During the Emergency Stage, survivors often wonder, why now?
Flashes from the past, snippets of memories that make little to no sense, haunt them when they are awake.
As a male survivor, when I entered the Emergency Stage I tried to think my way out of the situation. Like J’on J’onzz I considered myself an intellectual who was able to piece together clues to find a logical answer to a question. The only problem is, during the Emergency Stage logic is not the driving force; feeling is.
Dr. Basil Van der Kolk explains in The Body Keeps the Scorethat when immersed in a fight-or-flight circumstance, the brain is operating with responses from the amygdala. This is one of the “ancient” parts of the brain that cannot be reasoned away. He explains that “if the interpretation of threat by the amygdala is too intense, and / or the filtering system from the higher areas of the brain are too weak, as often happens in PTSD, people lose control over automatic emergency responses, like prolonged startle or aggressive outbursts.”
The feeling of panic does not go away.
Panic that can’t be pushed or hidden away.
Making you feel like an alien in your own skin.
We wish for it all to stop, but instead the visions, flashbacks, and memories come one after the other.
And when the begin to make sense we push them away, afraid of what the visions mean about the truth of our past trauma.
We believe that maybe the best option is to end our life. At least then the pain would come to an end. The visions would stop.
We hate the images, but they do not hate us. They simply want to be remembered. They want to help. They want you to heal.
We fight until we can’t fight anymore.
We fear the truth will hurt those closest to us –
turning those that were once friends into enemies.
That is, until we find the one who allows us to be weak to grow strong.
To be there when we need them the most. To guide down the path of finally making the decision to heal.
Next week, the blog entry “Truth” will address remembering past trauma while continuing to examine the Emergency Stage and the Decision to Heal. For more information about my guides Heroes, Villains, and Healing, and How to Kill Your Batman, or to purchase a copy visit my website www.lostimaginations.com or http://www.kennethrogersjr.selz.com.
Just after Christmas, my grandmother, Mamaw, told my wife to tell me to come over and look through the comics in her basement, knowing how much I love superheroes. I knew my uncle, Rich used to work at (maybe own) a comic book store, but I had no idea any were left over from his heyday, or the number of comics she had in her basement! On the way over to visit I expected to find maybe a box or two of really bad comics no one had ever heard of or wanted. I was pleasantly surprised to much more. It was like Christmas had come again! In the collection there were some real gems, a handful worth a few bucks, but the one I was super giddy to find and prized above all the others was the Martian Manhunterfour-part mini-series published in 1988, written and drawn by J.M. DeMatteis and Mark Badger.
I was not pleased to have these comics because their monetary worth (which is none) but because when I researching and writing Heroes, Villains, and Healing, I wanted to include a chapter on Martian Manhunter, but could not find a solid source to use as a reference. What I knew about the hero came from the television shows Justice League andJustice League: Unlimited, but not enough to connect to understanding the trauma of childhood sexual abuse.The animated series, and what I had read of the hero in Justice League, Martian Manhunter loneliness and isolation appeared more intense than Superman’s because he was not raised on earth and, while both Clark Kent and J’on J’onzz are both aliens, J’on never felt as connected to the people of earth as Superman. All of this made me want to understand his origins and how he became the sole survivor of Mars. The little information I could find on a Martian Manhunter comic was the before mentioned mini-series, which I could not find. You can imagine my joy at having found all four parts in-tact and in excellent condition.
After reading the comics I knew I was right to want to include Martian Manhunter in Heroes, Villains, and Healing.These comics detail with remarkable precision the stages of the healing process survivors go through when attempting to recover from the trauma of sexual abuse. This makes them excellent material to help male survivors understand the stages of the healing process. Because I did not include them inHeroes, Villains, and Healing I will discuss and analyze the four comics in the next four blog entries over the next four weeks. However, before beginning, it is first important to know the steps of the healing process, and who the Martian Manhunter is before addressing the steps that will be analyzed in issue #1 of Martian Manhunter.
