Triggers and How to Handle Them

JayBro

Registrant
Hi Everyone!

I wanted to make this particular post for us to discuss what we find triggering from our experiences in child porn and other forms of media-related exploitation and your strategies to managing and reducing them. As I can imagine, there will be many (such as porn, photographs, news stories) that remind us of the abuse and can be quite distressing.

I don't know if I am able to post it here, but there is a post on strategies for dealing with triggering news stories and another one on reducing self-destructing patterns, which may at times include exposing ourselves to potential triggers purposefully.

Via my experiences, here is a short (although by no means comprehensive) list of triggers I experienced related to this form of abuse:

  • certain accents, particularly certain British and American accents
  • the phrase "kiddie porn"- I find that really dehumanizing, degrading, and disrespectful when discussing this topic
  • amateur-style porn that is set up so that the person doesn't know they are being filmed or it is in some other way degrading to the person(s) involved
  • jokes about child abuse, paedophiles and paedophilia, child porn, or rape and sexual abuse generally
  • when people say "but you choose to speak with those people, right?" or "it was just the internet!", "it wasn't in person", "you were a teenager, so it doesn't really count as abuse"
  • certain physical characteristics, like hair, body types, etc that reminded me of my abuse, or married men looking for discrete sex on dating apps/websites
  • stories in the news on child abuse, namely child pornography
  • webcams and private chat forums like Skype, yahoo, and the now dismantled MSN
  • when men on dating apps ask to see nude photos
  • porn that role plays, imitates, or is reminiscent child abuse/child porn
How do I deal with them? Well, for one, I have internalised what my therapist and trusted friends have told me about the abuse and how I was not responsible for it, how these men should have known better, how it is in the past and can't hurt me now, to value my recovery thus far etc. These words I have personalised and logged in my mind so that the moment I feel a potential trigger I can recount and recite them to keep me on the right track. I also remember when I am triggered and then speak about the experience with a friend or write about it here on MaleSurvivor to help process and receive new feedback and support. I have also learnt to avoid exposing myself to potential triggers by saying "hey, slow down, you are only going to further traumatise yourself here!" and quickly finding another item to occupy my mind. I have also learnt to say "no" to something that I don't need to do, such as sending naked photos to a potential date via a dating app or website. If I don't feel comfortable making and sending them over, I simply WON'T do it! It is my body, who the hell is this other guy? I will do with my body what I want. All of this does take practice though, so please be patient with yourself!!!

What are your items and your strategies?
 

SayItRight

Registrant
JayBro said:
... [*]the phrase "kiddie porn"- I find that really dehumanizing, degrading, and disrespectful when discussing this topic
JayBro:
Wasn't planning on participating in this forum, especially as it's public, but I have to say: thanks for taking initiative in it and thanks for this thread.

Your comment about the phrase "kiddie porn," in particular, helped me to feel some support on the issue that I never thought I'd experience.

The pictures part of my abuse was one thing, and not something I want to get into right now. The confusion, trigger, isolation, etc. that I encountered, at about 7 years old, the first time I came across the phrase "kiddie porn," had it explained to me, and understood it to be a way that people ("normal people" and even news magazines) referred to what happened to me were completely another, and were very bad in their own right.

The moment I first encountered the phrase and took it as a judgment on my own experience was such a big deal that I still remember where I was standing when I saw it and had it explained to me; which magazine featured the phrase on the cover; etc. There was a time a couple of years ago that I researched the news magazine cover that mentioned it, to confirm the year that that part of things - hearing and understanding the phrase - which were so shattering to me at the time - took place.

Up until I read your post, I never thought anyone else would or could relate to my feelings about that phrase and always assumed that my reaction to it was (1) just my problem; and (2) not a big enough deal to warrant attention. Now I know otherwise.

For that, and a couple of other reasons, thanks for the post.
 
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JayBro

Registrant
Hey SayItRight!

It is my pleasure to post here on this forum. I thought about what I would have benefitted from and (rightly) assumed that others would also. That's why I requested Male Survivor create this particular message board.

I remember the second person I came forward to about the abuse referred to the crime as "kiddie porn". In addition, when I mentioned that I can't forget some of what I saw during the abuse, she assumed that I meant that I was also looking at that as an adult -- which, of course, I wasn't! Her approach and misunderstanding certainly caused me further harm. I found that many people don't know how to approach the topic, do not listen carefully to what we are telling them (making us repeat certain painful facts over and over, or having to say "NO, I meant....") and by the same token, the words that they use, such as "kiddie porn" to help reduce the weight of the matter for them have devastating consequences for us.

Of course your, mine, and others' s exploitation caused us much harm, but for some reason, many seem to think of it as being "not so bad," somehow removed, and sometimes we are even blamed for what happened. Perfect example, as mine was internet-based, I have often heard "yeah but you yourself went online; you were ___ years old; that's not really abuse!" I have come to realize that such statements really only indicate ignorance on the part of the other and that I should not take them personally.

Your feelings about this harmful phrase are absolutely valid and well-grounded. It is similar to people being offended by others using "retarded" as an insult, or "raped" as a verb to describe defeat, success, etc. Perhaps we can start a movement here by letting people know the seriousness of degrading child pornography by calling it "kiddie porn" and other degrading assumptions and phrases that they have of the topic. You and I are in the right, this abuse happened to us and therefore who else would be more suited to call out the phrase for its inappropriateness? By the same token, who else is best suited to call out harmful racist terms than the people being marginalized and tokenized by them?

I am wishing you a great weekend and much luck in your healing journey. I look forward to seeing you around on this forum!

