According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before turning 18.
As I try writing about this it brings up all the guilt and shame that I experienced as a child. Guild and shame that I have buried deep inside my soul hoping that it would dissipate into nothingness. Those feelings though do not disappear. They filter out into life and existence. Guilt and Shame have colored all of my life experiences, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. The darkness is where things fester and destroy life and so I am bringing my guilt and shame out into the light.
Memory is a weird thing sometime but it is my narrative and interpretation of those experiences. I was six and the neighbor was 12. I looked up to him. I thought it was cool he was my friend. It was a summer day, and most likely a Saturday. My father was outside mowing the lawn. I was sitting on a bed in my sister’s room and the neighbor was sitting on the bed next to me. He ask me if I wanted to play a game called “Truth or Dare”. I agreed. Without saying anything to my parents I was lead to a field behind the houses across the street. In the field was a ditch that had not been used in a number of years. There was a section along the ditch that had a thicket of Coyote Willows still growing. We sat down in this thicket of willows and began to play this game “Truth or Dare”.
I do not remember the whole series of events. In the end, we were both naked and there was touching and exploring of bodies. Upon hearing my mother calling my name I was told to quickly get dressed and that if my mother found out what we had done she would stop loving me. At that moment my innocence of this experience was shattered and in flooded the guild and shame. I had managed to put my shirt on backwards. My mother commented on it and I remember thinking that I hoped she would figure out what had happened. I could not explain to my mother what had happened. I did not have the vocabulary to describe it. We did not talk about bodies and sex in my home.
For the next six months the interactions continued. The pretext of playing a game was dropped. The neighbor’s personality changed from being kind to threatening. Almost daily he would threaten me with violence and revealing or “secret” to my mother if I did not do what he told me to do. I had six months of sexual encounters with a 12 year old where I was threatened with violence if I did not participate.
The very last time I saw this kid sticks out in my mind so clearly that even today it feels like it happened yesterday. He came over to my house with the usual threats. I followed him over to his house. We walked in the back door and were walking down the hallway to his bedroom when his mom walked into the house. I was sent home because her son was grounded and I remember being flooded with this feeling of relief as I was inadvertently rescued from my abuser. Within a few days the family moved and I never saw this kid again.
The hard part for me to process today as I sit here writing this is my actions after all this ended. For the next couple of years I also had interactions with other boys. Sometimes we played “Doctor” or “Truth or Dare”. Did I act out my abuse on others and become the victimizer? When I was eight one such encounter felt like that to the other person. Much later in life I wrote them a letter. What follows is part of that letter:
My son is currently in counseling for sexual abuse. He was sexually abused about three or four years ago. The first time he was in counseling he would not talk about it or deal with it. During that time I was not being a responsible father or person and was not able to be there for him. It was during this time that your father sent me an email and told me that you had told him I had sexually abused you.
My recollection all these years has been of two boys experimenting. But that really is irrelevant if you experienced it as abuse. When I was five or six, I was sexually abused by my next door neighbor. It was very traumatic for me and because I did not start dealing with it until I was an adult it has had a big effect upon my life.
I am sorry for any ill affects my actions have caused you. I was not seeking to harm you or cause you pain. I am sorry that you have suffered because of my actions. I wish that I could go back and undo them, but since life is not designed that way I must accept the reality of today and be responsible for myself.
Those six months when I was six have had such a profound effect upon my life in so many ways, anorexia, depression, outburst of anger, being sexually assaulted as an adult and the list goes on. I have hurt others. I have hurt myself. I have often suffered in silence.
Last year I wrote the poem Coyote Willow. It was the first time in years where I really tried to process through my own sexual abuse as a child. I shared the poem with my son and for the first time he felt he could trust me with his own experiences of sexual abuse. He had never been willing to talk to me about it before. I have since learned that I did not believe him when I should have and I over reacted when I should not have. Our relationship has improved and doors have opened for healing. This is why I choose to bring my guilt and shame into the light.
When I was 29, it was the year in my life when Bradley was conceived and born. It was also in the middle of my Saturn Return. This caused a lot of internal self-reflection. At some point in all this I was reading in the Book of Mormon in the book of Morni – “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.”
I remember clearly thinking that I wanted to be filled with this love, so I got on my knees and in one of those moments of sincere pleading I asked for this charity, this love, this pure love. In the middle of praying after speaking my request my soul said to me “Are you sure this is what you want? This will destroy your family and your life!” I paused for a moment and then in a very confident manner stated “Yes! I am sure.”
