I am sick of being sick and hurting others!

By Ta’auso Clark Tuagalu his writing buddy Rachael Dempsey 30 December 2016, 12:00AM

I am sick of feeling stuck with no way out! The catalyst for change came when I saw my excessive drinking, abusive behavior, infidelity, lack of motivation and depression for what it is – unfinished business. I sabotaged my marriage. I blamed other people for my inappropriate behavior. And all the time, it was me; and most of it was unnecessary.

I felt trapped in my marriage. I was miserable. So I pursued a single life to pursue goals that I believed I could not with my partner.  I thought my problems would disappear in a second marriage but I just replicated the same behavior.

Upon reflection I see clearly that I sabotaged both marriages.  I didn’t accept responsibility as a husband and a father to my children and blamed everyone else. Why? Because I was badly hurt as a kid and somehow I couldn’t let go of that pain and disappointment… and anger, so much anger that I felt I had to defend myself from getting hurt again.

I refused to be controlled, so I shouted. I refused to commit, so I was unreliable and unfaithful. I used force to get my way. I was not emotionally available, said my wife.

Well, I had feelings. The only thing was that they were reactions from the past- a very bad time in my life that lived on and on... So at the first sign of my wife “controlling” me, it would set off a trigger that cascaded into flood of anger. I became a person who was menacing and intimidating. And I thought that was just who I am – stuck.

As a kid I was betrayed and manipulated and deceived. I was used and preyed on for someone else’s gratification. And that pissed me off. And I carried this with me. It was very hard for me to put my armor aside. I did not want to be vulnerable like that again. I did not want to open myself up and get hurt. I was a fight waiting to happen. It is the way I knew how to protect myself.

And it wasn’t working… I have been carrying this baggage for years and being mean to people I love and this pissed me off.

I thought I was an adult and I thought I could manage myself. Instead what I really did is I diverted to drinking and casual sex. And this only made things worse. I read self-help books and they gave me hope but I needed more help than this. I think my fitness training all my life helped me to look after myself. I had good people around me that uplifted me. It helped me cope. If I hadn’t had these things... Eventually, I did the right thing and went to the police station and pressed charges against my uncle. All these things helped, but it was not enough. It didn’t help me look at my uncle in the face in the courtroom, and it didn’t help me be a responsible husband and father. There was more work on me that I had to do.

Although, my story appears to show that I have not addressed my demons, on the contrary, I have. My road to recovery began almost 24 years ago when my first wife at the time asked me to see a counselor about my anger problem. I’ve sought counseling three times since then. I know now when I need sessions and I get them.

It sometimes frustrates me, though. I think to myself why does it take so long? Why do I seem to fall back into old patterns? Why do I feel stuck at times?

When I think about the things I do to cope with the stress… When people ask why I engage so intensely in fitness training, I know the answer is that I feel like I am proving myself. I need to feel this euphoric feeling. I have control over my feelings when I do my training and they are good feelings. The feeling of success.  And success helps me cope because I have control. The flip side is that I feel like I have to prove myself to people all the time. And this is not always a good thing. It’s hard work. And I don’t like hard work. (And I don’t have much time for my relationships.) But it feels good when someone says I did something well. It’s not good however when I depend on others’ approval to feel good. What if I do something to piss them off one day? Or they are not there? And what about when I am not training… like when I am at work? Fitness training was helping me in some areas of life but not in my relationships and not at work. My work on self was not done.

Well, I am proving to myself that there is a way out, but I must be patient with myself. The abuse occurred over many years, and a long time ago when I was a kid. I did not have anyone to talk to or anywhere to go. Especially as a guy this is tough. Somehow as a kid I processed this in my kidlike way... Somehow I buried my feelings for a long time. So I can expect that it takes a while to heal. And there is no perfect recipe.  Because the way out of this is not like some problems, where you fix something once and it is done. It is an on-going process that evolves. I guess that is why we call it human “being”. We are (all) never well and truly done.

