CSA is no different. It doesn’t matter who abused you, how often it happened, what they did to you or they made you do to them. A survivor is a survivor is a survivor. One case is not “worse” or “lesser” than another. To illustrate let me share a story a trusted friend told me many years back. He asked me to answer what appeared to be a simple question.
First, a teen about to go on their very first prom date when, BAM! A huge zit appears at the very end of their nose. With no way to conceal and no time to heal, panic and anxiety set in.
Second, a young man has just been told by the Dean, his academics did not pass this semester and will be on probationary suspension for 1 term. How does he begin to explain this one to mom and dad? And did I mention, he’s on scholarship because they have no money to send him to college.
Third, a couple just received a $30,000.00 bill from the IRS. Evidently their CPA was didn’t file properly and no matter what, they are now liable for all monies, plus penalties. No if’s, and’s or but’s about it, they MUST pay and they don’t have enough savings to cover it. And oh yeah, their daughter just came home pregnant from college. Another two mouths to feed and bodies to keep warm and safe inside their home.
So the query is…which one is “worse”?
Being the bright young man I was at the time, I told him, oh this is easy! I’ve already had a “zit moment” that totally embarrassed me in high school. He or she will eventually forget all about that nonsense! As for the young man in school, I could relate. Got into some trouble in college and had to “sit out” a semester myself. No biggie! I went to Florida for that term, worked for my dad and when I’d “done my time and penance”, I reenrolled, finished up and graduated from the University! So the answer was clear, the couple with the 30k debt to the IRS. What a horrible position to be in. With no foreseeable way to pay, with a child and a grandchild returning “home” in need of mom and dads support, both emotionally and financially. This was a no-brainer.
Turns out, I was the only one with no brain! You see, we each “see” the prism of crisis through our own life experience. If we have already been through an event, we understand what lies on the other side. What potential outcomes there may be. Even what variety of options are available to us. But to each and every one of those folks, the situation before them was the “worst” they had ever faced at that point in their lives. With NO idea of how they were going to get through it. It’s truly relative when it comes to situational crisis. There is no such thing as a “bigger or lesser” problem. To whomever is going through what they are going through, at that moment, it’s the biggest challenge they’ve had to face.
So keep this in mind when working with others or when addressing your own struggles. Remember to be compassionate to those around you. And don’t forget to give yourself a break too. We all need some sympathy and empathy in our times of trials and tribulation.
One hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove…but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child. –Anonymous
Copyright © 2013 Together We Heal
May 29, 2013 at 7:20 pm
A friend of mine was the one who got me able to talk about my own experience by sharing hers. I felt guilty that my abuse was “incidences of only single assaults” when she had gone through years of abuse. She told me about a glass. “It doesn’t matter if the glass is knocked off of the table and falls to the floor or if it’s thrown against the wall – the glass is still broken and it will never be the same.” She let me see that we are all just broken glasses.
May 29, 2013 at 7:22 pm
I often tell survivors that are just starting on their healing journey to not compare their pain to my pain or anyone else’s. It doesn’t matter who the pain belongs to or what caused it, pain hurts. Depth and degree depends upon our individual reactions to the pain.
Yes, we do filter all that we see and hear by our own previous experiences. That is why so many people that are not survivors themselves just cannot relate to how we feel and to how we think. They don’t have our experiences to judge things by. They can feel compassion for us but they can’t feel empathy for us if they haven’t experienced what we have. That lack of empathy is why they can so easily tell us to just “get over it”, or “just let it go”. Most people that say those words don’t know how cruel they sound to us.
May 30, 2013 at 2:21 pm
I used to compare when I was in a group. But eventually, I realized that everyone’s pain and story is theirs and theirs alone. You really can’t walk in their shoes to see whether their abuse or yours was worse. Everyone has their own depth of pain-it is personal and only those with empathy can understand, but it is still one’s own. Abuse damages us all in some way but it’s what we do to heal that really matters. Hurt is hurt.
May 31, 2013 at 10:42 am
I belong to a support group, NAMI-Paducah. This is National Alliance on Mental Illness. One of our group guidelines is “We never view someone else’s pain as less than our own.” I have family members with a mental illness and I am survivor of domestic violence. I work as a victim advocate and see cases, that I consider, a lot worse than mine was. I also come in contact with people whose mental health struggles are seemingly worse than mine. BUT, my experiences have been and are mentally and physically debilitating. As are your experiences. We have to keep striving to rise above our past or the stigma of an illness. Pain is pain. I tell those in NAMI, we don’t have a magic solution or a magic pill…but we understand what you are feeling and we will walk through it together.” When someone helps you carry a heavy load, it is still heavy but it is lightened.
