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33 minutes | 3 days ago
One Man’s Story of Surviving Domestic Abuse
As a psychotherapist and Director of the Men’s Resource Center of West Michigan, Randy Flood can tell you that domestic violence is non-discriminating. It happens regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, social-economic status, culture, or occupation. Flood has counseled men who perpetrate domestic violence and claim to be victims as a means of avoiding accountability for their behavior. But he has also worked with men who have been or are the victim of abuse. Unfortunately, for men such as these, society continues to make it difficult to openly tell their stories of abuse and to seek treatment and healing. Which is why, when a good friend offered to share his story of surviving domestic abuse on the Revealing Men podcast in the hope it would help others, Flood was grateful. Jim’s story highlights the struggle inherent for many male victims of domestic violence: societal or internal beliefs about manhood, the risk of not being believed, and the fear of experiencing shame. It touches on stereotypes, i.e., how can a professional, educated man be the victim of domestic violence. And it illustrates how, when the customary masculine paradigm of using brawn or fighting back to conquer the aggressor will not work, there is another heroic path available – one of care and nurturing. This article is edited for length and clarity. You can hear the entire conversation on the Revealing Men podcast. We invite you to listen with an open heart and mind to truly hear the human tragedy no one is immune from nor asks for. This is the third in a series of four podcasts featuring men who reveal their personal experiences with abuse, violence, and bullying. The series provides insight as to how males are often socialized to accept emotional and physical abuse and pain—suck it up—and how that primes them to pass this abuse forward. Each man interviewed identifies how he has experienced abuse and how a new self-awareness allows a revisioning of masculinity where the cycle of abuse is no longer accepted or mindlessly passed down. Being a Male Victim of Domestic Violence Flood: I’d like to welcome my friend, Jim. He has had an experience that sometimes men struggle to talk about and so when I was talking to Jim about Revealing Men and why we want to review what’s going on in the inner lives of men, he said, “I think it’d be good for me to talk about my experience with domestic violence and being a victim of domestic violence and what that was like.” With the hope, I think, that if you can give voice to your experience, maybe that would empower other men to be able to come and talk about their experience. Because so much about being a victim of domestic violence from a woman is hard for men sometimes to grapple with. And so, thanks for coming in and being willing to share. Jim: Yeah. Thanks for having me, Randy. I think one of the reasons why I want to be here and I want to tell this story is because for so many people it’s so unbelievable. I’ve not told a lot of people yet about this, but I’ve spent a lot of time recovering in therapy and the like, and some of the few people I’ve told flat out didn’t believe it could occur. I’ve been told by a good friend, “No it’s not possible for a woman to abuse a man, and look at you, you’re tall!” So, clearly, that can’t happen! Flood: So, you think it comes from some belief that, what, a real man couldn’t be a victim because they have the strength and power to not be one? And so, your story doesn’t have construct validity? Jim: [Laughs.] Basically. I’m not so sure about the terminology yet, but it’s just amazing. And, as I have run into a few other men over the years, that slowly this comes out, it’s just a similar experience. So, since I’ve spent a lot of time invested in my own healing and recovery and am a bit able to talk about it, I thought it was time. Flood: Yeah. I appreciate your courage and your willingness to do this. You and I have talked about it in the past but not maybe in the ways you might talk about it today. I’m willing to hear you out and we’ll ask questions along the way and maybe point out trends that other men might want to hear about. The Pattern of Abuse Starts Subtly Jim: I got married quite young to a woman who would appear to have some serious psychological challenges that never were diagnosed during our marriage. Folks have thought she had a borderline personality disorder and maybe was also bipolar. [She was] a very bright, engaging woman who slowly defined reality in our relationship. As long as I went along with her definition of reality, things generally went pretty well. But, as she seemed to get increasingly off-balance, any resistance I would offer to what was no longer reality generated increasing amounts of verbal abuse, arguments, and eventually physical abuse. A very first event, that sort of became a bit of a paradigm, was she didn’t want to change the diapers on the baby and she lost it. She basically threw our one-year-old child at me. I caught our daughter and lashed back at my wife out of anger. And so, it was just an instinctual thing on my part, but that, in her mind, at least, set the paradigm that I was actually the abuser. Our interactions were often framed in that way. Later on, she just had a ferocious intensity for verbal fighting and, as we had children, I wanted to avoid that. I would go to our