So pleased to share my survivor friend, The Sunrise Warrior’s, story. Like many survivors, he struggled with recovery and it’s an ongoing process. I present his post in full, in his voice, speaking for so many of us. Please read, share, and comment.
*Trigger warning for childhood sexual abuse, suicidality, language, and guns.
I struggled to write this.
Maybe it is because my friend Rachel, who I admire, invited me to write this as a guest piece for her blog readers.
It could be because my friend, like myself, is a survivor of child molestation. The topic is sacred ground for me. It’s one thing to write about the topic on my blog, but it is another to write about it on someone else’s.
If I’m totally honest, I’m simply nervous. Nervous because there is a strong probability that you, the reader, are a survivor. The thought of a wide range of survivors reading my work is both exciting and scary as hell. I don’t want to let you down. I want to deliver a message of strength and hope.
If you or a loved one is a survivor of child molestation like me, this post is for you.
Let’s broaden that. If you or a loved one is a child abuse survivor, this post is for you.
Hell, let’s go even further. If you or a loved one identify as a survivor of any kind this post is for you.
Because if you are a survivor then you are one of life’s true fucking underdogs. You are a comeback story. And that makes you my people. This is a story about comebacks!
Let’s start here. I want to clear this shit up right now. Survivors are complete badasses. Unfortunately, many of us don’t view ourselves that way. Often we see ourselves as weak and can remain ashamed decades later. I know because that was me. Maybe it is you, too.
When I am the king of the world, survivors everywhere will be comfortable in their own skin and fully appreciate their badassery. We will look in the mirror and see a fucking warrior looking back.
We will see our muscles, callus, scars, and armor. We are not broken. We are battle-tested. We will appreciate our toughness and grit. It’s not always pretty, but we are world-class fighters.
The Sunrise Warrior, In The Beginning
When I was in fifth grade, I was at a low point. My mind was going crazy and I truly believed that the world would be a better place without me. My inner voice was full of self-hate and I had the amplifier in position. It continually reminded me that I was damaged goods. I needed it to end.
I was on an island all by myself with no one to talk to about my struggle. I was living a double life. One as a well-adjusted, mature ten-year-old. And the other as an isolated and ashamed boy. I didn’t want people to sit in judgment of me. I was afraid to be labeled as gay or bullied as a faggot. Kids can be cruel.
Hope On Hold
I was molested by a male family member since I was in first grade. The abuse had been going on so long that my body was no longer my own. It was his. The acts that we engaged in were not intimate anymore. They were my chores. They were a prize he claimed when he was victorious in our daily cat and mouse game.
I ran. He chased. I hid. He searched. I detoured. He rerouted. He never let up. He was fucking relentless and I was exhausted. When he caught me, it was simply easier to give him what he wanted. The acts weren’t special anymore. Take what you want so I can move on with my day.
If I could have exposed him without exposing me, I wonder if I would have. Deep down inside, I blamed myself more than I blamed him. It’s ridiculous for me to think now, but back then, I thought I was the sick fuck. Let that shit sink in. Maybe you can relate.
I thought about telling my mom. She was a good woman but she was barely holding her life together. She was a widow raising two young boys on her own while battling depression. She grinded to provide for her two little boys and never took time to work on herself. That was her greatest failure.
My monster was a well-respected man in the community. He wasn’t a stranger. He was invited in. Everyone seemed to love him. He always had a joke to break the ice and a kind smile on his face. He was a monster of the worst kind. People felt comfortable with him so they easily let their guard down when he was around.
The guilt and shame of my actions were crushing me. I hated myself and my life was on a fucking hamster wheel. I was ready to throw in the towel and I knew how I was going to do it.
Losing Hope: Dad’s Favorite Gun
My father died when I was six. My mother, who wasn’t a fan of guns, wrapped his Colt 38 Special in a towel and hid it in the bottom of her bedroom dresser drawer. She gave the majority of his firearm collection to a family member, but she couldn’t part with dad’s favorite.
My mother had no idea I knew that she kept his gun. I also knew that she kept half a box of bullets in her desk drawer. It’s amazing what a curious kid can discover.
