My name is Rees and I am a survivor from South Africa of both sexual child abuse and rape, my path to recovery began when I was 39 and continues even to this day. I have been fortunate that I have had access to therapy, the support of my wife and children, as well as the brotherhood of fellow survivors around the world.
Here is my story…..
My wife and I met when I was 14, we got married when I was 23, we LOVE each other and have two fantastic daughters. My wife never knew about my abuse and rape until 2001.
My daughter’s school believed that she had a learning problem. It was recommended that she see psychologist. In the best interest of her education this was done, my wife and I were asked to come and meet with the psychologist individually; this was done even though I believed people must sort out their own problems. How can talking to a stranger help – that is so American “let’s talk about it” ? My dad is British and my mom is South African, that combination led me to believe that feelings and emotions are to be kept to yourself – not shown. How wrong I was.!
This was the start of my journey that changed my life forever – how my daughter inadvertently got me to take the first step. At the first therapy session we discussed my relationship with my daughter, she was a teenager – it was difficult. I thought I knew it all and my daughter thought I knew nothing about anything. The psychologist was brilliant, she won me over in the very first session, asking me questions about how and why I reacted in certain circumstances, why I did not trust teachers and sports coaches, why I would never let my children sleep at their friends houses . I was asked to come back for another private session, I did and she continued to probe why I was overprotective with my children. She dug deeper and deeper and I continued to make more and more appointments, I was concerned that my parenting was affecting my daughters studies. I have always wanted to be the best at everything I did and now maybe I was not the best dad.
My daughter stopped going to the psychologist as she was misdiagnosed by the school – to this day I believe the school is guilty of psychological abuse. Ironically, this was the same school where a teacher sexually abused me. My daughter eventually changed schools and went on to graduate from university. She is now a school teacher specializing in children with learning problems, ensuring that nobody went thru what she did – it seem she is my fellow thriver.
I got used to going to the psychologist, every week. I ran a number of business’s and was on the board of a number of voluntary organisations, always wanting to lead and control. I became a workaholic and all my spare time was spent with community organisations. Everybody thought I was this superhero, successful businessman, international trainer, great dad and a good husband. Only if they knew what lay beneath this superhero. I am digressing but will come back to that later. The psychologist dug deeper and deeper into who I was, then she started to ask me WHY I do things and behave in certain ways. I never drank, I had no tolerance for drunk people, was fearful of going into a bar and was anxious in an all male group. In every situation I had to get to the top, I had to control the environment in which I was involved with. She picked up a pattern and after about the 10th session asked me to tell her my true story, what was this deep secret I was hiding?
My whole life I had not told anybody what happened to me, some of the images that happened to me occasionally flashed in my mind, I then worked harder and started new projects, so I had no time for these thoughts. Over time I realised I must put this puzzle together, or my past would destroy me. Piece by piece we (myself with the help of my therapist) put it together.
I went to weekly therapy for more than a year and below you will find an incomplete puzzle on how I went from a victim, to a survivor, to a thriver and I am now run South African Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse.
I was fondled by a family friend at a very young age, I don’t recall all the details but I know it happened. The blurry images are there with very little detail. At the age of 13/14 I got very drunk on a soccer tour and landed up in another room in the same hotel that we were staying at. I was sexually abused, to this day I’m not to sure if I was abused by the coach or someone else. The lack of this information has worried me but I had to move on with my recovery, maybe I will never recall. At school I was groomed by a teacher who was also the first team rugby coach and subsequently abused by him when I was 17. This was a difficult thing for me to accept. Why did it always happen to me? It must have been my fault? I had all these feelings and no answers. I lived with that pain until the age of 39, the pain is still there but I have some of the answers.
Remembering I was raised in a very sexist household, men are tough, cowboys do not cry, feelings are for girls, etc. Looking back I was always told to respect authority, I did and that is why I could be groomed by a teacher in this way.
When I left school I thought it was all over and I could put it behind me and then I was violently gang raped while on active military duty.
During the 70’s and 80’s South Africa had compulsory military training (conscription) for all white males, if you refused, you would go to jail for between 10 and 15 years. At the age of 18yrs I was sent to the Air Force for two years and was trained as a radar operator, as I was based close to home and was doing work as an assistant air traffic controller, it was tolerable. Everybody knew I belonged to a very small liberal political party; most white South Africans supported the government with their policy of apartheid. I got used to being ridiculed, on a number of occasions the officers would call everybody for a talk and they would say ” watch out, anybody could be a spy… even..then they would mention me by my rank and name”.
