Kevin McNeil: Daring Men to Ditch the Mask
By Ashia Gallo
Wholeness Collective Coordinator at Mosaic Georgia
An interview with Child Advocate Kevin McNeil and Wholeness Collective Coordinator Ashia Gallo, MPA
Kevin McNeil wears many hats: former SVU detective, husband, author, businessowner, and motivational speaker and advocate against child abuse. Kevin is very open about his experiences of sexual abuse as a young man. His organization, The Twelve Project, aims to bridge lack of awareness around abuse with people’s desire to learn and to protect their children.
June is Men’s Health Month, which aims to encourage men to take charge of their overall health by implementing healthy living decisions. Kevin’s journey to healing his trauma and building a healthier view of his own masculinity made him the perfect Tesserae feature as Mosaic Georgia recognizes the unique struggles, coping mechanisms, and deadly silence of male trauma survivors.
What are some approaches you take to caring for your mental, physical, and spiritual health?
Truthfulness plays an important role for me. I avoid toxic positivity as a coping mechanism as opposed to facing how I feel. Acknowledging and honoring feelings first helps me to stay mentally healthy. Meditation, exercise, and isolation (with limits!) works well.
I encourage others to choose what works for them effectively. Everything doesn’t fit everybody. But expressing versus sitting with feelings is important. Feelings are a guide to wisdom.
Men should learn to be truthful with feelings and why they’re expressing them. It shouldn’t be to make others act differently – but to be real, and genuine. So much of our unhappiness comes from pretending. There’s a reason the Bible says, “the truth shall set you free”. Teach people to fall in love with your authenticity.
You speak openly about the “dark years” when you attempted to self-medicate and overwork to avoid addressing your own childhood abuse – how would you describe your mental health during that season?
I wasn’t even conscious of my actions or addictions. I used to cope with avoidance, loneliness, and inadequacy by grabbing something to drown it. Alcohol, sex, long work hours, etc. I wasn’t in a state of clarity. Only thing I felt was the dark side saying I wasn’t good enough. Then, more shame from using those unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Looking back, that’s how you learn! My dark side aided and guided me. If you avoid your pain, you’ll never meet your power. Don’t judge your dark places, embrace them. The trauma is still there sometimes. And the culture says men cannot be vulnerable about that.
When we are honest among one another, it becomes sacred space. I compared myself to Clark Kent, until I learned to kill the superhero.
What was the final straw that made you confront your childhood trauma?
My breaking point was watching a young boy tell his abuse story while I was a detective investigating his case. I realized I needed help. Children hold so much wisdom. We have it backwards – men can learn from boys.
According to the CDC, men make up 50% of the US population, but nearly 80% of deaths by suicide. We have heartbreaking pop culture examples, such as the death of beloved Stephen “tWitch” Boss from the Ellen Show late last year. What are your reactions to this?
Many men are very secretive, especially high profile men. Many times they don’t have people around them to say “you need help”. Suicide is an act of silence. We must be so honest it disrupts what it means to be a man in our society.
We work to create our lives to be seen a certain way. Then when we make it, and reality doesn’t match up, depression follows. We end up needing constant distractions, and cannot be free.
I was in football, the military, and became a detective to hide behind the uniforms and shields. We hide behind the titles and groups of men. The public image we’re expected to live up to is very frustrating. Life becomes a task. Suicide is the act, but the person has been killing themselves slowly by withdrawing, stopping doing what they love, etc.
Men don’t express how they feel. Even on the way out, many times they don’t express why they want to leave. They just know they can’t take all the emotions anymore. We express distress in subtle ways. And the culture isn’t trained to listen to men’s pain, so we miss opportunities to help them.
“Children don’t get traumatized because they get hurt. They get traumatized because they are alone with the hurt.” -Dr. Gabor Maté, Canadian physician and author.
Thoughts on men in therapy?
We treat therapy like an “option”. If we had more therapy offices than churches, we would see more positive change. It should be a mandatory requirement. Then again, I do understand that people who are forced to go won’t want to…
“Mental health” is becoming trendy and consumeristic. [As a society] we market things we don’t want to deal with. Even Men’s Health Awareness Month cannot compartmentalize these issues. Therapy allows us to go beyond awareness and into action.
We are also often too quick to treat what we should be listening to. We look for superficial answers and try to ‘fix’ things as opposed to ‘listening’. You can’t make things go away that you don’t fully understand. Therapy is an opportunity to confront the person you are and shape that.
What is the #1 message you’d like young men especially to know about dealing with emotions and traumatic experiences in their lives?
You are human before you are male. Maleness is a prescribed title. If they are not careful, they’ll live their lives out being something that they don’t have the capacity to upkeep. But being human is natural. Meaning is the currency in which you purchase your happiness.
To hear more about Kevin’s story, check out his Caring and Courageous interview on Mosaic Georgia’s Facebook page.