room and say “Well, let’s at least fight here.” And then, I just wasn’t into fighting, so she would yell at me and if I didn’t fight back verbally with her, she would get angrier and angrier. And then, she would generally start hitting me in the head or try to strangle me, and I just put my shoulders up to sort of impede her hands and just tough it out. Anytime I would jump up if I couldn’t take it anymore, she would accuse me of abusing her because maybe she rolled off the bed while she was trying to strangle me and I would go out the door. I just got into a world where I accepted that. Flood: What world was that? What do you think went on in your head that aided your dysfunctional acceptance of it? Sometimes people are surviving and adapting because there’s kids. People will say, “Why does she stay?” There are reasons sometimes people get trapped or endure. Jim: At this point, at this far out, there’s no reason that I would accept but at the time, I was married and deeply religious. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents. My sister had been divorced. And so, I thought, “Oh, my parents can’t take another divorce in the family.” I mean, any kind of stupid thing you could come up with. And also, I had made this vow, this marriage vow, and I take my word seriously—in sickness and in health—ya know? She was sick. I could see that at that point. So, I was just gonna stick it out, and I was gonna deny myself stoically because, at that point, I didn’t expect much better out of life. I was just gonna ride out the storm. The Tactics of Social Isolation and Emotional Abuse Flood: Did it begin to tear you down? The name-calling, in and of itself, beyond the physical. I mean, she was smart, so she probably cut deep with her names. Jim: Yeah, yeah. She was very bright, and she cut very deep. I’m sort of a people pleaser kind of personality. That may be less common than typically socialized males, but that’s who I am. And so, I always was trying to keep her happy, right? I would cut out one part of myself, and then another part of myself, and then another part of myself, in an attempt to keep her happy, to keep her pacified. It didn’t really dawn on me that it wasn’t working. The other thing, that I didn’t really notice, [was] we were moving a lot for work and establishing ourselves in different countries, so we didn’t have a good social network. And, on top of it, she cut me off from all my friends. I never, ever, went out with anyone in almost nine years of marriage without her. Flood: Wow. And that’s a classic tactic, right? Social isolation gives a person, an intimate partner, power because they get to define their reality and you’re cutting parts of yourself out to adapt to it and that creates a power differential over time. And you’re isolated! So, you’re not able to have the support. It’s very effective. Jim: Yeah. When she finally left, I started seeing a psychologist: an American Jewish woman married to an Israeli Jewish guy who was a psychiatrist and part of the Israeli defense forces. He, after hearing [my] story was like “my God this woman is brilliant.” This woman naturally knows how to torture, isolate, and get mind-control over people. There are manuals for how to do this. That was just his gut reaction, which is sort of shocking to hear about yourself. Flood: The Duluth Battered Women’s Movement in Duluth, Minnesota started back in the late ’70s, early ’80s. And that’s what they essentially did. They took the model of oppression that’s replicated throughout the world and relationships and created this power and control wheel. And so, it becomes this brilliant way, a brilliant paradigm for control and power. And you sound like you were right in the web of it. Jim: Brilliantly evil. Yes. Flood: It is. Yeah, there’s a logic to it, a dark logic. Jim: It’s just hard to comprehend, for a lot of people, that you’re caught in this dark, brilliantly evil world and, at the same time, you’re having some success professionally and living your life. People don’t believe it because of that, and if you can show up to your job every day they must think: “Oh, it must not be true.” Society’s Reluctance to Recognize Male Survivors of Domestic Abuse Flood: Domestic violence is a huge problem for women as victims, but there’s this hidden thing about men’s victimization. What do you think, best as you can understand it, were the unique challenges for you as a man, as a victim? Is there something about how it registered for you or how you uniquely adapted to it; what stories you were telling yourself as a man? Narratives? Jim: As a man, I was all on this stoic thing. I’m Dutch. I’m a man. I can tough it out…I can tough it out. Even during the physical abuse—it was physical abuse, I can say that now—I would laugh at it because she wasn’t that strong. She wasn’t that good at strangling me! When I was curled up in the fetal position in the corner of the room when she was kicking me and mocking me, the kicks, I could put up with them. It’s a weird illogical logic. That you can come up with those stories. And then, I guess, the key, and again that’s one of the reasons I’m here, is someone has to believe males that have been abused. And only when that starts to happen, can there be healing. When I started counseling, I picked up a book, I’m sure you’ve seen it, Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman. It’s sort of a text-booky kind of book, but to me, it was like a self-recovery manual. But