Steps of the Healing Process
In my self-help guides for male survivors of childhood sexual abuse, Heroes, Villains, and Healingand How to Kill Your BatmanI explain the steps of the healing process. In these guides I explain how the healing process is similar in the stages all survivors must progress through if they wish to heal, but different in how each survivor reacts to those stages. This is because no two individuals are the same, and so, no two sexual abuses are the same. The healing process is also not meant to be a straight line, allowing the survivor to move from start to finish in a set amount of time. J’on J’onzz demonstrates this throughout the four-part series Martian Manhunter as he attempts to deny the trauma of his past while it pushes to be remembered. Although there is no definite beginning, middle, or end to the healing process, research has revealed that thirteen steps are usually associated with the healing process. According to The Courage to Healby Ellen Bass, these steps are:
The Decision to Heal
The Emergency Stage
Believing It Happened
Breaking the Silence
Understanding It Wasn’t Your Fault
The Child Within
Disclosures and Truth-Telling
Resolution and Moving On
Although the healing process is believed to have thirteen steps, from my experience, I have found some of these stages can be combined. This is not meant to streamline the healing process, but because many of the above-mentioned stages happen simultaneously, creating seven stages rather than thirteen. These seven stages are:
The Emergency Stage and the Decision to Heal
Remembering and Believing it Happened
Grieving and Anger
Understanding It Was Not Your Fault and Forgiveness
The Child Within
Disclosures, Truth-Telling, and Breaking the Silence
Spirituality, Forgiveness, and Post Traumatic Growth
In this blog entry, I will be using Martian Manhunter #1 to explore the Emergency Stage and the Decision to Heal. It is also important to note that throughout all four issues there is a continuance presence of spirituality that is not fully understood until issue #3.
Martian Manhunter / J’on J’onzz
To understand this blog you must not only know the stages of the healing process, but also who the Martian Manhunter is as a hero of the DC universe.
When the Martian Manhunter appeared on the scene in Detective Comics #225“The Strange Experiment of Dr. Erdel”, creators Joseph Samachson and Joe Certa made one of the most interesting and powerful characters of the DC universe. During this Silver Age of comics, readers were told that J’on was the last Martian in existence who was pulled across time and space by a machine developed by scientist Dr. Saul Erdel. Unfortunately, the shock of seeing and meeting a Martian killed Dr. Erdel, preventing the hero from returning home. Trapped on Earth, the Martian decides to fight for justice as the Martian Manhunter, adopting the name J’on J’onzz as his alter ego.
J’on’s superpowers includes the ability to shape shift, fly, and telekinetic abilities. He also can become invisible with the ability to move through solid objects. His one weakness is fire. While this weakness may appear to be ridiculous in comparison to so many of his awesome super abilities, why this is his weakness is explained in the four-part mini-series. To tell you anymore would be spoilers, and everyone hates spoilers!
Martian Manhunter #1 “Fever Dream” (1988)
The Emergency Stage
The comic begins with Batman. While attempting to catch a criminal, J’onn appears from the shadows, screaming for help and resembling more of a demon than a hero. Batman manages to get J’on to the Batcave. While unconscious J’on says:
It’s inside me. I know it. I can almost see it. Touch it. Taste it. Yet I don’t know what it is. How many years has it lain there, twisting, like a child in the womb … turning … kicking…I’m so afraid.
If I had to describe the Emergency Stage of the healing process in the form of a comic, this is one of the closest depictions of the sheer terror, confusion, and dissociative episodes a survivor can experience (the other closest example if the “Vermon” series of The Amazing Spider-Man).
The Emergency Stage cannot be put into words. The only and best way to describe it is sheer panic. It is fear that cannot be rationalized or pushed away. I have entered the Emergency Stage twice in my life. The first was during the first week of college. After being homeless for two years, and finding a way to get out of that situation (not to mention the domestic and sexual abuse of childhood) I was finally safe. Unfortunately, the safety of my dorm room meant my mind and body believing the traumas of the past could now be addressed without going insane. This panic and fear caused such gut-wrenching pain in my stomach, making me believe I was going to die.
