First Steps Toward Recover: A Male Survivor's
By Bryan R. Alba*
I vividly remember sitting in my therapist's office for an interview before joining a men's Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) therapy group. l began by briefly telling him of my history of sexual abuse by my father, and explaining that at age 23, I felt emotionally paralyzed. I recall that I summarized, with little feeling, what I knew to be my history of trauma. After I finished, he sadly shook his head and said, "Gosh, they really did a job on you." My eyes began to water and itch in reaction to his sincerity. He continued his interview by asking me what I wanted from therapy. "To have a life," I responded. "To feel some of my feelings." He said that I'd get my feelings back.... He was right, of course.
Joining a men's ACOA therapy group was one of the biggest steps I'd ever taken. It was one of my first steps in reclaiming my life. In many ways, it was my worst fear come true -- sharing my past and my problems with a room full of men. I was terrified. The reason for my fear was simple: I'd never been intimate with men, other than my father. Unfortunately, intimacy with my father included sexual abuse. At the interview, my therapist had also said that the group would end up reflecting the dynamics of my family. In many ways it did. We all unconsciously took roles that echoed the past. We saw each other in both positive and negative family roles.
From the outset though, the group was a safe haven for me. I was able to work on my recovery with the members' support. I was always accepted and I was allowed to progress at my own pace. I felt I had found the brothers and fathers I'd always needed. I bonded with these men despite the fact that all of us had such shattered images of ourselves as males and few had positive male role models.
I was able to share with the members of my group the deepest, darkest, and "dirtiest" memories of the sexual abuse. The many levels of denial about my abuse were not judged, but met with sensitive questions and patience. Soon I was able to see a clearer picture of my abuse....
The group was the first place where I was believed when I spoke of the abuse, and was told that what had happened to me was horrible. I began to believe that it wasn't my fault. I also started to ask for nurturing and appropriate touch from males, which included being held or hugged. I was constantly affirmed as I got more in touch with my own body. Slowly my shame began to lift. It felt as though I were defrosting in a warm, cozy home after having been frozen solid by my childhood traumas.
Through it all, I was also able to give back to the group. I rooted for one member, who after supporting me when I confronted my family, confronted his own family about his abuse. At other times, I physically held another member as he experienced the emotions associated with an abuse incident. I was amazed at the commonality of our feelings, despite our different backgrounds.
My men's ACOA therapy group became a support system beyond our weekly sessions. After each session, we all went out together for dinner, after which some of us would go to a 12-step ACOA meeting. I began to rely on members more and more during the week through telephone calls. Later, we went to the movies, on camping trips, and to the beach. I even went to an inpatient treatment center at the same time as another member.
I thought I would never be ready to leave the group. I wondered how I could ever be recovered enough. It wasn't until I had left the group that I realized that, in fact, I had been ready. My growth had freed me enough so hat I aspired to more than mere survival; I began a new job and entered graduate school. My life, which had been previously centered around recovery, began to focus on my vision of a new career. It gave me the opportunity to apply my awareness about myself to a new area of growth. It's been two years since I left group therapy, yet I can still talk to former members about issues that I am facing today. One member recently said, "It's nice being able to tell you a problem, knowing that you understand .... You know what my family was like." Another gift is that we are able toshare our perspectives of each other's recovery. I said to one former group member, "You've grown a lot in relationships." And, because I shared with him what I remembered about his past relationships, he believed me.
At the time I began group, I would cringe when
somebody said, "I love you, Bryan"; even though I knew that it was
said in sincerity. Why did I cringe? Part of my sexual abuse with my father
involved him performing [sexual acts] on me, during which he would say,
"This is how your father shows you that he loves you." In my
10-year-old mind, I equated the word "love" with sexual abuse. When I
was leaving group, I found myself feeling love and being able to express it, in
my own words, to the group. It's still not easy for me to say, "I love
you," but I am now able to hear it, and accept the warm feelings that these
*Brian R. Alba (pseudonym) recently completed his Masters of Education at the University of Maryland. He teaches elementary education in Maryland.