Culture

One More Secret

If confirmed, Brett Kavanaugh will have a lifetime appointment to a position that will have unparalleled impact on women’s reproductive and other rights issues for the next quarter century. On Sunday, Kavanaugh, the nominee that will bring a clear conservative majority to the Supreme Court for the first time since Roe-v-Wade, was accused of sexual assault by a woman who claims he forced himself on her when he was in high school.

In the 1980’s.

A storm is coming. It’s in all of our interests that reasonable people on both sides of American politics and government be able to live with that happens relative to Kavanaugh’s potential confirmation in the coming weeks. In service to that, there’s something I feel I need to share.

This blog has given me a platform to share my thoughts and experiences over the years. I’ve found it a cathartic, even therapeutic outlet at times. What I’m about to share though, is an all together different level of transparency.

There are a few things I’d like to get straight before I go any further though. The first is that what you are about to read isn’t an attempt for me, a 41-year old man, to appropriate a movement. I’ve had agency over my body since I was 12 years old. I will never claim to know the persistent, lifelong struggle of #metoo.

The second is that this is not something I ever thought I would write about publicly. Nor is it something I particularly want to write about publicly. As I type this, my intentions still aren’t entirely clear. It may be words to put on a page that don’t see the light of day. It may be something more. If you’re reading it, you know the answer to that question better than I do now and it’s likely I thought I just couldn’t sit through what is about to come, quietly; the explanations of how victims behave, what their motivations are, or how something 30 years ago can or can’t effect someone.

Additionally, my intent is not to advocate for or against Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Only to add some perspective to a discussion that likely won’t get much thoughtful contribution in the coming days before the waves of political operatives get to work on deconstructing events.

With that in mind, it’s time I shared something. It is my understanding, from those that engage with others of similar experience, that mine is a common, patterned response.

When I was about 7 or 8.  I was abused by a babysitter, an older teenage son of one of my mother’s friends. I’m not exactly sure when. I’m dead certain of what. After he came over to watch me, he brought out pornographic magazines and asked me to take off my clothes and look at them with him. He took off his clothes and he told me to touch him, while he touched me, as we looked at the magazines. He told me he liked it. And that I would too. I believed him. Because I was seven. Or eight. I believed in Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy too.

This happened more than once.

He left the magazines with me. For months I looked at them until my mother found them. She asked me who had given them to me. I told her and she was relieved. It wasn’t a real adult who could have done something really bad to me was what I took from her reaction.

Over the years, as I got older, it became clear to me that I should not have been exposed to what I was exposed to. And I should not have been asked to do the things I was asked to do. What was also clear was that I did not try to stop it. And at the time, as a young child, I did not think what was happening to me was the evil that it was. And so, over time, I learned one more thing about myself. There was something terribly wrong with me. And for 25-years I held on to that secret as tight as I could.

At the core of who I believed I was, was something horribly broken and wrong. It’s a hell of a secret.

Over time, the anxiety around that secret grew. It wasn’t that I focused on or even thought about the abuse. In fact, I rarely ever thought about the specific memories. I had become so comfortable with the notion that I had a horrible secret about myself, that the specific secret wasn’t important anymore. So, the secret changed.

When I left the military, my secret was that I wasn’t stable enough to have certain jobs.  I was crippled by anxiety through the vetting process and washed out. Then, my secret was that I wasn’t healthy enough to be a good husband. I started to sabotage my marriage. Then I secretly didn’t deserve to be a father with a happy family. I started to hide from the responsibilities of being present in the lives of my children.

One day, at the end of my rope, I shared the secret with my wife. She told me she loved me. And that she was sorry that happened to me. She encouraged me to share it in a couples group at my church. And then to seek help. The road back to some sort of normal started. 25 years later.

It’s been a decade of prayer, therapy and fellowship and what’s left of my childhood trauma is an acknowledgement of the pattern of anxiety and self sabotage and the appropriate tools to deal with them in a way that allows me to live a reasonably happy, productive life. The mental pattern of anxiety that the world will find out what a horrible fraud of a person I was hasn’t completely left. I simply know it’s not real any more. That it is not a weakness that will one day be my undoing. It is, instead, proof of unconquerable strength.

