My birthday wish: to help survivors of sexual abuse

Author of “The Black Path” raising funds for Survivors UK on Facebook

It’s estimated that as many as one in four people are survivors of childhood sexual abuse. I was one of those children. For most of my life I buried all knowledge of what happened to me. This isn’t uncommon with people who were abused as children. It’s something we learn to do early on – a survival technique.

Growing up, I had other battles to fight. In my teens I struggled to come to terms with my sexuality. In my twenties I lost loved ones to AIDS. Facing my personal demons was something I avoided for years. I had neither the time nor the inclination. But still it made itself known. I acted out. I self medicated. I sometimes still do.

Then a number of things happened. I turned 50, which is a good time for taking stock. For my birthday party, my husband and sister filled the flat with old photos. Some I hadn’t seen for years. One triggered a memory – a fragment, really, though in the weeks and months that followed the memories came thick and fast. Finally I was forced to admit to myself that there was something I needed to address. I told my husband. I told my friends and family. I spoke to a friend who works as a therapist and has experience in this area. Then, when it became clear that I needed professional help, I contacted Survivors.

Survivors is small charity which provides counselling and support services to men who’ve experienced sexual abuse. I’d been aware of their existence for some time – long before I was ready to pick up the phone and call on them for help. Making that call was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. There’s so much guilt and shame attached to childhood sexual abuse. Breaking the silence about it is difficult. Dealing with the fallout can be even harder. But I knew I owed it to myself to at least try.

Two years on, I’m able to talk about it without the familiar shortness of breath or tightening in my chest. I no longer feel any shame about what happened to me. The shame was never mine to begin with. On an intellectual level, I’ve always known this to be true. But feeling it took a little longer. I wouldn’t have got here without Survivors. I can’t thank them enough.

So for my birthday this year I’ve decided to raise funds for them through my Facebook account. I have a lot of friends and followers on Facebook. Statistics suggest that a fair few of them will have experienced something similar to what I experienced, or will know someone who did. People have been extremely generous. Within a day of creating the fundraiser I’d met half my target. So naturally I increased it. The more I raise, the more I can help Survivors – and the more support they can provide for others like me. The campaign ends on September 13. Please give what you can. Spread the word. Help break the silence.

Visit Survivors UK here. Find Paul’s fundraiser here.

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