the key chapter was really tough for me because it’s like, “there can only be true healing when there’s a societal embrace of the cause,” ya know, like battered women, or PTSD Vietnam Vets. Only when society does the final step and acknowledges that and says, “We’re willing to bear some of that burden and we’re willing to correct that” can the individual victims really be truly healed. I don’t think we’re anywhere near that with male domestic abuse. [Flood: “No.”] And so, in a sense, I don’t have hope for full healing yet because I’m still reluctant to tell this story. And when some people hear it, they just say “nope, couldn’t happen.” Acknowledging and Grappling with the Shame of Abuse Flood: I have, as you know, a history of working with batterers, with men who have perpetrated domestic violence. It’s amazing to me the amount of men who come in believing that they’re victims: “if you were married to my wife,” “She triggers me and pushes my buttons,” “You would hit her too.” There’s this feeling that [they’re] being victimized, that [they’re] only reacting or retaliating. I think there’s this fear that I can’t believe you because I have to question whether you’re just a wolf in sheep’s clothing, right? There’s that part. There’s this belief in this masculine essentialism as I would call it. Whereas, like a “real man” would just react, right? Their survival mechanism would kick in and they would overpower her or they would hit her or something. [Jim: “Exactly.”] There’s this narrative that says you can’t be a victim versus “No, I have value systems and I have belief systems about how I function as a man and what I do with my hands and what is acceptable. That is an internal restraint that intercedes before I just instinctively do something that you are telling me I would do if I was a true victim.” Jim: Right. I think when you look at other oppressed groups, like African Americans under slavery or many of the oppressed peoples that I’ve worked with over the years overseas, the oppressed people can’t hit back, even if they’re male. Because there’s a whole hierarchy structure that would make hitting back much worse. A male will pay a price now, in a professional society at least, if they hit back or whatever. That’s a further restraint. So, you’re in an encounter with someone who’s not going to have those restraints, who is not going to play by those rules. They can get a sense of that and really leverage that power to play outside the rules. Flood: That’s a dimension, maybe a gender specificity, that’s different, right? Jim: Yeah. It’s radically different. It’s a hard map to follow because the stories like mine are just never told and so people haven’t walked through that path and it just seems so weird. Flood: What is the shame part in your recovery? “Why me?” or “what could I have done differently?” or your masculine identity as victim? Has there been a legacy of shame you’ve had to try to work through as well? Trying to undo that toxic shame? Jim: It’s huge. I’ve been relatively successful on the career front and education front, and to sort of stack that up on one side and the experience of utter humiliation, shame, and abuse on the other, they just don’t seem to be part of the same equation. But, they’re parts of me. It just doesn’t make sense, even to me. It’s just so hard to compute. I feel shame as a man, especially as an old-school man, and I feel a lot of shame as a father, as a parent, for not protecting my children better. They weren’t so much abused physically but they were subject to this household that was out of control and witnessed a father being humiliated and they weren’t protected. That’s something I continue to feel a lot of shame about. Flood: Yeah. I can see it on you as you talk about it. Shitty. Sorry. And I agree with you that somehow as a society, as academics, as sociologists, as psychologists, we’ve got a long way to go I think to do a better job recognizing this form of abuse and seeing that it’s out there and that it’s particularly difficult. It’s difficult for women to come forward and talk about it for their own reasons, and it’s also a difficulty, in many different layers, for men. Escaping from the Web of Abuse Flood: You broke through the silence. How did that happen? Where you remember first being willing to talk about it? Or how you extricated yourself? Or what light came on that said, “Okay. I gotta find a way out.” Jim: There’s just an endless string of stories, endless strings of podcasts, we could do on this. One particular thing that has a lot to do about gender, and gendering, and masculinity is, in the midst of this, when I was finally facing it, the kind of strength I felt I could generate was that of I wanted to pick up all three of my kids—three kids at the time, who even at that point I doubt I could pick up all three because they were getting older. [Laughs] I wanted to carry them, walk from where I was living in Central America at the time, all the way back here to Michigan. Obviously, no one could do that, not even Superman probably. But what I needed to generate was a different kind of parenting skill that wasn’t about the physical strength; it was about empathy, care, and creating a safe environment for the kids. All sorts of things that my traditional socialization as a male hadn’t really equipped me to do. Here I was suddenly, the single dad with full custody of three little kids and I had to play all these roles that we would typically divide