That’s Just What Men Do

 

Photo Courtesy of Caroline Hernandez, Splasher

“Well, Bobbie, that’s just what men do,” she said to me tenderly. “My uncle did that to me too.”

My eyes grew large as I looked at her and said, “No. That is not what men do.”

The discussion was about her granddaughter. Her granddaughter who had been sexually abused by her son. She was able to accept this as the way things were. I cried. I cried for hours. I couldn’t stop. You see, I didn’t want to believe he could do this. But if his mother thought he could, well, then, I knew he did. Later years he finally admitted to me that his niece’s accusations were, in fact, all true.

I shed tears that day for her, her granddaughter and for myself.

Triggers Show Up Out of Nowhere

I was in my early 20s and suddenly on that day a flood of memories hit me. I remembered the abuse I suffered at just four years old and again at 11 by a trusted family member. I wept for myself and the little girl I had been. For the toddler who was terrified and shocked and the pre-teen who was ashamed and embarrassed that anyone would touch her “there.” I wept for the teen I grew to be that developed breasts too late and was teased. I wept for the teen whose breasts ended up being larger than everyone else’s. I wept for the girl whose breasts were always a subject of discussion, whose breasts got touched “accidentally” by doctors, teachers and even church members. The breasts that boys bragged about touching even if they didn’t. This woman sparked memories in me that I had hidden so deep I thought they were buried. The flood gates opened.

I tried to self-destruct. I tried to run from the memories. I was trying to drown the memories so I could put them back where they belonged. I punished myself for the action of others. Indelible in the hippocampus was the shame I felt so many years ago (sorry, couldn’t resist—it is such a good line).

Forgiveness Heals

During my entire adulthood I rarely spoke of these incidents. My sister, my best friend and my husband were aware of the details. That is all. Then as I was working Step Four with my sponsor, I wrote out my resentments. So many names on my list referred to the men in my life who had sexually abused me. I wrote out the names, I wrote out the incidents and I just let it all sit there for a few weeks. As I was working Step Five, I spoke of these incidents to my sponsor. She listened. She nodded. She was gentle and reassured me I had no part in these resentments. We went to her burn pit and lit them on fire. I was free of the incidents that had haunted me for the first time in my life. They no longer took up space in my head and my soul.

When You Know Better, Do Better

I truly don’t believe that anyone thought they were hurting anything when they hurt me. I have come to believe that they were doing the best they could with what they had. “That’s just what men do” came from a woman who came from a generation that believed that. I am not saying this to excuse the behavior. I am saying this because this is how I am able to forgive. We are getting better. We are raising our sons to do better. We are teaching our daughters not to be silent. I have wondered, with recent headlines, what would happen if we all spoke up and named names? How different would our world look? I know that I don’t have the guts to do this. I know that I am okay and even better than okay most days. I truly don’t have it in me to destroy families by speaking up. I’m okay with that. Just as I am okay with the women that want to speak up after so many years and tell their story. I will stand up with them.

Triggers Can Go Both Ways

What I really hope is that my abusers remember what they did. That these headlines have triggered memories in them that they are finding difficult to live with. I don’t need an apology. I would love, however, some living amends to be made on my behalf. I want all of our daughters to feel safe in safe places. There are terrible people out there, for sure. But, there are places the terrible people are not supposed to be. Your home, your church, your school and your doctor’s office to name a few.

I hope that they see the hurt and feel the pain and stand up and say, “This is NOT what men do.”

How Do I Keep It Away From My Family?

Since I began “recovering out loud” and sharing how addiction has affected my family this is the number one question I receive. “How do I keep my children from going down this path?”

I mean, you’re asking me? I obviously failed and I have my own demons I battle. I can tell you what we did. I can tell you the decisions from the past that I have poured over trying to find my own answers. Not sure what the golden ticket is though. Maybe I’m delusional and his childhood sucked. Maybe I let him get away with too much. Maybe I grounded him too often. Maybe not enough.

Do you think I ignored him at crucial times? When I became a parent at the early age of 21 the thought of addiction didn’t enter my head. I had this beautiful red headed baby boy and all I wanted to do was teach him Bible verses and how to play soccer. Two years later and his brother is born. I was ecstatic and in love with my two beautiful boys. And I really couldn’t wait until they played soccer. I loved reading to them. We would read every night before bed. This started at birth and continued until middle school. I read every single Harry Potter book out loud. Twice.

