Bristleconeproject is an organization that is making strides to bring to light stories of sexually abused men who has overcome the effect of abuse. We men in society seldom have the chance, if we are lucky enough to have it granted, to tell our darkest stories, to share our emotions, our fears, our anxieties, our wants, our needs, our demons, our nightmares, or things that afflict us. Here, these men were able to pour out their hearts on the issue that society pays little to no attention to…
Meet Desmond Biss
Sexually abused by an uncle for many years, Desmond later saw his uncle jailed for sexually abusing another child. But Desmond’s trauma remained a private burden, a secret he kept to himself, buried in a mental safe. A secret that walled himself from others, protected from a world in which someone you trust, someone you need, someone who cares for you could be the someone who betrays you.
He was a sophomore at the University of Saskatchewan when he began to dig up the safe with the secret. His first disclosure was to his sister.
After that disclosure, Desmond launched himself on the long and difficult journey toward healing. The first counselor he braved was a disaster. Nine months later, he let himself try again. And so he persevered, gradually unlocking the safe and bringing light into the dark places.
He had to methodically teach himself to recognize and tolerate his emotions. Emotions had been uncharted territory, a part of experience he was forced to sacrifice in the service of survival. He has found great help in yoga and meditation. Meditation helps him to focus his attention where he needs it, helps him to remain grounded, and to notice when his mind is veering away from the present.
Meet Alan Fountain
After many years of counseling, many years of grappling with and overcoming the legacies of more than five years of sexual abuse at the hands of a coach, Alan listened to a question asked of a survivor on a television show: “Did you get your power back yet?” For Alan, “that was the light bulb moment.” That was the moment he realized that a significant part of his recovery still lay ahead of him.
Like many survivors, Alan had spent years struggling with anxiety, struggling with depression, struggling with addiction. He had also, simultaneously, nurtured a career as a professional stylist, providing high-end consultation to individual clients. Like many survivors, his internal struggles and his external successes lived side by side, a duality that few people understood.
So the exchange between the TV host and the survivor was a lightening bolt that fused these dualities. It launched Alan on an odyssey of social and political activism. Using social media and forging coalitions, Alan went public and worked tirelessly for changes in Georgia’s statute of limitations. It was an odyssey that re-connected Alan with his power, but it was also an odyssey that had its costs. Not everyone in his social network was supportive. There was stiff opposition to the proposed changes to Georgia’s laws. Alan found himself under attack.
But like so many of life’s darkest moments, Alan’s produced light. Out of the silence of so many within his social network, there emerged an unexpected ally. His mother. She came to his aid, supporting him publicly when it seemed like no one else would do so, an act of faith that repaired their relationship.
Meet Alain Kabenga
Listening to Alain describe the torture and rape he suffered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a soul-wrenching journey across the spectrum of what the human species is capable of. From the brutal depravity of Alain’s torturers, to the courage and nobility of Alain himself, a man who chose to confront his pain and suffering instead of descending into the violence of revenge.
A pastor in a village in the Congo, Alain was swept up by government soldiers out to destroy the evidence, and the witnesses to their killings. After being tortured, Alain was saved from summary execution by a stranger. Alain, his wife and family fled the country, and arrived in Kampala, Uganda, destitute but alive.
There he began to rebuild his life, starting with his deeply wounded self. Through the Refugee Law Project, he found a group of fellow survivors, other men who had endured sexual torture. Through the compassionate embrace of a church, Alain was able to re-introduce himself to God, to raise his hands up in prayer, and to feel once more embraced.
Today, Alain is firmly committed to the continued healing of his wounded soul, and to a future as an activist. A man who will tell his story publicly in a land that remains dangerously hostile to his message. A man who embodies the courage and integrity that our species is capable of.
Meet Andrew Mai
Today, Andrew serves as the medical director of a hospice care facility in Ottawa. His profound compassion is, almost literally, palpable. It is also memorialized in the numerous obituaries in which loved ones of deceased hospice patients specifically thank Dr. Andrew Mai for the care he bestowed on their dying relative.
Where was that profound compassion born?
