Last summer on a Friday evening after work, I was watching CNN when breaking news scrolled across the screen. The news was about the child molesting, assistant football coach from Penn State, as the verdicts were going to be revealed at any moment. I rolled off the couch and headed to the kitchen to fix myself a bowl of sugar-free vanilla ice cream with fresh strawberries. I hoped this would make me feel better, since I really did not think this coach would be convicted of his horrendous crimes with boys who really needed a mentor and or father figure, but got a brazen, self-confident, good old boy, deviant, football coach, who even raped these boys in the very public showers of the hallowed, collegiate football dynasty, locker rooms. His sick actions were not stopped but covered up, or worse, ignored by the powerful head coach and president of the university. This inactivity exemplifies the state of our countries huge problem with childhood sexual abuse.
Why am I ranting about this breaking news? Because, most times, we only see the lunatic disguised by some official title like Priest, Bishop, and now, football coach, instead of hearing from the victims who have had their lives changed, completely, by this silent epidemic, that is destroying more lives than we can even count. In our country, where we assume children are better protected than most other countries, the statistics say NOT. One in four girls will be sexually abused before the age of eighteen and one in six boys will be sexually abused before the age of eighteen. And ninety-nine per cent of them know their abusers, very well, as either family members or men, and some women, in positions of power and in jobs with high regard.
I am a survivor of the one in six statistical grouping, and, since we never hear what those victims go through and how their lives are changed, this is my story in all its honesty and unfortunate reality. Like most Americans, if you just want to turn your heads and live in that peaceful place called denial, then don’t read any further. This is not for the faint of heart who can’t stomach the walk of a victim who wandered around in distorted functionality for way to long, before getting help.
My abuse started at age ten sitting in a pew at the southern Baptist Church where my family attended. An older teenaged boy had befriended me and I thought this was really cool. Until I figured out he had other plans for our boyhood relationship. One thing you must understand is that abusers are not always adults in power, but oftentimes, older children. My abuser was an adopted child who had had a rough start to his life and, most likely, had been sexually abused himself. I have forgiven him for sexualizing me at such a young age and changing my life for a lifetime. But, that forgiveness only came after first admitting that I had been damaged, and then, many years of therapy.
The large amount of research relating to childhood sexual abuse has come from our neighboring country, Canada. They have discovered that children who are sexually abused have hormonal changes in their brains. Yes, our brains are rewired when sexually abused. And, the damage is not easily repaired without being carefully treated with years of therapy and psychological medications that work to correct this hormonal imbalance. If children remain secretive, which boys do more than girls, never getting the needed psychological help to survive and maintain some since of normalcy, they most often become the statistics that are so prevalent in our culture: alcohol and drug abusers, sexually obsessed and addicted adults, prostitutes, succumbing to chronic mental and physical health conditions, suicide and attempted suicide victims, to name just a few.
Most of my sexual abuse occurred at church functions or on Wednesday nights; my family was at church whenever the doors were open. There is not a dark place in the church my abuser would avoid to make him feel good sexually. Even where sinners are dunked in the holy waters of baptism was a favorite out of the way spot, while both our Moms were at choir practice on Wednesday nights. He also introduced me to P.S.E.’s (public sex environments). When most boys were playing in the gym, we would be in the inner sanctum of the boy’s locker room where the showers hid us out so he could try and fuck me, which I was able to fight off, but not the oral sex. I still have the vision and horrible feelings of him holding my hands up on the tiled wall and forcing my pants down with his other hand, trying to get his dick inside me. And not only was I worried about the physical pain, but also frightened about being found out by an adult church member.
Our church boy’s group used to take a yearly trip to Wake Forest University to watch a football game, and on our return, we were in the back of someone’s station wagon in the dark when he got aroused. Our first rest stop was at a McDonalds for dinner. Before I could eat anything, he locked us in the men’s room to finish what he had started in the car. This abuse took place on and off for two years and by that time I had grown from a boy who had not reached puberty to a teen who felt very confused about being different, gay. And this older teen had decided I was no longer young enough for his sexual abuse. The warped thing about being abused is that when it stops and you are left alone, you feel like you did something wrong and become depressed, lonely, refusing to talk about it with anyone.
