Sexual abuse runs through my family like a corrosive black plague threatening to consume everyone in its path. It is a dark and secret shadow that has haunted me for too many years and, no matter how many exorcisms I perform, I know its shade will always linger in the form of memory.
I was about five years old the first time I was abused. It was a male babysitter about 12 years old. I had no idea what was going on other than some strange new game on the living room couch…but I knew not to tell anyone about it. I knew that.
It happened again about two years later at a Salvation Army Camp. This time an older boy trying to convince me of things he said were perfectly normal…except that I was not to talk about them…not ever.
Five years after that it happened again. My Big Brother from the Big Brother’s Big Sister’s. Assigned to me to be a mentor and surrogate dad since mine had left years earlier.
This one lasted for three years and was pretty much a regular occurrence multiple times a week. He was also my Scout Master.
Within this time frame, at the age of 12, I was abused twice by a woman I babysat for.
It wasn’t until I was 15 that I was able to stand up to him and tell him to leave and never return. In my whole life I have never felt such a great weight lifted off my shoulders as when that one lifted.
A year later I approached my parish priest about my desire to enter the priesthood and serve God. He invited me to his apartment adjoining the church an evening that week and sexually abused me – this was the last time that happened to me. This event planted the seeds of the first great collapse of my faith.
I never told anyone. Never. Many people in my life told me if such things were to occur I only needed to tell them. Mum would have intervened had I told her. A teacher. Someone would have – if I had said anything. I just didn’t.
I wasn’t able to tell a soul until I was 30 years old.
The weight of carrying these incidents around was so great.
I remember calling the police on my former Big Brother when I was 30 and feeling terrible about it but knowing that I had an obligation to. I knew he had continued on being a Big Brother and a Scout Leader. I had to speak. I had to do what I could to stop it. To get him help.
He was confronted by police, arrested, tried and jailed. I was told he was grateful for being caught. He died less than 10 years later of cancer in his mid 40’s.
To my endless shame there was another boy he had abused. I was able to get the name of the boy to the police…I remembered it all those years later because he and I went to the same school and I remember seeing my Big Brother with the boy. I knew the same things were going on with him as had been with me…I just never said anything.
The police told me this boy, now a man, was grateful to me as well. This helped.
It wasn’t for another five years before I could build the courage to contact the police about the priest. Why hadn’t I done so when I reported my Big Brother? I don’t know. But eventually the same worries rose up in me – fears that he was still out there, uncaught and exercising authority over others.
He was confronted by the police about myself and one other boy’s accusations. He confessed. He was defrocked and sentenced to prison.
Why did I never tell anyone about these things? What did all of these people have in common that kept me quiet?
Each and every one of these people had a culturally imbued authority. They were older; they were adults; they were leaders, priests, Scout Leaders. As a child you come to understand that these are the people you trust. They are infallible. Of course they are not but that is the message children receive directly and indirectly…that they are children…they must do as they are told.
If something happens to a child at the hands of one of these people and that child inherently knows there is something wrong about it than a very simple equations works itself out in the child’s mind – something wrong happened between me and the adult. The adult is who I am told to trust. Therefore I must be the one at fault.
It is really that simple. Once the child feels responsible they become fearful of punishment and refuse to speak to anyone about the incident.
That fear held me captive until I was 30; until I was 35; until I was 46…a child’s fear is a powerful thing and it can hang on for a long, long time because it is driven by shame just like the silence and the secret. Secrets are powered by shame.
I refuse to carry shame over things that were not my responsibility. That’s why I’m writing this. These things, these secrets need to be exposed so that I can step out from behind the silence and the shame and leave them behind.
For too long I have allowed ghosts to have authority over me.
I cannot erase the effects this abuse had on me. I will carry scars for the rest of my life. I know I am not who I would have been. I know I am someone other than who I might have been. I mourn the death of what might have been in me but I mourn and move on.
Do not think that to write this is in any way easy. I have been wanting to write about this for years and years and years. The weight is too heavy. Those I trust and love are already aware of these things. They have been my life preservers on many occasions in life’s dark and stormy seas though they may not know this.
I write this now as one final blow to the secrets of a lifetime that I might step out from behind them and move forward less encumbered. Secrets. I hate secrets. I hate the shame that powers secrets…I loathe secrets of all kinds to my very bone because of the ones I felt I had to carry.
I also write this as an encouragement to others. The shame you might carry can be put down and left behind. It can be done. None of it was yours to carry anyhow – they were heavy bags thrust into your arms by another and you have no obligation to bring them along with you.
Let them go and you will feel so light you could fly.