You are only as sick as your secrets – Rick Warren
This past weekend I had given a TEDx talk about my story of childhood sexual abuse and how I am healing from my past. I wanted to share with you the words that I gave to the audience that night. If you are a victim, I hope you can find some value in my story.
Good evening, I am going to begin by asking all the gentlemen in the audience to please stand up. Look around. 1 in 6 of you will have experienced some form of sexual assault during your lifetime; ladies 1 in 3. You can now sit down. Looking around this audience. I know there are at least 40 of you who could share a similar story as I am about to tell. This gives me strength. I am not alone. We are not alone.
I was 10 years old when my sexual abuse first started at the hands of a close family member. I do not remember much from my childhood but I remember these nights like they had happened yesterday. I remember being paralyzed by confusion as I pretended to sleep while waiting for the abuse to stop. We are taught at a very young age to run and tell someone you trust if a stranger touches you inappropriately. What if the person touching you is the person you trust the most. So I decided to keep my secret until I could find someone I trusted more.
Over the next 20 years, I lived with the secrets that had become my shadow. A shadow that prevented any light from entering my life. I graduated high school; my shadow followed right along. I met some great friends, and my shadow was right there. I graduated college, found a wife and my shadow continued to block the light. You see, the shadow of secrecy was keeping me from enjoying life. The shadows were haunting me every day.
I was ready to take my secrets to my grave. I was prepared to die with my shadow as it had become so ingrained in my everyday life. I thought to myself that it was only hurting me, I could deal with it. I still had my abuser in my life, and I was prepared to keep my secrets as I didn’t want to disrupt lives. That was until the day I held my newborn son.
I remember looking into my son’s eyes that morning and promising to keep him safe from the monsters of the world; especially the monsters that I knew. From that moment on, I knew my shadow was going to have to leave. I was going to have to reveal my secret.
It was a mid-July afternoon about 7 years ago. I called my wife to come home from work; I had something to tell her. Up to this point, I worried that she would run away if I told her my secret. Would she think I would abuse our son? Worse yet, would she take my son away with her? I was ok with that. For if she took him away, I would fulfill my promise to keep him safe from the monsters of the world. So I told her.
I cannot describe the emotions I had that day. I felt a tremendous amount of freedom. I felt anger. I felt confusion. I felt joy. All of these emotions were felt at the same time. It was the most intense moment of my life. I knew my life would never be the same again and there was no looking back. Thankfully she believed me and she has been my rock ever since.
In the months and years since I have told close friends my secret. I lost some friends because of my revelation but I have also had some friends come forward to tell me that I am alone, that they also had been abused. I had told family members my secret. Most of them have been overwhelmingly supportive but I had one tell me that I was shameful to the family name that this situation could be handled internally but I had a family member come forward to tell me that I wasn’t alone, they too had an abusive past. Each time I told my story, my shadow grew smaller and smaller. My strength grew bigger and bigger.
As my shadow was disappearing the light entering my life became overwhelming. I was learning what life is like without my shadow and my mind was racing to try to figure who I was without it; unfortunately, anxiety crept in. My anxious thoughts of worrying about my future and feeling guilty about my past had consumed me. I had traded my shadow for a racing mind.
Thankfully, I had surrounded myself with some quality leaders. Leaders who had excellent habits. I learned that exercise would help me heal, so I walked. I walked over 1,200 kms in 2015 alone -I virtually walked to Ottawa!-. The walking soothed my mind as I was able to collect my thoughts and enjoyed the fresh air. The added exercise also has it’s own physical healing benefits. I began to eat better, learning what foods cause anxiety and avoided them. I began to read. I read stories from other survivors of sexual abuse. Lately, I had found the power of gratitude. I write my daily gratitude on my Facebook status at the end of each day. All of these great habits have collectively allowed my anxiety to dwindle and has healed my body and my mind.
Now, I want to tell the world. I want to rid myself of that shadow once and for all. Last year I started a blog with the purpose of telling my story and writing about my healing. Recently, I was blown away when I had learned that my story had inspired another person to tell their story to the world. This is mind-blowing. I have realized that by talking about my past, I not only get a chance to help others heal, I also heal myself. Now, here I am. Telling my story in front of all of you. I hope that when I walk out of those doors, that my shadow will finally be gone; my secrets will be gone forever.
The next time you are in a crowd of say 20 people and you are a victim of sexual abuse. Know that 4, maybe 5 of those people share a story similar to yours. My hope is that if you haven’t found that someone to trust with your secret that you never give up looking. Please, share your secret with someone you trust. Once you do, find good habits that will give you the strength to heal your body and mind. Then, when you are ready, tell the world. Your story will help inspire others to break the cycle of abuse. Together we can end this. Rid yourself of your shadow. You are not alone. We are not alone.