Nick
 
Hey JayBro,
Thanks for starting this topic. I find that it is hard to separate triggers that occurred in the course of CSA from just those that are outcomes of the child pornography. I think they are so enmeshed at times that I cannot distinguish them. However, there are a few triggers specific to the child pornography aspects.

***Triggers below***

I was groomed and pulled into child pornography by the head coach, and was raped and abused on camera when I was 7-10. As the abuse progressed, he brought other men in to abuse me as well, and sometimes older boys. All of this took place in the back room of the gymnasium during practice times, which were usually 3 hours or so. My abuse was before the internet, so I dont have that aspect of my abuse in the sense that it was tool used in my abuse. It is a tool used to possibly distribute and disseminate my images around to other abusers, so I have issues around it from that perspective.

My list (also not comprehensive (as stuff keeps coming up and I make more connections) are:
  • Bright lights, particularly shining in my face or a bright light in an otherwise dark room. This is particularly true if they are pointed at me, or shining down on me. More triggering is if they are close enough or bright enough to feel heat. This is really triggering because of the pornography capturing the abuse under the lights. I feel like a scared kid in those situations. I get flushed and red and freeze, like a deer in the headlights.
  • A sub-category of this would be flashing lights, particularly like a camera flash, especially if they are going off in rapid succession. At work, we have those flashing lights when the fire or evacuation alarms go off. That is particularly traumatic.
  • Camera or film equipment. Not in the sense of a hand-held camera. Anything like professional level lights, tripods, flash stands, reflecting screens, large old-school professional cameras (both film and photography). It doesnt even have to be that equipment if it looks like that equipment or setup. One time I was laying down and reading on my couch and my partner was fooling around with something. I felt this dread come over, and my face started flushing. I looked over my shoulder and he was putting together a telescope. It was so much like a tripod and camera I had a panic attack. And I wasnt even consciously aware of it.
  • Being the center of attention in a room. This increases based on several variables. One is the type of people. I tend to not like being the focus of attention at all, but it is manageable with friends and family. Where it gets dicey is if I have to be the focus of people I do not know or know just casually. Also, another variable is the size of the room. If the room is really small and there are people I dont know well, and I am the center of attention, I can really be triggered badly.
  • Heat can be a trigger for me. When the abuse occurred it was in a small, badly ventilated room. So hot you would sweat. Add hot lights and flashes to that and everyone was hot and sweaty.
  • Sweat is another trigger. I sweat easily, and cannot stand to sweat. It always makes me feel disgusting and vulnerable and unsafe. Sweat mixed with clothes and bedding is hard.
  • Changing or undressing in front of other people. I cant stand this. Even with my partner, I want to turn out the lights and get undressed in private.
  • Enclosed situations where other men are dressing or undressing around me. Bathrooms, lockers, dressing rooms are really bad. I hate the sound of belts and zippers being undone and done. Another thing is I work in a building with high-level security. Visitors to the building have to go through TSA-level searches. So, often I will be on an elevator with a bunch of strange men tucking in shirts and putting on belts. That is highly triggering to me, because it reminds me of before or after the abuse in front of the cameras, with men getting undressed or dressed.
  • Mirrors can be bad, particular if I am unclothed. Dressing rooms again. I am always convinced there is someone watching me behind the mirror as I undress, and filming it. To the point where paranoia can take over and I think they are filming me.
  • I have a big problem with webcams too. I always tape mine over with electrical tape so it cannot function.
  • Being restrained or tangled in anything. I was bound and gagged at times on camera during the abuse. So, I get panicked if I ever feel I cant move my arms or legs, or cant move my head or mouth. When I was a kid, if I got tackled or someone tried to wrestle with me, I would go into a panic. I cant stand my legs tangled in clothes or sheets or blankets. I always sleep with my feet outside the covers.
  • Feeling like I have done something wrong. You are made to feel complicit in the pornography. My coach showed me porn of myself with him and other men. It was irrefutable evidence of participation, even if now I realize it was forced or coerced. It made me feel like I had done something wrong, not that I was the victim of a crime. So anytime I make a mistake, if it is severe enough, it can send me to that child space.
  • Paranoia. This in itself can be a trigger. I was extremely paranoid as a child that someone would see those pictures of me. They are proof. Then you realize these things are made for other people to see. So your fear takes you to a place where you think of all of these people watching you. Not just watching you, but watching you at the worst and most painful moments of your life. You begin to imagine this big, nebulous unknown or other out there that means you harm and wants you to be hurt. Paranoia can spread like wildfire, so this comes up all the time for me. I dont trust as easily because I knew my images were shared without anything I could do to control it. They still could be. So even if I have minor paranoia, if I dont stop myself I can got to a pretty dark place.
  • Pornography. It is very triggering for me, particularly large gaps in ages and body sizes.
  • Ill echo the term kiddie porn. To me that term always makes it seem like it is not as serious, like it is lite-porn. When in fact the exact opposite is true. It is the most damaging, because of the victims age and circumstance in terms of not being mature enough to give consent.
  • Privacy. I guard my privacy and my identity very closely. Not just in terms of MS, but in terms of what I reveal about myself to others. I keep myself in deep layers, like a nested Russian doll. Nobody gets through to the center. Hell, Im still trying to find that part of me that still feels buried layers and layers from where I am now. And I feel like I have been excavating for some time now. But, anything that threatens my privacy or my identity, can be extremely triggering to me.
  • And of course there are what I call the super-triggers, or the combinations of the above triggers, or the above triggers mixed with other CSA triggers not related to pornography. The more that are combined, the worse.
I think I have learned a lot in therapy about how to deal with these types of triggers. I can manage them now. I have mantras that I say to myself, like this is not real, this is not happening now, or this will pass soon. Then, I just orient myself to my surroundings. If I have to I will say the day of the week, the date, and the year. I will say my age to myself. I will physically touch items in the room, or say the names of things in the room, like couch, table, book, floor. I will think about the textures of these items. Colors really help too, if I say them either out loud or in my head. After that, I take a minute to focus on my breath and my body and get myself back on track.