up between male and female or at least a couple of partners [Flood: “Yeah, sure.”] and here I was alone. One on three and pretty beat up. Flood: It’s interesting you said the vision of this caring father has so much physicality to it. This heroic journey of picking your children up and having the strength to carry them miles and miles and miles. That seemed arduous but you had a narrative for it, you had a vision for it. But then, when you finally plopped down and were safe, you had to figure out how to care for them. And be emotionally available and that was like “holy shit.” That’s quite a journey. Emotionally, in your inner journey to ready yourself for that and heal. Jim: Yeah. I had to rewrite my DNA in a way. [Flood: “Yeah, yeah.”] That’s a lot of work, to rewrite your DNA! Flood: That is a lot of work. It is. Jim: I’ve been in therapy for 20 years and I’m still working on some of this stuff. Discovering the Healing Path Forward Flood: Say a little bit about the love you did find, eventually. Jim: I thought of throwing in the towel on my work overseas and coming back [to the States] because I was a single parent of three and that was pretty daunting. And then I ran into some old email and renewed my memory of a woman who had widowed and had three kids also. So, we’re sort of the multi-cultural, post-modern version of the Brady Bunch [Laughs]. We are a patched up, beat up, nontraditional family in so many ways. She’s also a very gifted public speaker and travels the world. And so, I still often was cast in this role of being a stay-at-home dad or whatever. But it was beautiful because I was able to do that much better accompanied. Two versus six. Two parents versus six kids is a lot easier than one versus three. Flood: Well, you are a strong, beautiful, and dynamic man. Jim: It’s hard to believe that I’ve made it this far. Yeah. That movie Unbroken about this guy who gets tortured, that was sort of my vision of the male, ya know? [Flood: “Right.”] Instead, I’ve gotten very broken and then, in the midst of it, somehow came out a little stronger, maybe. Flood: Thanks so much for coming and talking. Jim: Thank you, Randy. Support and Healing for Male Victims of Domestic Abuse Although some men suffer victimization from domestic violence in silence—believing that a real man will just deal with it and not burden others—Jim’s story shows you don’t have to be alone. The Men’s Resource Center offers specialized counseling services for men, including trauma counseling for males who have been victims of abuse along with online counseling and online men’s support groups for men who can’t access our services in person or who prefer the comfort and convenience of their own space. Each program is facilitated by highly-trained, licensed counselors. Contact the Men’s Resource Center online or by phone (616) 456-1178 for more information or if you have questions about this segment, ideas for a topic, or would like to be a guest on the Revealing Men podcast. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233 if you or someone you know needs assistance because of domestic violence. If this is an emergency, call 9-1-1.
43 minutes | a month ago
Counseling Changed His Life
The Men’s Resource Center of West Michigan offers in-person and online counseling for men who are abusers and those who have themselves been abused. It’s where Dan Beelen came when he needed to set his life aright. And, it’s where he learned to manage his fear and anger. For this Revealing Men podcast, Beelen returns to the space where he first received counseling nearly 20 years ago and reflects upon his experience with Randy Flood, psychotherapist, and Director of the Men’s Resource Center. In an often emotional conversation, Beelen shares how counseling changed his life: how it helped to make him a better spouse, parent, businessman, and person. In telling his story, he hopes to encourage other men to reach out and seek the positive change counseling can make. Excerpts from the conversation are below and have been edited for length and clarity. The entire discussion is available now on the Revealing Men podcast. This is the first in a series of four podcasts featuring men who reveal their personal experiences with abuse, violence, and bullying. The series provides insight as to how males are often socialized to accept emotional and physical abuse and pain—suck it up—and how that primes them to pass this abuse forward. Each man interviewed identifies how he has experienced abuse and how a new self-awareness allows a revisioning of masculinity where the cycle of abuse is no longer accepted or mindlessly passed down. Recognizing the Need for Help Flood: It’s been a while. …. Dan, you feel passionate about the work you’ve done and this belief that other men can experience similar kinds of healing. So, you’re not apologetic about your work, and where you’ve been, and where you’ve walked, so that’s the cool thing about you. Beelen: Okay, yeah. That’s true! I don’t know about the cool part. [Both: Laugh.] Flood: You’re unashamed and you have an interesting formulation of courage to share. And I thought that maybe it would be an interesting thing to start out with something you wrote several years ago when you heard that I was writing a book and you wanted to offer your insights into what you learned by the journey here at the Men’s Resource Center. So, I thought I’d start out with that and then we can deconstruct it and talk about the details