I was willing to pay the price at that time. As with many things that involve the soul the price is often greater than imagined. From that moment on I began having experiences that would crack the thick exterior around my inner world. On the 19th of January 2003, a few months before I turned 31 all of the walls that kept my life together crashed around me. The morning started with my coming out to my Navy psychologist. By the time the day ended I had told my commanding officer, my religious leaders and my extended family. The world as I knew it ceased to exist that day.
But the supreme meaning is the path, the way and the bridge to what is to come. That is the God yet to come. It is not the coming of God himself, but his image which appears in the supreme meaning. God is an image, and those who worship him must worship him in the image of the supreme meaning.
The supreme meaning is not a meaning and not an absurdity, it is image and force in one, magnificent and force together.
The supreme meaning is the beginning and the end. It is the bridge of going across and fulfillment.
The other Gods died of their temporality, yet the supreme meaning never dies, it turns into meaning and then absurdity, and out of the fire and blood of their collision the supreme meaning rises up rejuvenated anew.
The image of God has a shadow. The supreme meaning is real and cast a shadow. For what can be actual and corporeal and have no shadow?
The shadow is nonsense. It lacks force and has no continued existence through itself. But nonsense is the inseparable and undying brother of the supreme meaning.
Like plants, so men also grow, some in the light, others in the shadows. There are many who need the shadows and not the light.
The image of God throws a shadow that is just as great as itself.
The supreme meaning is great and small, it is as wide as the space of the starry Heaven and as narrow as the cell of the living body.”
January 19th, the day all of my panic attacks stopped occurring regular three or four times a week, I found myself in the shadow of God. The meaning of my life turned into absurdity and I got swept up into the blood and fire of their collision. Here I am 16 years later finding that the absurdity is beginning to turn into meaning again and the glimpse of the supreme meaning is beginning to appear.
One reason that I have often kept my secrets was to avoid disapproval. It is a common characteristic of families where abuse is present that we don’t speak about it. To speak out loud about the abuse is taboo, it breaks the fundamental rules that perpetuate the abuse.
In the middle of the great depression my great-grandmother gave birth to fraternal twins a boy and a girl. She had very clear views about the nature of boys and girls. Boys were bad and and my grandfather was reminded of this all of his life. When he was an adolescent he was molested by one of his cousins, a secret kept for decades. Eventually my grandfather joined the U.S. Navy Construction Battalions known as Seabees. He was trained as a carpenter.
He was a damn good carpenter but his mother believed that he would only have value as a person if he was a farmer. He bought a farm outside of Rigby Idaho close to Lewisville and move his family. The reason given was to teach his son responsibility. Those years on the farm were violent and full of misery and sorrow. He was hear on a regular basis walking around his farm yelling at the top of his lungs “God Damn Farm”. Every member of that family was certainly living in hell during those years.
Towards the end of ’his life he confessed for the first time to his wife about being molested and how much guilt and shame he felt. Here was a man who was told by his mother all of her life he was not good enough. Inside he was being eaten alive by a haunting memory. What might his life have been like if he had been freed from the guilt and shame that was buried deep inside of him for decades?
Studies have shown that disclosing trauma and your feelings about those traumas have a positive immediate and long-term effect upon your health. It takes a lot of work to keep secrets. So much effort and energy can be tied up in keeping secrets that it can severely effect or health.
My grandfather grew up being told his whole life he was not good enough. He had a son,my father. My father grew up being told his whole life he was not good enough. My father had a son, Keith. I grew up being told I was not good enough. I have a son. My son has struggled his whole life with you are not good enough. My grandfather was molested as an adolescent by his cousin. I was molested as a child by a neighbor. My son was molested as a child by a neighbor.
Almost an entire century has passed since my grandfather came into the world. Years and decades of secrets have perpetuated violence, trauma, neglect and heartache. At the end of last year for the first time in my life I very publicly broke a fundamental rule. I wrote a blog post in November and a similar article was published in QSaltLake in January where I wrote about a specific event of domestic violence. Four generations of men who have been victims, and three of those generations have internalized this violence and perpetuated it against our own children. I broke the rules because we all deserve healing. Secrets have been the destroyer of our healing and health.
I loved my grandfather. He was often an ornery old man, yet he still found ways to show me he loved me. When I changed my last name at the age of 19 it caused a lot of hurt. Arlin was the first to publicly forgive me.
I love my father. He was one of the first people to stand by my side and offer support when I came out. For the first few years he called me every couple of days. When life looked bleak and I would think about ending my life I would know he would call me in a day or two and I could not do that to him. He is one of the reasons I survived the bleakest period of my life from about 30 to 35.
I love my son. He has the biggest heart I know. I am already forgiven before I ever apologize. Conversations with him about my own perpetuation of violence has helped me to see my own place is this perpetuation of abuse. I have hope that this will come to an end with my children.