Before the age of 29, had you asked Andrew if he had been sexually abused, he would have said no. But there always had been strong emotional clues. In his 30’s, the clues adhered into memories of sexual abuse.
Those memories rocked Andrew, but they also began to make sense of lifelong patterns – scripts – that had ruled his life. The near-constant feeling of shame; “people who are trying to get close to me are just trying to hurt me;” “I’m worthless;” “I am not deserving of compassion or respect;” “there is danger, everywhere.”
“These were the lenses through which I viewed the world, made my choices.”
There were years of work, “shoveling through mountains of grief, day after day.”
Andrew kept shoveling. He poured his pain and grief into his poems, and he committed himself to a serious practice of meditation, something that he continues to this day. That commitment has yielded a clarity that manifests itself in simple statements of crystalline meaning. And it has yielded transformation, as in this closing stanza of one of Andrew’s poems:
light over darkness,
love over pain,
necessity over fear
life over death
each moment present, complete and whole.
each moment lived in love,
each moment a moment of joy and discovery.
each moment …a wondrous instant to be lived and shared.
and I am blessed to be on this path.
Meet Bill Martin
Bill is engaged in a lifelong struggle to heal the profound wounds of his childhood. He spent the first four years of life in foster homes, already saddled with deep feelings of being rejected. He was then adopted, only to be sexually abused by multiple perpetrators.
These compounded traumas were overwhelming, and for many years Bill’s only recourse was to find a way to survive. At times he used drugs and alcohol. At times he dissociated. He was terrified of confined spaces, like closets and elevators.
But the hardest struggles have been with the inner voice that tells him he’s broken and damaged. The doubting voice: “Did you ask for any of this?” “No, I didn’t ask for any of this! How can you?! Seven years old!”
Little by little, there is healing. Bill has found solace at the ocean, feeling the salt air on his skin, listening to the incoming waves. With each incoming wave he inhales, then slowly exhales, synchronizing his breathing with the waves. An oceanic meditation.
And then there is the piano. Bill began playing the piano at age eight, but this blessing too he has had to wrestle back from the clutches of trauma. His piano teacher was one of the men who abused him. Still, at the piano, releasing exquisite notes and tones, Bill’s face changes, and he is temporarily released from the struggles. “This feels like therapy. It really is healing, because I control the music and what comes out.”
Meet Brent West
Brent grew up in a home ravaged by domestic violence. His mother and his sister, and Brent himself, were subjected to terror and physical abuse. When he was 10, his father strangled Brent into unconsciousness. At school, he was bullied relentlessly. At home, Brent was sexually abused by an uncle. And on his 20th birthday, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It was a wake up call, and Brent responded. He had seen therapists earlier in his life, but now he felt a new urgency to take control of his life and to find ways to use his experience to help others. One of his most urgent tasks was to find ways to trust people, a tall order given his early history of betrayal and abuse. At first he had to use a “mind trick.” He had tell himself that he could trust someone, and then allow their behavior to prove him right. But Brent had a template. His mother, terrorized and brutalized by his father, had escaped with Brent and his sister and had forged a new life for them. That will to survive, Brent knows, has been passed along to him.
And so he wants to give back, not only to the people who have helped him in his recovery. He wants to help the people who have harmed him. He recognizes that their actions toward him, the ways they harmed him, came out of their own suffering. He feels compassion for all of them, in his heart, and when he meditates, he finds a wellspring of compassion within himself that can encompass all of their suffering, including his own.
Meet Mark Godoy, Jr.
At age eight, Mark was abused by an older male cousin. The abuse ended when Mark defied the abuser’s threats and told his parents.
Mark channeled his emotions into other pursuits. He excelled in track and field, earning a college scholarship and then a bachelor’s degree. Then he went on to graduate school and earned his master’s degree in animation. In graduate school Mark began to confront the legacies that had haunted him since childhood.
Mark still struggles with self blame, and he still contends with the anger. But Mark also has an arsenal to draw from as he pursues his path to healing. His sharp and fluid intellect, which allows him to observe his own reactions, and to understand his personal struggle in the context of the larger forces that influence him.
