Our brokenness is in our hearts.
It is the starting point of our humanity.
I’ll begin by saying that I have been married for sixteen years. My wife Kathy and I have one son who is 15 years old. I recently retired after a cumulative 46 years of working, much of the time in education and public service.
My first book was recently published in the UK by Triarchy Press. It is entitled The Long Way Home. In it I tell the story of a walk I made from my home in Chicago, Illinois to Minneapolis, Minnesota. That’s a little more than 500 miles (800 kilometers). It took me five weeks. You can drive the same distance in seven hours on the Interstate.
The book is about the land across which I walked, the people I met along the way, and what became an all-encompassing silence in which I made my peace with the sexual abuse I experienced as a teenager.
It started the morning I learned my grandfather had died. I was 16 years old. It was 1975. I lived with my family in Albert Lea, Minnesota.
We weren’t a happy family. My parents were distracted and overwhelmed. My older brothers took out their anger and frustration on the younger ones, me included. Consequently, I developed panic attacks resulting in hyperventilating. I didn’t know any better, so I just adapted.
I was deeply disturbed by my grandfather’s death. Later that day at school and in class, I had a panic attack, ran from the classroom into the hallway, and began hyperventilating. I was suffocating. I couldn’t catch my breath. My chest heaving, I stopped breathing. Wrenching out of the panic, I focused inward until I was able to calm down. I began taking small breaths until I could breathe again.
He watched it all from his desk out the window in his classroom door. He later said he chose me in that moment. He told me he was attracted to my inner strength. But he was really interested in preying upon my vulnerability.
What followed were endless evenings sitting before the fire in the basement of their split-level home listening to him lecture me on Kahlil Gibran, Erich Fromm, my lack of self-awareness, the inadequacies of my parents, and listening to Judy Collins and Tchaikovsky symphonies. His wife was upstairs drinking herself to sleep. He too was never far from a cocktail, chain smoking. He assured me that we were special, unique, and extraordinary. All this was punctuated by sexual violation. That was the price I paid for his attention and my isolation. He devoured my sense of self. His thoughts were mine. My feelings were his feelings.
Three years later, I was finally able to break free of his immediate hold on me, though of course healing from the damage has taken a lifetime. I was wholly disassociated, incapable of any emotional intimacy, and panicked by sexual desire.
I’ve been in therapy for 41 years. I’ve spent most of that time finding my way out of his influence, learning to live in the present moment, and figuring out how to be intimate.
I recently met someone who wrote a play about a priest who abused children. I asked him if he had been abused or if he had talked to someone who had been abused. I was surprised that he hadn’t. I began talking about my experience. I didn’t get far before I was overwhelmed with emotion and had to stop.
That was two years ago. I was 62 years old. This all started when I was 16. All these years later, all the therapy, the love and support of friends and my wife, everything that I’ve read and written, and I still can’t talk about it without overwhelming emotion. My wife calls it my inner sadness. She noticed it as soon as she began falling in love with me.
I think living with sexual abuse is more apt than surviving or recovering from it. To a notable degree the shame, disassociation, sexual disfunction, and many other symptoms have receded from my daily life. I’m free of his influence and able to love more completely. I’m a good husband and father and dedicated friend. Yet when I am under the influence of the past, I act out more readily and am more easily overwhelmed than in my youth. I thankfully recover more quickly. Then come the apologies and assurances made, patience and forgiveness sought, and hope once again that I haven’t gone too far. It’s not a lot of fun, is it?
I tell my friends that it’s like having a broken leg that never quite healed and acts up when the weather changes. I couldn’t have gotten this far without the dedicated help of my therapists and the friends and lovers I’ve had along the way. Since I was sexually abused my greatest ambition has been to become a regular person. And though I have a few qualifications, I hope they are no longer too far out of the ordinary. I’m ordinary. I made it!
If you want to read my book, please do. I think you’ll enjoy it. It’s always good to spend time with a fellow traveller. You can find more information on it at https://www.triarchypress.net/the-long-way-home.html
You can buy it directly from the publisher or through any bookstore in the UK.