The feeling is still there though. It will never go away. That’s the price of abuse. The only thing that has ever drown it out is the intensity of war. Returning to the silence of home nearly killed me. By the grace of God, a forgiving wife and a community of fellowship, it didn’t.

I have nothing to gain, and I’m sure some things to lose, by sharing this. I am a veteran. I’m a professional. I’m a father to three boys. I have an image of toughness and resilience to maintain. Maybe this changes that. Maybe it doesn’t. It’s likely a matter of who’s reading it.

My hope is that it may help some understand more about the true nature of things that are about to be a part of a very loud and angry political debate. Like why someone might stay silent for 30 years before finally letting their secret slip. Or how much someone could really still care, and therefore compel us to care, about something that happened 30 years ago.

I have no idea what happened between Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser. I didn’t share this to convince you she is telling the truth. But there are people walking around you today carrying what I just shared and much, much worse with them. In as much as that matters to your opinion, I hope it helps you form one that includes compassion. That this issue presently ties into contemporary political issues in America, to me, is really little more than context.

A thousand words later and ten thousand pounds lighter, I think I’ll hit publish now.

This was my secret.

It’s out now. There’s no going back.

Do with it, what you will.

Categories: Culture

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22 replies »

  1. I believe you, Sean. Sometimes keeping the secret is worse than having the secret. Sometimes keeping the secret is necessary because it protects the innocent and that seems more important than punishing the guilty.

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  2. It has been my experience, the more I was able to talk about my sexual abuse, the more it lost its power over me. I hope that is your case as well. Take care.

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  3. You and so many others have been victimized in this way. One can only wonder if Brett K . was himself victimized in a similar fashion, hence his own acting out of abuse towards another. Not saying that it happens all the time, and not likely in you case, but it is a known occurrence that those who have been victimized become the abusers later in life. Prayers are needed all the way around for those who are involved in this vicious cycle.

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  4. The more we share, the less the taboo. And it is not always the case that all victims abuse others in turn, it is a choice we can make NOT to continue the cycle of abuse ~ I would not dream of causing someone else harm, I choose to see myself as a survivor. You are better off without that toxic secret, it no longer has the power to hurt you.

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  5. One sentence in your piece really struck me: “I have an image of toughness and resilience to maintain.” I know that feeling all too well, having been a victim of childhood abuse myself. I know how trauma—from abuse, assault, or even harassment—can burrow into every corner of our being, causing us to blame ourselves and shrink from the world.

    But, as you eloquently describe, when we get the healing support we need, we find the courage to speak about our experience, and any need to maintain an “image” fades away…for then we truly ARE tough and resilient! Thank you for sharing your story. I am convinced that, the more we do this we change the reality of our lives from being “survivors” to “thrivers”.

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  6. Thank you for sharing this, Sean. While I do not share your history of sexual trauma, your words draw parallels to childhood trauma that I have endured and had not confronted for decades until recently. Sharing your experience helps us all to empathize with victims and make sensible, clear-headed decisions about how to approach and/or rehabilitate the perpetrators.
    And it makes clear that the toughest of us who have charged armored into combat are still vulnerable to the scars of the past. And that’s as strong a contribution to the #metoo movement as anything I have heard.
    This was incredibly important and incredibly brave.

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  7. In my eyes your willingness to be vulnerable has enhanced my image of you. Your sharing has given me yet another picture of what victims have to overcome. My heart aches each time I hear the stories.
    I am convinced with no real proof that my mother was a victim of childhood sexual abuse. It took me many years to come to the conclusion that her life had been interrupted by someone. Her unacknowledged scars impacted my life and my brother’s as well (RIP). Your children have the blessing of a father who can share his strengths and vulnerabilities.
    Peace be with you.