And he has his art. From early in his childhood Mark found an outlet for his emotions in his art. He drew incessantly and his talent emerged. Mark has used those talents to help his own healing process. He also draws on his talents to express his feelings about the killings of Black men and women by police officers. He is working on a series of portraits of victims, including one of Matthew Ajibade, the brother of Mark’s friend who was killed in Savannah, Georgia.
“That’s what I’ve done my whole life. I’ve just figured stuff out…I’m at the point where I can talk about it. It’s still really painful. I still get pissed off…But if I keep talking about it, something will click…”
And it is. Mark is speaking to high school students about his experience, simultaneously healing himself and opening a door to healing for other young men.
Meet Michael Kullik
How do you claw your way out of a childhood scarred by incest, and in the years following marred by repeated experiences of abuse and domestic violence? For Michael, it has been a long and sometimes rocky journey, but he has found peace in an unexpected place: his penchant for poetry, and an operatic voice that transports him (and everyone within a wide radius!).
Michael grew up in a family that was enmeshed in multiple generations of incest. The grandparents who abused him also sexually abused his mother. It was only the first of many depredations that he suffered, but it was the most deeply scarring. How do you live with the knowledge that your mother failed to protect you from someone she knew to be a predator? Not easily.
Little surprise that relationships have not been easy for Michael. Learning to trust. Learning who to trust. Learning that there are people who seek out those with vulnerabilities in order to exploit and abuse them.
Now married, a step-father and a grandparent, Michael is enjoying being ensconced in a family of his own choosing. And he has found outlets for his pain and pathways to healing himself. He has studied music, and the use of art to heal wounded souls. He has written poems that safely house his anger. And he has released the beauty of his own soul into his voice, a voice that can fill a room with the full panoply of emotions – including joy.
Meet Manassah Bradley
Manassah begins with this: “I am not a superhero. I cannot fly. I cannot spin spider webs from my wrists. But I do have a super power. A super power that we all possess: the ability to overcome extreme adversity and challenges.”
His story, he says, is not unique and the specifics of what happened are irrelevant. What is relevant, he insists, is how he responded.
At the age of 13, he survived a brutal rape, and a life that was once filled with light and promise was now consumed by darkness, fear and shame. He could not comprehend what had happened. He felt shattered. By his mid-20’s, the darkness, fear and shame were too much to bear. He had to make a choice: life or death. He chose life. He walked into an emergency room and asked for help. He surrounded himself with people and professionals who understood the challenges that he would face and he got to work. He worked very hard for many years to break free from the darkness, fear and shame, and break free he did, and he wants other survivors to know that they can too.
“I am not a superhero, I am just an ordinary guy but I have achieved the unimaginable. My life is once again filled with light and promise. The darkness, fear and shame are in my past. I am happy.“
Meet Brett Busssen
Growing up as an only child on a Midwestern farm, Brett’s loneliness made him a target of a local child molester – one of his elementary school teachers. For a decade, Brett suffered the diabolical combination of special attention woven together with sexual abuse; a combination that left him confused, alienated and further isolated from his peers and his family. Somehow, Brett retained an inner thread, a thin but seemingly unbreakable link to a selfhood out of reach to the man who abused him, a link to an inner reference point of what is right. At 16, Brett disclosed the abuse.
In the wake of that disclosure, and the upheaval that followed, Brett found immense solace in his connection to God. He retained an inner certitude that he was not alone, and that his suffering held meaning, and ultimately would serve a purpose.
The criminal case that ensued only worsened Brett’s trauma. But his disclosure also began the long and difficult walk toward healing. Therapy, and many hours of reflection have been integral to that process. And so has Brett’s art. Now majoring in film studies and soon to graduate from college, Brett has found a medium in which to express the complex and nuanced inner reality of both victimization and hope. For his senior thesis (a film), Brett is returning to that Midwestern farm community, this time as an artist embarked on that long walk toward recovery.
And many more such stories can be found on bristleconeproject.org. These are stories that ended positively because these men liberated themselves, and finding peace by sharing their stories is a big part of that liberation.