The time has come when I am no longer willing to be the keeper of the secrets. Families and lives have been destroyed by these secrets. As the secrets see the light that energy used to keep them covered can now be directed to conversations and healing.
Pocatello Idaho sits at the north end of the Portneuf Valley as it spills into the Snake River plans. This area of Idaho was home to the Shoshone and Bannock Native American tribes for hundreds of years before Europeans started to intrude into the area. The first Europeans into this area were fur trappers. In 1834 the first permanent European settlement was established at Fort Hall, just north of present day Pocatello. Fort Hall started out as a fur trading post but in the next decade became an important stop along the Oregon trail.
Up until the 1860’s Fort Hall was just a pass-through point for many people. When gold was discovered Europeans began staying and settling in the area. Eventually some of the settlers stayed and began farming.
The city of Pocatello was originally part of the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. The original settlers in the city itself were squatters occupying land that did not belong to them. For the European settlers of this time they did not see the Native Americans as having any right. In 1889 the United States Government “purchased” land from the tribe to be used as a town site. It became an important railroad junction for the Union Pacific Railroad. In 1901 Idaho State University was established in the city.
In 2004 the city had a population of over 51,000 where 75 percent of the residents identified as Mormon. Located at 331 E Center Street, part of Old Town Pocatello, is Charley’s Club. In 2004, it was called Charley’s bar. In the early part of 2004 I found myself there on a Saturday night.
I had only been living in Utah for less than a year and having come out of the closet only a year previously I was still trying to navigate my way in the gay community. As a child growing up I was very smug about right and wrong having given myself almost no room for my emerging sexual orientation preferring to instead label it as a “same sex attraction” problem. As a problem, I suppressed everything about me that might break down that view. All that pressure finally exploded destroying the closet I was hiding in from the world and myself. I was naive about the world and knew almost nothing about what being gay would mean for me.
I had grown up only 55 miles north in a small town of Ammon Idaho right next to the City of Idaho Falls. Wanting to integrate my new identity as a gay man into my childhood I began to make friends with the gay community in Southeastern Idaho. That is how I found myself in the City of Pocatello at Charley’s Bar in the early part of 2004.
I would like to say that the gay community is a caring and supportive community but in my experience, it is not always the supportive community that people need and are looking for. The coming out process is often followed by trauma with family, friends and religious institutions. We find ourselves wounded seeking out this new community of gay men for support and friendship. This community of gay men often feels like being thrown into den of hungry lions.
I was vulnerable, lost and was really struggling to find my place in this new world. The reality of life was more complicated then I was prepared to handle. Making friends was so important to me when I was often feeling I might drown in feelings of loneliness.
That winter night I was hanging out with a group of people I thought were my friends. My experience with alcohol was very limited at that point, having only started drinking a few months previous. The bar tender that night wanted to have sex with me and I was not interested. Unbeknownst to me, my “friends” decided that I would going to be the brunt of a cruel joke and conspired with the bar tender to make it happen.
Drink after drink was bought for me. It was the most alcohol I had consumed at any one given day up to that point. Right before the bar closed while I was in the restroom, all my “friends” snuck out leaving me. I was stupidly drunk and now alone. The bar tender informed me all my “friends” had left. He was very clear about his offer to spend the night at his house in exchange for sex.
I was not very clear headed, but I turned down the offer. Stumbling across the street I found my car in the parking lot covered in a couple of feet of snow. Climbing into my car I knew I could not drive and I was not sure I would survive the night sleeping in my car in the middle of a snow storm. I stumbled back to the bar and accepted the bar tenders offer. The next morning hung over and sober I was devastated.
That ended my desire to connect with the gay community in Idaho and for a few years made it difficult for me to feel safe in the gay community in Utah. It has only been in the last few years that I have made good friends with any gay men.
There I was a number of years later on July 14, 2017 walking into Charley’s Club for the first time since that night. The name of the place has changed from bar to club. Gone are the booths replaced by tables and chairs. This time the bar tender was a lesbian. I ordered a beer. I walked out to the outside and asked if I could join a couple of gay men sitting at a table.
I met “Shelly”, a younger gay man who grew up in Pocatello and is currently a student at Idaho State University. We soon established a common connection to Sweden. He lived in Sweden as a child. When I walked into the bar he was a complete stranger. Four hours later when I walked out I had made a new friend.
All of the devastation I had felt years early was left on the table that night. The hours of conversation with Shelly became my transformation of healing. I arrived in Ammon at my father’s house shortly after one where I spent the night alone and sober.
I do not know if as a community, gay men will figure out how to be a community, but I have hope. If the community has more “Shelly’s then we will figure out what it means to be a community. I see small act of kindness. I see healing. I am experiencing my own healing. I remain hopeful.