Ages and Stages of Recovery---Possible TRIGGERS


Chat Moderator
Staff member
I was in a verbose kind of mood, so sorry if this is long. Be aware that it could potentially be TRIGGERING.

I don't mean this to be a clinical discussion of the stages of recovery. Rather, I'm thinking back to the ways I dealt with CSA through the years. What I encountered does match up with Judith Herman's 1992 book Stages of Recovery fairly well. Still, everyone's experience is different.

Keep Playing Those Mind Games

Since "it" happened at 13, I was right in that awkward phase of early adolescence when any threat of a blemish on my ethos was enough to shut me up. Going to my parents and then to the police was a case of "what would the neighbors think?" writ large. I just couldn't do it. I was embarrassed, angry, and thoroughly confused. I had several good opportunities to tell my parents soon after it happened, but I let each one evaporate. As I put more time between myself and the camp, I began to doubt the significance of what happened. The immediate trauma faded, but my anger did not. As the anger built, I acted out and once again thought of telling my parents, but months--almost a year had passed. I played mind games with myself. There was no winner.

Maybe if I hadn't…
Did he like me because he thought I was gay?
If only…
Was it really that big of a deal?

If I found myself seething with anger, I tended to head toward the last choice. Was it really that big of a deal? Of course it was, he r*p*d a 13 year old boy. "It was just once and he had been really nice." "Nothing like that has happened again."

Okay, I'll warm up this pizza in the microwave. If I can start the microwave, run to the bathroom, wash my hands and touch it before it stops, it's no big deal.

Shit, I made it to the kitchen, is that close enough?
I'll flip a coin.
Best two out of three.

I'll settle this once and for all in the pool. If I can swim faster times in all strokes, I can forget the whole thing.

Okay, how about just the butterfly?

Seriously. That's what I did.
Years passed and covered "it" like the different strata of an archeological site. Indeed, that's just what it was…buried and silent like the dead at Pompeii. Or was it? Like a bad movie script, the villain wasn't dead. It was there. He was there. Nothing I did. No game I played. No event I swam could make "it" go away. It was indelible.

I saw a shrink who increased my prescription for Ritalin. To be sure, I DID increase my focus. I left for boarding school and really found myself in a good environment-one that required all my attention. I was a Ritalin Kid and needed every miligram of it. Still, those mind games continued…after graduating, I hit the Appalachian eager to leave something behind as I was to reach Maine.

In college, I met new people. I even convinced a few girls to go out with me….and I didn't have a clue how to act. I was afraid any normal, healthy move would make me look like a perp. More mind games.

Whew! Glad it was no big deal.

ADD Isn't Easy as 1-2-3

Post-college found me mired in indecisiveness. The ADD kid was all grown up. I got a job, but felt like it wasn't what I wanted to do. I watched my other "normal" friends move on to what i thought were bigger and better things. I had recurring dreams about missing a flight because I couldn't find my shoes. I ran down the tarmac barefoot, shoes in hand while the plane taxied out. I could see my friends onboard laughing as I struggled to---or even thought I could catch a 737 running. Barefoot. I did things I shouldn't have. I was stuck in a moment.

Impulsive, you are my middle name. I was supremely unhappy. Part of it was the usual "quarter life crisis' stuff you read about once in a while. With me it went deeper than that--perhaps to something buried and semi-forgotten. After two years at a decent, but hated job I'd had enough. I wanted to chuck it all and either take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) and study law, or run off to Alaska like that McCandless kid from down the road did.

Or neither.

I turned in my notice, quit my job and moved in with my parents while I sorted through a lot of stuff. Truthfully, I made a decent living for six months while there. I mowed the grass and kept up two rental houses my dad owned. The stress of a job I hated was gone and I just had the stress of finding something to do for the rest of my life. I took the LSAT and filled out applications to places like Emory, U of Ga, U of Texas, UNC…" When I could not come up with a compelling way to answer the question on the Texas application as to why I wanted to attend law school, I tore them all up.

At dinner that night, my parents asked how the applications were coming. I told them that at 4 pm that afternoon, I fed each of them through the shredder. They both said nothing for a l o n g time. Finally, dad said, "Is there something you need to tell us?"

Why yes. Yes there is. When I was 13, a camp counselor ra*ed me. Yup. No big deal. I'm fine. I have a closet full of swim medals, wanna see them?

Of course I didn't really say that. I was in my mid-20s and that was water under the bridge or over the dam right?

Games People Play: Insert Quarter for More Play

Then something odd and unexpected happened. One day after yet another afternoon of mowing grass, I came inside and for some reason looked through a box of of my college stuff. Inside was an old course catalog. I opened it to the Department of Geography. I read the course descriptions and longed to be back in academia. I had a minor in geography and forgot how much I loved it. At the time, it never occurred to me that I could major in it---or even get a graduate degree in it. I looked online and saw that a professor I had really liked had a new position at an in-state institution. On a lark, I called his number. The guy answered on the first ring and caught me off guard. I introduced myself and asked about graduate school. Amazingly, he actually remembered who I was and what he said next changed my entire direction in life.