Some of these I have made real progress on, and sometimes, if I am having a bad day, they can still capsize my boat. But, if that happens, I tread water, turn the boat back up, climb in, and start rowing again. I dont flounder about in the water anymore when that happens.

Part of it is recognizing the signs of being triggered. For me, it is a sense of breathlessness, like I am holding my breath, or a sense of slight dizziness or disorientation. From there, I get flushed, palpitations or weird chest sensations. Then, my legs get restless, and I start feeling like I want to run. Once I feel the signs, I kick my mantras and breathing into gear. If I am work, I take myself to a quiet spot as soon as I can to calm down.

Sorry for the long post, but I really started thinking a lot about these triggers and their impact. It is really helpful to read what others have said above about triggers too.
 
I've been thinking about the term "kiddie porn". I would like to start off by saying porn is porn. Where and when this term was introduced I really don't know but throwing in my 2 cents it might have started in the pre '70s when there were magazines that you could buy in New York City at any corner newspaper stand. These were magazines full of naked kids froliking on the beach, taking showers, hiking in the woods and that kind of stuff. So in those days a magazine with pictures of me that could be sold in a newspaper stand could have been called kiddie porn because it wasn't thought to be porn. So today sexting might be called kiddie porn until it gets really raunchy and sick. Of course they had the underground magazines also in which there were no hold barred which I was part of. I say underground because you couldn't sell them openly but it wasn't a hard item to find and buy. I had my share of that also.

Also I would like to mention that any porn taken on film was digitized and uploaded to the net. I wouldn't be surprised if one could download digitized versions of those magazines I mentioned above. So no matter when pictures were taken it is on the net today.

Here are a few triggers that I've lived with over the last 40 years.

I cannot walk on the street in the city with someone walking behind me which is not an easy thing to do. I would have to stop a few times each block and window shop to make sure nobody was following me. I cannot be touched. No arms around the shoulder with some guy saying hello buddy. If someone touches me from behind my heart drops into my feet. I was abducted and gang raped for 2 days then dumped on a street corner.

I have a big problem with bodybuilders since these guys were used in my movie career when I was 14.

I have a fear of BIG dogs since those animals were used on me from the age of 9 until the age of 14.

I was never able to hold, play, do homework, etc with any of my 6 kids and now the same thing with my grandchildren. I have this phobia that no child should be with an adult. I fear all kids.

I cannot use a camera. I cannot have a picture of me taken if I can help it.

I cannot sleep on a white sheet.

The list can go on but I just wanted to list a few that were caused directly by my involvement in prostitution and film. I think that there are a lot of parallels which can take hold of a child for instance fear which in my case was the fear of death in a portion of my abuse. But there is also love of the person. For me the person who I loved consisted of two personalities. One personality is that he became my father figure. He did everything my father didn't do I still think he loved me. Sex was part of that love, which I thought was normal. This is why I can't call him an abuser. The second personality is that he pimped me for 7 years.

So when someone says that you stayed the answer to that is for some reason you couldn't get away.

Peace, Rainbows, Love, Healing & Hope
 

JayBro

Registrant
Hey Todd,

Thank you for sharing with us your triggers from child pornography. That was certainly not an easy task to do. While your triggers are numerous and can be quite immense, it certainly is good that you have learnt some techniques to help curb them. Are you still working with a therapist? One book that may help in reducing your triggers and in better understanding them is "The PTSD Workbook" by Mary Beth Williams and Soili Poijula. While it may not be specifically for CSA survivors, it does prove a helpful tool.

I also think it is important to speak about one's triggers and verbalize what is bothering to oneself. I noticed that the triggers I find most difficult to overcome and rationalize are the ones which are embarrassing or difficult to talk about. I can certainly relate to the feeling uncomfortable in changing rooms, for example. I was able to address this several times with one of my best friends and my therapist, and a few times I needed to get changed at the gym and my friend was there. I felt protected and always try to remember this feeling when I am in a change room. However, triggers that happen to me most (which are difficult to handle) are the ones that come across when I am masturbating or having sex with someone. I noticed that often, before that happens, I am "latently" triggered by a number of things leading up to the final trigger moment. This could be jokes and inappropriate references to sexual abuse, stuff with cameras and lack of consent, porn material that resembles themes in child porn/abuse etc. And often when I am triggered in sexual contexts, it is a quick, automatic response such as an unwanted orgasm with really painful feelings and panic, which are more physiologically based and difficult to stop. Then afterwards I feel like that me who was just abused.

I also get that started and guilty feeling when I mess something up, or almost messed something up, inconvenienced someone, didn't know someone, was triggered by sexual content/saw something that disturbed me, heard yelling, or was yelled at. That feeling is connected with guilt around the abuse as well as from yelling and hitting from my mother growing up. So, that was another point you brought up to which I can relate.

I must say, Todd, reading more details about the abuse you endured gives me such horrible feelings which are hard to articulate. I really wish I could transcend space and time and rescue you from those moments. NO ONE should have to experience such abuse and violation like that.

I think the best justice you could do for yourself would be to peel back those layers and work towards "freeing" yourself. Sometimes overcoming these barriers in our abuse requires us to take baby steps into the unknown, the scary, and the bold and daring; do things which might not seem like much to other people but are a big deal for us. Have you communicated with your partner about your triggers? Even in writing? I am glad to hear that you can find a quite place at work if you are feeling triggered. Tell yourself, when you see men coming out of those security checks, that it is not in any way sexual, it is a necessary check to protect their safety and the safety of others (i.e. it has only good intentions), they consented to going through with the check, and they were not just hurting children.

