The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on November 11, 2010.
A friend of mine was on Oprah last Friday. He wasn’t one of the people up on stage being interviewed, but he was one of two hundred men flown in to Chicago by the show’s producers to be part of the studio audience in an episode about male sexual assault. Everyone in the audience had been molested as a child, and the Oprah episode opened with a powerful image of the men holding up photos of themselves at the age when their abuse took place or began.
My friend Grant – who gave me permission to write about him and to use his name – was bullied and abused as a child and was the victim of a violent sexual attack as a young man. He recently published Unpinned: Breaking the Hold of Sexual Assault and Abuse, a memoir about his life, his experience, his attempts to heal and recover, and his confrontation years later with the man who violated him.
I had lunch with Grant the day after the Oprah episode aired. He had asked for my feedback and editorial input on his book, and we were getting together to go over my suggestions and some changes he planned to make before the next printing. In addition to talking about the book, we talked about the Oprah episode and about beliefs and misconceptions that exist about male sexual abuse. Among them are beliefs that only women or gay men are victims of sexual assault, and that without treatment many people who are sexually abused are likely to grow up to become abusers themselves.
While the majority of sexual crimes are indeed against women, a surprising number of men – heterosexual as well as gay – are victims of such crimes. Treatment such as therapy certainly plays a vitally important role in recovery, but not so much because victims are at risk of becoming abusers themselves. Instead, they’re at risk of remaining victims. People – of any age, sex, or sexual orientation – who have been molested have been violated and robbed of their dignity and self-respect. Of their health and safety. Of their trust and faith in themselves and in others. These are replaced by fear, shame, anger, and distrust. It is heartbreaking for this to happen to anyone, and devastating for it to happen to children. Without therapy, counseling, understanding and support, many victims are never able to heal, or to get rid of their overpowering feelings of fear, shame, despair and distrust.
One of the things I most admire about my friend Grant is that even though he’s spent his life trying to understand and recover from things that were done to him years ago, his life today is all about helping others. In addition to his book, Unpinned, he’s written a book called CPR for Caregivers, hoping to help caregivers avoid burnout by taking care of themselves while they’re taking care of others. I find it amazing for him to say, even with everything that’s happened to him, that he’s had a good life.
“I’ve had a lot of help and support,” he said. “That makes all the difference.”
He continued on to say that no matter what ordeal any of us may have experienced, being able to talk and to communicate with others is the key to healing and recovery. And although I’ve never gone through anything even remotely similar to what he’s experienced, I certainly agree. I think it would help us all if we could remember this when we’re going through painful circumstances of any kind.
This Friday’s episode of Oprah is going to be a continuation of last week’s subject. The focus will be on the families, spouses, and significant others of men who were sexually assaulted as children. Although it may be difficult and painful to watch, I plan to tune in. I’ll admit that part of the reason is to see if I can spot my friend in the audience. But mostly it’s because I want to learn how to recognize signs of people who might be suffering in silence from an unspeakable horror. I want to know what I can do to help them heal. And I want to applaud the people who are already doing so.
If you would like to know more about Grant and his work, feel free to visit his website: www.grantwatkins.com.
© Betty Liedtke, 2010