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The Bristlecone Project

Portraits and Biographies of Male Survivors

Walter Castaneda

The path to healing is a Hero’s Journey. There are crises, leaps of faith, helpful angels, determination, and courage. Often, a crisis becomes an opportunity.

When Walter was 24, a quarrel with his girlfriend led to this blunt accusation: “I love you, but you’re just like your father.” Walter grew up witnessing his father’s toxic masculinity, attitude, and behavior towards his mother. Walter did not want to follow in those footsteps. Instead of responding defensively, Walter took his girlfriend’s accusation to heart. He called a friend whom he knew was seeing a therapist and he asked for the therapist’s number. So began Walter’s journey.

He and his therapist had a lot of work to do. Walter was sexually abused for more than a decade by a close friend of his family. During that decade, he was violated and raped in so many places in his hometown that, to this day, it is a landscape of triggers and terrible memories. When he begins to hear that limiting voice in his head that says to avoid visiting his hometown, Walter reminds himself aloud that he is safe and no one will hurt him.

Among the legacies of the abuse that plagued Walter was a toxic and marrow-deep feeling of self-blame and worthlessness. Today, he looks at a photograph of himself at age six, “And I remind myself now: it’s not his fault. He’s a six-year-old. Even when I was fifteen, I was still the child that was hurt. Even right now I have to tell myself, to say it out loud. It was not my fault.”

The abuse also interfered with Walter’s understanding of his sexuality. Only after years of work can he say: “I’m not gay. I’m not straight. I like men and women. That’s who I am, and that’s okay.” Through therapy and his dedication to healing, Walter now feels and knows his value. He knows he’s smart. His grades at college reflect that. It was a hike up a mountain near San Diego that introduced Walter to another key to his healing journey. At the top of the mountain, his hiking partner suggested that they meditate. Walter agreed, and the experience was transformative. He now begins each day with meditation. Running is another important key element to his healing. Walter understands the combination of these tools keep him present and keep a smile on his face.