What do you think about techniques of managing trauma by connecting with your past self/inner-child/you at the time of the abuse to visualize how the current you would protect the child you, prevent the abuse, or say and do the things that you needed back then (i.e. "it's not your fault", "you are safe", "I will protect you")?

Take care! Don't forget, you two (and anyone else on here) all have my support!
HUGS
 

JayBro

Registrant
Hi Jeff,

Thank you for sharing with us your triggers and thoughts on this too. It looks like you and I were commenting on this thread at the same time!

Those are some very serious triggers that you described. Have you addressed them before in a therapeutic setting? What happened to you was horrendous and totally unjust, however you deserve to have your life back. I understand it may be quite difficult reversing patterns of triggers and avoidance after so many years of having them engrained and ritualized, but it is never too late to continue working towards curbing their impact in your life. If you have already started- great!- what kind of techniques or approaches are you most comfortable with?

I must say, I am always amazed by all of your courage and endurance to have come so far in life despite such horrid experiences and after effects. Always remember, you are not the abuse, not like the abuser, and not owned by the abuse. We cannot remove the dispersal of the images and videos of us, and we cannot remove the traumatic memories, but we can work towards them no longer controlling us and letting it continue to diminish our quality of life. Jeff, you deserve to feel comfortable around your own grandchildren, because you know that you have choices and you would never hurt them. You deserve to not feel like you are always being followed. You deserve to no longer be haunted by the past.

GIANT HUGS
 
Hey jaybro

Thank you for your kind words. Like you say we all deserve not to be haunted by our past.

I've been in therapy for 2-1/2 years and also on meds about as long. I think that most people with a our types of backgrounds start out by not saying anything because of shame or guilt etc. In my case when I got out of the USAF when I was 22 I walked away from the game by moving from one county in New York where I was known to another county north of New York City where nobody knew me and nobody knew anything about me before the age of 22, I just didn't exist before the age of 22. I got married at 26 and had 6 kids who still know nothing about me before the age of 22. The problem with that is you have to come up with answers like where I went to school etc. My family knew I went to high school and college but they didn't what or where. They didn't know that I spent more time out of high school more than I was there. I flunked out of college in 3 semesters and I was a drug addict by 15 and still turning tricks while I was in college.

I think most people that don't admit to CSA will talk around in circles so nobody knows anything except that he was just another average kid once upon a time. For me that worked for 40 years but I fell apart one day accidentally walking through Greenwich Village in New York City. I totally fell apart, getting drunk every night for 3/4 of a year until I finally came out to my wife.

I think that at some point we all tend to tell our stories to someone. It's places like MS and now this forum that people can open up and hopefully heal.

Peace, Rainbows, Love, Healing & Hope
 
JayBro,
Thanks for the response to my post and keeping the dialogue going. I appreciate your care, concern, and compassion.

Yes, I have been in therapy for about 3 years now and done a lot of good work. Verbalizing it was crucial to processing new memories that were coming up. I had blocked all memory of my abuse until about 10 years ago. I have been seriously working on it for 4 years now. I have done lots of work with PTSD symptoms. I did a lot of CBT work around flashbacks, panic attacks, etc. I filled out a lot of CBT Thought Records, which is a way to reframe your thoughts. So, that had a huge impact on me. I do these mentally in my head now. Ive gotten much better about triggers too. That list took some time and work, but knowing them helps immeasurably, because I can do preventative measures if I know a situation may be triggering. Thanks for the reference, Ill check into the book.

Regarding sex and masturbation, those are areas that I dont really explore. I have been asexual most of my life since my late teens, barring some brief periods of sex (one brief stint fueled by alcohol and drugs). Oddly enough though, I was never an alcoholic or had problems with using drugs frequently or stopping them. But, they were really my only gateway to sex. I just have never really liked sex. I mean, yes, I get physical pleasure from it. I just have never been able to tease sex from my experiences. I have a lot of body memories, which is how my abuse first came up. So, sex just makes my whole body feel like it is back in the abuse. It is a major way that I internalized the abuse. The sweat, the noises, the way my body feels. Post-orgasm is also very triggering. That spent feeling is really bad because it takes me back to the point after my abuse, which was horrible. So, I dont masturbate much at all, either. So, I just block out sex in my mind as something that is desirable. For most of my life, this was unconscious. I just never had sex. Now, I understand why and have been mapping out that timeline and understanding how it works. I have had good sex, especially with my partner. But, I go through long celibate phases, and prefer not to have sex if given the choice. I like intimacy with my partner. We cuddle, kiss, and are affectionate, but just not the sex part.

My partner is my soulmate. We are very deeply connected. So, he is well aware of my abuse history and behaviors. In fact, after our first few months together, it was him that asked me if I was sexually abused. I think I likely did something weird in my sleep, as I do frequently (thats a whole other topic). I just broke down and disclosed to him, and we have been together over 12 years since then. We talk very openly about it. He has always been there for me ever since. We are an old married couple now. But, he has really been my champion, encouraging me to go to therapy, to learn ways to deal with my abuse, and we just really talk and listen to each other. He has been the antidote to my abuse in a lot of ways.

Ive done a lot of inner child work in the past few years. I started by journaling and writing to my inner child. Since I am a writer, my T taught me an exercise where you write in your dominant hand as yourself, and write in your non-dominant hand as your inner child. That produced some profound insights from my inner child. When you write in your non-dominant hand, it can tap into a side of your brain you dont normally use for writing. For me, I tapped into some spaces that housed my inner child. My inner child had and does have a lot of anger and resentment. So, it was shocking for that to come up from such a deep space.

