When I was eight years old, I was targeted by a group of predatory paedophiles who subjected me to 18-months of horrific sexual abuse. Like almost all survivors, I was too ashamed and scared to tell anyone what had happened…not my parents, friends or family.
Where I am today
My life has been one of extremes, since suffering the trauma of being sexually abused in public toilets, and leading on to teenage alcoholism, ‘sexual anorexia’ and living with complex post- traumatic stress disorder. And now? I have been blessed with over 25 years of recovery from addiction, a successful, fulfilling career in theatre and, for the most part, a sense of peace and purpose in my life. Far beyond the material success I have achieved, the most important realisation is that I know I am being intuitively guided on a journey of spiritual awakening which is hugely rewarding and profoundly healing.
It has been a long, tough journey to get here…
I felt broken, but couldn’t remember why
For most of my adult life, other than a few vague, fleeting memories I could not remember anything which happened to me before I was twelve years old. I would look through the family album and see myself on holiday or at a family reunion, but have no conscious knowledge of being there or of what happened.
As soon as the abuse had finished, I buried the horrific memories so deep inside of me I could barely remember anything – until, aged 12, my reaching puberty triggered off relentless and savage flashbacks to the abuse. I immediately became aware of a deep, visceral feeling of horror inside of me, which was so overwhelming it was soon crippling my life. I felt dirty, ashamed and disgusted with myself but didn’t have enough visual memory to understand exactly why.
On the surface everything looked fine; I could flick a switch in my mind and ‘act’ so no one knew what was really going on inside of me. But I had begun to feel threatened by the physical presence of certain men, scared of being attacked, even at times with men I knew and had no reason to question or distrust; I began to withdraw within myself; I became very anxious, depressed and often paranoid about other people’s intentions.
Negative coping strategies – further along the road to hell
I had my first drink of alcohol when I was 8 years old (the same age when the abuse started) and I loved it. Whilst I hated the taste the effect throughout my body was sensational. It felt like a chemical reaction was surging through me, and I felt ALIVE in a way that I never had before. I adored the explosive effect throughout every cell of my body; it was like a firework display going off inside of me.
These feelings of euphoria didn’t last and by my late teens I was a desperate alcoholic. Getting drunk was the only way to drown the horrific feelings and savage, obsessive thoughts, and I would do anything to get hold of enough alcohol to reach the oblivion I now craved. I started getting the delirium tremens (DTs) most nights, imagining snakes at the bottom of the bed coming up and attacking me, which brought on horrendous palpitations. The self-harming became worse during the DTs; in my insanity I would often head butt the bedroom walls to try to knock myself out. I hit rock bottom aged 20 years and, with horrendous fear and trepidation, attended Alcoholics Anonymous.
Hitting rock bottom – the gift of desperation
This was the turning point in my life, although I didn’t know it at the time. With the support of AA, I haven’t had an alcoholic drink since 1st March 1993. AA has offered me so much more than physical sobriety. It has become my spiritual foundation and created the opportunity to explore a variety of healing pathways which, over the last 25 years, have included:
- conventional trauma therapies for PTSD in the UK;
- to Spain where I enjoyed an exhilarating month long pilgrimage along the 500-mile
- Camino to Santiago de Compostela;
- to Brazil where I experienced profound healing on a meditation retreat;
- and on numerous visits to India where I studied spiritual philosophy, meditated in ashrams, and trekked the Himalayas.
My journey of healing started as soon as I stopped drinking and accepted I needed help. I was diagnosed with PTSD aged 20 years and, until I was 43 years old, the PTSD effectively served as a powerful anaesthetic in the sense that I had so few memories of anything before the abuse took place. The happy, joyful memories of me as a young, playful and shy, small boy didn’t come back to me until I was in my early 40s. Such was the long-term, crippling effect of the abuse on my memory, it sometimes felt as if the abuse was ALL that had ever happened to me before the age of twelve.
What I needed to do – ask for help
The conscious decision to ‘go back in’ and re-live the memories takes enormous courage for a survivor. Life feels so savage and overtly threatening when one goes back in. I can now accept it is an ongoing journey of healing and can now see how my healing was held back by;
- my inability to cry about the abuse
- the shame I felt about my active involvement during the abuse
- the aggressiveness of the PTSD flashbacks which did not lessen in their intensity for many years
- the fact I couldn’t remember the most traumatic events until five years ago (2013)
- the fear, shame and confusion which limited my desire to talk openly with my family
I feared that once I opened up the emotional floodgates I would be overwhelmed by the force of the suppressed energy within me, and become a nervous wreck. The idea of the emptiness inside of me after the tears, of feeling ‘weak and vulnerable’, really scared me, yet to hold on would keep me in so much pain for much longer.
The Healing is, thankfully, never over… We must be open to receive it
There has been plenty of healing over the years through AA’s 12 Step programme, the life- changing support I’ve received from my fellow CSA survivors, and the expertise of several highly gifted professional therapists, and through my spiritual practices (including meditation). Although the effects of the abuse have greatly diminished, there are times when I can still feel profoundly traumatised.
Consequently I have struggled with emotional and sexual intimacy for most of my life.
A psychologist told me, when I was in my 20s, that I ‘almost had a phobia of relationships’. Looking back, I can see there is much truth is that statement. The most important things I’ve needed to do in order to heal is to;
- Accept that what happened actually happened, in the context of not denying any of the painful memories or running away from them.
- ‘Forgive’ the paedophiles so I can focus ALL my energy to healing the eight year old boy.
- Let go of the shame and sense of being responsible for what happened to me.
- Allow the abused eight year old boy within me to have a voice, and to be heard.
- Reclaim the happy memories of my childhood and create a context for the abuse.
- Allow those who love me to hear my story so that I can feel their love, and heal more deeply.
It has taken me many years to come to a place of forgiveness, which is a word that I think is typically misunderstood. I have forgiven the paedophiles who abused me, so I can heal. Forgiveness sets me free, not them. It has allowed me to start healing, as I no longer focus my anger and rage on them; I no longer seek or live out some fantasy of hunting them down and executing them, as I had for many years.
Putting pen to paper
It is only more recently that I have been able to write in detail what happened during the abuse. This was another turning point in my life and the first time I’d had the courage to write down everything I could remember. It was during this process that I knew instinctively that I needed to place the trauma of the abuse into a broader, healthier perspective. I started writing a document which quite naturally evolved into my memoir; A Small Boy Smiling: A remarkable journey of healing from the trauma of child sexual abuse to spiritual awakening.
Writing the book has been profoundly healing for me. There is more of a ‘distance’ in the memories of the abuse now. I’ve gradually become more able to be a witness to the trauma; I am consciously aware that I am a 45-year-old adult remembering what happened during the abuse, rather than being the 8 year old child reliving the full extent of the horror and savagery of what took place.
There is so much to be grateful for
During the last two years so much has changed. The support I have received has helped me to change the inner narrative so that I am able to, for the most part, replace the negative conditioning of the abuse with more gentle, kinder and loving thoughts.
This profound journey of healing has made me realise what an extraordinarily strong, resilient and courageous young boy I was, to have lived through this horrific trauma, and to have survived into adulthood relatively sane.
Please visit www.mattccareybooks.com for more information and resources.