Eight hundred thousand people commit suicide every year; that’s one friend, family member, mother, father, possibly someone close to you, every forty seconds. One human being every forty seconds, gone.
Someone who has experienced sexual abuse is three times as likely to be one of those people. One in five women and one in six men will be sexually abused before they turn twenty-five. For those of us who are survivors, the likelihood of one of us tragically checking out early is dramatically greater than for the general populace – and only increases with age. This is not a book about suicide; but suicide, mental illness, addiction and self-harm are all very possible realities for people who have experienced or are currently undergoing sexual abuse, at any time in their lives.
My name is Alex; I was sexually abused by my stepfather. Abused in one of the most abhorrent ways possible by the man who I trusted to act as a parental figure, the man who was supposed to protect me, guide me and show me how to be a man myself as I grew up. I hate him for that – I hate him, and everyone like him. People like him who inflict this harm on anyone deserve our hate.
My intention in writing this book is multifaceted. I want to tell my story, and I want that to be an example to others to tell theirs. I want survivors to know that it’s safe to talk about their abuse – that there are people who will listen and support them. I believe that every honest conversation about sexual abuse and its impact makes the world a safer place for us all. I want to combat abusers and prevent further harm to victims. I feel the most effective and expedient way that we can fight back against this scourge is simply to talk about it. Your voice can help bring about change.
I thought long and hard about the best way to tell my story. I wanted to reach as many people as possible. Part of me wanted to get hold of a megaphone and yell my story at anyone within earshot, but I thought that may land me in some form of asylum where I would have only a limited and very captive audience. So, in light of that, I decided to undertake the sensible but daunting task of writing this book. Buried Alive: A story of hate and acceptance is my best attempt at an honest and complete account of my story of abuse, though to protect people’s privacy I have awarded them new names for the purposes of my story.
If even one person who reads this book is inspired to come forward about his or her abuse, feels more confident about supporting someone else, or simply just becomes aware of the issues facing victims of sexual abuse, then I have succeeded. But before I can talk about any kind of success, I must first tell you my tale. And, like any sane person, I am going to start somewhere in the middle.
I was cold and numb as I drove home from work – strange, as it was a beautifully warm summer’s day. A scenic view of the ocean passed me by almost unnoticed as I made my way toward my home on the Kāpiti Coast where I lived with my fiancée, Thea, in our jointly owned house only a short drive from the beach, with our menagerie of pets. I worked for a company that I believed in, doing a job that I enjoyed; not only was the work rewarding but it paid well too. I had finished around midday and the sun was high in the sky, creating a picturesque view out in the harbour; a stunning contrast between that and the rolling hills along the other side of the road. I could feel that sun on my skin through the windscreen and I had the windows down, listening to my favourite music.
But despite all this lovely scene setting I am cold, dead inside. I want to enjoy this moment in time and the next, but I am unable to. The few occasions where I have felt happiness have been fleeting and brief, brief escapes from the numbness I have grown familiar with, oozing over me like something from a vile pustule. I have no control over these feelings – I want them to release me, but I can’t escape, and at this stage in my story I have not yet accepted my past. This utter lack of joy makes me feel ungrateful for what I have – I know that I’m lucky, but I’m unable to appreciate it … Instead I feel disgusted with myself, and my subconscious thoughts remind me of this in every unoccupied quiet moment. A cacophony of judgmental voices screams at me at every opportunity: “Think of everyone else who has less” – “You haven’t got it that bad” – “You don’t deserve what you have” – “You worthless, ungrateful piece of shit” – “If you can’t sort yourself out, why don’t you just end it? No one wants to know you like this anyway” – “Drive your car into oncoming traffic and be done with it”. Please, forgive my self-indulgence … but let me make something clear; I know I am fortunate, and I want more than anything to love my life. I don’t want these thoughts, they aren’t mine, but they fill my mind and I have begun to believe what they’re telling me.
These thoughts are not my own, yet they have been with me since I was about 14 years old. At first they were dull and quiet, visiting only in the depths of night when sleep eluded me. They were loudest when I found myself staring into the void at night waiting for him to visit. As I have aged and become more aware of the grotesqueness of his crimes against me, they have become more persistent and inexplicably furious. They are perpetual, yet entirely unwelcome, guests. “He didn’t mean to hurt you,” they cry out to me; softly they whisper to me, “He loves you”, “He’s unwell – or was. He’s better now … he wouldn’t hurt anyone else.” “Think of the hurt you would cause your family if you said anything – if you tell them it just shows how selfish you are,” they urge, and then escalate with added venom, “You should be grateful for what you have, you ungrateful piece of shit – just die.” Clearly, as you are reading what I have written, I did not succumb to the pressure from these thoughts, although at times they were terribly persuasive.