We have a much more simpatico relationship now, but at first it was quite a struggle. I engage in dialogue (inner and out loud). Now I realize I have several versions of my inner child, at all stages of my abuse, from 3-10. So, I have been able to tease apart reactions and what age they are coming from. Its not like DID, in that I have distinct personalities or anything, but I realize that there are inner child parts of me at different ages now. I think most of my dissociation was around dissociative amnesia, since all the memories and such lay dormant inside without surfacing for over 20 years. But, yeah, my inner kids and I have come a long way looking back over the journey. We still have work to do, but we are getting there.

Hey Jeff,
Thanks for talking about your triggers too. I really identified with several of them.

First, I have some of the same issues with touch. I used to flinch when people would reach out to touch my arm or my shoulder. But, the worst was the space right between my middle chest and my chin. If anyone touched me there, I would flinch or involuntarily jerk away.

Second, was the white sheets. I hate white sheets too. They are very triggering to me. That is one reason I hate doctors visits. Going into a weirdly lit room with a bed covered in white sheet. No thanks! I remembered after you mentioned that I dont think I have ever owned a white sheet. They are usually dark browns, greens, or blues.

I agree with you that places like MS can allow us to heal. Thanks again to you both for sharing.
 
I don't know if people realize that a certain day of the week can also be triggering. For me it's Tuesdays. This was a day for about a year's time that As soon as I got off the city bus from school I was to go to a Wetson's, sort of a McDonalds, make a call to get picked up. Once I was picked up I was beaten and thrown to the floor of the car. Then the brutalization by the bodybuilders and some horrible things that was forced to do I still have a problem today.

I am triggered by this day only these past couple of years simply because I now remember how the entire day went in detail preceding the phone call. I feared Tuesdays simply because I didn't know what would happen to me or what I would be made to do that night. But I knew that if I didn't make that might be a case of a child disappearing. I wasn't so scared of dying but the manner of how that would be accomplished.

Peace, Rainbows, Love, Healing & Hope
 

JayBro

Registrant
Hey Todd and Jeff!!

It sounds like we all started our recovery journeys around the same time! Jeff, you stated 2.5 years ago, Todd, you stated 4 (which therapy since 3), and for myself, I would have to say about 2.5-3 years ago (Summer 2011 is when the PTSD emerged)!

Jeff, I am so grateful that you have been able to find this space to speak about your experiences and healing journey after having had it be suppressed for so long. It is certainly quite scary to face one's traumatic past when there are many feelings of fear, anxiety, shame, guilt, etc., associated with what happened and when help seems out of the question. What you described is such a common experience for many abuse survivors; there is a fear and shame of the self after such trauma that the only way one feels they can stay afloat is to deny what they went through and literally run away. But the memories, the triggers, the anxiety find our new addresses, our new identities, and make themselves at home again. What we went through was extraordinary pain which has been so difficult to articulate, share, and understand. For that reason it feels so isolating. Before these last few years, could you have imagined trying to rationally explain your triggers or habits to someone else? Will they understand? No, I can't do it! I need to keep in the game! It is a steep incline against our psyches, yet once we finally reach that threshold where we find help, we begin to unravel what happened to us and why we have become the way we have, and we share our experiences with others who can relate- that makes such a big difference!

Keep on fighting the good fight and doing the awesome work you're doing in therapy, on here, and whatever else you may be undertaking during this recovery process. It has been many years of denial, fear, triggers, and other negative reactions from the abuse which you have lived with, so it will therefore take some time to break down those patterns and build new habits and establish new neuropathways. I would also suggest trying a myriad of different recovery options and techniques. Not everything is going to work for everyone. Some find medication a useful tool to help calm their mind enough to begin doing meaningful work, whereas others are completely not attuned to that idea. You should be patient and give yourself the care you deserve. Not every therapist is qualified to work in every situation. You have been in recovery for a few years, and probably know this already. Are there any local survivor meetings close to where you live? Or perhaps you may want to try a Male Survivor Weekend of Recovery? I attended a mini-one in Toronto this summer and it was incredible meeting so many other survivors!!

Also, you recently mentioned that you find some days triggering. For me, I always found weekends during the day, especially Sundays, triggering, because it reminded me of when I would see my mom most. She was really violent and loud when I was growing up and because she worked late on weeknights, she would be home tearing the house apart on the weekends. I often remember that feeling of constant guilt, fear, and sadness that I would experience on weekends because of her. I don't feel that so much anymore, but it is something I am always aware of.

How much does your family know about your abuse or at least the recovery you are going through?

The abuse you described is a mixture of psychological, emotional, and also physical harm that was also life-threatening. How is a person under normal circumstances to cope with that? You have truly survived.

Todd, perhaps because you are a writer, you do an amazing job of capturing the survivor's experience and it is bewildering for me, as a fellow survivor, to read your messages and think, that for a full decade you had blocked out memories from the trauma. Yet, for a shorter period of time, I remember that "blissful" period before my initial TRIGGER.

I found the CBT methods, such as developing mantras and thought recording, were tremendously helpful. I think because I noticed a huge improvement in a short period of time, I felt so motivated to keep going further and tackle new areas. I am so glad to hear that you have such a supportive partner and that the physical contact you two have (regardless that it is not overtly sexual) is a level that is appropriate for you. The fact that he was able to pick up on certain cues and invite you to disclose your experiences demonstrates the empathetic and intelligent person he is. Because you have never been able to properly enjoy the sexual component of your sexuality/romantic self, do you ever lament it or do you feel content or asexual? When I was in Canada this past year my therapist was really adamant that I get out there and explore my healthy sexuality so that I could lay the basis for a functional romantic life that is not constrained by previous trauma. It was difficult, fraught with many ups and downs and sometimes it could be really triggering, but I think overall it was a great motivator to keep me on my toes in recovery so to speak.

