The following is an interview I recently did with fellow male survivor, Brian Cardoza. When I asked Brian to begin telling me his story, he said something that rang true to me, and I believe those of you who’ve been through a similar trauma will appreciate it…he said,
“It’s not the easiest thing to do, to intentionally recall the trauma of 20-30 plus years ago.”
Brian went on to say the abuse started after his father left the family. When he got home with his mom he went to his dad’s room (the parents were separated at the time and sleeping in separate rooms) He recalled the absence of his father in this way.
“There was not even the memory of a cigarette.”
His mom told him, “The reason he left is because you couldn’t make him love this family.”
This was the beginning of the abuse.
The emotional abuse progressed into physical abuse. And when he thought it couldn’t get any worse, he began being sexually abused. His brother’s best friend raped him. It occurred not just with the brother’s permission, but with his encouragement and instruction. It started at the fragile age of 6 and continued until around age 9.
The physical abuse only ended at 12 because that’s when Brian’s growth spurt began. As Brian told me, it only stopped because I became “too big” for them to “hurt” me.
And then, on December 14, 1989, he was thrown out of the house. This was in Anchorage Alaska. And on that first night, he almost froze to death. So, began struggles of other kinds.
D.P. What challenges do you feel are unique to male survivors of sexual abuse?
B.C. I think there are very few things that are unique to male survivors. Trauma is human-centric, not gender specific. I have never met a woman who didn’t experience the first 10-12 things that I have, guilt, denial, anger, etc.
What I do think is inherently unique, or maybe the biggest difference between male and female victims of sexual abuse is it causes a man to question himself about a fundamental issue. A person’s sexuality is core to who they are, and when a boy is sexually abused by a man, it almost always causes him to ask the question, “Am I gay?”
I have talked to many male survivors, and I’ve never met one who didn’t ask the question, “does this make me gay”. And this questioning of sexuality causes so many struggles.
They may have never had any proclivities to men prior to the abuse. They may have never had any inkling about homosexuality. But after the abuse occurs, that’s the first question they begin to ask themselves.
Especially with certain societal norms, if the abuse was perpetrated by man, it can make a guy ask himself, “Can you still call yourself a man?”
D.P. Based on that last statement let me ask you a follow-up to that; What challenges have you faced with masculinity?
B.C. I’ve said this ad nauseam; if a friend of mine drank 10 beers, I had to drink 20. If a friend of mine had a 1-night stand, I had to have 12.
I had to be “Hyper-Male”. I had to be THE Man.
I know now, through therapy and introspection, that attitude came from being thrown on that bean bag. (this is a reference to being raped by his brother’s friend) Now I realize that to prove my manhood is idiotic. I was born a man, I am a man and that’s just the way it is. I don’t need to “prove” anything.
That’s part of why it is hard for men to come forward. To admit that a man raped you makes them feel somehow less than a man.
From the time I was in preschool on, my mom would read to us stories like Tarzan and Conan, iterating to us that real men took what they wanted. Real men didn’t get hurt emotionally. Real men wouldn’t allow these kinds of things to happen.
And when they DID happen, I had nowhere to go.
Because my abuse started so early, I didn’t realize I was being abused. To me, it was just Tuesday.
D.P. What has helped you the most in the process of your healing?
B.C. Ironically is was an argument I got into with a girlfriend. It came at a point in my life when I thought I was at my best. I believed I was in a perfect relationship. I was in the best shape of my life. Everything was just as I thought I wanted it. And then, one day, she picks a fight with me.
What I actually was; emotionally numb and passionless. She screams at me, “you have no passion, you have nothing you give.” And with no emotion I replied, “yep”.
That language stuck with me and I started on a 2-day bender. So, I started asking myself. Why am I in love with the things that have made me numb? Why can’t I connect with this beautiful woman?
I finally acknowledged to myself, this may have started because I was raped.
So, I called the Boston area rape crisis center and thankfully they made me an appointment to start therapy. My catalyst for doing this was being introspective enough to look at what my girlfriend was saying to me and realizing there was a direct correlation to what happened in my childhood. When I began therapy, a lot of the extraneous stuff started to go away.
It also taught me you can never find the solution to a problem when you are in the middle of it.
D.P. If there was one thing you could say to a young boy who is currently being abused, or an adult who hasn’t told anyone yet?
B.C. When I am open, up-front and compassionate with what happened to me, all I really do is “shut-up”. What I mean by that is, times where I have spoken with someone, when someone is about to reveal something to me, the feel of the room changes, their demeanor changes, and then I “shut-up” (be quiet) and let them decide what they want to do. I have found that to be the most successful. The first thing I do when someone reveals their abuse, is I thank them. I thank them profusely and profoundly. Because they need to know what they have just done is the very first step in their own healing.
So, when it comes to someone coming forward, be quiet and allow a survivor to tell whatever it is they need to say. Listen to understand, not just waiting to reply.
D.P. You’ve written a book. Why did you decide to write it and what did you hope to accomplish?
B.C. To give solace to myself. I read the story of another survivor and thought, I didn’t have it “as bad” as they did. I figured if I think this way, then there’s a kid out there who might hear mine and be able to say to themselves, I can get through what I’m going through too.
I know most of us are guilty of comparing and we shouldn’t do it to ourselves, but we do.
Ultimately, I needed to put it to bed myself. I needed to get it out. That’s why I paint and have other artistic outlets, they allow me to express how I’m feeling rather than mull over in my head.
D.P. Is there anything we haven’t covered you would like to share?
B.C. 1 Major and 1 Minor:
Major – The minute you come out and admit that you were sexually abused, make sure you find a trauma trained therapist. I also tell everyone this, there are times that this is going to suck. There will be days when you don’t want to get out of bed. There will be days when you want to drink it away again. But what I know, is if you get out of bed, if you put the bottle down, all of it will be worth it.
Minor – There are people out there who have decided their privacy is not as important as helping other survivors. If those of who have given away our privacy can help them, then we have done what we set out to do.
Thank you, Brian, for your honest and frank discussion on this important topic. Below you will find links to Brian’s work and advocacy.
Survivor Knights Philadelphia Art Show and Performance
(Art showing University of Pennsylvania, May 25th at the Rotunda)
The Bristlecone Project
The Unexpected Victim