My healing came rather late in life, so my story is one that covers many of the above issues I just stated. As an adult who refused to believe my own story, I fell victim to drug and alcohol abuse, became sexually addicted; never understanding why monogamy could not work for me, even when trying desperately to uphold several pseudo committed gay relationships. I have attempted suicide twice, the first being the worst, where I spent several days in the hospital I.C.U., trying to get my heart to regulate after taking an overdose of meds and drinking myself into an unconscious state. I have been hospitalized, twice, in mental health facilities, after both attempts. I must confess these facilities are needed for the many in our country who have all kinds of other addiction issues, but they do very little to help folks like myself who have been sexually abused. Our country does not want to acknowledge the profound hidden secrecy surrounding this issue. Since many of us do not speak out about it and advocate for our own mental health, little is being done to treat our brain’s imbalances. And, in turn, the prevention of childhood sexual abuse is almost nonexistent in a culture where children and families and schools do not teach or discuss, openly, this silent epidemic.
I was functioning in my world of denial by medicating with alcohol, drug abuse, sexual obsession and addiction that is most horrifying. When finally getting into therapy for this problem, I joked with my first therapist, sarcastically, by stating that I had had more sexual partners than most whores do in four or five lifetimes. As a result of these thousands of oftentimes, anonymous, nameless, sexual partners, it has taken a toll on me, physically. I have been infected with genital herpes, HPV, which causes cervical cancer in women and anal cancer in men. After suffering through one Christmas season so sick, that I had to go to the E.R. for intravenous fluids, something was attacking my liver that my doctors could not diagnose. I finally broke out into a rash all over my body, which led my doctors to test me for syphilis, which is what I’d had the whole time. I didn’t know it could do such damage to the liver, but is so easily cured by a series of high powered penicillin shots.
The most costly infection, though, and most upsetting for me, after spending five years as an HIV prevention educator, is the fact that later in life, in my late 30’s I contracted HIV. Of course, I do consider myself one of the fortunate ones, after losing so many friends to this disease, because I only take one rather large and very expensive pill a day (Atripla), which has kept me undetectable my whole time during drug therapy for this chronic illness.
Now fellow A4A members, I do post on my profile that I am HIV positive. But, we all have something we just want to lie about and that is my age. I’m 40 years young on my profile page however I was born on April 24, 1961. So do the math, I’m soon to be 52. The only reason I’m mentioning this age thing now, is to let members know that I lived through the worst years of so many gay men dying of AIDS and sat vigil by beds as friends took their last breaths, BUT, if you do not address the underlying issue, which for me was childhood sexual abuse, it will eventually take you down a road that I don’t wish for anyone to travel. Another words fear of contracting or all the education about HIV does not scare you into playing safe all the time, if you have other mental health issues swirling around in your head, not treated. That is the main reason we as a community of gay/bisexual men CANNOT judge each other for our actions. It does not help, but only adds to the silence we as men like to uphold. Some silence is not golden.
The last decade or so has been much better for me. I found a therapist who I could work with and group therapy, which was four men in this group, all having been sexually abused as children, two of us HIV positive as well. The work has not been easy though. However, it has to happen because no pill alone will help in regaining your personal power and bring you to some sense of peace and ability to function without all the past memories swelling up to force you into unhealthy sexual situations. Thank God for this group of men who clearly understood my background and did not judge me, but grew to help me heal as I did for them as well. What I learned throughout this whole process and being pointed to research from my therapist is that many gay men have been abused as children. If everyone came out about it, I think the number 1 in 6 would grow to 1 in 4, just like for females. I make this point to promote each of us into understanding what abuse we have had to incur throughout our lifetimes, whether sexual or physical or emotional, and realize that we have to work on healing ourselves through the right methods. Alcohol and drugs just numb the pain, sexual addiction just adds more guilt and hating one another makes us no better than those we accuse of discriminating against us. The burden is on us to find healing.
I believe life is always about transformation. We must move through the pain and speak with others who have experienced the same pain, in order to start the recovery process. If not, we will continue to find ourselves recreating the same abuse that we did not ask for as children. The difference is that now we are adults and we may hurt other adults terribly, if we refuse to heal our past abuse. Thanks for allowing me to share this information and if you feel that you are a member of the 1 in 6 group, please get help. 1in6.org has very good information and offers helpful first steps to recovering from childhood sexual abuse.
David W. Bradburn aka dwb42461