Last year, when I decided to go back into therapy, there were problems in my life that I was dealing with that I felt had a correlation to my grieving process (or lack thereof) over losing my father.
When I got through my initial appointment with my therapist where I gave him my backstory and all the things that had led to where I was up to that point, he agreed that not properly grieving for my father may have been one of the areas of concern.
He felt the major area of focus needed to be on the sexual abuse I experienced as a child.
Before I go much further with this, I’ve been speaking about this topic for over 20 years. Many times, I can do so in a way that keeps me distant from the memory. I’ve found ways to detach myself from the event and talk about it as if I were telling you a story about the weather.
Much of the work I did to process that event occurred in my late teens and early twenties. I would write poems, give speeches, talk to therapists, etc. I was even encouraged to confront my abuser, which I did do via phone when I was in college.
It didn’t come as a huge surprise that he did not remember the events the way I did. I had to give him some indisputable details of what occurred so he knew that what I was claiming indeed happened.
I was in a place in my life then that forgiveness seemed the only option. I didn’t confront him to ruin his life or his profession. I confronted him to make peace with it and give myself closure.
I write this today, a couple of months away from my 45th birthday and I still have no closure.
My therapist recognized this.
To which he offered an assignment.
Initially, he had a few books he wanted me to read. There were books he felt would help me relate to others who have been through similar events. It stands to reason that many people have experienced more occurrences than I did but we are taught not to compare.
I read the books and there were insights, often painful ones, that seemed to show a similar trajectory of life between myself and fellow survivors: theft, lying, promiscuity, infidelity, addiction, trouble with finances, trouble with relationships, etc. It outlined these areas in such stark details that not only did I no longer feel alone that I had struggled with these things, I realized I was just like the others.
It wasn’t just sexual abuse either. These patterns were apparent in children who were raised by alcoholic parents or by neglectful parents (neither of which describes my own parents). Survivors, of any type, talk about going through the “process” to heal. I’m still working through that.
My assignment, as it was, was to write two letters with the knowledge I have now. One letter to my abuser and one letter to myself.
I asked my therapist for more detail.
How should I write these?
For instance, why would I write a letter to my abuser when I’ve already confronted him?
He said: “Because more has happened since then and you may need to get it off your chest.”
And what about the letter to myself? Do I write it to myself before or after the event occurred?
“After”, he said. “Think about what you would say to yourself immediately after it happened.”
I sat on this for a while. I knew what he was asking. I also knew how difficult it would be to do. One letter was going to be significantly easier to write. The other, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do at all.
It didn’t happen immediately but when I felt I had a clear head, I wrote the letter to my abuser. I won’t be reprinting it here. While I managed to write it with as personal of a perspective as I could offer, I simplified his name down to an initial, loaded both of my barrels and took aim. It was one of the harshest things I’ve committed to paper.
I’m writing this today, over a year after my therapist asked me to do so. It’s the first time I felt I could pull it off.
Having seen my therapist last week, I told him I believed I was ready but I thought the only way I could do it was to make it public.
I recently read a quote by author Chuck Palahniuk when referencing the writing process to which he remarked: Don’t write to be liked, write to be remembered.
I likely won’t gain any new fans for this one but that’s not my goal. This particular article won’t be comfortable to read nor has it been to write. If anything, I hope it makes more men comfortable talking about the abuse they’ve suffered with. The more it stays hidden, the more it stays stigmatized. That can’t happen anymore.
Children are sexually abused in such shocking numbers that we’ll never know the true statistics. As a father to two beautiful boys, it is my hope that no one ever lays a harmful hand on them.
This, I suppose, is just as much for their sake as it is for mine.
Coincidentally, while I was working on this article I was listening to the audiobook version of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. A quote stood out to me that I thought was somewhat serendipitous under the circumstances:
“Why am I as I am? To understand that of any person, his whole life, from Birth must be reviewed. All of our experiences fuse into our personality. Everything that ever happened to us is an ingredient.”
What you’re about to read is the best I can do at this point in my life in talking to my 5 (or 6) year old self immediately after the abuse occurred.
Jason, we need to talk.
You probably don’t recognize me but I’m you, some 40 years in the future. If that’s surprising to you, it may seem weird that you have a head full of hair now but not anymore at this age.
I wish that I had nothing but good things to tell you but that’s not why I’m here.
