Ending The Silence of Sexual Abuse
Ending the Silence
I am frequently asked “what triggered your disclosure,” or “what caused you to start dealing with ‘it’ now, after so many years of avoiding it?” The answer is clearly not a simple or a short one. During these healing days of pain, confusion and frustration, I occasionally need to look back and revisit those questions. I occasionally need to reflect on why I’m willing to allow such pain into this phase in my life.
The answer is that I began to face the childhood sexual abuse (CSA) in my life after a series of events late in 2006. What were those events?
Well, in September 2006, my spiritual strength was at an all-time high. I stated to my wife, my pastor and others that I felt an incredible sense of confidence and comfort with my relationship with God. It seemed to me as if I were specially prepared for something great and beneficial to mankind….or something wonderfully constructive was going to happen with me in the name of God. I felt as if I could take on a heavy battle for God and come out shining. Little did I know what was truly coming.
In October of 2006, I was driving across Texas on a business trip when I got a cell call from my wife. She was clearly quite upset. Someone had told her that one of my 6-year-old daughter’s friends had disclosed that she had been sexually abused by a 12-year-old boy in our church over an extended period of time. This was certainly tragic news … however, it’s nothing I hadn’t heard before. There’s a lot of CSA out there in the world, after all. I began to go through a progression of thoughts along the lines of, “How will we handle this in the church?”, “I wonder why this boy did that”, “What kind of help can we find for the girl and her family?”
During the call with my wife, we exchanged the usual horror-reactions and all the standard “how could this happen” feelings that you would expect. Then she said something that just reached through my emotional defense wall and ripped the heart from my chest: “Sarah said she had hiding places.” The next thing I remember is hastily pulling off the interstate and crying uncontrollably in that rental car. I cried for hours … hours turned into days. If I even heard Sarah’s name, I’d immediately begin to cry. To this day, 16 months later, I cannot even think those words “Sarah said she had hiding places” without an immediate cry-reaction.
My wife Lorie dismissed my extreme reactions as “normal Rob stuff.” “He always reacts strongly to kids being hurt.” But the reality was something far deeper: Little Robbie had hiding places too; he knew exactly how bad it has become when a child begins to create such havens. But I could never tell anyone about “that.”
Later that same month, two boys from Missouri were recovered alive by the police after having been kidnapped and abused by a monster of a sub-human. The Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownsby case brought childhood sexual assault into main-stream media attention at a whole new level. The media got to report and ask all the questions surrounding the “hows and whys” behind one boy being in the criminal’s custody for years. How did he get by? Why didn’t he ask others for help? Was there any sexual abuse? Why didn’t he get away when he had so many clear opportunities?
Those questions and the treatment of the case by the media sent me over an emotional cliff. I exploded with rage whenever and wherever I hear outrageous reports and statements. My behavior became very bad in situations that were even slightly stressful. I’d blow up at TSA people in airports if I thought that they took too long with carry-on baggage or if I thought they had “looked at me funny”. I’d pick fights with airport police and security forces all around the nation (as I travel extensively for work).
People around me dismissed the behavior as “normal Rob stuff”. “He’s got some rage issues.” The reality was that Little Robbie had been raped too; but I could never tell anyone about “that.”
In November of 2006 I was asked to be the guest speaker at an annual Christian men’s breakfast in my town that would take place January 16th, 2007. I had done such things before … so why not? I’ve told my story of being saved by the blood of Jesus and living/thriving in business and life … told what it’s like being a Christian businessman on the road, in ethical dilemmas, temptation, etc. This time, however, I immediately questioned why I would only tell people the “salvation-forward” version of my story. It was almost as if God spoke to me and said, “No Rob, you are going to tell the story before and up to the date of your salvation.” My reaction was, “No way, God. We can never go there … remember? We can NEVER tell anyone about that!” But despite all my objections, I was compelled in my heart to tell a “generalized” story of a troubled youth. I began to work on the speech.
In December of 2007, while spending yet another night in a hotel room, I watched an HBO-produced show that clearly was meant to marginalize Christianity in the USA. I watched it and was able to identify all the anti-Christian tricks the media uses to damage the credibility of men of faith. Nothing new … nothing earth shattering … until the “field reporter” of the documentary had cornered a couple of Christian men and asked some very interesting questions. Reporter: “How often do you make love to your wife?” Man: “Every day.” Reporter: “Really…that often???” Man: “Yes…every day….sometimes twice a day” The questioning went on to include more discussion of spousal lovemaking. I was stunned at the answers these men had. They went on to describe a married sex life that sounded perfect yet surreal to me. As a Christian and a man, I desperately wanted the same thing for my wife and I, but there was something from my past that made me severely dysfunctional sexually … and I could never tell anyone about “that.” But I could (and did) pray to God and ask him to “fix me”. The resulting conversation with God was a tug-o-war. I was requesting that he “fix-me, but let’s not deal with “that” … ok?” He’d respond with, “If you want to be ‘fixed’ you’ll have to deal with ‘that’.” I maintained that I knew better than he and suggested he get to work fixing me to be like the guys on HBO.
In January I gave that speech to the Christian men’s breakfast. Despite all my desire to “not go there”, I alluded to how some “very bad things” had happened in my childhood. These “very bad things” led to my own very bad behavior as a kid. I described to the group roughly who and what Jesus saved that day in July 1974.
After the speech I was drained beyond belief. All my defenses were gone. I could no longer pretend that I had not endured a childhood full of sexual abuse at the hands of older boys of the neighborhood. I could no longer deny the subsequent years of self-abuse and hard-core acting out. I was a wreck. I went home and began to fall apart.
With a lot of painful reflection and after reading a few posts on MaleSurvivor.org, I contacted a therapist whose specialization was working with male survivors. In my first phone call with her, I told her about all this old stuff that had happened and I admitted that it was all coming to the forefront of my mind, that it was devastating me, that I was having flashbacks of horrific episodes of childhood sexual assault from older neighborhood boys and severe beatings from my psychotic father. It was as if a levy had broken in my mind; the resulting deluge was drowning me. I actually asked this therapist, “How do I push all this stuff back where it belongs?” She replied, “You don’t. It’s all right there before you now. You finally have to deal with this, Rob.”
I drove home from the airport from another business trip and was a shaking crying mess of a man. I was trying to figure out how to tell my wife that there would be these therapist bills coming in … and that I’d take care of them. In reality, I ended up telling her everything. She heard the awful truth for the first time. This was exceptionally scary for me. For years marriage counselors, pastors and doctors had flat-out accused me of being a childhood sexual assault victim. It was the only explanation for my “issues”. I had always vehemently denied that any such things had occurred in my life. (I even successfully denied it with a surgeon when I was 11 years old, even though he had physical evidence of it.) I was fearful that my wife would feel betrayed and deceived by my life-long cover-up and lies.
She reacted with great support, but our years in hell were about to begin. Yet finally, someone had heard the truth. The silence was broken after 32 years of ignoring it, drinking it, drugging it into fowl little pools behind the levy. Finally, Little Robbie had a voice. The truth was out.