June 1, 2013 at 12:18 am
Hey Balinda, I agree completely that helping each other lightens the load for all. If there’s anything we can do here at TWH, please let me know if we can help. As I’ve told so many, we chose our name for a reason….we are here to help each other heal…together…
Peace be with you.
May 31, 2013 at 2:20 pm
Bad post. CSA and incest survivors are always being told to feel sorry for people who can’t handle hearing that these crimes exist. They are always being expected to censor themselves and remain silent in consideration for others who don’t want to know they exist. They don’t need to be told yet again that they are selfish. You fail.
May 31, 2013 at 6:03 pm
Hi Stephan, clearly there was a miscommunication between us here. At NO point have I EVER told a survivor NOT to speak out. As a survivor of CSA I know it is essential to speak out about what happened to me, as it is for all others. I’m not sure why this was interpreted this way. Please let me know what language I used that made you feel this way so I can correct it in the future.
May 31, 2013 at 6:27 pm
I failed actually, I suppose. I apologize. I’m overly touchy because I have so many times been told that I should be silent for the sake of other people, not because they are severely hurt in some way but simply because they don’t like to hear about something unpleasant. It was your examples that started me off, implying that I should consider the discomfort of someone hearing about sexual abuse, because in the light of that person’s (few) experiences this might be equal to the sexual abuse itself.
May 31, 2013 at 6:46 pm
Please know you never have to apologize here at “Together We Heal”. Our name is what it is for a reason. I started this foundation to create a place where all survivors could come, feel safe, share without judgement and know they are not alone. And that includes when you may not agree with what is said.
That’s why I asked you to let me know what caused you to feel the way you did. So you would know I care and this organization cares. Don’t ever hesitate to express your feelings. Even when you are angry, and even if it’s not at me. 🙂 like I said, that’s why we are here, to heal…together.
And may we all find the peace we deserve from what we’ve been through.
May 31, 2013 at 2:33 pm
As a former law enforcement officer I worked on many crimes against children cases. I was always concerned when a suspect would state during interrogation that as a youth, he was a victim of child abuse, as if that fact was mitigatory for his crimes. I never believed that past victimization was justification for the present offense. I knew that most victims do not subsequently abuse.
I would like to hear from past victims to know their opinions of suspects who offer their (alleged) past victimization as a justification for their offense.
Dr. Frank Kardasz (Ed.D.)
Arizona ICAC Task Force Cmndr. (ret.)
Cyberspace Child Protection Campaign -Director
May 31, 2013 at 6:12 pm
Hello Dr. Kardasz, thank you for your input. Having been a survivor who abused narcotics in an attempt to numb my pain, that subsequently led to arrests and jail time, I can tell you that it does happen. However, one does not justify another, it merely explains it. I still had to take responsibility for my actions and suffer the consequences. I am one of the lucky ones though. I had a supportive family help me get clean, which enabled me to face my abuse from a sober mind and spirit. How many more are not so blessed. Who have no support system and become a part of the revolving door in the justice system, setup not to rehabilitate but to keep itself going. I think we both wish there were a better solution than what currently exists because what we are doing now is not working for the majority of survivors of CSA. Or for that matter, even those with addiction issues unrelated to CSA that become convicted felons due to possession charges. It’s my hope by shedding light on the relationship between CSA and addiction that positive changes are made. Your thoughts?
June 23, 2013 at 10:39 pm
Although yes its true that most abusive adult were abused as children…There is NO excuse. Many of us were abused as children and never have hurt or abused another person or child.
Having been abused as the reason for abusing ?statistically maybe in some cases….But as an excuse. NEVER.
June 23, 2013 at 10:42 pm
Hi Pamela, I agree with you 100% I’m not sure if you mistook something I said for excusing pedophiles so let me make this perfectly clear….there is NO EXCUSE for anyone abusing a child in any way at any time for any reason. Hope I cleared up any misunderstandings.
June 23, 2013 at 10:47 pm
And actually I never said that most abusers were abused. Maybe someone commented to that, but my understanding of the research is that the numbers are about 50% of abusers were abused, not the majority.
June 23, 2013 at 10:43 pm
I highly recommend you read “The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog” by Bruce Perry PHD and his site childtrauma.org
June 23, 2013 at 10:49 pm
I will be sure to take a look at your suggested reading. Thank you.
June 23, 2013 at 11:05 pm
Hey Pamela, I didn’t realize you were talking about Justin’s story. I have actually read it already. A remarkable story of the human spirit, and how with some care and empathy, wonders can be seen and realized. Just as those who are physically/emotionally abused like Justin, so to can survivors of CSA realize healing in their own lives. I am one such person. It’s the very reason why I started this foundation, to help my fellow survivors begin on a healing path and finally have some sort of life they were robbed of by a sexual predator. Please keep sharing with others stories such as Justin’s so more can know two important things….1) they are not alone and 2) hope and healing are available to them. That’s what TWH is here for.