I have tried the journaling technique you described with my less dominant hand! That was HARD and I could barely make out what the hell I wrote!! I really found the inner child work hard to do, but often projecting onto others or simply imaging without doing certain activities or exercises has been moving enough for me. You brought up a really good point though about it activates lost memories and emotions by working that lesser used portion of the brain!! I need to remember that one!

I know many of us go through periods of celibacy and low sex-drive with periods of heavy sexual arousal, myself included. I noticed that for myself, often it is during the periods of sexual arousal when I am masturbating more often or trying out new things with new men, I have a higher propensity to become triggered again. This will be followed by a period of celibacy and trigger recovery. The most recent event was this week; albeit it, I am still going on regular dates every week and it feels good knowing I am seeing a guy/s who don't just want to sleep with me. The dates are quite different than others without the backbone to meet with me for a non-sexual encounter. Just yesterday a guy I was texting with was getting upset that I didn't have any nude or shirtless photos to send him, but know what? I don't care. I stated simply that I don't feel comfortable doing it and I don't owe him any explanation or exceptions to my rule. Yesterday another thing happened too which reminded me of our thread here: I was in a bookstore and saw in an art book a painting from the 19th century of the Roman Senate looking at a naked young woman covering her face and with a man behind her who just pulled off her clothes. I immediately got goosebumps, felt like I was exposed, and got so angry on behalf of this fictitious girl! It really made me think about our list of triggers. I am still shaky about the porn I saw this week too.

Thank you two so much for your posts here thus far! This is a really inspiring topic!
 
Hey jaybro

In real life only my wife, a good friend that got me here and my family physician who I had to explain my mutilated arm (cutting) and my drinking. Of course there is my T and shrink. There are a couple of guys who I consider very close friends here on MS that know my whole story. I've had no friends for 40 years only acquaintances. If someone got to friendly I had to break off the friendship in order that he will not uncover who I really was. I live in fear of my past. So finally having friends is like opening up presents on Christmas morning.

I always thought and still do that if someone would know what I did or was done to me for any portion of those 10 years I would have to kill myself. It is still somewhat of a problem. I fell apart in January of 2011, got here on MS that June and told my wife that October. I started therapy in January 2012. My T was trying to get me to get on meds because I wasn't able to communicate at that point in time. It took an incident that February after a session where I tried to find a city bus to walk in front of. None came and I asked my T to get me a shrink. So meds have done a world of good. I'm a little spaced out but I'm not walking in front of buses anymore. I'm not really drinking anymore and the cutting has been reduced :).

This past July I went to a WoR and found it very triggering being among so many people (25 survivors) plus facilitators. I don't know if I could go again at the point I am now but I'm glad I went and I would recommend going to others.

You and so many people call ourselves survivors. Yes I did survive but to me it was a disease that slowly ate away at my life. The only accomplishment I had was having an unabused family where my kids were not hit as a punishment. I am very lucky in that respect but when I look at myself I feel I do not deserve to be here.

There has to be a way to get adults that were abused as kids or even adults abused as adults to find a way to come forward and shed their shame and guilt and not waste their life away hiding from the past. I think that this forum is that way. I don't know if I can come out publicly with my entire story but at least with the help of a few friends here that might become a possibility

Peace, Rainbows, Love, Healing & Hope
 

JayBro

Registrant
Hi Jeff,

You really do not give yourself the credit that you deserve. Because of the effects of the abuse, many survivors will not count themselves as such, and so what you described about your own feelings towards yourself is a common thing.

I am glad to hear that the cutting has stopped and that you do have a venue to be honest--here! The WoR as well as regular group sessions with fellow male survivors can be an overwhelming experience. I think that they should go hand-in-hand with individual therapy sessions. For some people in a similar situation to you, I think it may be helpful to do some preparatory therapeutic work before attending group events just to make sure that you truly feel ready for such an experience. It is common for survivors to not feel like a real or valid survivor or to still carry a lot of guilt around the abuse as if they were responsible for it or were/are an abuser. In such an instance, hearing the stories of others who identify as survivors may produce further feelings of guilt or illegitimacy as a survivor. By the same token, hearing others' traumatic experiences may definitely be quite triggering for someone. I had a therapist, for example, who was weary of me reading the famous book for male survivors "Victims No Longer" by Mike Lew because it recounts many survivors' stories of abuse in vivid detail and that reading such material, especially for someone in the early stages of trauma recovery, may just be even more traumatizing.

I can definitely relate to that as it was traumatizing for me at first to read about other mens' experiences with abuse as I felt guilty for my own experiences. Reading these stories made me both vividly image them and get flashbacks of my own abuse. Perhaps in the future you may return to such healing techniques, but in the meantime it sounds like you know where you are comfortable and you should stay within those boundaries until you feel ready to expand them. This forum is definitely a great intermediary because meeting people in person and building a community within the privacy of your own space and at your own pace. You don't have eyes starring at you as you explain what you experienced, for example.

I found that medication (citalopram/celexa) did help me tremendously too. For the first few months of my complex PTSD after having realized the extent of the abuse, I wasn't able to speak to a therapist but the medication and coming on male survivor really did help me to calm down and reach a level where I was able to effectively work on my trauma recovery.

Sending you giant HUGS. I am so glad that you are here and very much value your presence, Jeff.
 