It was in my nature to take up leadership roles (now I know why, for my safety I had to have control). I became the spokesman for the conscripts, I discovered fraud taking place on our base, the head of the kitchen was selling our rations, when this was pointed out he was transferred from the base and shortly after that I was sent to go on active duty to South West Africa (the name of the country when the apartheid government occupied it. – now called Namibia)/Angola border, everybody thought we were fighting the communist onslaught, I knew better they were trying to keep the status quo – apartheid.
Active duty was stressful, anybody in the military will know, people get killed while on active duty. South Africa was at war, as conscripts we were forced into this war, if we believed in it or not. The stresses got to me one night and I got very drunk in the bar, stumbled back to my quarters on the other side of the runway, as I passed the mess (canteen) I was grabbed by some guys (not from the air force, the base also housed the special forces, army and medics) pulled into a room and was violently raped by a group of males, I was drunk and they were bigger and stronger than me, I tried to fight then off but I was overpowered. It was violent, today I can still remember the smell of their sweat, I was too drunk to remember their faces.
That was the last time I have been hopelessly drunk. My trust for males disappeared, so did my tolerance for people who were tipsy or drunk. I felt uncomfortable in an all male environment.
When it was over I was in shock and dumped like a dead animal. I got back to my quarters and showered for hours, the bleeding finally stopped. I felt as if I was no longer a man, I was damaged goods. I was in pain for weeks. The next day I pretended nothing had happened.
The next 6 weeks I felt so lonely, nobody to talk to. I had a loving family at home and a girlfriend, my childhood sweetheart that I was madly in love with (now my wife) waiting for my return – that is what got me thru the nightmare. Everybody knew I was against apartheid and they all thought I was a “commie “. I have always wondered ….. was the rape random or was it because I was perceived to be so liberal. I never hid my liberal political thinking.
I could not report the incident, I would have been court marshalled for trying to put the military in disrepute or sent to DB (detention barracks) as a deviant – I would not be believed – no member of the military would do such a thing (the only law was military law) remember this was still in a country where you could be detained for 6 months, if you were perceived to be a threat to the state.
I had flashbacks for years from both the rape and what I witnessed while on active duty. The flashbacks were incomplete, blurred, as I had blocked the rape out of my mind, I knew what happened but was in denial. I used to wake up paralyzed, my eyes were open and I could see everything in the room, I could not move, my wife would hear me mumble for help, she would wake me up. This happened quite a few times it was worse than a horror movie, I never recalled the dream just the physical reaction to it. I can understand that dreams can cause heart attacks. My heart was pounding I asked my wife to feel the pounding and she could see the fear on my face. I still did not join the dots. I did some internet research, it could have been anything from evil spirits trying to take over my soul, to brain tumours (sometimes the net is full of bullshit) or sleep paralysis.
I kept my mind busy, ensuring it was in overdrive, I lived for work, became a serial entrepreneur and workaholic, got involved in organizations, took on leadership roles and did everything to ensure my mind was active. Gave my family all the material things, but little time. I was emotionless, no highs, no lows. You can’t spend your life on a roller coaster pretending everything is fine, something will eventually give. I never drank or did drugs I had to be in control to protect myself. Only if people knew I was a time bomb waiting to explode.
At 39 everything came to a head, I spent 18 months in therapy, was fortunate I could afford one and hit the luck the first time; she was the leading expert in this field. The anti- depressants worked while I started to put the puzzle together! It started like I had a puzzle of unknown pieces, but did not have the picture, so I did not know what the outcome would be. The edges were not there and pieces were missing. I thought it would be an impossible task. Just like a puzzle, once you find one piece, it gives you a clue for the next piece. Up to today the puzzle is not complete but it is complete enough to be a survivor.
My wife stuck with me. I told my wife and later my daughters when they were 18 about being sexually abused as a child and they know I was raped.
That was 10 years ago and I became a thriver over time.
I can openly discuss the abuse, but the rape has been the most difficult since I attended a “Victims no Longer” weekend in Scarborough UK, under the guidance of Mike Lew from the USA, an author of a book with the same name and the world expert in this area. It was the most healing of all my experiences.
I’m now heading a voluntary organization “South African Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse” which is now formally registered, this organization will help others on their journey to recovery. To create awareness I climbed Kilimanjaro not just for myself but for all males who have been abused or raped. I will be attending the 13th annual Male Survivors Conference in New York with my wife and will represent South Africa on an international panel discussion.