The second time I entered the Emergency Stage was after my daughter was born. My wife and I had just purchased our first home and I had a new English position. I was the safest I had been in all of my life, hence why I entered Emergency Stage for a second time after not fully coming to terms with my past trauma years prior. J’on’s feeling of safety and mind and body’s readiness to enter the Emergency Stage is evident when he says to himself:
I’ve been on this world for…how many years? I can’t say for sure — but long enough to be comfortable here. As comfortable as a Martian could ever be among men. I’ve been on this world, protecting her people, risking my life again and again in the name of justice. And I’ve never known fear (except in sleep). I’ve never run (except in dreams). I’ve never been gripped by terror (except in the moments when that vague, unameable something reared up in my mind). But now, awake, alive, whole — I fear, I run, I’m terrified. Now I tremble like a child by imaginary monsters.
Like J’on, you may have built yourself to be strong as an adult man, but inside you feel afraid and weak due the trauma from your childhood. Like J’on, this fear may only visit you when you sleep, making you feel like the boy who was victimized as a child. As a boy maturing into adulthood, the only option you may have had to survive was to push the pain of the trauma away and this is fine. You did what needed to be done to cope. Unfortunately, like J’on there is only so long the past can be pushed away before it rises to the surface, but not until the mind and boy know it is safe enough (consciously or unconsciously) to come to terms with the trauma of the past.
The Decision to Heal
After entering the Emergency Stage, the survivor must make the Decision to Heal. Here, the survivor can choose to either ignore the past trauma, or begin the process of recovery. Until the survivor makes the decision to heal, they will continue to return to the Emergency Stage. Many male survivors, unsure of what it happening to them and why attempt, to explain away the panic. Unfortunately, this is not only true of male survivors, but doctors and therapist who can make the mistake of misdiagnosing C-PTSD. Both survivors and their caregivers have the potential to treat the wrong symptoms causing more confusion and denial of past trauma. Rather than make the decision to heal, J’on and Batman attempt to explain the pain and the hallucinations away. J’on thinks to himself:
Of course. I understand now. The spore. The sentient cell! I absorbed it. Took it into myself to stop the plague that was spreading across the earth (from a previous Justice League comic). And it’s alive in my now. Fighting to break free. That’s why my body’s undergoing these distortions! That’s why I’m burning with fever! Then Batman was right. That thing I thought was after me. It was only a creation of my fever.
J’on does what many men do when faced with the reality of their past trauma. They attempt to fight the dissociative episodes and flashbacks by attempting to “become stronger”.
They claim the dissociative episodes in the form of flashbacks are not real and did not happen!
They become angry!
They push those they care about away.
While the survivor says this is to “keep others safe”, it is really to ensure no one sees them distorted, weak, and hurting, when all their friends want to do is help.
Until the survivors makes the decision to heal, the past will not be silenced.
Martian Manhunteris a unique comic to read. It is beautiful, producing hard lines, grit, and muted colors that can only be found in true 80s fashion. There is also an element of spirituality to the depictions of J’on’s dissociative episodes. Many graphics, while being made up of smaller images, come together to create larger pictures that resemble churches and evil demons. All of these objects make the reader feel connected to something they cannot explain, but hope to eventually understand. When entering the healing process as a survivor, it can feel unique, spiritual, and larger that life. The only option is to do as J’on does. Continue to hold on, putting it all together one piece at a time until, eventually, it all makes sense. I wish I could tell you more about the connection to spirituality throughout Martian Manhunter, but – spoilers. More will come into focus in the blog next week.
Next week, the blog entry “Burning Bright” will address remembering past trauma while continuing to examine the Emergency Stage and the Decision to Heal. For more information about my guides Heroes, Villains, and Healing, and How to Kill Your Batman, or to purchase a copy visit my website www.lostimaginations.com.