of it. Okay, it says: It’s been a long haul. I find it difficult to imagine myself back in those days. The attitudes, the convictions that allowed me to know what was right, what was wrong, how people should be thinking and behaving, have left. I am left with a world where I don’t have all the answers. I don’t really have any. I am instead struggling to figure out what works for me and the people around me. I went into therapy because I was abusive. I had this anger inside of me that would not go away and it rose up to dictate my behavior, over and over. Therapy was at first a grueling affair. I did not like it at all, but I was determined to stick it out. The 26-week course for abusers. Man, I hated that word. Hated being lumped in a bunch of court-ordered wife-beaters. Somehow, when I got to the end of it, I found that I had listened to at least some of what was being said and I decided to join a personal growth group comprised of men who wanted to figure out why their lives were such a mess. This is where the real work started; we did all kinds of weird, touchy-feely stuff that scared me, but I hung on. This group became a safe place for me to explore doubts and fears and questions that had never been safe to bring up when I was a child. For me, much of this centered around my parents and their religion. I found my voice in therapy. The one that was never allowed to be heard in my home. And it became to be very loud! I discovered who I was really angry at for all these years and I started making life decisions based on my own desires and convictions, not those of my parents, family, and church. Then my life turned upside down. Therapy is not for sissies. It takes guts, and courage, and money, and time—eight years for me—and patience. A willingness to jump off emotional cliffs, over and over. I am proud of what I’ve accomplished over those eight years. Today my life is quite different. I still have some of the same feelings inside of fear, anger, anxiety, but I have become more comfortable with them. I don’t need to do anything about those feelings, just live with them, and wonder about them. It’s okay. Along with that, I now have pleasure, joy, and happiness… Therapy only works if you want it to.” So, you seem a little teary. When is the last time you heard that read? Beelen: I don’t know if I’ve ever heard it read. Certainly, not by you. Flood: Well, take your time. Beelen: [Pauses; breathes] That sounds pretty good. [Both: Laugh.] Flood: Why don’t you say a little bit about the beginning? Counseling for Abusive Behavior Beelen: April 3, 2003 was my first intake meeting with Al [Heystek]. I was referred here [the Men’s Resource Center] by my brother after my wife spoke with him. So, I was more or less ordered here. My brother is a pastor and I was attending his church and I was a very visible leader in that church. He convinced me pretty easily. Everyone in the group was court-ordered, as I recall, except for me, and I felt like I shouldn’t be there for that… [Flood: “Reason.”] yeah. Flood: Could you have been? Court-ordered? Beelen: No. The actual physical abuse that I delivered had stopped 20 years before, because I was threatened with exposure by a marriage therapist we were seeing. That scared me enough to never raise my hand again, but, certainly the interior attitudes and convictions and belief system that was all in place. It didn’t really make any difference. There’s just no bruises that you can see. Flood: Okay. So, you came and you had this intake session…. Say a little more about that process in the beginning, of starting the group, and what you were experiencing in that first group. Beelen: A lot of anger, a lot of “I don’t belong here.” I hadn’t touched my wife in 20 years. What was I doing here? I was fine. That’s what I believed and that’s what cycled through over and over. And I don’t, frankly, know how you convinced me of anything other than that but it happened, somehow. Flood: And you stayed, even though you had, probably, the impulse to bolt, to run, to say “I don’t need to be here,” to shut down, or whatever. But something had you stay. Do you know if it was the pressure? Or was it something inward? Beelen: I think at that point in my life it was my upbringing. My “you don’t quit, you don’t stop, you committed yourself to this, you just keep going.” I mean, that’s the reason I was still in my marriage, because those are the rules. And so that worked to my benefit, certainly. In that situation. Overcoming Expectations of Power and Control Flood: What do you remember about the conversations in that particular, —you refer to a 26-week group, so you must’ve been in the domestic relationships program—so what do you remember about what you were supposed to, what you were learning, or supposed to learn or…? Beelen: There’s that power and control wheel? Right? …. I remember that, because I remember looking at it and secretly thinking, oh yeah, that’s exactly, that’s my life. Right there! That wheel, at least at home. And just getting to that point, where I could look at it and say, “Yup! That’s me!” And then, being able to say that out loud, however many years that took is another big step. Flood: So, what is it about, would you say, your upbringing that taught you about power control? That you as a man needed it, or that you as a man operated with it? What kind of teachings, in terms of male culture, growing up in male culture, or growing up in your religion, growing up in your