I sat in my bedroom with the door locked. My palms were sweaty and tears flowed as I weighed the pros and cons of ending it all. I held the gun in my hand and wondered if I had the courage to point it at myself and pull the trigger.
Each time I contemplated suicide, the only thing that stopped me was the thought of leaving my mother and my little brother behind with no one to protect them. Deep down inside, I was always a protector.
I am so fucking happy I didn’t pull that trigger. What a waste of life that could have been. When I think of how close I came to ending it, I get shivers down my spine. The thought of a world without my three beautiful children is bringing tears to my eyes as I type this. Our lives impact so many others.
Searching For Hope
I needed to find hope.
Where do you locate hope when your circle is small and you are overwhelmed with guilt and shame for your actions? The answer is simple. Anywhere you can.
I was a kid. I had no support group for my abuse. I didn’t have articles or books on the topic. I couldn’t talk with my mother. I had no therapist or mentor. I was all alone.
I was desperate. Fortunately, desperate people are capable of great things when they are ready for change. When you are ready, hope appears. You simply need to be open to it.
I started to see hope everywhere I looked. Maybe I found it because I was hyper-aware of my environment. Maybe it came from my active imagination or possibly because I looked outside of the box. I’m not sure. It was probably a combination of all three.
I filtered every piece of information and stimulus that I encountered. I became a hope miner. I still am.
When you constantly mine for hope and inspiration, glimmers begin to appear. Some deliver just enough hope to help you get through the day while other times you can find an abundance of hope that can last years. It becomes part of your hope treasure chest. Hope is at your disposal when needed.
Let me share one of my earliest mining wins. This one continues to pay big dividends for me today.
My Favorite Movie of Hope
I was a little kid when the movie Rocky was released in 1976. My mother wasn’t big on fighting so she didn’t take me to see the film. A few years later, when I was in fifth grade, I finally watched the movie for the first time at a friend’s house. It mesmerized me. It was perfect therapy for a young boy battling internally with his self-worth.
Rocky was a down on his luck fighter from Philadelphia who got the shot at the heavyweight championship and he made the best of it. More importantly, he had success against an even bigger opponent…himself.
Right about here you might be questioning whether you should read further. I can sense the doubts. Can this Sunrise Warrior guy expect me to believe that Rocky unlocked the shackles caused by years of child molestation?!
Hang in there. I’m going somewhere with this. I promise to treat childhood trauma and abuse with the respect it truly deserves.
I fell in love with the movie as a child. I became obsessed with it. I’m certainly not the first guy to get chills during Rocky’s training montage. It’s the classic underdog story, David versus Goliath. But the movie has come to mean so much more to me.
I am a fifty-one-year-old man who suffered seven years of molestation as a child. I suffered in silence by myself for many years. Once I was mature enough to realize my relationship with my abuser wasn’t a special friendship, I became incredibly ashamed. I internalized my trauma which triggered an internal battle with an enemy more threatening than my abuser…me.
Victims of child molestation often struggle with hope and self-confidence. We perceive ourselves as damaged goods. Many struggles with drugs, alcohol, sexuality, and obesity. I am no exception.
We look in the mirror and often hate the beautiful person looking back at us. Some of us attempt or commit suicide while others take a slower path to our premature demise through poor lifestyle choices.
As victims, we may find ourselves on skid row.
Rocky is a journeyman fighter and in one of the early scenes in the film, Rocky learns that his locker at the boxing gym has been reassigned to another fighter. His boxing gear was placed on skid row. This is a row of hooks on a wall designed to hang canvas bags with a boxer’s gear. Having your gear placed on skid row is the final stop for a washed-up fighter.
Holy shit, I’ve been on skid row a number of times in my life. That’s where I found myself as a boy in fifth grade. I also found myself there as a teenager with my drug abuse. And later down the road, it’s where I found myself after decades of shitty routines and poor lifestyle choices. So I’m no stranger to skid row.