Hey ((((( JayBro )))))

The medication Celexa with the addition of Seroquel which I guess enhances the effects of the Celexa had been responsible in me almost quitting drinking and has cut (no pun intended) down tremendously in my use of cutting. I was given Valium but sometimes I need immediate relief from a panic attack and that's when I revert to cutting, the pain brings me out of the panic attack almost instantly. I have though realized that I use cutting as a way to punish myself because of what I was and the feelings that I still have.

I find the reading and rereading books by Lew and my T have made me realize how and why things went the way they did. You see you're not alone and feel like some freak for doing the things that we did. It might be triggering but I think the knowledge that others have gone through the same thing is healthy in fighting the guilt and shame. I still have problems with a lot of the things I was forced to do but I hope eventually to find some way out of that guilt and shame.

I'm really glad to have met you also
 

JayBro

Registrant
Hey Jeff!

I am first off glad to hear that the cutting is reducing! That is great news.

Extreme trauma and grappling with the long term effects of emotional pain, addiction etc can really do a number on one's psyche and perhaps even one's brain chemistry (especially when their brains are still developing). Therefore, the use of medication to help initiate mental calmness and reduce the extremity of emotions is completely a justified tool in the recovery process. I found from my own experience that when my PTSD was activated, I was constantly shaking, sweating, and paranoid. I couldn't concentrate on much and even having a normal conversation proved difficult. Perhaps as the medication and my grounding techniques began to take effect, I found it easier to expose myself to literature on abuse (such as mens' accounts in books) and get something constructive out of it without just being spurred into further anxiety. At times that can seem to be erased with sporadic anxiety attacks which are prompted by triggers (such as pornography or a bad sexual experience), but on the whole, these events are becoming less and less for me.

Guilt and shame are really strong forces and often my anxiety attacks will be triggered by a soft spot relating to my guilt and shame. However, the more I spoke about the abuse and showed myself proof of the contrary (such as my inner work, my time on Male Survivor, my efforts to advocate for survivors), I am quickly calmed down. Often we do not realize the power of illogical thoughts when they are rarely articulated or written down. When they are floating around in our minds for only us to hear, they can be so powerful and debilitating, but often one of their greatest antidotes can be to hear another human being tell you the grounding, logical reality.

I think it is good to always take stock of those positive reinforcements from therapy, moments connecting with others, helpful feedback from supporters, and even research from books and other materials one the topic. We can use this to develop an effective "mantra-strategy" as I call it of counter-thoughts to those negative ones. This is very much in line with CBT, or cognitive behavioural therapy.

Those thoughts of shame and guilt are often the consequences of negative cognitive distortions of which many people have become masters. Such distortions may have been survival tools for us as kids during the time of the abuse, however in our adult years they are bad habits which make the whole business of living much more difficult. These distortions may include but are not limited to:
  • All‐or‐nothing thinking
    You see things in black or white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect you see yourself as a total failure. Example: A straight A student who receives a B on an exam concludes, Now Im a total failure.
  • Overgeneralization
    You see a single negative event as a never ending pattern of defeat.
    Example: When one woman declined a date, the man concluded, Im never going to get a
    date. No one will ever want me.
  • Mental filter
    You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively, thus perceiving that the whole situation is negative and filtering out the positive. Example: in a 20 minute oral presentation, for 2 minutes you lose your concentration and feel you are rambling. Because of this you think, I gave a horrible presentation, discounting that for 18 of the 20 minutes you performed well.
  • Disqualifying the positive
    An individual transforms neutral or even positive experiences into negative ones. You reject positive experiences by insisting they dont count for some reason or the other. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
    Example: When someone praises your appearance or your work, you tell yourself,
    Theyre just being nice or you say to them, It was nothing really.
  • Jumping to Conclusion
    You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.
    Mind reading You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you and you dont bother to check it out. Example: Your spouse is upset about work and is quiet at home. You think, Shes mad at me. What did I do wrong?
    Fortune Teller Error You anticipate things will turn out badly and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already established fact Example: You call your friend who doesnt get back to you. You dont call back and check out why because you say to yourself Hell think Im being obnoxious if I call again. Ill make a fool of myself. You avoid your friend, feel put down and find out he never got your message.
  • Magnification (Catastrophizing) or Minimization
    You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your mistakes or someone elses achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other persons imperfections). Example of Magnification: A student answers a professors question incorrectly and thinks, How awful. Now he thinks I, stupid and Ill fail this class, never graduate and never get a good job.
  • Emotional Reasoning
    You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect theway things really are. I feel it, therefore it must be true.Example: I feel stupid, therefore I am stupid. I feel overwhelmed and hopeless,therefore my problems must be impossible to solve.
  • Should Statements
    You try to motivate yourself with should and shouldnts as if you have to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. Musts and oughts are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements at others you feel anger, frustration and resentment. Example: I should have gotten all the questions right, causes feelings of guilt. He should have been on time, causes feelings of resentment, anger and frustration.
  • Labeling and Mislabeling
    An extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself. When someone elses behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to that person. Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored andemotionally loaded. Example: You miss a basketball shot and say, Im a born loser instead of saying, I messed up on that one shot.
  • Personalization
    You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event which in fact you were not primarily responsible for. It causes you to feel extreme guilty. Example: A father sees his childs report card with a note from the teacher indicating thechild isnt working well. He immediately replies, I must be a bad father. This shows how Ive failed.
The information in the list is originally from David Burns' Feeling Good books, with an excerpt on the blog "Consider the Lilies: Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse: Cognitive Distortions." This information I first found out about during my group sessions with fellow male survivors. Our facilitators gave us each a journal with these distortions pasted on the inside cover for us to refer to and to jot down our thoughts and feelings. The hope was for us to analyze our anxieties and negative thoughts and look at the loopholes in them; eventually by practicing these techniques, we would be able to better recognize our negative cognitive distortions and see right through them, thus loosening their grip on our thoughts.

