male survivor of sexual abuse

I Made Healing from Abuse My Priority

T. Crandall

We’re so grateful for our guest post this week by T. Christopher Crandall who was featured in the male survivor support group in our documentary, Boys and Men Healing.

We’re so proud of T. Christopher, his commitment to healing and all his subsequent successes! He is a returning undergraduate student in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, working under Professor Brian Powers. He is also currently undertaking a research study regarding current and emerging practices in the treatment of survivors of interpersonal violence. If you are a mental health professional or social worker, please consider taking the time after reading his personal story of healing, and his path to becoming a professional in the field,  to participate in his study and questionnaire — I think you’ll find it insightful for your own work! For survivors of abuse and loved ones, T. is a true inspiration of what it means to thrive by committing to healing!

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I have spent the better part of my life trying to understand and heal from the traumatic experiences that have influenced my life. Though raised in a middle-class, suburban home by loving parents, both had their own early-life histories of trauma to contend with. Then, in the early 70’s, my father began to show signs of what would later be diagnosed as a severe form of bi-polar disorder. His condition took about a decade to properly diagnose and there was a lot of trial and error involved in his treatment – a circumstance that resulted in our home-life becoming volatile and erratic for quite a while. On top of this, neither of my parents were particularly equipped to deal with their pre-existing traumas and, this being a time when people really didn’t consider abuse or trauma except for the most extreme and visible cases, they were left to their own devices. Thus I was subjected to behaviors and forms of discipline we now know to be abusive and destructive.

When I was eight years old I was sexually assaulted. The details are not so important as the fact that, in order to survive, I essentially had to make myself forget the event. An older, extended family member who I had fairly consistent contact with was involved, and I was so young I had no choice but to drive it underground. As a result of the abuse at home combined with my sexual trauma I became something of a walking target in my community, experiencing more than my share of assaultive bullying. This only became more complicated as I entered adolescence and my emerging sexuality identified me as gay, thus setting off the constancy of homophobic harassment that characterized my adolescence. Feeling like there was no escape, and that the conditions of my life were pretty much set, I tried to commit suicide at 18. I didn’t want to die so much as I wanted to bring an end to the pain. As soon as I graduated from high school I moved out of the house and away from my home-town in an attempt to put it all behind me. Still, I entered young adulthood deeply confused, depressed and lacking any durable sense of self or direction.

I didn’t really know any different, so I filed my early experiences under a pretense of normality and proceeded to stumble through my 20’s the best I could. Since I had so little sense of personal power I was passively self-destructive. I had so many accidents and health issues that I used to joke that the emergency room staff knew me by name.

Fortunately I came through it all in one piece. At 27, after breaking up with the most recent of a string of emotionally abusive boyfriends (this one threatening to become physically violent), I was fortunate to find a support-group for adult survivors of childhood abuse. This was a turning point for me and I never looked back! It was in this group that I finally began to deal with the realities of my childhood, and found the courage to finally unearth my early experience of sexual assault. Having admitted the difficult truths of my life I knew that I had a chance to recover. It took a lot of work, self-study, discipline and dedication, but with the support of this group, an increasing sense of determination and the early support of one therapist in particular (for whom I will always be grateful), I found a strength in myself I didn’t know existed, and set myself firmly on the road to recovery.

Throughout my young adulthood, even though I wasn’t dealing with my own childhood experiences, I maintained a dream of being a child-welfare worker. The only problem was that my academic history was understandably pretty spotty and, given that I graduated high school by the skin of my teeth, I didn’t perceive myself as someone who could be successful in college. I would take community college classes from time to time and always did well, but my low self-esteem kept me from believing that I could successfully pursue a degree.

In my early 30’s, frustrated with my career, I decided to quit my job and make my dream a reality. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it but my self-determination had grown by leaps and bounds and I felt confident that I could provide necessary support to children and youth experiencing abuse. One thing led quickly to another and I soon found myself working in the fund-raising department of a national non-profit dedicated to perinatal health. Though I had been hired to provide temporary administrative support for their annual, tent-pole fundraiser the organization had another program that caught my interest; a community program that provided support, information and a variety of essential resources to pregnant and parenting teens experiencing family and relationship violence. Confident that I had the life-experience and perspective that could be valuable to such a program, I made my interest in working for the program well-known and was eventually brought on board to develop and coordinate their new school-based, youth education component. They had been impressed by my work in the other department and were willing to take a chance on me.