In my most recent visit to skid row, I weighed in at 374 pounds. I was taking daily, prescribed medications for heart palpitations, high blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol. I might have held off on pulling the trigger years earlier but make no mistake, my horrible daily routine and poor lifestyle choices were killing me.
I was on that familiar hamster wheel again, watching it happen as if I was a spectator in my own movie.
Some people throw in the towel when they are on skid row. It’s easy to give up when you struggle to believe in yourself. And when you quit on yourself, the world is never very far behind.
Clarity And Purpose
Skid row can be a powerful place to find yourself. When life smacks you hard enough, you can realize that change is needed. When people hit rock bottom, they become desperate. And desperate people have been known to take action.
A small percentage of people are the world’s high achievers. And a similar portion of people are immersed in their personal version of skid row. But the overwhelming majority of people are somewhere in between the two. Their lives don’t suck enough to take meaningful action.
Obviously, the best place to be is in the high achiever category. But for me, the second-best place to be was on skid row. I was ready to take action. Which group are you in?
If you answered skid row, congratulations! Your comeback story is still being written.
I’ve got more good news…you are holding the fucking pen.
Who Are You?
In addition to being a journeyman fighter, Rocky serves as “muscle” for a local loan shark. He certainly looks the part of a street thug but clearly, this is not Rocky at his core. Instead of breaking thumbs, Rocky prefers to deliver stern warnings and lectures.
Rocky is at a crossroads in his life with a choice to make. Does he follow this path of breaking thumbs for a living, or should he fulfill his potential and be the man he is destined to be?
Of course, Rocky decides to pursue his dreams and go all-in on himself. The biggest takeaway for me is the realization that opportunity often lies at a crossroads.
Many days I take out my journal and I ask one question. Who are you? My answers have evolved over the years. Today, I am laser-focused on my answer. At each crossroad in my life, my answers to that simple question gave me the strength to make necessary changes. There is strength in the answer.
Ask yourself the question and let the answer be your guide.
A Shot At The Champ
Rocky gets his shot at the heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed. We have a similar opportunity. We have the choice to be present in our lives or to fall victim to the negative voice in our heads. As I look at my life, every day is my shot at the champ. At times, the champ gets the best of me. Other times, I win the round. Either way, I show up for the fight.
My biggest opponent is always me. Sure my abuser is responsible for setting the wheels in motion for my self-destructive tendencies, but ultimately, only I have the power to break my damaging cycle. Fight or become your worst enemy. Two choices. Which do you choose?
Truth be told, many survivors never resolve our inner conflict. It damages our self-being and infects other areas such as family, friendships, and business. Collateral damage is common. The world is getting the forty-percent version of many of us. Wasted talent.
Today We Get A Shot At The Champ Again
The good news today is that we get a shot at The Champ again. Today, we can battle that self-destructive, self-loathing monster in our heads. It all starts with figuring out who we are or who we want to become. Once we have that clear vision it’s time to take action.
Old Habits Die Hard
Even after Rocky gets his shot at The Champ, he doesn’t believe he can go the distance. He begins to sleepwalk through his opportunity as he has become accustomed to doing. Bad habits are tough to break. Sometimes the greatest opportunity is within our grasp but we sleepwalk right through it. At times we don’t even realize we missed it.
I did the same. There were many times when I promised myself that I would make changes only to fall back into my shitty old routines. Sometimes when faced with doing the real work, old routines can creep back in. It’s time to break that cycle. The secret to success here is to fall into n love with the grind.
A Flame Of Hope Within
Somewhere deep down there is a flame that burns in Rocky and it burns in many of us too. For Rocky, he needed his mentor and manager Mickey to help him discover his “why.”
Sometimes survivors need others to help show us the way, to help give us hope. Therapy, counseling, and coaching are all signs of incredible strength, not weakness.
I’ve had Mickeys in my life. My wife, my trauma therapist, my pastor, countless mentors, and friends I choose to surround myself with in my life. I’ve learned a rising tide raises all ships.
Who is on your team? Maybe it’s time for a strategic addition.
Going All-In On Ourselves
Going all-in on ourselves completely turns the table on our monsters. We scream, “fuck you!” to the people who tried to extinguish our light. We turn that light up and let that shit shine bright for all to see!