"It's a good thing you called. I just found out I have funding for a graduate assistant. It waives tuition and pays a stipend if you're interested."

Sign me up.

I moved out of my parents' house and for the next two years, I studied something I really enjoyed and didn't have to worry (too) much about paying the bills. I got into urban planning, economic development, and map making--things I had long had an interest in, but were lost along the way to becoming an adult. For the first time in years, I felt like I might have been able to put the negativity behind me. Perhaps, the CSA was really, "no big deal." I had a lot of things going in the right direction. I even got a job doing something I enjoyed and had zero student loans. I was 28 years old. It was about time.

It was about time to find someone else in my life. All this time, I had but maybe two romantic relationships. I never could get comfortable asking girls/women out. I thought too much about it and too much thought disturbed things deeply hidden. Once again I fell into old habits of dwelling on things long past, but still happening. I was closing out my 20s angry and bitter-always showing up at family functions as the lone wolf, too busy or too cool to care about having a girlfriend. What else was new?

Who's That Girl?

In the summer of 2000, I got a call from my mom asking if I would be attending a large family gathering/cookout on July 4th. I accepted…and had no idea how that cookout would change my trajectory yet again. My aunt asked one of her colleagues to go with her. This "colleague" just so happened to be a woman my age who just happened to be single. We ended up talking the whole evening---knowing that if the whole thing was a "set up" date, it was a damn fine one. Neither one of us was looking to date, but this woman understood me in ways no one else did. I realized that she was the first woman I had to be with. That had never happened before. She made all other "girlfriends" seem so petty. More importantly, she felt the same way toward me.

Once again, the bad stuff receded until it damn near resurfaced and wrecked everything. After dating for a month or so, we had dinner out one night. Afterwards, we went back to her house and had a few glasses of wine. After an awkward make out session, she point blank came onto me and took charge of our encounter. Old thoughts erupted like Vesuvius. I pushed her away and drove home. It was so awkward, but such an automatic response. I was on autopilot. I turned down certain sex and left her confused. She wondered if I was gay, or if it was her. It was neither, but only I knew that.

I'd say that in most situations, that would be the end of the relationship. I am so, so, so very lucky that this woman was persistent. She still took my phone call a day later. She listened to a half-assed explanation and assured me it was fine. I steeled my nerves and asked her to dinner again the following week-at my house. She accepted. As much as I dreaded seeing her again after the previous date, I held to it--and she did too. Going against the way I had conducted myself for the last 15 years, I re-buried "it" and threw caution to the wind. We had a great time and did what most horny couples would do. Oddly, on my on turf, I was more confident. For a long time, that's how things went. My turf=good. Her house=bad. CSA methinks?

We continued to date. As I got to know her even more, I realized I had stumbled on a woman who just might understand me better than anyone else could. She was truly an amazing find. After a while, she wasn't "some girl I was dating." She was my girlfriend. Later she became my fiancé and eventually my wife. "It" was well-hidden. I thought.

We have been happily married for now almost 14 years. We went through selling two houses and buying a new one, a miscarriage, and normal newlywed stuff. We now have two great kids.

Hidden? No, not quite. Several things conspired to uncover "it."

Here Comes The Rain Again

First, I was seeing a resurgence of ADD, an old nemesis. I hadn't taken Ritalin or Adderall since early in college. Second, having kids made me acutely aware of the dangers in the world at large. Third, the Boy Scouts and Jerry Sandusky. What else can I say about that? It was all over the news media. Like a dumb ass, I read the inane comments left by pinheads who had no idea what they were talking about. Yes, someone on the internet was wrong and I took it personally. After reading a particularly disturbing item from the Scout files, I saw a comment on a news website that sent me through the roof. The so-called expert didn't imply, but explicitly said that female victims were salvageable, but male victims were damaged goods who would likely become offenders themselves. I was in a hotel room on a business trip when I read this. Some time after I got back home, I went to my parents' house and looked through old pictures…drawing a mental line between "before" and "after." I pulled old journals from my attic and did the same thing. I became obsessed and increasingly angry at the uninformed comment, and with what happened to me in particular. I was furious and no one knew why.

Digging in the Dirt (Uncovering Pompeii)

After several near-starts, my wife and I had a long discussion about abuse in general, I came so very close to revealing it in that conversation, but there was that old wall. We went to bed around midnight. By 2 AM, I was still wide awake and beside myself. I woke her up and tearfully told her what happened. She grabbed me and held on saying everything was okay. I cried, she cried and we both finally fell asleep. The next day, she told me she had read between the lines and thought something happened when I was a kid. She said she supported me and wanted me to find a counselor post haste. Not once did she act like I was damaged. Her only frame of reference was sexual harassment at work by a supposed "pillar of the community." She was about 24 and new on the job. She knew the uphill climb to reveal what the creep had tried. Her misfortune became my greatest asset in a perverse way.