This particular drive, unlike many others I endured in similar fashion, was the catalyst for me to seek counselling for the first time – but the motivation wasn’t internal. As you can imagine, a person in my state is not much fun to be around; in fact, I imagine that when I was at my lowest I was deeply upsetting to be near. Despite not yet knowing any of my story, Thea was deeply concerned for me, having observed a steady decline in my mood over the prior months. She firmly encouraged me to talk to someone – if not her, then someone else who could help me work through what I was experiencing. But at this point I had not yet told a living soul my story, and I by no means sprang into action arranging meetings with psychiatrists or counsellors or anything of the sort. I will spare you a description of the following days languishing in depression (I feel that would be too self-indulgent). So we will fast forward a few days: I am standing in the corridor at work, trying to subtly retrieve the number from a poster for a counselling service funded by my employer. For some reason I am embarrassed … “There’s nothing wrong with me, is there?”
Fortunately for me, my prior history included an obsession with avenues of self-improvement. I had managed to convince myself that my unhappiness was somehow derived from some kind of skill or trait that I was lacking, and so on that particular day I had been listening to a podcast on taking action: “Only you are standing in the way of your own progress; it’s up to you to take action!” Very corny, somewhat unhelpful self-help blather – however, in that moment it was exactly what I needed to hear. I was standing in the corridor, staring at that poster with the podcast host’s voice shouting confidently: “Take action! Action!” Almost in direct reply my unwelcome visitors screamed out in protest: “There’s nothing wrong with you! You don’t need help, you ungrateful piece of shit! What would you even talk about? Think of all the pain you will cause!” And then – quite unexpectedly – I reached into my pocket, produced my phone and typed in the number for the counselling service. I left the office, the whole while staring at my phone. Down the stairs I went and into the car park. I got into my car, an early nineties Mitsubishi Mirage with frayed seats, and there, in that quiet moment of solitude, distracted by the fluorescent glow of the phone screen, I dialled that number.
Whilst so much more time would pass before I reached any kind of resolution or closure, that phone call set into motion the events that ultimately led me to where I am now on my journey of recovery. But before I reveal how that happened I need to tell you much more of my story.
So now you know where my journey to recovery and journey to acceptance started. But why start my story here? A perfectly reasonable question. When I decided to seek justice for myself, one of the first things I did was to seek out books of other survivors’ experiences. There are many great books out there, but it was hard for me to read them. Many started with tales of abuse, and of course such accounts are important; we must talk about what happened to us in order to move past it. But for me, in the head space I was in at that time, I needed to be told it could get better. After reading this first chapter, you know it can get better, because I am telling you that it did for me. As I sit here writing these words, I have accepted my story and consider the matter of the abuse I suffered resolved. It is hard, don’t let me lull you into a false sense of security. There aren’t words in the English language capable of describing how arduous a journey you will be embarking on. But we are the sum of the trials we face in life; the anguish we feel in the face of adversity can act as fuel to get us through those miseries and see us emerge secure in ourselves and stronger than before.
The journey of recovery is not an easy one. Unlike many journeys you will take, this one doesn’t have an end, per se. Does that seem to contradict what I just told you about things getting better? Perhaps if I didn’t elaborate it would. The journey of recovery never truly ends; we must all accept what has happened to us as part of our story and acknowledge it without letting it define us. That doesn’t mean you have to be okay with it. It is okay to feel anger for the suffering you endured during that part of your life; just understand that that part of your life is over now, and what you do with the rest is up to you. You can choose to continue languishing, as I did for so long, or you can choose to move past it and do something positive. Anger is an emotion that we all feel – it alerts us to injustices, and if used constructively it can help us see those wounds that spawned it be healed. I still hate my abuser for what he did to me, but I no longer allow him to flood the dark recesses of my mind. I have accepted that chapter of my life – it is in my timeline, but I am not ashamed of it. I speak freely of it and wield it as a weapon to fight the very same injustices that were done to me. The sexual abuse I suffered does not define me.
My story takes a while to tell, with much of it being overshadowed by the demons of my abuse. Those demons stole precious time which I will never be able to retrieve. As I struggled to come to terms with my abuse, a concept that helped me greatly was to think of my time as currency, a very limited and precious currency. I would encourage you to do the same. When you were abused, someone else took control of your currency and influenced how you invested it later in life (in my experience, through depression). I would see you seize back control of your time from your demons, depression, anxiety and fear. I want you to read my story and feel encouraged to take hold of the reins, either for yourself or to help someone you love, and start spending that currency the way that you want; it is finite, and once it’s spent, whether you are happy with your purchases or not, your time is up.
So, you’ve picked up this book, you’ve read a few pages and you know some of my story. An ugly part, right around the middle of my journey. You know that things got better for me. You’ve read my clumsy analogy of time as a currency. You know that my journey to recovery hasn’t finished and likely never will, but the sailing is a lot smoother now. But I didn’t get here alone. Now you’re thinking, “Well great – where’s the advice?” To that I say, I have given you some indirectly: you will need support, and likely lots of it. It is okay to falter, and this journey is more than worthwhile; moreover, it may be the most important and self-defining thing you ever do. There’s more coming, don’t worry – but first I need to tell you my tale.
My abuse did not start immediately, I was not born into it. In fact, full-blown sexual abuse didn’t start until I was fourteen years old. Did this make it any easier to deal with? No. But, because of this I have quite a lot to fill you in on, so let’s get to it.