And now I am learning that I need good role models who support what I am doing, my champions. I get support and at the same time I learning to be a champion for someone else too. I am learning about healing relationships and practicing them at the same time. It is important to really get whatever it is out on the table, and make sense of it. Put it in its place, so it does not define me. It is also about doing stuff, stuff that makes a difference for me and others. That is what makes me a better version of myself. That is what makes me un-learn old thoughts and behaviors to rewire my brain. Because if I don’t, I just keep hurting inside and I will continue hurting others. It will never go away if I ignore it. I tried that. Again and again I failed. When I was only 10 or 11 years old my uncle from Samoa emigrated to NZ where we lived, my mom brought him over. He groomed me… (that means got my ready to do things I didn’t want to do…sexually, but in a way that would not get him caught). Uncle lied on the floor and would reach his arm up to me on the bed, ya know, touching me and…

He was controlling and manipulative in many ways. We always had to be sneaky and secretive. I had no girlfriends, no senior ball. I asked this girl out to be my partner at the senior ball and I wasn’t allowed to go. I don’t know what would have become of me and this girl, I was just never allowed to go out. I had to be there just for him really. Even when our cousins came over to play we could not leave the bedroom to play with them. The cousins were just as confused.

We were allowed to go to church, but that was it. And school. Yeah, school was a really good outlet. The fitness, the friends. I had really good friends. I don’t think my mom ever knew what was going on. I dropped hints when I was a kid but it fell on deaf ears. I am really not sure. I did what I could to express myself, I wanted to, but what was I supposed to say? Uncle had also threatened to hurt me if I said anything. He was a very strong and intimidating man. He also said he loved me and got me so confused. He’d force us to say we love you uncle. And if he was drunk, he would hit us if we did not say “we love you uncle”… This happened a lot. 

When he got angry he got very angry and would hit us.

As intimidated as I was, I liked school and wanted a qualification. I got it but I failed high school two times; that is how determined I was. I got through high school, and accepted to a university too. And I have carried this determination throughout my life. I am 51 now. I am determined not to let adversity get me and I am determined to be a better person.

Looking back now, I was 20 when my uncle could not touch me anymore. About 10 years of that abuse. It left deep wounds. But these wounds did not really heal very well, in fact they took on a life of their own.

After graduating uni, I met my wife. Three kids and seven years later we separated. Why? Because I chose my fitness coaching over my relationship, so that I did not have to face my anger and confusion about my sexuality. (One night I even ended up in a gay bar and actually went home and had sex with a guy. I thought I might be gay.) The alarm bell rang and I enrolled in a counseling program right away. I went for a couple of years. And, yes, I got “better” but into my second marriage, there were the same anger issues with my second divorce. Same baggage. Back to the counselor.

Stop what you are thinking. If counseling wasn’t working, I would not be going back. You don’t realize it is working until something is not working. At first I was reluctant to go to counseling, but after you go thru the process you realize there are things that come up and you can work through them. You really start doing the work of healing.

I have learned that fitness is important because it grounds me. And fitness helps me help others – guys like me who have experienced sexual abuse. We have to do stuff. We have to train to be better versions of ourselves, to re-wire our brains. It’s a lot like fitness training, and it really has helped me to not give in to abusing others. It really helps to stop focusing on the hurt and re-focus on the healing.

So I am on a mission to find things that work for me and others and strengthen it, to make healing and therapy a solid part of community. I want to provide support to guys like me. Sometimes it is using exercise and sport. So I am working on this; and I already have a u-tube video. I also get a lot of satisfaction working with a network of Pacific Island entrepreneurs (Opa Network). We create job opportunities for young people. Jobs that didn’t exist before. We are also mentors. We help the young people heal from their baggage, any kind of baggage - not just sexual abuse. Who doesn’t have baggage??

