By David Braley
It’s been two years since I first walked through the doors of the Fort Collins SAVA Center. It was there I started my journey to unravel the mess of being sexually assaulted as a child. In my case, I was almost 50 years old before I had any clue what really happened to me. Talk about having the gift of stuffing away trauma! The amazing people at SAVA really know what they’re doing. With the help of a very talented and specially trained therapist, I’ve learned what happened to me as a child was not my fault. I’ve learned new and healthier ways to view and cope with the world around me, and why I struggle with things most people take for granted. Most importantly, through recovery I’m discovering new and exciting things about myself.
In my story, I was raised in a one-parent family. Unlucky for me though, my only parent was my sexual perpetrator. As a child I never got to experience what it was like to really feel safe. I never knew what it felt like to have the most important person in my life protecting me and watching my back. The very person who was supposed to provide for my most basic needs, encourage self discovery, teach me how to behave in society, and help guide me into adulthood, was hurting me instead.
Because most humans seem to have an infinite capacity to survive, I managed to adapt to my circumstance. I spent most of my young adult life avoiding contact with other people. I deliberately chose a career that allowed me to work in solitude. I never had any roommates, and to no surprise, I never let anyone touch me. I became a master at avoiding the creep who had to hug EVERYONE in the room. In spite of this, I did make some close connections with people along the way. Some of those relationships where very helpful to me, even life changing. Some of them where very dysfunctional, and that’s putting it nicely.
After years of deliberate solitude and thinking of myself as a shy introvert, I’m now discovering I’m quite the opposite. Just a few years ago, I would have avoided the notion of venturing out into public at all costs. I’m now at a point in my recovery where I find myself craving interaction with others. I want to attend the party I’ve just been invited to. I feel a sense of excitement with the idea of watching a play, visiting an art gallery, or attending an outdoor concert. Yet, I still experience fear and anxiety around the idea of being in public. So what am I so afraid of?
At 52 years young, I’m embarrassed to admit I’m not sure what I can safely say or do around strangers. Can you say “dysfunctional sense of boundaries?” Is this my fault? Hardly. Can I fix this? With a little practice, I truly believe so. It’s been a great comfort to realize that some of the social “Faux Pas” I’ve made in public lately, are of much less concern to the people around me than I originally imagined. This realization affords me permission to NOT beat myself up for doing silly things, something my old self was all too good at.
I’ll end this with a message to everyone in recovery like myself. As you begin to heal, you’re going to discover new and exciting things about yourself. Powerful things. Putting your new self out on the line for all to see is very stressful. If you do make a silly mistake like I do, don’t be too hard on yourself. Instead, take a deep breath, and give yourself a break. Continue to build your courage and let your “New Self” come out and shine! I feel super lucky getting to know my shiny new self. I give you permission to do the same.
David Braley lives in Fort Collins with his gorgeous wife Martha and their two cats, Merlin and Cissy. They all live together in a small modest home he built with his own two hands. He volunteers at the Fort Collins Food Co-Op and at Integrative Acupuncture Clinic. He says these two gigs afford him the opportunity to learn how to play well with others and develop his “Soft-Skills.” He also says he’s got a new and profound appreciation for people who work directly with the general public.