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  8. I never reply or put comments on most stuff I read, but I feel compelled to do so after reading this. I want you to know that I appreciate your honesty and your story gives great perspective to people who have never experienced what you have in your life. I can relate to your story and believe you are a very brave man who deserves a high five and a big hug for stepping out and pushing publish!
    I admire your courage.

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  9. Thank you. My gut, my compassion makes me want to respond to your abuse and your triumph over that abuse and it’s consequences. Yet, then I would unconsciously and quietly miss your point. At least, what I think is your point.

    No one is perfect. Everyone has secrets. But, those we put in positions of power and influence that impact every American life must be personally responsible for their beliefs, and especially for their behaviors. They must not lie, dissemble, or manipulate facts in order to avoid it. And when we find that they have done so, they must be removed from their position or from consideration for public service.

    Perhaps this has not been our historical precedent. However, American life in the 21st Century, demands that we make it our reality now.

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  10. I think you already knew that most if not all of the people who read your blog would react in a positive manner. I can’t add anything to them, nothing original.

    I would like to point out that, for me, you’ve done something far more important than confess a secret in a public forum. In confessing this secret, you’ve added an important bit to what I would describe as our collective wisdom as humans, one little bit of information that could be terribly important to other people. The importance of that potential cannot be underestimated or known in advance. It’s real nonetheless.

    One thing I found particularly important was your statement about the intensity of war drowning out the feelings from abuse. I don’t know what I’ll do with that. But I know I’m going to remember it.

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  11. Truth, the bravery to tell it and compassion. All admirable qualities and I commend you for displaying them… sadly, there are too many of us that don’t even recognize them anymore.

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  12. Sean, you’re not alone. A disturbingly similar thing happened to me. I still wonder who I would be if it hadn’t happened, but thankful for the person I am. A HS friend of mine, and St. John’s College grad, is on the board of MaleSurvivor. They’re doing some good work. Might be worth checking them out. Stay strong.

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  13. Sean, this in no way changes my view of you. Rather it adds another layer to the respect I already had for you based on your writing and service. I am saddened that you had to go through this and the aftermath and I appreciate your willingness to add your voice to the #metoo discussion.

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  14. God bless you and your family, Sean. I will be praying for you. Thank you for sharing this. It is the epitome of toughness.

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  15. You are an inspiring leader and a real hero. The archetypal hero enters the darkest cave to face the most dangerous monster and returns to the community with riches that benefit everyone.

    I aspire to such self revelation for the benefit of others in my own writing.

    I also want to to know that there is another level of healing available for the child part of yourself who was abused. It is spiritual in essence and profoundly transformative. It is my life work as a therapist and I would neither be alive or thriving without it myself.

    I frequently work over the phone and would like to offer you this healing as a gift. God works through people and he often speaks through you. I feel moved to return the favor.

    If you have interest :

    Reneemckenna.com
    Info@reneemckenna.com

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  16. Thank you Sean for sharing such a painful experience! I wish it never happened and I can’t imagine, other than what you’ve expressed here, how painful this has been in your life all these years. I hope that all who read this will have  more compassion and understanding of the tragedy of sexual abuse. I wish you comfort and love.Cynthia

    Sent via the Samsung Galaxy S® 6, an AT&T 4G LTE smartphone

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  17. This has been sitting in my inbox for a couple of days. I’d been meaning to get to it, because I love reading what you have to say. I was not prepared. I was not prepared.

    My reaction to Kavanaugh has been, “Sexual assault is terrible – but it was 35 years ago. And, apparently, only once. Is THAT a hanging crime? If it is, then many men would be guilty on this count…” To which a female friend responded, “So, what’s your point?”

    I guess my point was, yeesh, it was 35 years ago and one time. I didn’t think about it so much from her point of view. Your blogpost changed that. I think I have a much better sense of what my friend was saying when she said, “So what’s your point?”

    The Talmud teaches that killing a single person is like killing an entire world – your blogpost drove that home in a way I had never experienced before.

    Thank you so much for sharing that. Do you ever do speaking engagements in the Boston area?

    Josh Conescu, Newton, MA

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