I was asked to write a blog post about living with trauma for Warriors for Life.
Trauma can be caused by many things in our lives and things out of our control. The trauma I live with is the trauma of being sexually abused as a child. It has taken me almost 50 years of my 59 years of living to get comfortable enough to speak up about the trauma, the damage done and the journey of healing from being a sexual abuse survivor.
I was your typical kid and young man. I played sports, went to college, enjoyed the ladies, joined a fraternity, and did all the things the average kid and young man did in life. But I had a secret I had buried inside and was scared to death to ever say out loud.
I had been sexually abused as a child by a male babysitter. I never thought I would say it out loud or even admit it to myself. It was buried deep in my mind. I had a fear of speaking up because I am a heterosexual man. How I do I ever say another male sexually abused me?
A person’s sexual orientation doesn’t matter to me at all. I just know that for me it was very hard to ever admit to anyone that I was sexually abused. I thought I would keep it buried, no one would ever know, and I would never speak publicly about it. I thought, “What would people think?” I was afraid people would run away from me, think I am weird, or worse.
I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), panic attacks, fear, shame, embarrassment, guilt, self-doubt, and worry, all from the effects of childhood sexual abuse. I had buried it until 1992, at age 36, before I ever said out loud I had been molested. I finally told my wife, and a few months later, the panic attacks started.
I had a complete nervous breakdown. This is something we don’t like to admit because we think it means we are weak or crazy. It’s neither; it is something the body does when a trauma in our lives has not been properly treated and we keep it all bottled up inside.
My body was like a pressure cooker and when I finally told my wife, the pressure value was released and all of the emotions I had bottled for years caused my body to react in way I can’t really describe. Even though it was scary at times, it is amazing how the body and mind works together to protect us.
It was only by God’s grace, my wife’s love, her nursing skills, and my desire to heal that I could function and keep my young business going during recovery from my nervous breakdown.
So many people suffer in silence for many reasons about being sexually abused. I never dreamed I would speak up about being a childhood sexual abuse survivor. Little did I know God had a different plan for me. It has been an interesting journey of life.
I look back now and wonder how did I recover, other than God’s grace. The thing I have found more amazing is the healing process, finding joy, peace and allowing myself to be loved. I have been pleasantly surprised by people’s reaction to me disclosing the sexual abuse. It has been one of support.
In 1992, I told my wife and told a few close friends and my kids about the abuse. But I didn’t start speaking publicly until 2012. The first time I spoke in public at a Georgia Center for Child Advocacy breakfast, I cried like a baby through the entire speech. I couldn’t control my tears, but I kept going because people needed to know the damage done by childhood sexual abuse.
Those tears were also healing tears for me. I was no longer ashamed or felt it was my fault that it happened to me as a kid. I was a victim; but more importantly, I was a strong survivor. I started saying we not only survive, but we can thrive. I decided that morning after my speech that I had to continue speaking up for those who still suffer in silence and need to see a successful journey of healing.
I know what is like to live with PTSD and how the triggers can cause panic attacks and sometimes make my body tighten up and then have muscle twitches I can’t control as it unwinds. I decided in 1992 I was going to recover and not let this rule my life forever.
It has been a journey. It has been hard to find people that share their stories of suffering from being sexually abused as a child and the healing journey from PTSD and panic attacks. This is why I speak up and share my journey of healing and the process of healing. When you are suffering, you need to see and hear some success stories of healing to motivate you, that you can make it, too.
I have undergone therapy to deal with being sexually abused, and to understand PTSD and panic attacks. I have learned my triggers. I have forgiven myself for blaming myself that I didn’t stop it as a child. I have forgiven my abuser. I have strengthened my faith in God. (Whether you believe in a God or not, your form of forgiveness is so important in the journey of healing.)
I use nature, exercise, hiking, photography, travel, being with loved ones, and sharing my journey as my way of healing. I am now at a place I never imagined I could be in my life.
I feel as free as one can feel in my eyes. I no longer worry about what will people think of me because I suffer from PTSD and panic attacks from being a survivor.
I started a blog in 2012, moodyspeaks.com, about my journey of healing. It has been read in 110 countries. I get so many positive responses and “thank yous” from people for my speaking up. I know I am making a difference helping others know we can overcome living with trauma and have a great life.
My story has been told in the Huffington Post, Atlanta radio and television programs, the Atlanta Business Chronicle, in a film entitled “Darkness to Light,” and in a recent story was written in May ( https://rainn.org/news-room/may-2015-survivor-spotlight-2).
My journey continues and I will always fight through the fear. I learned not to worry about dying, because I will miss living. I am going to soak it all in with whatever time I have left on earth, and do my best to make a positive difference in other lives around the world.
Keep enjoying the journey of life and never give up on the healing process. We can live some incredible lives. Keep helping others and expect nothing in return for your help.
Enjoy some pictures of our recent trip to Sao Paulo Brazil for the international Rotary convention.