That’s what Rocky’s training montage is for me. It symbolizes going all-in and taking back control of my life at different crossroads. It’s me betting on myself, being completely honest with myself, and peeling back my layers. I’m dialed in and taking action.
Rocky’s run up the Philadelphia Art Museum’s Steps symbolizes the excitement and energy I feel every day I bet on myself. The musical score, the jog, the run, the sprint, the grunting, the jumping at the top of the steps while pumping my fists in the air, that’s me going all the fuck in! At that point, I’d already won!
Every time I hear Gonna Fly Now by Bill Conti I get chills. Most viewers get excited because this is the point where Rocky turns the corner in his comeback story. I get chills because it reminds me of my own badassery. It reminds me of the many corners I turned in my comeback story. It’s my cue for my hope, power, and strength.
Going the Distance
Life isn’t defined by wins and losses. In the scene before the championship match, Rocky tells his girlfriend Adrian that he isn’t focused on winning his fight against Apollo. Instead, his goal lies in going the distance and standing when the bell rings at the end.
“Cause all I wanna do is go the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I’m still standing, I’m gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I wasn’t just another bum from the neighborhood.” ~ Rocky
I fucking love this mindset. Life is happening to us every day. Let’s show the fuck up! Give it our best! Let’s go the distance! Forget the results, when we fall in love with the process we won’t need a finish line or a championship belt to define us. We are relentless. We are fucking survivors, remember! We got this shit!!
For me it’s simple. My focus is on getting one percent better every day. No matter how hard life punches. I’m fucking moving forward. Again, it might not be pretty but I’m going the distance. Life will not defeat me. I’m not another bum from the neighborhood.
Setting Hope Cues
I notice I’ve set trauma recovery cues over my life. Sunrise is an obvious one for me. It’s like hitting a reset button. Meditation is another. I love to disconnect my hyperactive brain from activity for a short period. I also use music to set daily cues.
Going The Distance by Bill Conti is likely the song I listen to most frequently. It immediately puts me into a warrior mindset of power and action. Anytime I feel defeated by life, I simply need to dial the song up on my playlist. Close my eyes. Breath deep and listen.
Two minutes and forty-one seconds is all I need to flip my switch into one of power, grit, and action. Hell, eleven seconds into the song after the four bells, I’m fucking pumped and ready to take on the world and anyone who gets in my way.
Let’s face it. This is why I really love this movie so much. Fight day is here and Apollo thinks it’s a show. The two fighters go out in the first round and Rocky deals The Champ a crushing blow from out of nowhere that sends The Champ to the canvas. The Champ has grossly underestimated his opponent.
Ours is a fight where stakes are much higher than wins and losses. This is our life and we need to punch back. It’s time for us to deal a crushing blow to our opponent to show them this isn’t a show. This is personal and we’ve come to fight.
14th Round – Almost There
Thirteen rounds pass with Rocky and Apollo in a war. Rocky has outperformed anything viewers could have imagined by standing toe to toe with The Champ. Rocky has earned the respect of everyone in the building including Apollo and Mickey, his mentor and trainer.
The fourteenth of fifteen rounds begins, and Apollo lands a series of combination punches and Rocky is on the ropes. Apollo is going for the knockout.
Apollo lands a big punch and Rocky goes to one knee but bounces right back up again. Then the Champ delivers a knockout blow and Rocky falls to the canvas.
The Champ retreats to his corner with his hands held high in the air in anticipation of the knockout win. The referee starts to count…one…two…
Rocky is trying to use the boxing ropes as leverage to get up. Mickey yells at Rocky…”Stay down, stay down,” knowing Rocky has proved he was a worthy opponent.
Rocky refuses to stay down. He slowly uses the ring ropes to pull himself up as the referee continues to count…seven…eight…nine…but Rocky stands up before the 10 count and signals with his gloves that he is okay…
…Meanwhile, Rocky’s girlfriend Adrian, who didn’t want to watch the fight, was waiting in the locker room. She can’t contain her curiosity when she hears the pandemonium in the stands as Rocky was laying on the canvas. She enters the arena area and sees Rocky get up and signal he is okay.
