We all carry secrets in our lives. Stuff we don’t want others to know about. Some are small secrets that no one really would even care to know. Like our favourite brand of silk underwear, or our favourite blanket we clutch when we fall asleep.
But there may be other dark and hidden secrets we carry with us. I lived with such a secret for close to 50 years and that secret came close to destroying my life.
I grew up on a small dairy and beef farm in Kansas. I had an idyllic youth with farm animals, dogs, cats and beautiful places to roam and play. But all that changed when I was 12, and sexually abused by someone from our church. It was someone I trusted. After the event I tried talking to my mother and telling her what had happened. But, in 1958 such stories were not talked about and considered to be highly unusual.
My mother never let me tell my entire story and simply said that the perpetrator was a fine Christian man and he would not do something like that to a young boy. I felt I had no other person to turn to or talk to. Who else would believe me and my story? I was devastated and never had enough courage to talk about it for years.
As my psychiatrist says, I carried the shame, embarrassment and horror of that event with me even though I had done nothing to deserve it. It was the start of a life of anger and search for revenge that turned into depression and severe mental illness. Edward Rutherford notes that “Small wounds are healed by time; but time can only bandage great wounds, which continue to bleed in secret.”
Some 8 years after the event, Willa and I got married. She soon realized something was wrong. But I felt too embarrassed to confide in her. We lived that way for 41 years as I frequently vented my pent up feelings of anger and rage. I did not feel confident and safe enough to go for help.
Some wise person once said that, “What happened in your past, and was painful, has a great deal to do with who you are today.” That was true for me.
My psychiatrist says that from the age of 12 I never really matured in my coping skills as most teenagers do. When bad stuff happened to me, or something made me feel unsafe, my first response was to try to bury my insecurity under a cloak of humour. My second action was to lash out in anger at someone. And when the first two did not work, I would try to hurt myself—numerous times by attempting suicide.
About 10 years ago I no longer could live with this erratic, emotional secret. I sought help. But the counsellor and I did not get along. So, I discontinued.
I fell to a new low a little over 4 ½ years ago. I felt I was in a deep slippery hole of depression that was pulling me ever deeper into the muck and mire with absolutely no hope of getting out. I attempted suicide two more times, and after each time entered the Eden Mental Health Centre in Winkler.
But my last blowup of anger and disjointed thinking led me to yell at some people who were not treating me well and I issued some threats. Police got involved and I was booked under the mental health act. I was placed in custody at the Eden Mental Health Centre. I now had gone too far. I had stepped over the line.
I realized if I was to live any longer I would need help. But I hated the thought of admitting what had happened to me. I was a tough guy and I had not been strong enough to keep the perpetrator away. Maybe I was a weak failure and deserved to die.
I was in a corner. I had to make a decision. I did not want to hurt Willa. I wanted to see my grandchildren grow. I wanted to continue to enjoy living on the northern edge of the Whiteshell. I contemplated for weeks but finally chose to live and face the chaos I had created.
That was my turning point. I began to have an interest in my mental health. I read pamphlets. I watched videos and took greater interest in my meetings with my psychiatrist and mental health worker.
I took interest in my recovery. I wanted to recover. That was my new focus.
When a person experiences sexual abuse or some traumatic event, various coping mechanisms come into play in order to defend, protect and keep you safe. These are not bad mechanisms, but they can inhibit and even destroy your life when you constantly rely upon them.
My mental health worker notes that anger, fear, or thoughts of revenge can develop into disassociation. My mind worked logically and I could perform very well at work. But my emotions were a mess. From the time of the event I disassociated myself so much from the pain of the event that it extended to my body and mind.
For example, I walked for 10 days on a spiral break in my leg—thinking I only had a lower ankle sprain. To this day I can rip my hands and arms doing construction not feeling pain or realizing I have hurt myself.
However, after I began working and talking about the abuse event, and my harmful behaviour, I began to realize that I had some true friends that stuck with me and didn’t try to offer a lot of advice—but kept encouraging me. But, there were always a few who tried to play psychiatrist and several even tried to get an exorcism going, thinking I was demon-possessed. That really hurt. My psychiatrist found it almost impossible to believe that people would still think that way.
Following my time in the Eden Mental Health Centre I found a good mental health worker that I felt comfortable and safe with. I have also been through many rounds of counselling with my psychiatrist. Finding help from these professionals together with medications, the support from Willa and family and a support group has been the difference for me on my journey.
But some people just know how to be wise and smart in such situations. When I was in the midst of attempting suicide I desperately called my CEO at Eden—250 kms. away—because I trusted him. He happened to know my fishing buddy in Pinawa and quickly called him. That friend came over within minutes and there I was drunk, so I would have the courage to follow through with my suicide. My friend came in and said ten words that came as if from God. “Where can I take you where you would feel safe?”
Those were words full of spirit, truth and earthly wisdom. There was no blaming, no condemnation.
Today I function with medications, a group of family, friends and mental health staff who are my vital support. My wife, in spite of how I often mistreated her, has remained my best support. My children are incredibly supportive. As my journey continues I will improve as long as I have the courage and the will to face my illness and work at it.
In a sense you never really arrive. It is a continual, purposeful journey. I thank my family and friends for having surrounded and remaining with me. I am blessed.