Do you think he had too much time on his hands? “Keep them in sports,” everyone said. “They won’t have time to do anything else.” That was my plan. They played soccer, baseball and hockey. The three of us took Tae Kwon Do together. Eventually summers were so full of baseball we did nothing else. We traveled all over and loved our baseball family. I remember thinking, “no way would they get in trouble, there is no time.” Summers were full of “drive ball” tournaments in our yard. They’d start early and end late. I’d make lunch for the whole group of boys that rode their bikes to our house to play. We’d have brackets and teams and a lot of fun.

Then high school happened. They get to high school and they make time for the bad stuff. When I was in high school I always wanted to push the envelope. Staying inside the lines was never enough for me. I always wanted more. I have passed that trait down to my children it seems. It’s funny when you look at your twelve year old kid and think, “uh oh, he’s just like me.” Only outside the envelope got a lot scarier. I pushed the envelope with drinking and pot and these things called pink hearts (today I think it‘s Adderall). Parties for my sons were prescription drug parties and drinking and pot and ecstasy and parents’ pain killers. It went up a notch and it’s scary.

Keep them in church? I started them out in church. Will say I failed on that one. But I do know that I was raised in church and I still tried everything. I still found a way to push against all the rules. I tried to be the good girl. Other days I tried to be the bad girl. I know of families that can’t understand how addiction got it’s way in and they were/are avid church goers. I believe in prayer — but I’m not sure the answer is just keeping your kids active in church. I was on the Bible quiz team for Pete’s sake. I still found a way to stumble. It definitely can’t hurt. Maybe it gives a kid a little more armor.

Teach them the consequences? I mean — you think I didn’t? You think that they didn’t do the D.A.R.E program at school? We had discussions. Heck, we had discussions about addiction and genetics and the fact that addiction runs in our family. But — we all have that moment where we believe we are invincible and that the bad stuff can’t touch us. We really believe it too. Until it does. Touch us. I mean, why specifically MY son. Why does he have to fight these demons?

He wasn’t alone you know. He didn’t try heroin for the first time by himself. Yet, I watch those kids have families, move on with their lives and have successful careers. While my son just fights for normal every single day.

You think it’s about moral fiber? Strength of character? I’m going to have to call BS on this. He shows so much strength every day that he stays clean. It is effort for him to exist. He has gotten to the point that nothing is comfortable without some form of being altered. He is learning new coping skills. The things we take for granted — breathing for example- are difficult for him. Every. Single. Day.

You think maybe I didn’t spend enough time with my kids? I was always with my kids. Their friends were always at our house. We traveled across the country together. The kid has been in forty something states. I’m sure he thought I was around too much. I was a stay at home mom from the time he was around 9. I played ball with him and his brother. I learned how to roller blade by playing hockey with them. I was always the room mother. The field trip mom. The score keeper. The soccer coach. Pretty sure that all things considered — I spent enough time with him.

He had a pretty decent childhood. He had a lot of family structure. I’m sure this doesn’t make the young parents feel safer. It’s true though. I mean, if you’re looking for blame, the buck stops here, so to speak. I don’t really know what I would go back and change. When I ask him — he tells me nothing I did or could have done would have made a difference. He is one of 4 and he is the one that is genetically predisposed to addiction. I think addiction is like a tornado, hitting one house, leaving the next, just swooping in at will wherever it wants. I guess maybe I needed better storm windows or something.

I think it would be better for anyone looking at us to find flaws with the way he was raised. To see neglect. To see abuse. To see mistakes. To see something that would make them exempt. If I knew what it was, I would tell you. I promise. I see all of the purple ribbons on social media and my heart aches. I wake up every morning and I wonder what the houses look like of the over 150 people who died while I was sleeping of overdose. And my heart aches.

Today looks different than I imagined it would when I held that baby boy with the blue eyes and the curly hair. These days his norm is rehab, work and meetings. It’s okay though. He is still my baby boy and I will fight this beside him as long as he needs me too and as long as he is fighting.