family, growing up in the neighborhood that taught you, that lead you to use power and control in your marriage at the time? Beelen: Real men are in control. And real men don’t cry. Crying for me still is hard to come by. I wish it happened more. You never can be vulnerable. And man, it just robs, robbed, still does, rob me of so much. Flood: Not being able to be vulnerable? Beelen: Yeah. And I’m still terrified. It doesn’t mean I don’t go there but the feelings inside are still the same. Terror. That’s a good word for it, sometimes, terror. Flood: I remember you used to say “if I’m scared to talk about it, that’s probably what I need to talk about it.” Beelen: Yes, yes, I did say that! [Both: Laugh.] …. That’s a good one to go by if you’re in therapy. If you’re afraid of it, then that’s what you need to talk about. Discovering the Your Authentic Voice Flood: Going back. Growing up is learning the rules of manhood. We talked about the man in the box, maybe if you remember that. Here’s what real men behave like, think like, treat women like, and treat each other like, and treat ourselves like. And that, you say, is when you get in touch with it you realize how difficult that was to pull that off, or how constraining it was to your humanity or how damaging it was to others. Beelen: Yeah. All of the above. Certainly, how damaging it was to my first wife, my children, … I mean it touches everything. Everything. …I’m starting to lose track here. Flood: That’s alright. I think that sometimes that’s what happens when we get connected to our emotions. Sometimes it hijacks our head. You just get re-grounded. …. Let’s talk, if you want, a little bit about how you transitioned, that first group, as you remember it, as you just talked in that story or narrative. Is learning about power and control, learning about male socialization, and it was psycho-educational and learning processing, and then you were introduced to the idea of a different kind of group. Which we call a therapy group or a process group, and so, say a little bit about that transition and what you remember how it was different. Beelen: I don’t remember why I decided to keep going, but I do remember, yes, it was quite different, these are men who wanted to be there. Generally older, have had plenty of time to mess up their lives and figure out that it has something to do with us. [Both: Laugh.] So, these people, including me, apparently, wanted to be there and that’s quite different. That group became truly scary sometimes for me. The stuff that would come up inside and a question would be asked of me and the answer would come inside [of me] and I would immediately shove it off to the side, because I didn’t want to say that; I wanted to say whatever I was supposed to say. When I learned to say what came up instantly, in my body and in my mind, when I learned to say that out loud, I remember that was a shift. Flood: So, what were you denying? Your authentic voice, or what you were really feeling? Beelen: Denying my authentic voice. Yes. That’s what had been happening. I was afraid to say things I wasn’t supposed to say about my faith, my father, my mother. Those three things are pretty core. Yeah. Flood: Was it like getting connected to what you were really pissed off about? Beelen: Yeah. That was a big part of it. Flood: Before that, you didn’t have a little consciousness around it? Beelen: Well, before that I thought I was angry at my wife. [Both: Laugh.] …. I mean, I am sure she gave me reason once and a while but this had nothing to do with her. Yeah, realizing that—where my anger belonged—that was quite a hump to get over, that was a big one. Managing Anger and Fear Flood: If I recall, you were actually scared of who you were angry at and to actually be honest about it; that shift was like, holy shit. Beelen: That was discovering that my anger was with my father, that was so hard to admit. Well, it was hard to discover, and then for another year I wouldn’t, …when that popped up inside, I would go somewhere else and answer the question with, … I wouldn’t tell the truth. Flood: Right. Beelen: Apparently, I finally did. Flood: Did you want to say anything about what the anger was about? Beelen: It was pretty much centered around religion and absolutely not being able to question my father’s belief system. …. And overall, he was a pretty supportive father, but there was this off-limits place that, ya know. I had questions when I was really young about weird shit in the Bible, “that doesn’t make any sense,” but I couldn’t go there. Flood: You couldn’t do that. Yeah. So instead, you just what? Learned to internalize it? Tell yourself that there’s something wrong with me? Beelen: Yeah. Apparently, there’s a lot that I don’t understand. That I can’t articulate. Ya know, maybe that’s something my dad got wrong. He got an awful lot right. And where did all this rage come from? I’m still not sure, maybe I’m just wired that way. I don’t know. Flood: There’s some of that! As men, we’re kind of wired to be more, some of us, more aggressive, more take charge kinda people, it’s just temperamental, and learning to embrace that, because you can do wonderful things with it. But also, how do you temper it? Manage it? So that it’s not hurting others and running over others. Right? Beelen: Yeah. I didn’t learn that. [Flood: Laughs.] In my home, certainly. In my home, it was fear that kept me in line. Flood: Fear of what? Beelen: Of punishment or fear of rejection, whether