Like far too many children in my community, across this country, and around the world, I grew up in a violent household. I know that real life doesn’t resemble a “Norman Rockwell” portrait, but I don’t believe that precludes a child from feeling safe and loved in his or her home. For most of my life, I tried to rationalize the scars and the shame inflicted at the hands of my mother, behind closed doors in our ‘perfect’ middle-class Catholic home.
For as long as I can remember, I was terrified to be left alone with my mother. The youngest of five children, born to a marriage that was all but over, I bore the brunt of my mother’s isolation, frustration, and desperation – You see, to this day, I’m still desperate to rationalize, or at least make sense of, my mother’s violence. From my infancy right up until my mother finally left when I was nine, my skin was covered with chronic eczema – trips to the family doctor and dermatologist were carefully planned not to coincide with any traces of bruises left on my body. My cracked and bleeding skin had quite literally become the ‘canvas’ on which all of my fears and stress came to life. Magically, my eczema disappeared within a month of my mother’s leaving.
Throughout my teens and right up until my mid-40s, I desperately tried to earn my mother’s love. All I wanted was to hear that she was proud of me, and all that had happened in my childhood was something I would rather leave unsaid. Despite the superficial relationship we both fostered over the years, I never felt as though I had found a place in her heart. My other brothers and sisters, were raised by a very ‘different’ mother, who was most certainly less in crisis during their childhood. And thus, I’ve always felt like an outsider – the black sheep in the family.
After what feels like a lifetime of battling drug and alcohol addiction, and my own tenuous mental health issues, three years ago – at the age of 47, I finally found the strength to tell my wife and adult son that I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Just so there is no confusion here… the sexual abuse was perpetrated by a hockey coach when I was 9 years old, and later by two young men who raped me when I was 12 years old.
But here is the part of my story that is unfortunately something else that sadly rings true for many survivors of childhood sexual violence once they decide to go public with their disclosure. I have lost contact with my mother and my siblings. It was as if the words that finally crawled out of me were too toxic for them to ‘sit with’. If you really want to know how to destroy an already fragile soul, take away the one thing that a survivor of sexual violence needs most – connection, which equates as validation and worthiness.
With everything else I’ve had to take on in attempt to unpack the trauma – hours sitting with therapists, and psychiatrists, along with continual peer counseling sessions – the part that has been the hardest for me to bear is the shame and bitterness that comes with being tossed aside by the person who brought you into this world.
Today, under the careful direction of my psychiatrist, I wrote a “goodbye letter” to my mother – one in which I openly shared what my childhood ‘felt like’ and the circuitous and troubled path I’ve travelled to arrive at a place of peace and healing. In the letter, I clearly state that I do not wish to cause my mother pain, nor do I wish to regain contact with her. I am simply closing a door on a chapter of my life that has felt raw and unfinished for so very long.
In writing this letter, I have come to the realization that the thing that shapes us most in our lives is the randomness of the family we are born to … but the thing that is most ‘defining’ in our life are the people we choose to call our ‘family’. Today, I am surrounded by the most loving and supportive family I could imagine – my wife, son, and daughter-in-law, along with countless others who make me feel whole… who make me feel worthy.