NOTE FROM AUTHOR
This is a work of nonfiction that has taken me twenty-five years to write. To the reader, that might sound a bit farfetched. Normally, it takes me one to two years to complete a manuscript worthy of publication. But this time was different. The time required to complete this manuscript was due to public doubts and my struggle to deal with the truthfulness of memories that visited me in the middle of the night. Some memories generated depression and anxiety, while the worst ones left me hugging my bathroom stool while expelling vomit throughout the night. Who would believe such a tale, and more importantly, how could I determine fact from fiction? As the author, it is not my job to convince you that I am a victim of childhood physical and sexual abuse. But I can share my journey, leaving you to draw your own conclusions.
Because of the severity of my struggle, I went from short-term to long-term therapy with an exceptional therapist and a host of individuals who became my support group. Together, they were a non-judgmental team that helped me through the most challenging time of my life. My educational background initiated my investigation into the alleged perpetrators, family history, repressed memories, cognitive and emotional studies of the brain, and the combination of psychological and spiritual growth.
Do I still have the residue carried by a victim of physical and sexual abuse? Of course I do. But the occasional skirmish with depression and anxiety is now controlled by coping skills, medication, and the availability of a support system.
While the struggle was exhausting, I am thankful for who I have become. To experience the depth of feelings, whether they be happy or sad, is remarkable. And to experience love is a gift from God.
I have changed the names and locations in my story for liability purposes. While every word in my story is based on what I believe to be true, I recognize the possibility of a minor discrepancy in human recall. It is my hope that fellow survivors of physical and sexual abuse will benefit from my sharing and become stronger and wiser in the process.
I should have known on that sultry summer day in 1950, when my 5-year old naked body was laid out over a bale of hay, that this was not normal. I should have known… But when four country boys hunger for adventure or accept the latest dare, the unspeakable becomes quite normal. Being the youngest and smallest of the lot, I was the focus of their curious ways.
Decades later, when my mind crumbled– a piece here, a piece there — I learned that survival depended on my brain’s ability to compartmentalize daily interactions whether they be good, bad, or indifferent. My mind was like a spec-house, a collection of rooms painted in a lifeless, stark-white color, and forbidden rooms with concrete walls, floors and ceilings that held secrets never meant to be revealed. Let them out and you die. That’s when I learned that the trips to the barn were far from ordinary; “dark secrets” remained hidden from my conscious thoughts; and my inner feelings were shallow and unavailable. Those secrets lay dormant in the deepest part of my mind for over four decades.
I remember the day as though it was yesterday. I had just turned 50 and was prepared to run in a half-marathon race. Having turned 50 placed me in the beginning of a new age group providing a better chance of winning a trophy. I was part of a running group that hit the local running circuit and the annual St. Louis marathon and the half-marathon in Chicago. In addition to our daily runs, we ran 10 miles on Saturdays followed by our weekly trip to Mary Lou’s known for her famous biscuits and gravy. At 5 feet 8 inches, weighing in at 150 pounds, I was built to run. The “runner’s high” and the camaraderie with my running friends encouraged me to log in several miles per week. While I was an average to good runner, I pretended to be an elite runner. I was at the top of my game.
I was a self-employed, certified financial planner in southern Illinois, held a Bachelor and Master’s degree in music, an MFA in creative writing from Goucher College, and had taught music at Southern Illinois University for 5 years. Although I was not rich, I was comfortable. My wife and I had two wonderful daughters who were the loves of our life, and yes, we had a great dog named PJ.
While life seemed good, a new, unexpected trauma chiseled an opening into a horde of traumatic memories previously untapped. The memories, a psychologist would later say, were stored in my amygdala located in the temporal lobe. After processing, the memories moved into the hypothalamus where they resided untouched by any outside source. It was there where they could propagate unsettled emotions, create a trauma-induced disorder or steer me into the decisive escape — suicide.
This is my journey from the depths of hell to a better place, a place where feelings became real, intense, and moving like the cleansing of a summer rain, the beauty of a rock-filled, flower-garden, and the new-found power of intimacy. Whatever the emotions, whether they be happy or sad, they grabbed me hard. The choice became obvious — live or die.