By Sallie Culbreth, M.S.
I was recently privileged to have a long conversation with R.A. Dickey – Major League Baseball knuckleball pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays. He authored a fabulous book – Wherever I Wind Up – where he chronicles his journey beyond sexual abuse and his “quest for truth, authenticity, and the perfect knuckleball.” He grew up in an alcoholic home with an absent father, and was sexually abused by a female baby sitter and sexually assaulted by a teenage boy.
As we spoke about the challenge of recovery for a male survivor of sexual assault, he talked about the “shame spiral” that becomes a prison for men if it is allowed to progress. It is a prison built on performance, pretending, and hiding. It is a prison where toxic voices that Dickey calls “birds of prey” flourish and create an internal definition of being trash, being less-than, stained, and inadequate.
For R.A. Dickey, as for most men, recovery is about truth-telling, and he writes that “truth telling isn’t tidy or predictable.” When he realized that he had become what he promised himself he’d never be, he was overwhelmed. He hated what he saw in himself as a man, a husband, in his faith, and in his performance as an athlete. It took a near death experience in the Missouri River before the narrative for his life changed.
Recovery has been a long process for him, as it is for anyone who has the courage to embark on the journey beyond abuse. The advice he gives to men who have experienced abuse?
• Be committed to pursue health and truth, even when it’s painful
• Recognize that you’ve been bearing your burdens alone your entire life, and that an important part of recovery is to learn to be present – to show up, to intentionally be for all that is your life – whether good or bad
• Allow yourself to feel lousy and stop stuffing your emotions
• Acknowledge that you probably hate everything and are most likely furious with God
• Grieve for all that has been lost
• Learn that God is not a genie
• Be ready to take the greatest risks of all – live in truth, intimacy, authenticity, and faith
The other courageous men that helped me compile this series also shared what help they found to be effective in their journeys beyond abuse:
• Alternative therapies – such as EMDR, art and music therapies, and adventure therapy
• Intentionally being kind and patient with yourself
• Find examples of other men with similar experiences who have moved forward and will provide encouragement and inspiration
• Become attached to a caring community – such as a congregation, an interest group, a support group, or an accountability group
• Seek healthy and fun relationships that create better balance
• Meditation and prayer – take time to seek spiritual nurturing and growing opportunities
• Keep tangible items close by that will reconnect you to balance and well-being (one man called this his emergency pouch that is filled with items such as prayer beads, images and inspirational quotes)
• Keep a music library filled with meaningful songs that are easily accessible (perhaps in your phone or iPod)
• Have essential oils that provide comforting fragrances
• One man finds that covering his head with a shamagh scarf or hood can give him space from all that crowds him when he feels overwhelmed – it becomes like a portable “prayer closet”
What is at stake if men don’t pursue life beyond abuse? As R.A. Dickey’s therapist once told him, “If you aren’t willing to face your demons – if you can’t find the courage to take on your fear and hurt and anger – you might as well wrap them up with a bow and given them to your children. Because they will be carrying the same thing . . . unless you are willing to do the work” (Stephen James).
I conclude this week’s Roadside Assistance with a quote from R.A. Dickey’s book:
“The point isn’t to arrive – the point is to seek, to walk humbly with God, to keep walking, and keep believing.”
He resolved his journey beyond abuse by saying this: “I am trustworthy. I belong. I am celebrated. I have hope.”
Note: I deeply appreciate the six men who helped me compile this series, as well as the time that R.A. Dickey gave me for an in-depth conversation about his journey beyond abuse.
Category: Roadside Assistance - Weekly Articles