I found a good therapist, joined MS, and finally began the process of safely and carefully exhuming the past. I worked up the nerve to tell my parents. I met another victim of the same perp that I knew back at the camp and finally told a long-time childhood friend. Generally, I have had nothing but positive responses. I have no idea what these people may think privately, but I don't dwell on that. I'm taking everybody at their word. There's no reason not to. Do I have moments?


Do I get over them?

Yeah. The more I've talked and journaled about this stuff---mine in particular (I can still get really broken up by what happened to other kids), the less power it has over me. Call it inoculation or burn-out, I'm ready to leave it behind. Summer is here and it's time to get in the pool. Maybe I can shed some time in the 100 yard butterfly.

I know I can.



This is a wonderful piece of writing. The truth and the emotion are gut wrenching. I admire the talent it took to write this, more more so, the moral courage it took to post this, knowing that you are exposing your vulnerabilities to the world.

Congrats on writing this. Thank you for writing this. You are a leader amongst survivors. The act of telling your story is shows that healing is possible, but you have also shown how to achieve healing.

You are a light in the darkness, and a beacon for all survivors, leading us to a better place. Thanks Will.



Will, thank you for sharing this essay. Dave was correct to state that "You are a leader amongst survivors." The whole piece was very moving, and I am honored to know you as we chat in the lounge.


Will -

this is so good. thank you for sharing it. congratulations on coming so far.



Chat Moderator
Staff member
Dave, Nick, and Lee:

Being alone with one's thoughts can be liberating and it can be suffocating. When the latter happens, I tend to hyperfocus on expressing them. When I'm passionate about something, I tend to talk or write volumes about it. The calendar and the feeling in my core tells me an old anniversary date is coming soon.

Journaling is a longtime activity that is very therapeutic for me. If I happen to post these very personal thoughts or rants in a thread, I never can anticipate the reaction to them.

In this case, what can I say about your kind words?

"Thank you."

I'm genuinely honored and humbled by what each of you had to say.
May we all continue to heal, survive, and thrive.

Last edited by a moderator:

Thinking about you, brother. Hope you're hanging in there.

Thank you for writing this, I can relate in so many ways, I too was 13 when "it" happened and I too have struggled mightly with is it a big deal? I have those ADD symptoms as well and was taking ritalin and other drugs. Unfortunatley for me, things didn't turn out as good, I was and am still unable to get up any nerve to have a relationship let alone marry and have kids. With my 36th birthday rapidly approaching within weeks, my life is still on hold from when I was 13 (I'd had some problems prior to the abuse but as I recall I was doing better until I was struck down again by CSA). I wish you the best, even though you are still effected by the abuse and are still recovering, be proud of what you have accomplished, it doesn't always turn out that way.



Chat Moderator
Staff member
On MS, many times I've been asked how I was able to make things "work" by being able to marry and have kids.

I've not had a good answer other than maybe lighting strikes twice. The abuse seems like such a damn random run of awful luck...just as meeting the woman who understood me enough to put up with my quirks was a random if not amazingly helpful occurrence.

I feel like any small alteration in something I did in the past could have quite possibly allowed me to avoid that fate. Trouble is, I could have easily missed meeting my wife. Taking the cosmic long-view helped me to get over a real blockade to healing. I can't offer a road map when the roads to follow have yet to be built.

May we all find a path forward.


C. E. (Chase Eric)

Staff member
Will -

I saw this on a link you made from another post, and managed to set aside a block of time to read through it, absorb it. I thank you for sharing, and am grateful for your ability to write it out so eloquently.

There were certain things that just jumped right off the screen with me...

......Did he like me because he thought I was gay? ...

......I began to doubt the significance of what happened....

......The mind games ... If I can start the microwave, to the bathroom, wash my hands and touch it before it stops, it's no big deal....

......I was afraid any normal, healthy move would make me look like a perp.

And yet other things - like the anger - I never experienced and wish I had. It seemed that the abuser in my neighborhood was caught, the parents assumed all the anger for us, and we weren't given much room to process our own emotions. In my case, my abuser owned me, then the parents owned the problem. I never owned any of it - was never given the opportunity to even talk about it. I remember thinking that because I could not feel the anger the parents did, that impugned me even more. And ensured my silence. For years.

Like you, the Sandusky crimes played a big role in bringing me here - especially the "pinheads." From when the story broke and I watched a reporter speak of the "horror" his victims felt, to the loud and obscene tailgate rally outside the courthouse steps when the verdict was announced (I'm quite certain none of the victims were among those hooting and hollering as if their team scored) - I felt compelled to join a group who truly understood, with who I could relate - here at MS.

I don't trust the louder voices who have never been through it. Voices like yours make all the difference for me.