Walk with me; spend a little time in an uncomfortable pair of shoes. Quite simply, I seek to weaponise your empathy and professional curiosity and shine a light of hope for those who are just like me.
I am the 1 in 4 and I feel lucky. I have lost count of the amount of people who are like me [but] who we have lost. This is why it’s important to hear me, not just listen to me, hear me. Anybody can listen.
I am a man who was sexually abused as a child who now carries no guilt and no shame as I accept and understand it wasn’t my fault; nor did I have to forgive to get to where I am now. My journey is my business. When I put my head on the pillow at night, it’s me and my head and it’s whatever sits right for me, just like it is for you. This is my recovery!
I had to take responsibility for my recovery – that didn’t come easy: that’s not my default setting. My default setting was victim and the world owed me. I justified that because I’d been through childhood trauma, but that did not give me permission to do as I pleased and put two fingers up to the world. For a long time, I behaved and thought and acted like it did. That led to more trauma, misery, and pain which I inflicted upon myself. I am responsible for adding to my trauma, which led me to prison, rehab, detox, and many other institutions, which was all my own doing.
The problem now was me and the way I reacted to the trauma. You could say it was a normal response to an abnormal situation. It was. But it wasn’t going to help me get well: I was slowly killing myself.
Softly, softly and treading on eggshells around Daniel because he’d been abused as a kid? This wasn’t helping. It wasn’t lowering the number of days: it was lowering the number of days I had left on this planet. Something needed to change. I didn’t think it was me – I didn’t have the emotional intelligence to do so! No one had had the professional curiosity – or the balls – to stop me in my tracks and ask why: why are you behaving like this? Has something happened to you when you were a child? Until [finally] someone did.
This is why I feel lucky. After many years of [having] services and professionals in my life, from being little Daniel to fully grown Daniel, no one asked me why. I was labeled a troublemaker, which gave me a mask to hide behind. This guy? He was my ‘drug’ worker; this guy challenged my behavior and took away my excuses… this guy brought me back to life.
To him, I am eternally grateful. After he’d asked ‘why’ he then told me a small snippet of what he’d been through when he was a kid: it was the same as me. Thank God, it wasn’t just me; I could breathe: I’d never met anyone before who had spoken about being raped as a kid.
He gave me permission to speak through that identification and connection. I slowly started to get well as I’d written myself off. Now, I had a glimmer of hope. Now, I could drop the mask and breathe.
Of course, it wasn’t that simple, and it wasn’t an overnight thing. But I’d started the journey to heal. The most difficult thing was the counselling afterwards because the devil was in the detail. I had to get it all out and get rid of all that guilt and shame that I’d carried for years. I believed it was my fault. There was a lot to be undone and on top of that, I had to learn how to become a responsible adult. No one could do it for me – believe me, I had tried my best to get other people to do my recovery for me, armed [,as I was,] with the skills of manipulation from surviving as a drug addict, but it didn’t work.
After years of being stuck with the emotional intelligence of a fourteen-year-old child, how was I going to deal with life and unlearn the behaviour that had served me this far?
I’ll be honest, I couldn’t do it alone. I needed to learn from other people who had walked before me… I needed to connect. I was fortunate enough to be offered a place on a support group for men who had been sexually abused and who were on the recovery path.
It was okay opening up in front of someone I trusted and felt safe with. But to do it in front of a group of men I didn’t know was a whole new level of fear.
I pushed myself and the most difficult thing was walking through that door for the first time – I can feel the anxiety now just thinking about it! I stayed for about eighteen months and grew tremendously through connection and a sense of belonging…. I began to find myself: I never [previously] knew me.
It was a good practice ground for life. I learned how to communicate, be assertive, what boundaries were, and my worth. I was no longer a victim – I had found my path.
I made a promise that day that I would help other men just like me who were lost and that’s what I did.
I was taught the gift of ‘passing it on’ and how important it was for my recovery. There was, and still is, no stopping me. I am far from academic and I’m struggling to write this. I was being abused when I was supposed to be learning and my education is very poor.
That wasn’t important: I had other skills that would get me to where I needed to be and I wasn’t afraid anymore of asking for help.
I created my own support network that worked for me and many people have – and still do – help me along the way.
I have used my lived experience with some professional qualifications I’ve picked up along the way. I’ve re-educated myself, just not in the traditional way.
I’m now alongside my colleague Rose in a service called ‘Empower The Invisible’. We have an outreach team that works with young people at risk of sexual exploitation, grooming, gangs and county lines, and other violent crime, and a service for male and female adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. We are a partner of the police and the NHS.
I was told by teachers I would end up in prison and never amount to anything – they got the first bit right, but not the second!
My story doesn’t end here, it’s still ongoing.
I am nobody’s victim, I am Daniel. There’s nothing special about me: the special one is the person that heard me.
Yours, trauma informed,
Epione wants to personally thank Daniel for sharing his personal story to reach out to all survivors and offer hope that recovery is always possible. He invites us to consider the labels associated with addiction, and the countless missed opportunities to explore “Why the addiction?”. With the right access to the right help and ‘treatment’, Daniel now dedicates his time to early intervention to connect with our younger persons at risk of exploitation to prevent harm and abuse.
If you would like to collaborate with us and share how you have overcome trauma and how you have been recovering, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org – We look forward to hearing from and seeing you in 2021!