Perhaps you have been exposed to some of this information already, but it never hurts to read it one more time from another source! ;)

Take care! I am thinking of you!

HUGS
 
((((( JayBro )))))

I hate to admit it but the list sounds to me very familiar. It sounds like we both know the same guy. The only problem with the list is that these items are something I have not gotten past. They are true today just as they were 40 years ago.

Peace, Rainbows, Love, Healing & Hope
 

JayBro

Registrant
(((Jeff)))

Well, it doesn't have to be a list of old habits conquered, rather it is a tool to use which helps be more aware of how we think. 40 years ago, did you have the resources you have now? Were you on a path to recovery 40 years ago? Undoing decades of habit is certainly a challenging prospect.
It is certainly not a list that I created, but one I copied and pasted here- I wouldn't say that I have mastered cognitive distortions, but it has certainly helped to internalize what is "normal" thinking and what is not when reducing triggers or harmful feelings of guilt, shame, inferiority etc.
 

txb

Registrant
This thread was actually pretty triggering, which is something that doesn't normally happen to me. But I think it might just be my state of mind right now. I have plenty of triggers, but I can't really tell which ones are related to which part of what happened to me. If it's ok to avoid them then I try to do that. I don't like to suddenly hear something about abuse at random on the news, so I avoid watching the news, turn down the radio when news is on and I never read newspapers. I never watch tv or use my computer in a dark room because it gives me a really bad feeling. I'm careful about where I sit on trains and avoid certain seats. The smell of coffee is particularly bad, so I avoid that if I can. Some things I can't avoid, but I did spend quite a lot of time when I first started therapy figuring out my triggers and working on strategies to deal with them. I had a massive trigger a few months back from a porn video. It was 3 women, all old, but the situation was scarily familiar. I have no idea why I watched it through to the end. I can't even say I got over that yet. And for some stupid reason I went back to watch it again, just to hurt myself more.

I do like a lot of the CBT stuff. I think I pretty much have all of those thinking distortions. The stuff you learn from CBT really does work, if you use it. But I think it's so hard to change the way your brain works. The thinking distortions are your natural reactions to stuff. It's hard to do something new. Usually I'll remember the CBT stuff hours after something has happened.

I don't really like to say "I'm glad" because that sounds wrong, but I can't think of any other word to use, so I'm glad to hear that other people have camera issues. I always feel so stupid about this. But it's like we are in the age of selfies or something. Everyone is always taking pictures of themselves doing all kinds of stuff. Boring stuff even. And posting them online to share with everyone they know. And random strangers. It feels like I should. It seems like it should be so easy. I feel like I'm just stupid for making a big deal out of this. Last week I went to London. It was scarily busy and most of the time I was walking around there I was secretly panic attacking. But everyone was taking photos, so I felt pretty confident about taking photos. Usually I don't. Even though I'd really like to do photography as a hobby. Or like some kind of thing to add to my art. Everyone was taking pictures of themselves being in London though. I just have a ton of London photos. You wouldn't even know that I had personally been there. I guess I accidently got in some people's holiday photos, but I suppose I feel ok about that. The whole photo thing is something I feel a lot of pressure from other people to just get over, but I can't think how I would even start to do that.
 
Hey txb

I think that watching that porn movie over again was a way punish yourself. I know with myself I feel much better after I go through a bout of self inflicted pain.

I could never use a camera. I've bought a number of cameras over the decades and I could never take a picture with them. I ended up either giving them away or putting them in a cabinet here in my basement dungeon. About 2 years ago I bought a really expensive camera which cost about $1000 with lenses and all. I was determined to take pictures, I figured that if the camera cost a lot of money I would be forced to use it. I took about 10 pictures of my grandchildren digging a hole in the backyard from about 30 feet away and then stopped, It seems that I cannot take pictures if there are people around me or if people are in the picture in some way. Like if I wanted to take a picture of a car and someone is walking by I wouldn't even be able to talk on my cell phone. I have this feeling that I'm a pervert and I'm attempting to take some sort of porno pictures of them.

Peace, Rainbows, Love, Healing & Hope
 

txb

Registrant
You are right. I'm pretty sure I did watch the porn clip again for punishment. Sometimes I have this weird thing where I like to do triggering things just to check if they are triggering. That's just dumb and self-sabotaging.

I'm sorry that you haven't been able to use your expensive camera. I feel exactly the same way, that I'm doing something wrong and perverted by taking pictures. And that someone is going to confront me and tell me to stop. For a while I wanted to join a local camera club, but I was scared it might be full of pedophiles. Which is totally irrational really. Being in London was the only place I've ever really felt comfortable, and it was just because everyone else was taking photos. I hope you might be able to start taking photos again though. I think it might be something that gets easier over time? There are lots of photos you can take that don't involve people. I like to take pictures of architecture and weird things like the BP oil refinery.

Last night I had a pretty bad time. My dad's friend called me really late last night to tell me I should call my dad (we are having some kind of a disagreement right now). Then he asked me if I'd heard the news that one of the business owners in our town was charged with downloading child porn. It's not something I really want to hear at 1am. But I couldn't leave it alone and had to google - and discovered that if you google anything with the wording "child porn" then google puts a message at the top of the search telling you that child porn is illegal, which just made me feel like I was doing something wrong for looking for a news report. Apparently he downloaded it because of "stress"...... but seeing the picture of his shop, in my town, where I was abused was extremely triggering. And I'm away from home right now, so everything is different and where I live doesn't feel completely safe yet. Well. It sucked anyway. I planned to distract myself from it today, but instead i ended up coming here to talk about it.
 
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