The Pit Bull at the Gate

04/23/2015 11:14 am ET | Updated Jun 23, 2015

The first time I experienced sex I was too young to understand what the act was, let alone how to process the complex emotions of what was happening. My boundaries were crossed long before they had been established. My eyes were opened to a world which was at once confusing and frightening but conversely, flattering and enticing.

That initial trauma left me with an exponentially growing inner darkness. My human sexuality had become aligned with danger, and as I further acknowledged my sexual orientation I became personally familiar with the devastating loneliness of shame. I became defensive with my family, withdrew from my peers, ignored my academic studies, compensated for my diminished self-worth by focusing solely on my performing talent, took dangerous and unnecessary risks on many fronts, relied on numbing substances, feared intimacy, and unconsciously employed sex as a means toward reliving and processing past traumas.

That said, I cannot blame all of my difficulties on one event from my youth because in truth no single incident can ever be pinpointed as the clear cause of my current challenges. Emotional trauma has unfolded for me in a variety of different colors and shapes. Trauma can be large and devastating or small and compounding. Trauma can be inflicted upon me and can also be the result of actions taken toward others. Ultimately, my mental health relies on my ability to consciously and realistically process, interpret, learn, and heal from these experiences.

My therapist calls the culmination of these various lifelong traumas the "pit bull at the gate." This is an appropriate analogy for me being that I work with dogs for a living, and one that I have found helpful even if the imagery plays into the myth of this breed as being characteristically aggressive. The "pit bull at the gate" is a metaphor for the emotional genesis of my physical expression of anxiety, depression, fear, self-criticism, and sadness which keep me from being fully present. My pit bull protects the front door to a home filled with the memories of a lifetime of positive and negative experiences, aka my psyche. When various circumstances and triggers come knocking at the gate -- in moments of intimacy and vulnerability, when meeting new people, while talking about myself in front of groups, or as I sing alone in a spotlight, for example -- this canine of consciousness will spring into action in order to protect his home, the familiar safety of my psyche. His growls take the form of detracting, demeaning, and degrading voices in my head which attempt to distance me from people in order to prevent possible further injury. I am learning to love the pit bull for his steadfast protective qualities while also recognizing my unhealthy attachment to his stubborn and mindless ferociousness.

I propose that all human beings are survivors of some degree of trauma -- homophobia, divorce, domestic violence, natural disasters, physical injuries, disabilities, poverty, disease, and endless other examples -- any of which may bring some level of sadness, pain, regret, and shame. The wounds of these experiences are guarded by the manifestation of your very own personal "pit bull at the gate." In the same way that real-life dogs reflect the energy of their owners, some psyches may require metaphoric gatekeepers that are more poodle than pit bull, but all psyches need protection. Relating to the voices in our heads is a universally-shared human experience.

Speaking connects us.

Silence separates us.

Doug Kreeger

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.