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The current news cycle has us all exposed to stories of sexual assault on a nearly constant basis. As stories come and go, there's a trend emerging, and it's one I think we need to be paying close attention to.
Namely, that the victims of sexual assault carry that wound with them for a very long time. Things that happened decades ago might be affecting someone on a daily basis now, even though the event is long over. In our current society, the topic of sexual assault is getting harder and harder to ignore.
More to the point, I know for a fact that this inundation has some men mentally going over their past behaviors, and perhaps coming to grips with something for the first time. That guy – the guy who is wondering; questioning his past sexual behavior in light of this new information – that's the guy I want to talk to right now.
I want to use this movement as a springboard for talking about what I, and many other professionals feel is the most important takeaway: the fact that sexual assault and trauma will stay with the victim for the rest of their life. I've spoken before about my own experiences being sexually abused as a child, and those moments shaped much of my life. It led me to a very dark place, and I myself became a sex and porn addict.
Since I work mostly (although not exclusively) with men, many times I've witnessed the long, slow process of a man coming to terms with his past behavior, and realizing how his compulsive, addictive actions have wounded others.
Sometimes, it's feels easier to bury those memories. It seems less painful to deny your part in hurting another person while in the grip of a powerful addiction. Yet, something tells me that the current news cycle is making that denial harder and harder to hold on to. I sense walls are coming down, and a lot of men are suddenly standing in their kitchens, or waking up at 4 am and wondering if something they did 10, 20, even 50 years ago might have damaged someone deeply.
I'm here to tell you, this isn't a process you should be working through alone!
After years of denying your addictive and compulsive tendencies, the sudden realization of what your actions might have meant to others can be overwhelming. In a rush to make these new, huge emotions subside, you might think “I'll just own up and apologize,” but I urge caution there too.
Ask anyone in recovery, and they'll tell you that one of the 12 steps is indeed “make amends.” You're encouraged to go back to anyone you've hurt with your addictive behavior and simply say “I'm sorry,” without excuses. But, that step is far into the 12-step process, and there's a lot of hard work to do before you get there.
How can I be so sure? I once tried to apologize to a woman I'd harmed with my own behavior, and it didn't go well at all! I showed up announced at her workplace, said I wanted to speak to her privately, and stumbled through an apology (while also trying to offer excuses, which I shouldn't have done). I could tell immediately that I'd done much more harm than good. She was upset, she put up an emotional wall, and she asked me to leave.
I went out to my car and cried, and I'm sure she sat in her office and cried too. It was a disaster. I went in there with good intentions, but that's not enough, especially if you're not emotionally prepared or committed to a recovery program.
Women and men are both suffering in the wake of this overwhelming news cycle. Lurid and descriptive stories of sexual assault are being broadcast all day, every day. People all over the country are being triggered and having memories of either experiencing or perpetrating traumatic sexual encounters. This can be a terrifying, and very lonely experience.
This is why I am reaching out, right here and now. You are not in this alone. Whether you're questioning your past behavior, or wondering about something that happened to you, the best thing you can do right now is acknowledge the pain, and then get in touch with someone – even me, personally – to talk through it.
What you can't do anymore is hide. Your mind is a worthy adversary, and maybe it's been repressing or denying these memories for years or even decades. Your mind tricks you into thinking this is a “safer” way to live. In reality, your mind has been flooding you with fear, anger, self-doubt, resentment, shame, and judgment all this time. That's a terrible way to live.
Yes, turning to face the music is scary, but it's nothing compared to the way you've been living up until now. Recovery is a process. A long, difficult, emotional, and sometimes frightening process, but a very necessary one nonetheless.
Why? Because on the other side of this process, there's peace, joy, and serenity. Which would you rather live with?