Lately, I’ve been spending my time writing about Superman, reading about Flash, and thinking about Wonder Woman while continuing to read and educate myself further on the nature of trauma and healing. In the process of reading, writing, and wonder, I have consistently returned to the same question: what obstacles are standing in the way for male survivors to heal?
To alleviate these obstacles, I moved from strictly memoir writing to a self-help format that males can easily relate to in order to make healing possible while also being entertaining and connecting to a character they know and love. Although I know my writing and speaking on a sensitive topic such as childhood sexual abuse has helped many other survivors to begin the process of recovery, my thoughts can sometimes become negative. As a male survivor myself, staying positive while also practicing self-care is a full-time job on top of my other full-time jobs. So, believing that I am making any difference as book sales stagnate, good hearted celebrities continuously spout the belief that men and boys cannot be raped, and online advertisement comments for my books consist of jokes about my name or the how “hypervigilance is a good thing” rather than healing to become a complete person, was becoming difficult. I began to question whether or not men want to heal at all, or do they just want to remain bruised and broken, pushing those they care about further and further away. I know this is not true, but I could not find a more valid answer to the growth and perpetuation of toxic masculinity throughout our society until this morning.
While sitting in my daughter’s room reading Flash #41: “The Perfect Storm: Part Three” (2018) as she put together a Paw Patrol puzzle, something Barry said made clicked. In this six-part series, Grodd has stripped Barry of his connection to the Speed Force, taking his title as Flash in the process. However, before stripping Barry of his superpowers, Gordd says to Barry in Flash #40 by projecting thoughts into the hero’s mind:
Your mind moves so fast that controlling you is a challenge, Flash. But I can still gaze deep into your mind. To your darkest secret. The one that you keep from your family and friends! Who you really are. Forever the child who couldn’t save his mother. A pitiful boy unable to prove his father’s innocence. A man with no life outside his lonely job. A man unloved. A life that stood still. Until the Speed Force. Until the Flash! You had friends. You caught your mother’s killer. You proved your father’s innocence. You had it all. It’s what made you special. You hide and protect your powers. The Speed Force gave you the life you always wanted. Because you know in your heart that without them you would be nothing.
Later, without his powers, and on his way to release the villain, Godspeed from the prison Iron Heights, in the hope that he can help restore his powers using a lighting wand, Barry thinks to himself:
Wally didn’t know me until after I was the Flash. No one did. And I don’t want him to ever meet that version of me. The one from before the powers. Every time I’ve had to break into Iron Heights I’ve hated it. But I’m desperate. Without my powers, I’m just as broken as the wand.
After reading these lines, I began to think of Judith Lewis Herman, M.D.’s book Trauma and Recoveryand what she says healing truly means. She explains that once an individual moves down the path of recovery, “the survivor must be ready to relinquish the ‘specialness’ of her identity.” Herman goes on to explain:
Commonality with other people carries with it all the meanings of the word common.It means belonging to a society, having a public role, being part of that which is universal. It means have a feeling of familiarity, of being known, of communion. It means taking part in the customary, the commonplace, the ordinary, and the everyday. It also carries with it a feeling of smallness, of insignificance, a sense that one’s own troubles are “as a drop of rain in the sea.” The survivor who has achieved commonality with others can rest from her labors. Her recovery is accomplished. All that remains before her is her life.
What Judith Herman is explaining in these lines is that survivors who continue to heal and recover from past trauma eventually realize that they are not alone in their trauma. Through interactions, and a rejoining of society they see that so many others have been hurt in similar ways, if not worse. Coming to this realization means no longer feeling the strength associated with believing they are unique, special, or different, but the same as everyone else.
Please, don’t misunderstand what I am attempting to explain. I am not saying that the trauma of sexual abuse and assault is viewed as a good thing in the mind of a survivor. What I am saying is that when an individual suffers the trauma of being sexually abused their power is taken away. They feel weak, and no longer in control of their life, body, or thoughts. However, over time a survivor may come to believe that their sexual abuse, assault, or trauma, is the only thing that makes them special. While the sexual abuse / assault stripped them of their power, overtime that same sexual abuse / assault makes a survivor feel entitled to think, behave, and act in ways that are hurtful to themselves and others. The trauma becomes a source of power for the survivor, but in a negative way. Sort of like the Negative Speed Force. This way of thinking transforms the thoughts of a survivor to those of a victim and can be seen in the thoughts and actions of Barry.