that’s legitimate fear or not, I’m not convinced that it is. Embracing a Full Range of Emotions Flood: For listeners that are like: “Gosh, what the hell do you do in those men’s groups?” “How is it helpful?” “Why is it important to get in touch with emotions?” “Isn’t that gonna make you weak?” “Isn’t that gonna make you, drown in a puddle? [Laughs.] Or melt in a puddle?” Say what it is about those experiences or what you learned about the role of emotions. Beelen: Well, certainly, your emotions tell you when your needs aren’t being met. They’re good at that, emotions. And frankly, I’d like to be able to drown in a puddle, from month to month, at a time of my choosing. My wife can do that and I’m jealous of that. [Pauses.] Flood: When you can cry, what do you notice? Beelen: That it’s wonderful. Mind you, I don’t do it at work! Flood: Why not? [Both: Laugh.] Because you work at a manly job? Beelen: Manly construction job. [Flood: “Yeah.”] Plus, I’m the boss, so that wouldn’t work. [Flood: “Okay.”] How do I articulate how much wonderful-er it is, it feels sad, or to feel joy? Joy is different than happy [Flood: “Yeah it is.”] and…it’s not like I’m not a man anymore, there’s not much question about that. I’m still trying to let more of the other side, the feminine side, come through. I’ve got a little bit too much masculine gifted to me, I think, or that’s how it feels anyways. Flood: Or that’s what was practiced, for sure, right. [Beelen: “Right.”] You practice that side of your humanity and that becomes really, really strong and loud and it doesn’t get balanced, maybe, in a way that is needed. Receiving Permission to be Vulnerable Flood: So, is there any type of group process, or experience, or event; sentinel moment that you remember? Beelen: Ohhhh, yes…. There were many sentinel moments…. There is one I remember talking about: hiding in a closet downstairs in our basement that was six feet wide and three feet deep and it had lots of long coats and clothes in it. It was a clothing closet for the church. I used to go sit down and hide in there in the dark. I still like the dark, lights are always off at my house. [Flood: Laughs.] You and Ken [Porter] wanted to recreate that situation in this room and so I sat down probably behind that chair or whatever chair was there and people started putting hands on me. Touching me. [Pauses; Sighs.] To relive that moment or those many moments; to understand what I was doing. I was trying to protect myself. And to have people in the room who understood and were there. Yeah. That’s uh… [Pauses; Emotional.] Flood: That was a very healing experience and it’s almost like it has given you permission. You can come out of the closet and be alive and be out and be real and be vulnerable and all of that. Beelen: Yeah. I think that’s right. I really miss being in the group. Because, when you don’t deliberately practice that once a week, ya know? Flood: It is a practice. It’s like everything, ya know? You’re a musician and you got to keep at it, right? Otherwise, you start losing it and I think that in life, being able to stay connected to our emotions and do intimacy with others is something you have to be intentional about. You have to learn how to do it and reclaim the emotion that you were suppressing but then it’s never over, right? Beelen: No, it isn’t. Lynn and I, my second wife, still go to therapy. I don’t know if it’s marriage therapy, I mean, we go because it’s fun and exciting, and at least every other week we have to shut up and listen to ourselves and listen to each other. It’s not that we don’t in real life, but yeah. [Flood: “Right.”] It’s pretty important to me and Lynn. De-stigmatizing Counseling and Therapy for Men Flood: I think that …. sometimes it gets, therapy gets a bad rap, because it gets stigmatized as something you do when you’re sick, or ill, or something is wrong with you. Rather than seeing it being as something to help optimize you, help develop you, help you be a better, fuller person. And it sounds like this experience that you’re in now is enriching. It gives you a sacred space to be able to share an open, kinda a ritual and doing that together. Beelen: Yeah. It’s wonderful. I remember driving up to therapy in the beginning. Here’s my truck with the logo on it and so worried and scared, and you had this file that you would take out and write in about me and I was worried about what was going in the file. Then, four years in or something, I just didn’t give a shit what you wrote in that file anymore [Flood: Laughs.] and I still don’t. Flood: Yeah. There’s something freeing about moving to that place and transitioning where you can say, “Here I am! This is me. And, I’ve dealt with my shame around that,” and you can just live more openly. Andy Atwood told me, “You gotta wake up, clean up, and then once you grow up, then you can just show up.” Beelen: Right. Let it all hang out! Flood: And going through life when you do those first three, not that it’s that sequential, we’re always working to be aware and clean up and grow up. It’s nice to be able to just show up. Show up with your kids, show up with your wife, show up in relationships, and not carry as much fear around it. Beelen: Showing up is still work for me. If I go unconscious, then I forget, or check out, or whatever I do. Flood: Or can you sometimes go into old patterns? And then you can catch yourself? Ya know? Beelen: Yeah. Oh boy, the old patterns…hm. I don’t know, I can’t