This was the opportunity I had been looking for and I ran with it! I learned quickly that the non-profit world is one in which you wear many hats, build planes while flying them and learn how do the work of 10 people at once. While I lacked experience I more than made up for it in ambition, and thus began my real education. I did all the research I could on family, sexual and domestic violence, trauma, adolescent development and learning theory. I found mentors in the community, went to endless trainings and seminars, and audited a number of youth violence prevention programs. I read just about every manual and curriculum guide in print at the time and set about constructing our program from the best practices of the best programs. In the end we had a very successful program and provided a great deal of support and education to many young people, parenting and non-parenting, as a result. From here I moved on to other youth-serving programs and agencies, developing and coordinating programs in a number of service areas, each one informed by violence prevention strategies.

Meanwhile, I continued to do my own healing work. Frustrated with the dearth of men’s survivor support services, and disinterested in the short-term support groups offered by therapists in the area, a small group of other male CSA survivors and I created our own peer-led support group. With all of us involved professionally in either social services or education in a variety of capacities, we were all well-versed in the dynamics of group work and took the appropriate steps to ensure group and personal safety. Foundational to the development of this group was our mutual agreement that all members must be firmly established in their recovery, and have a secure and durable support system external to the group. This served to ensure, not only the accountability and safety of each group member, but of the group as a whole. We rotated facilitation, and all took part in ensuring that the group remained a safe space for all of us. We met regularly for a number of years and I fully credit the men of this group for providing the support and grounding that enabled all of us to do some of our most advanced and challenging healing work. Though I remained committed to my group members and to their healing, after 5 years I became aware that I needed to continue my own recovery along a more independent path and departed from the group. This group continued to meet for another 5 years thereafter, only recently disbanding after a core member moved out of state.

I had accomplished a great deal in my career and after 10 years, realizing that I could go no further without a degree (and experiencing a good measure of survivor fatigue), brought this phase of my career to an end and set about conquering other personal and professional goals. I explored my options pretty thoroughly and was positioning myself to tackle my professional ambitions in another field altogether when I suddenly and unexpectedly assumed custody of my 15 year-old niece, herself a trauma survivor. Leveraging my experience working with adolescents, and my now somewhat expansive knowledge of trauma and recovery, I set about creating a safe and welcoming home for her. Within a month of having her in my daily life, my days now spent “parenting” and coordinating the life of a teenager with a background similar to my own, I became convinced that I needed to return to my former career in some fashion.

I now had a kid in school and wanted to be a good role model for her, so I thought it best for me to face another of my demons and return to school myself. With her influence and encouragement I set out to pursue my degree. Three years later, with my niece successfully having graduated from high school and setting out on her own (now more solid) path to independence, I transferred to UC Berkeley where I am currently an undergraduate student. It’s almost beyond my comprehension to consider but I completed my first year at Cal, received an undergraduate research fellowship, and have just started my first research study; an exploration of best practices in mental health entitled, “A Culture of Support: The practice strengths of mental health professionals and social workers who work with survivors of interpersonal violence.”

All I can say is that it has been an amazing journey of self-discovery!! Though it has not always been easy (not by a long-shot), it has always been worthwhile and I feel nothing but gratitude. There are honestly no words to express how blessed I feel at the opportunities I’ve had and the incredible people I’ve met and worked with – so many remarkable teachers, allies, and advocates – who have taken up the responsibility of their own healing, and of supporting the healing of others. I don’t know at this moment what form my work will take going forward. What I do know is that I am fully committed to supporting others in their own healing, and that I have full faith in the ability of those, wounded by the trauma of abuse, to recover and restore their own dignity and emotional well-being. I know that it’s possible.

T. Christopher Crandall, May 2016

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Mental health professionals and social workers interested in participating in T.’s important study, please see information and link to study below:

I am seeking mental health professionals to participate in this study in order to provide insight into the current status of trauma-informed mental health treatment and practices, and to explore emerging and best practices in the field. It is my hope that the information gained from this study will benefit the fields of both research and practice in understanding of the advances, innovations and best practices currently being utilized in the psychosocial treatment of victims and survivors of interpersonal violence. As this study will be conducted cross-culturally (The Netherlands, Germany, England and U.S.) the results have the power to inform practice within the practitioner communities in these countries as well.

The study has two separate, though related, components: a questionnaire and a personal interview. Study participants may participate in either component or both.

If you participate in the questionnaire you will be asked about your current knowledge about trauma and survivorship, current and emerging treatment practices. The questionnaire is completed online, should take about 30 minutes and may be found at the HERE. (https://berkeley.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_cFUpKX75h7JEymF)

For those who would like to also participate in the interview you will be asked similar questions as those on the questionnaire, though will have the opportunity to provide more in-depth answers. The interview will take 1 – 2 hours and can be arranged by phone or in-person.

For more information, or to schedule an interview, please contact me by email at tchristophercrandall@berkeley.edu. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

T. Christopher Crandall

 

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