Adrian closes her eyes for a second or two in fear but then opens her eyes as a look of strength and confidence appears on her face. She knows who Rocky is and she knows he is committed to going the distance. He’s not going to stop until the bell rings. Rocky is a warrior, a survivor if you will, and he’s not going to stop battling.
…Apollo, who thought he knocked out his opponent, turns around in the ring and sees Rocky signaling that he is okay. Apollo can’t believe his opponent is still standing. He realizes at that moment that his opponent is a survivor. Rocky will never give up. Warriors fight until the final bell rings.
The fighters go back to the middle of the ring and the round ends with Rocky delivering bone-crushing blows to Apollo’s ribs. The bell rings and the round comes to an end. The war is not over.
This is how I chose to live my life. Fuck you to those who don’t believe in me. Fuck you to that voice in my head that tells me I’m a quitter and damaged goods. Fuck you to my victim mentality. Fuck you to that monster who tried to steal my light.
I’m going the fucking distance and I’m not going down. In the end, I will be standing with my head held high. My struggle is my strength!
15th and Final Round Of Hope
The round opens with both fighters slowly moving around the ring. The announcer chimes in…”They look like they’ve been in a war, these two.”
Apollo lands a big first punch but it ignites Rocky who answers with a series of good punches.
By the end of the round, the only thing holding Apollo up is the ropes as Rocky lands big punch after big punch. Apollo is done, but the final bell rings before Rocky can land a final knockout blow.
Rocky has gone the distance. The familiar musical score plays as all the fight dignitaries rush into the ring to care for the two fighters. Apollo awaits the judges’ scorecard results to determine which fighter is victorious.
Rocky is clearly uninterested in the scorers’ decision. He is only interested in reuniting with Adrian. The announcer is trying to interview Rocky but again he keeps calling out for Adrian.
The decision is in. Apollo wins the fight in a split decision with two of the judges giving the fight to Apollo, and one scoring the fight for Rocky. Apollo celebrates his big win but Rocky doesn’t seem to care. He simply calls for his soulmate Adrian.
As Adrian makes her way into the ring she and Rocky exchange a big hug and embrace with the two of them proclaiming…I love you! They both knew he did what he came to do. He went the fucking distance with The Champ.
Rocky won his battle with himself. It didn’t matter what the rest of the world thought about the fight. Rocky kept his promise. He’s not a bum from the neighborhood.
I get chills every time I watch the fifteenth round. I’ve learned so much from it.
I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what the rest of the world thinks. It matters what I think about my effort.
I’ve learned there’s me and a small group of people in my dome. They are my people. They matter. Everyone else is a roll player. And role players either support me by bringing value, joy and happiness to my life, or they are expendable.
I’ve learned that my life isn’t defined by winning and losing. My life is influenced by my fight and showing up every day. I’m going to win some and I’m going to lose others. But I’m always showing up ready to fight. I live for the daily grind. I’ve created disciplines and I fell in love with my healthy and productive routines.
I’ve learned that quitting on myself is not an option. It’s off the menu because I say it is. The world gets my one hundred percent. The forty percent version of myself doesn’t live here anymore. He’s gone. Good riddance.
You can find hope and inspiration in many stories. Sometimes you simply need to dissect and connect the dots. I seek hope and it always seems to find me. When I’m down on myself, it is always temporary anymore. I don’t stay in that place very long.
There are all kinds of positive cues I have at my disposal. All I need to do is witness a sunrise or play Going The Distance or Gonna Fly Now on my phone. It’s like hitting a reset button on my warrior mindset. I’m never going back to a place of self-defeat. I’m too strong for that now. I’m all in and I’m going the distance.
You can too. Don’t ever give up hope!
Learn more about The Sunrise Warrior on his site. He’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever talk with, and that’s a promise.
My seventh book, the third in the BROKEN series is now available for order – ebook and print. My labor of love.
I hope you’ll order and join my journey:
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