tell how different I am in a social evening, dinner, Thanksgiving Eve party. [Flood: “Yeah.”] My kids tell me I’m different, so I’m going with that. Flood: That’s always helpful feedback, right? Beelen: Yes. They should know! [Flood: Laughs.] Deciding to be a Different Man Flood: I wonder if you could talk to other men, say there’s other men listening, what would you say if they’re wondering about doing something and taking that step, and they’re scared or reluctant and they don’t think they need it or whatever. Is there anything that you would offer them? Beelen: Well, you have to want to do it and most of us wait until the pain is so great, the loss is so great, ya know, we’re 65-years-old or whatever we are. I was lucky that I hadn’t reached that point yet. Flood: You’ve had some losses and stuff but you’re saying… Beelen: Those are my conscious decisions. You have to be prepared to give a lot up. A lot of life choices that we make and then just stick to because. Because. Everything has got to be on the table and that’s pretty terrifying. So, I suggest you get in here right now. But my life is, wow, vastly different and it’s way better. Flood: That’s like, if therapy works, you’ve gotta change your life, right? Beelen: Yeah! [Laughs.] Flood: You say life is vastly different? …. What do you notice about your emotional life or relational life that’s so remarkably different for you that you enjoy? Beelen: It certainly has changed my relationship with my children. For the much better! Flood: What do you notice mostly that’s so satisfying? Beelen: Um, they come over a lot. Flood: That’s a good sign! Controlling Emotional Triggers Beelen: Another thing I notice that is different and very much the same is—in conversation with, particularly, my wife—I get these rage triggers and I feel the same emotion inside and I recognize it now. It’s just, oh, here’s this again. And, I can wait for it to pass and I can tell Lynn this is what just happened and she knows it doesn’t have anything to do with her. And then, it goes away. I don’t have to punch a hole in the wall. I don’t have to curse Lynn or anybody else. That’s especially when I tell Lynn what’s going on in the moment, that hasn’t happened in a while, that’s pretty satisfying, to come out the other end in ten minutes and not have done any damage. In fact, to have built up our relationship a little bit more. Flood: It sounds like you have this relationship with your inner life that’s so much different, you reclaimed it, got acquainted with it, so that you know that it has, emotions have a life cycle. They have a surge, you attend to it, and then it finally starts waning. You don’t have to act it out. And it sounds like there’s this knowledge of that; I don’t have to do anything with this. Beelen: I don’t have to do anything. I don’t have to. I can just be. Dispelling Stereotypes about Masculinity Flood: …. One of the things we get criticized for is this idea of emasculating men by getting them connected with emotions. All the things you’re sharing. It’s like, you never lost your masculinity! Beelen: I don’t think so! Flood: [Do] you want to say a little bit, just what is stuck with you? What you do? Do you still feel proud as a man that you continue to do? You never lost it. That’s the beautiful thing. You don’t lose masculinity; you gain your humanity. Beelen: I would agree. I mean, the masculine side, stick to it, work hard, don’t complain, obviously in business that’s done me very well. I’m proud of my business. Flood: You can fix shit, too. Beelen: I can fix shit! [Both: Laugh.] Yeah! Lots of things. I’m good at that. Fortunately, when my life turned upside down, it turns out that I had picked the right profession from the beginning, so I didn’t have to change that. [Both: Laugh.] Construction work…I guess it’s not…I don’t know what to call it. Restoration work. …That part of my life didn’t really change. Flood: Is there anything about it that actually got enriched? That you got better at it? Or more creative? Beelen: I hope that I got better at managing personnel. Flood: Okay, so that’s an interesting part. That you got better at that. Beelen: Well, I hope I did. …. I think I’m better at that. I certainly, it occupies far more space inside than it used to. Flood: You know it matters, right? [Beelen: “I do.”] To work on it. Beelen: Nobody’s perfect. You might not want to interview my employees. [Flood: Laughs.] Flood: But it matters, that relationship you build with people and the leadership. That stuff matters as much as teaching them how to do something, a craft. Beelen: Craft comes second, really, when I’m looking for people to hire. Flood: Looking for a certain personality that’s gonna fit in your culture? Beelen: Yeah. Flood: Well, it’s certainly a delight to sit across from you and your willingness to share your story and be open. I know it will help others. Beelen: Thank you, Randy. Taking The First Step Toward Changing Your Life Randy Flood incorporated Dan Beelen’s story into the book “Stop Hurting the Woman You Love: Breaking the Cycle of Abusive Behavior.” If you’re inspired by his experience and/or want more information about how to move away from abusive behavior, contact the Men’s Resource Center online or at (616) 456-1178. Also, feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions about this segment, ideas for a topic, or would like to be a guest on the Revealing Men podcast.
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