Barry never truly healed from his childhood trauma. Instead, he was bestowed with the power of the Speed Force, making him the Flash. Before his abilities, he believed he was worthless. After receiving his abilities, these thoughts did not go away. They remained locked deep within his mind, making him believe that without his connection to the Speed Force, he will lose the life he has built. So, after losing his powers to Grodd, Barry felt as if he were nothing, quickly performing actions that resembles those of a villain in order to regain his feelings of being “unique” by becoming Flash once again.
In many cases, male survivors who do not want to heal from the trauma of their childhood sexual abuse believe that if they do, they will lose what makes them “unique”. They believe they will lose their “special abilities” that saved them as a “hypervigilant” child. They believe that without the skills they developed as a result of their childhood trauma they are nothing, and everyone will see how worthless they are. This is not true for Barry Allen, or other male survivors who are afraid to heal. Just as Barry’s connection to the Speed Force is not what makes him a hero, a survivor’s trauma is not the sum of their worth. Barry still had a loving father, and worked to become a great CSI detective for Central City. His abilities are also not what made others view him as a friend, leader, and lover. As a male survivor, the people closest to you do not love you for your ability to remain hypervigilant, or seek perfectionism throughout all aspects of your life. They love and care for you, for who are.
Choosing to heal is a difficult decision that requires a lot of work, bravery, and courage. Those of you who choose to make this choice are not choosing to become weak. Instead, you are choosing to develop abilities you never knew you had to become stronger than you ever imagined possible. Do not be afraid. If you chose to heal you are still a “real” man. The only difference is that now you’re also becoming a “better” man.
I have been readingThe PTSD Workbook, and found some pretty awesome exercises that will anyone in whatever stage they are in their healing process as a survivor of sexual abuse! Mary Beth Williams, PhD, LCSW, CTS and Soili Poijula, PhD explain in understanding their trauma is recognizing the three major types of factors that influence the development of post-traumatic stress disorder: pre-event factors, event factors, and post event factors.
Some factors that influence whether or not a person develops PTSD is their exposure to pre-event factors. Unfortunately, it is the exposure of pre-event factors that has the potential to create Complex-PTSD (C-PTSD). C-PTSD is a form of type II PTSD where symptoms occurred early in life, were prolonged, and interpersonal. While childhood sexual abuse qualifies as possibly resulting in C-PTSD there are other factors which contribute:
previous exposure to severe adverse life events or trauma or childhood victimization, including neglect, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, or witnessing abuse
family instability, including a history of parental psychiatric disorder, numerous childhood separations, economic problems, or family violence
trouble with authority, even in childhood, including running away from home, school suspension, academic underachievement, delinquency, fighting, or truancy
absence of social support to help out in bad times
multiple early losses of people, possessions, or home
HEROES AND VILLAINS WITH C-PTSD
You may notice that many of the superheroes we love fall into many, if not all, of these pre-event factors. For example, the loss of Bruce Wayne’s parents resulted in an absence of social support to help in bad times. Clark Kent / Kal-El loss of his parents with the destruction of his planet, Krytpon, created a feeling of childhood separation with the loss of his family of origin. Finally, Barry Allen’s loss his mother and father created multiple loses early in his life. The list of characters continue in the Marvel universe with the death of Peter Parker’s parents, the domestic abuse and eventually murder of Bruce Banner’s mother by his father, and the absence of Matt Murdock’s mother before, during, and after losing his sight.
