Dylan Jack James
The ice cream dripped off our cones the minute the ice cream man handed them through Mister Softee’s window. The truck’s melodic chimes rang out across our neighborhood that sweltering summer, and we all made sure we did our chores for those elusive quarters that would buy us the refreshing treat.
I spent the rest of that summer jumping handmade-rickety-wooden-ramps I, and the other boys, built – seeing who could jump the farthest. We placed obstacles ahead of the ramp – our little brother’s or sister’s toys. The more toys, the more daring the boy, all of us competing against one another to be like our hero, Evel Knievel. In between slurping ice cream and being a hero, I counted my Pogo stick jumps, played cowboy, blew up whole rolls of caps with my dad’s hammer, and sneaked an occasional drag from the still burning Salem dad tossed on the patio. It was the early 70’s and life was good!
Then, it happened. In an instant the sunshine of my youth ended.
Just. Like. That.
I was told by my family and church, “You lack faith!” “Keep praying!” “God’s got it!” “You’re praying wrong!” “You’re not praying enough!”
An older man in my family sexually molested me. The abuser swore me to secrecy with threats of violence if I told. I buried the horrible secret to keep myself and family members safe, but it reared its ugly head through my behavior. I became a sullen, withdrawn child, prone to bouts of tears and rage. I argued over the slightest thing and refused to do as my parents told me. At the time, they thought it was pre-teen rebellion. My mother later informed me, when I told her about the abuse, that my behavior was strange, upsetting, and out of the ordinary for me. Acting out was my way of coping. This behavior resulted in punishment from my father. Enduring punishment was better than violence against my family and further violence against me, so I bore it with bravery.
A few years later, my mental health journey began. Therapy is not for the weak-hearted. By the time I entered high school, I was having panic attacks, unaware of what they were. My parents took me to see my first therapist at age 15. This coincided with them “finding God” and their insistence that I follow suit. My mental health declined even more as I faced a cognitive dissonance each time I prayed and was not healed of any ailment, mental or physical. I was told by my family and church, “You lack faith!” “Keep praying!” “God’s got it!” “You’re praying wrong!” “You’re not praying enough!”
I felt immeasurable guilt when I questioned if what I was being told was true. If I voiced my disbelief outright, I was labeled a blasphemer and an apostate. This outward shaming screwed with my head, leaving me stranded, misunderstood, and alienated.
The trauma continues to color my daily life. At times, it’s difficult to confide in mental health professionals. I feel expressing it makes me seem like less of a man, especially if I have to reveal it to a female health professional. I struggle with the fallacy that mental health issues diminish my masculinity and I spar with these thoughts in my head. “Man up!” “Be a man!” “Get your shit together!” I try to replace stereotypical phrases with thoughts that are encouraging. “You can do this!” “Keep going!” “You’ve got this!” “Everybody hurts!”
Staring trauma square in the eye is truly frightening, yet empowering. Therapy gives me a sense of self, who I am as a man, despite the trauma I endured. I am learning to face fears head on and rise above my past. Along with therapy, MDI builds me up. I am a work in progress, sculpting out each challenge day-by-day. I am learning that hard work, persistence, honesty and commitment allow me to remain open and vulnerable, not only with myself, but with the men on my MDI men’s team who help keep me focused and on track.
I derive great peace and purpose from my brothers and am striving to be the strong man I am inside, despite my past. It’s a lot to unravel, but it’s unraveling every day as I work to become a better man, a better me.
It’s in the unraveling that I become whole.