My wife was giving a television interview yesterday and she said: “My husband is the bravest man I know.” Just writing those words makes me cry, but hearing them coming directly from her shook me to my core. It’s ironic that for most of my life, I’ve walked around feeling weak, vulnerable, and directionless, but here’s the person I love and trust most in the world telling me the complete opposite is true.
When I asked her why she felt this way, she told me that I was doing what many people aren’t able to do — “Live their story.” Now would be the perfect time to put my ego in check and to come right out and say that for over three decades, that was not the case; in fact, it couldn’t be further from the truth. You see, when a child is sexually abused, two things invariably happen: the trauma careens the child off the natural path of development, and the seed of shame is imprinted on the innocent fragile mind. It’s this shame that germinates into self-loathing, fear, and sexual uncertainty, all of which ruminate throughout adolescence and adulthood. Now when I look back on my life rife with addiction and mental health issues, I see the genesis of this disconnection in the childhood trauma.
Throughout the past year, little by little, I’ve been going back to the place where that young boy was knocked off course, and page by page, I’m trying to take ownership of my life story. When it comes to taking stock of our lives, just as in art, perspective is everything. Because I’m so deeply enmeshed in it, what I’ve always railed against as an apparently endless onslaught of battles with addiction and depression, those around me, who witnessed my weathering the storm, have seen as an inner strength I never had the perspective to acknowledge.
The older I get, the harder it is for me to deny that if I quiet my mind for a little bit, I allow the space required to really accept what and who is before me. And if I pay close enough attention, I might be able to go back and pick up another page of my “story.” Something magical unfolded when I put my trust in the chorus of voices around me that through so many dark periods, has enveloped me like a warm hug.
Today, because of all the support I’ve been given and all the love that I feel flowing through me, I was able to do something I never thought I’d be able to do. I walked into a police station and gave a sworn video statement detailing the childhood sexual abuse I lived through. As I sat across the table from two detectives in a small, claustrophobic room, my heart was in my throat and within the tentative, quivering words that came out of my mouth was the voice that I hadn’t heard since it was taken from me in my childhood.
To be honest with you, I don’t know how I’m feeling, or even what I’m feeling, but I do know that “I am feeling.” It’s going to take me a lot of time and a lot of professional help to train myself not to retreat to my natural default position of numbing any uncomfortable feelings. I’m reminded of something I heard recently on the CBC podcast ‘Under the Influence.’ The Disney Corporation drills the following mantra about customer service into all of its new employees. “It’s not my fault, but it’s my problem.” For me, the childhood sexual abuse I experienced was “not my fault,” but I’ll never be able to move through it unless I look it directly in the eye and acknowledge that “it’s my problem.” Maybe this is what my wife was referring to when she said “owning my life story” is brave.
If you’re reading this and you too are suffering out there, in an unhappy relationship, or in a soul-destroying job, or coming to terms with past or current trauma, take a step back and trust that you might find some perspective. For the first time in my life, I wholeheartedly believe that we can make meaning out of the meaningless — that we can make tragedy into a trajectory.