I’m here, first off, to tell you I’m so sorry for what just happened. I wish I could change it but I can’t. I can tell you that the choice you made was the right one. I promise you did the right thing but I know it doesn’t feel like it. No one should ever punish you for doing good. But that’s exactly how this played out.
I can promise you that he will never do it again. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that this will haunt you for all these years to come. You won’t realize that early on. It won’t make sense to you.
I am the product of what happens if you don’t tell Mom and Dad immediately about what just occurred. I’ll talk more about that later.
If you follow this path, the way I am here in front of you today, you’re going to forget a lot about this event. Many years from now, when you’re about to graduate high school, it’s all going to come flooding back and you’re not going to like where it takes you.
You’ll be hospitalized several times, you’ll try to take your life on more than one occasion, you’ll just threaten to end it on others. You’ll get addicted to drugs for a very long time, you’ll lie, cheat, steal and you’ll struggle with something that most people can’t relate to and I’ll try to explain it like this:
Imagine you walk into a store and you want some candy but you don’t have any money. A normal person will just leave and come back when they have money. But you’re not normal anymore. This experience changed that. You’ll look at that piece of candy and you’ll ask yourself, should I steal it or should I leave and come back when I have money? This is a very simple way of looking at what many areas of your life will come down to. When it’s a question of right or wrong, you’ll struggle. Sometimes, you’ll do the right thing. Sometimes, you won’t. You’ll tell yourself that you can get away with it and, sometimes you do. Sometimes you don’t.
The reason you’ll go through this all comes back to this moment. You did the right thing under the worst circumstances and you were punished. So, when it comes to something as simple as right or wrong, for you, it’s never simple. It’s always a negotiation.
I don’t want to make this all sound negative either. Because I can show you another side to this. You’re going to do a lot of good for a lot of people. It will be some of the most gratifying work of your life. You’ll do that because you know what the other side of life looks like. You’ll know what the bottom looks like. And it’s not good.
So you’ll do work that can change someone’s life because you will be making all strides to change your own. Sometimes, you’ll succeed but when you fail, you fail big. Those failures will hurt.
I can tell you that from here you will have two sons. Two wonderful boys. You’ll be married (as I am now) but you will also have gone through a divorce.
I can tell you that I remember virtually nothing about childhood. I’ve blacked nearly everything out. As a result, I see the happiness and joy in the boys that I have no idea how to associate with it. I’m like a blank slate with virtually no memory.
I can tell you at what age you’ll lose Dad. I can tell you how awful that loss will be. Mom is still with us.
I’m coming to you now because I need you to know that you have options. Remember that Disney version of a Christmas Carol where Scrooge can change the outcome of his life? It’s kind of like that.
Here’s the thing: I don’t know what the right decision is. Maybe you have three paths to take.
- You tell Mom and Dad as soon as they get home. You let them make the decisions they need to make regarding who watches you when they’re not home. I have absolutely no idea how that will turn out. I don’t know if that makes your life better or worse but I can pretty much promise you it will go differently.
- You keep this from them and let the timeline follow a similar place. Maybe the stories I’ve told you help you make better decisions, hurt fewer people and hurt yourself a lot less. I don’t know what you’ll do with the knowledge I just gave you. All I can hope is that some insight makes your life brighter than the path I’ve been on.
- You leave everything as it is and take the good with the bad.
I wish I could give you better options than this. I wish I could say: “Just do this and it will all be better.”
I can’t because I don’t know what another path looks like, only what I can imagine.
I know that everyone goes through struggles in their lives. Everyone has pain and hardships. Everyone is just trying to make do and make the best of what life throws their way.
I cannot change what he just did to you. It will forever be a part of your life. Because of that that, you’ll continue to walk this line sifting through the outcomes, the great ones and the traumatic ones.
I want you to know that I love you. I’m proud of you. Despite not knowing enough about this circumstance to understand the depths of how it will change you, you made the right choice. I just really wish it didn’t come with such a heavy price.
Allow me to say again: I’m so sorry. This should never have happened. Not to you, not to “us”, not to anyone. There are good people in this world, there are bad people in this world and somewhere in between, there are good people who just don’t know any better. I don’t know where that leaves us. I just know what I’ve seen for the last 40 years since this happened.
Whatever choice you make, remember that none of this was your fault. Do good in this world and, more often than not, you’ll be better for it and so will the world around you. As hard as it may seem at times, this much I know is true.