What’s also interesting is that many villains we may see ourselves as also suffer from C-PTSD. Bane grew up in a pit that filled with water each day with no one to care for him creating a sever life experience. Lex-Luthor’s father was a drunk and abusive forcing the young boy to run away on more than one occasion. Finally, while intelligent, Leonard Snark, came from an abusive household resulting in fighting and delinquency. In the Marvel universe Victor von Doom was targeted and hunted with the rest of his family, and Harry Osbourn’s father, Norman Osbourn, was verbally abusive and emotional absent.
The primary difference that separates one from the other is the ability to develop resilience from the impact of trauma. What is similar between the two groups is that both heroes and villains struggle to come to terms and heal from their C-PTSD. To move from identifying as either hero or villain, you must progress down the path of healing to become a survivor.
EXERCISE: MY ABILITY TO COPE WITH TRAUMA
In The PTSD Workbookan exercise I recently completed helped me to understand where I was in my ability to heal from the trauma of my childhood sexual abuse. I have been working to recover from the trauma of my childhood sexual abuse for over five years with the help of a therapist, psychiatrist, medication, and meditation so I may be a little further along than many other survivors. Even with that being said, I still struggle with depression, anxiety, shame, and grief daily. This exercise below may help you the same way it helped me.
Directions:Check those of the following statements that you believe apply to you.
______ I have a high degree of extraversion (I like to be with people).
______ I am open to new experiences.
______ I am conscientious in the work I do (I follow through).
______ I am an agree able person.
______ I believe that my source of personal power lies within me.
______ I am confident in my own abilities to cope with situations.
______ I try to find meaning in what happens to me.
______ I try to break down bad situations into manageable parts I can handle.
______ I am motivated to solve the problems that occur in my life.
______ I am generally an optimistic person – I see things more positively than
______ I take control in situations whenever possible, or at least try to take
______ I like a good challenge, and I rise to the occasion.
______ I am committed to overcoming the bad things I have experienced in life.
______ I have a good social support network – there are people I can turn to.
______ I understand my life’s circumstances and what I can and cannot do about
______ I have faith.
______ I have a sense of humor.
______ I have a sense of hope.
______ I like to try new things or look at things in new ways.
______ I am open to how others feel.
______ I am an action-oriented person – I would rather do something than sit back and let it be done to me.
______ I actively try to structure my life and make plans.
How many items did you check? Do you notice any pattern of those you did or did not check?
The more you checked, the more likely you are to take action and to work through the trauma that happened to you. However, if you have not checked many it does not mean that you are not deserving of healing. Everyone, no matter of their past, deserves to heal from their childhood trauma to become a complete person.
What I Observe:
I checked 11 of the 22 questions. What I noticed about the questions I did not check is that I still have a problem with spontaneity. I do not like to try things I cannot control because it scares me and results in a feeling of insecurity and shame from being sexually abused as a child. It also makes me feel worthless and suicidal thoughts.
I observe that I although I have come a long way, I still am in recovery.
*If you enjoy this exercise it can be found in The PTSD Workbook: Third Edition(2016).
I’m feeling pretty useless tonight. As if everything I have been working try and prove that men can be raped is a battle I cannot win, let alone a war I can conquer. How can I when people like Trever Noah, a very good, kind, intelligent, funny, and wholesome individual can make a joke that perpetuates the belief that men can’t be raped. Not only that, he says those exact words, leaving no amount of possible implication. And all of this during a stand-up routine about breaking taboos. God! What the fuck am I doing? Maybe everyone else is right and I’m wrong. Maybe I could have fought off the sexual abuse. If I didn’t want it then my body would not have gotten aroused, right? I wish I knew. I know the facts, but it’s so hard to believe them when the society makes fun of my pain and believe it is an impossibility. The thing that I also can’t stop thinking about is that if Trever Noah believes this, then what about the other people I know. Family, friends, individuals I speak with on the subject, do they believe the same thing? Are they just “smiling and nodding” waiting for me to shut up so they get their turn to speak? Why am I doing this? I know why I do this, but why am I doing this when I know where it leads; nowhere. I know these are just self-doubts. I know I make a difference. I have been told so by other survivors, but hearing this just makes me question the whole damn thing.