The house we lived in on Youngblood Street in Swainsboro, Georgia has a cracker-box feel to it from my 56-year-old perspective. I know this because I have ridden back by it once or twice since the 4-year-old version of me lived there in 1967. The occasion of revisiting it was probably the wake of one of my relatives who are buried in a nearby cemetery. It was a cracker-box house in a miniature neighborhood of such dwellings. It is distinct in my memory because it is the last time my life would seem pristine.
Somewhere around this time my uncle on my mom’s side began to give expression to his life as a pedophile. His various nieces and nephews and God only knows who else became the relentless, searching objects of his sickness. My life right now in 2019 (mid-therapy) feels oddly compressed between these two dispensations.
I have no idea what the Indigo girls intended when they wrote these lyrics in the song “Kid Fears,” but they are the perfect soundtrack to my childhood nightmare:
Secret staircase (secret staircase), running high (running high)
You had a hiding place
Secret staircase (secret staircase), running low (running low)
They all know, now you’re inside
Are you on fire
From the years?
What would you give for your
My kid fears were real. They were just intermittent enough to keep me traumatized and off-balance. The shelf-life of the actual unfolding terrorism of abuse was about six years. Six years of being isolated and targeted each time my uncle was in town. Sexual abuse and secrecy were the attendant specter and bitter lingering aftertaste of 11% of my life up to today.
One night in 1973 terrified by my uncle’s breathing from the adjacent room, I found the courage through hysterical sobs to tell my parents.
Sexual abuse was taboo in 1973. Family systems function in awkward ways. Shame covers victims and families like a penetrating fog. My parents protected me as best as they knew how. They believed me. They sheltered me from further abuse. They addressed it in our family but took no legal action. They never took me to a counselor. We were very blue collar and not far up the socio-economic ladder. It’s possible they asked me if I wanted to see a counselor. I don’t remember. These days, knowing what we know, no one should ask an abused kid if they want to see a counselor. Just make sure it happens.
Many studies indicate that children rarely falsify claims of abuse. The adults around them in custody cases, for example, may encourage a child to fabricate a lie of that nature, but children are very, very rarely found to manufacture these claims. Given that reality, not believing kids when they find the courage to tell their stories is almost as heinous as the original abuse. Also, involve the authorities. Outing a pedophile will rescue other victims.
When children are sexually abused Pandora’s Box has typically been opened for them. Without intervention and counseling in time they will develop unhealthy ways of anesthetizing their pain. Abuse and addiction are linked in scientific studies. Many people who have been abused become promiscuous. Some of my adult challenges center around not trusting others easily and not having what I think is the ordinary amount of empathy. I had a lot of rage for a lot of years. I have tended to be insecure and paranoid. If there is an upside, I have a soft spot for underdogs. In my best moments I gravitate to broken people, like myself.
Becoming a follower of Jesus and an ordained minister did not instantly solve all the problems that followed my childhood trauma. One of the healthiest parts of my discipleship journey has been seeking out competent counsel. That’s how I have come to see it: getting therapy is part of my commitment to grow in Christ. It’s not a leap off the faith wagon or abandonment to worldliness. My therapist feels like a coach and a friend. I feel like for the first time in a long time I am able to breathe free air. I am experiencing hope. I wouldn’t wish my experience on anybody, but I am also convinced that it’s a crack that is allowing grace to get in.
There’s a lot more to my story that I am not going to share here, but I hope that being at least this transparent is helpful to someone. Feel free to share this. It took me 56 years to write it. If it helps someone it will be worth it.