June 1, 2013 at 9:27 am
If you have accepted how much pain you have experienced during the abuse and the healingprocess in my opinion you cannot abuse another person and certainly not children.
Abused abusers are victimizing people that don’ t have anything to do with their unhealed past.
The first thought of wanting to hurt another should already warn them to seek help.
Sometimes people are so disturbed that an unexpected situation triggers uncontrolled and hidden emotions but still they have a choice to leave that situation or to be the abuser.
The denial of any responsability is only showing that they feel and act like powerless victims.
Not every one is capable of healing themselves but they still have their responsability and being convicted can enraged them further or start their healing process.
June 1, 2013 at 4:30 pm
Abusers use their abuse history to abuse others. Our prisons are filled with abused men and women. Those who don’t offer their abuse as an excuse often are identified with and protecting their offender. Abusers are so often abused themselves that it is one more reason to work at stopping violence against children.
Thanks for creating this site, David.
June 1, 2013 at 4:40 pm
And thank you Renee for your insight and input. We are currently building a full website that will provide many more resources to help educate, raise awareness and supply support mechanisms for survivors of CSA. We are just a few weeks away so stay tuned! I will be sure to let everyone know when we go “live” with it.
And we will continue the blog and all of our writing, we will just have even more “stuff” to help! 🙂
Peace be with you.
June 24, 2013 at 11:15 pm
Oh NO..I was answering to the law enforcement about the comment as to how we feel about people using their abuse as to why they abuse…Sorry for the misunderstanding I was replying to that comment. But I do highly recommend that book and the website childtrauma.org
June 24, 2013 at 11:23 pm
No worries. 🙂 that’s why I take the time to read ALL of the comments here on TWH. I want to make sure everyone is heard and understood. Just like earlier when someone disagreed with a point I made. I don’t claim to know everything, only to believe what I believe and to make this a safe place for survivors of CSA. I’m so glad we were able to clear up the miscommunication! 🙂
June 13, 2013 at 1:37 am
I can honestly say, if you’re male and have CSA, there’s little support out there for you (more like none except in large cities), including among “therapists”, My therapists, quite a few, just lied left and right to me about their qualifications so they could get a big check from my great insurance and/or me. Three even told me I was hopeless and would always be alone. I’m 44 and am alone, broke, etc. I see all that is wrong with me. I have CSA, physical, emotional and spiritual abuse from childhood. It was pure hell. And, no one to talk to that sticks around longer than 5 minutes if that. Society just doesn’t want to hear our abuse stories.
I’m glad you have the blog, but, for men like me without means to afford expensive therapy, we pretty much are hopeless cases. I’m an emotional cripple that has lived as a robot most of my life. I’m glad those guys went on Oprah a few years ago, but let’s face it, they had the means to afford those private, $500+ an hour, cash only shrinks to help them. I’m glad they had those opportunities, but it doesn’t help the average guy much save to say, you’re not alone.
Most of us males know we’re not alone. We just don’t have a clue how to fix our broken lives. Books on it promises lots of things, describes why we are broken then says, “she a shrink to get fixed” all too often. How the hell do you afford them (if you can find them to begin with)? How much I’d love to shove a few of those books up those shrinks’ pompous behinds you have no idea. I won’t buy another book even if I could buy it as a result. Men are considered expendable all too often.
Without professional help and the means to pay for it, I don’t see myself getting much further and continuing to read countless websites just leaves me frustrated looking for ways to fix me. Are people like me hopeless in our circumstances?
June 13, 2013 at 1:49 am
You are right, without professional help…actual professionals, not the aholes u were dealing with, it’s ridiculously challenging beyond words. Which is part of the reason I started this foundation. We offer counseling at no charge. If you will email me at email@example.com or call me at 754.234.7975 I will give u more details. No catch and fully vetted, professional therapists work with us. I’m glad you found us and I will do all I can to help.
You will never be asked to pay one penny. You’ve made it this far so let’s see if we can help. We are fellow survivors and I don’t want anyone to not be able to get therapy because they can’t afford it or no insurance.
And to anyone else reading this, if u need help also, contact me. And if you are one of our donors, this is why your dollars help.
June 24, 2013 at 3:55 am
You’re better off without ‘professionals’ altogether. ‘Professionals’ assume they are somehow superior to you, even though many of them have never even had CSA and therefore cannot possibly be any good at all, and they actually want to get paid for this. Think about the premise of superiority in the therapist-client relationship. David, of course, is different. He has been through similar experiences, offers help as someone healing with you and asks for nothing in return – I think you’ve come to the right place.
June 24, 2013 at 4:00 am
That was very kind of you to say and I appreciate your kind words. I do try to help as best I can. I believe that’s all any of us can do if we choose to. Peace be with u.