So, I tell people what happened to me as a kid and that it took me a long time to see that it was not my fault. In fact it made perfect sense for me to do what I had to do to protect myself from abuse. But I have to admit to them that I also twisted things in a way so that I was always on guard, always defensive, always prepared, always in control of every relationship – even after my uncle was in jail. I wasn’t really paying attention to the present, but always reliving the past and anticipating my next move to protect myself. As a result I let anger and anxiety control my life. I also tell them it isn’t a quick fix because bad feelings tend to re-surface.

So what do I do when those feelings re-surface? What works for me is to really get a sense of the physical sensations - but not give into them. For me, I know it is coming up when I twitch, bounce my legs and get restless. That is my clue. Or I start looking around. Or when I start thinking about past mistakes and worry that it is going to affect my plans (I doubt myself). When I sense any of these things a do a full stop – automatic pilot. (fitness training is handy for this)

I observe the sensations for what they are and I do whatever is necessary to get calm. Get calm and don’t “react”.

Just like with pain in fitness training. I don’t react to pain. I don’t winge. I don’t let it control me. I acknowledge the pain, stay with it and I don’t react. I relax into it. I change my language too. I say “the” pain, not “my” pain. I learned this through meditation. At some point the pain drifts away from me. It does not own me, but I have not suppressed it. The next time it happens, I can usually handle it better and quicker. So over time it gets easier. It works the same when the bad stuff of abuse comes up too. The abuse stuff can be very sneaky, but I know now it is not real anymore, it is just part of a memory that I rehearsed over and over. Just as I learned “to protect” myself, I can unlearn to “unbury” myself. A “reaction” for me is that fight or flight thing. It is not who I am so I don’t want it to define me. A response is more appropriate. It is who I chose to be – the better version of myself. So I chose not to react (to pain or anger) until I can “respond” from my better version of myself. Now I define who I am, not my reactions. 

So when I get angry at something, I do something to get calm until I can re-write the script. When the calm comes, I see that underneath all the anger, what I am really feeling is sadness, loneliness, fear of rejection… I am feeling disconnected. And these are the emotions I have to deal with – not anger. This is the level that I am working on now. And I can do a lot now to deal with these big emotions productively. Anger was a huge distraction from feelings I shut down to keep be from ever being vulnerable to a predator. But it came at a huge cost, because it also kept me distant from the people I loved and the love, caring and trust I wanted to experience. I just didn’t see that it was me sabotaging things. Now I can see it and stop it. Boom. Just like that I have love, caring and trust back in my life!

Because of the work I have been doing on myself I am much better at communicating my truer emotions and dealing with my insecurities. Heck yeah, I have insecurities. Only now I am not freaked out by it or embarrassed as much. In fact, I see that for me hunting down my insecurities is the most manly thing to do, because I don’t kill my relationships anymore. I also find that helping feels so good. It is so cool to see someone lose their baggage and feel the freedom! That is the kind of power I like to feel now.

So, why am I telling you my story? Because abuse is unfair. It stunted me. Yet it happened. When I was “sick” I thought I was a failure. I was pushing a lot of baggage uphill. It zaps my energy. I don’t want to do anything. I can’t. I didn’t see the good things in life either. It became a vicious cycle of anger, hopelessness, pulling myself up, hope, disappointment… over and over. “Sickness” defined me, isolated me. The baggage of abuse is unnecessary and it disconnected me from what I love more than fitness, more than my career. It disconnected me from the people I love. I don’t want that for me or for anyone. I see now that even though I wanted to give up at times, I am winning. I see that making mistakes does not define me as a failure. I see my progress. I see what I am accomplishing in life. I see how I impact the lives of others positively. I also see that my next phase in life is going to be dynamic. I have so many things to be grateful for and I am here reach out to others who want to get un-stuck.

Wanna talk? Connect with me at [email protected]

By Ta’auso Clark Tuagalu his writing buddy Rachael Dempsey 30 December 2016, 12:00AM
Samoa Observer

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