I Am a Male Survivor

This was originally posted on my yoga studio’s website in 2013. It was my first public admission about being a survivor of sexual assault.

I am 53 years old. I was 40 when I first told anyone that I had been sexually abused as a child. Having kept my secret for more than 30 years it wasn’t easy to admit or talk about but I was fortunate to have had the support and guidance from some incredible people, including my wife, a very small group of close friends and some exceptional therapists. But even with all that help it still took me another 13 years before I was able to tell the whole, complete and true story. As I write this, it has only been one week since I revealed to anyone, including myself, exactly what was done to me. Unless you have lived it, you cannot know how difficult, and how detrimental, it is to live with such a secret for so long. Nor how liberating it is to finally be able to speak out.

In one sense, I feel like a fraud. I have been hiding from myself, hence from the world, hence from you: my teachers, my fellow practitioners, my instructor peers, my students. The methods by which a child protects himself from abuse and trauma are both unconscious and extremely effective. The chief defense mechanism, in psychiatric terms, is dissociation. Dissociation is a process whereby particular feelings or memories are pushed out of the conscious mind. What this means is that I have lived most of my life as an incomplete person, with crucial aspects of my personality, as shaped by my experiences, remaining unavailable to me.

In another sense, I realize I’m no different from anyone. Yoga practice is predicated on the idea that we are all separated from our true self. The yogic path is one of seeking self-actualization, or self-knowledge. It is not a coincidence that my decision to walk the path toward remembering my abuse and recovering the childhood joy and innocence that was taken from me began at the same time I started practicing Bikram Yoga.

When Bikram Choudhury* says, “You’re never too old, never too bad, never too late and never too sick to start from the scratch once again,” he’s only superficially referring to starting a yoga practice, Bikram style or otherwise. The deeper advice he’s offering is that we need to stop waiting, stop feeling unworthy, stop being afraid, stop making excuses and get down to the business of remembering who we are, deep inside, behind the defenses, behind the ego, behind the wounded inner child. I once was a happy, playful child full of enthusiasm, creativity and hope for the future but my abuse pushed all that aside and I learned to live in fear and with deep shame. Many who know me will be surprised by this admission. Many of you will claim to have seen in me those very traits I am claiming to have lost. I can only respond by saying you should have seen me before my abuse taught me to be small. I finally remember that fiercely joyful little boy.

My “coming out” as a survivor could not have happened without the support of so many people, not least of which is the community that comprises BYD. This studio and these classes have provided me with a safe place to be with myself and to be myself. Your continuing acceptance of me as your instructor, fellow practitioner and friend has helped me find the strength I needed to begin this final stage of my recovery into wholeness.

My ability to begin to tell my story also could not have happened without the profound experience I just had attending a Weekend of Recovery. These weekends are organized and facilitated by MaleSurvivor, an organization “committed to preventing, healing, and eliminating all forms of sexual victimization of boys and men through support, treatment, research, education, advocacy, and activism.” I cannot adequately express my gratitude towards the selfless facilitators and courageous men who came together for an amazing weekend of communion and healing. If you are, or know someone who is, a male survivor, you absolutely must know about the remarkable opportunity that these workshops provide.

It is a tragic irony that some months after I wrote this I discovered that Bikram Choudhury was a serial predator of women. Upon discovering this I severed all ties with Bikram Yoga, Inc. and changed the name of my studio from Bikram Yoga Decatur to Still Hot Yoga.