As early as age seven, I was told I had emotional problems. I didn’t talk much and kids made fun of me. Something was wrong, but I had no idea what that something was. I didn’t have close friends, I was self-conscious, and academically I was a failure. My teacher wanted to hold me back in second grade. My basic physical needs were being met: I lived with two parents in a nice suburban home, I was well fed, my clothes were clean, I had toys. I seemingly lived the childhood version of the American Dream; what I was actually living was a nightmare.
Both my parents did well professionally. My older sister was the golden child who could do nothing wrong. My mother often lost patience with me and told me she wished I’d never been born, that I’d been an accident. I felt like a fifth wheel in this family of high achievers. (As an adult I learned I have learning differences, but as a kid I just felt stupid; I couldn’t do what my sister did, and I couldn’t do the things other kids could do.)
When I was four, I learned a lesson. My mother stayed home from work and I was running around the house while she was mopping. I was excited to be with her. She stopped me abruptly by hitting me on the forehead with the mop handle. Many stitches later, I’d learned the lesson that fun is dangerous.
My father wanted to live vicariously through me, but I failed to meet his expectations. Perhaps my parents loved me, but neither they nor I understood how my brain worked. Parental pressure was overwhelming. As I crumbled under their good intentions, a gulf grew between us. Hurtful words were said about my difficulties in school and I developed emotional problems.
Because of my insecurities, I would do anything to be accepted. While we were on vacation when I was 11, my mom met a man she seemed enamored with. This man, Marc Trudell, paid attention to me. It felt great! We sat around the campfire, talking and laughing. Marc made me feel important. He snuck me a few beers-we were buddies. Later he wanted me to “camp out” with him. This was fine with my folks.
Marc got me drunk and high-he had a hidden agenda. He touched me, showed me his penis, and masturbated. The beer and pot numbed my feelings of disgust. I learned another lesson: There’s a price for acceptance. The next day I was horrified by what had happened. Was I a homosexual, I wondered? The following night was a repeat of the first, only now Marc and I had a secret. After the fire burned out and we went to his tent, he took magazines out of his backpack. I’d seen these kinds of magazines at home; I thought the people in them did the most interesting things. The beer, the magazines, and the secret-I was in trouble.
Now I really couldn’t tell. I had already been bad the night before. This was my fault. At 11, I was a beer-drinking, pot-smoking homo. Now it was too late to say anything. Besides, it was exciting; the beer, the pot, the pretty magazine ladies, the acceptance. Yeah, the acceptance made it worth it. If it didn’t get any worse than the night before, it’d be okay, I thought. I mean, me liking the pretty magazine ladies meant I wasn’t gay, right?
It got worse, and I couldn’t tell my folks. Since Marc was hitchhiking from Canada, and my folks were into the ’60s thing, they thought it would be cool to give this hip guy a ride to California-and to have him stay with us.
Marc came home with us, and the molestation continued. Marc started working with my mom; they were good buddies. That fall, Marc went to Canada for the winter. I didn’t want to lose Marc’s attention. I didn’t like the sex, but I was getting what I needed from the relationship-acceptance.
That winter, I was befriended by a different man, someone named Carl. This guy seemed nice, but then the molestation happened. He said to never let anyone else touch me again. I was confused, but again I had acceptance. Carl sold ice cream at Thrifty, and I felt special getting it for free. Carl let me drive his car around the parking lot, and he, too, gave me beer.
Summer came and Marc returned. It wasn’t long before the molestation resumed. But this time the results were more severe. Marc and I went camping at Emma Wood; there was a big party and I got too high. I left the party and stumbled off, passing out. A park ranger found me on the rocks by the ocean, in danger of drowning. He took me to the hospital, and they sent me to juvenile hall. At this point, I told my parents what had been going on. Their response was, “How could you do this to us?” I was crushed with guilt and shame.
Marc vanished. Many years later I bought a Colt .45 with the intention of finding and killing him. Being raised by emotionally withdrawn parents who blamed me for the sexual abuse I experienced was devastating. I had chronic relationship problems, addiction problems, depression, and myriad complications experienced by adults who are sexually abused as children. I considered suicide. I felt isolated and alone.
Two years ago I called the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center (SBRCC). I was addicted, depressed, and suicidal. I knew the shit that happened to me as a kid had something to do with it. I met with Mary at SBRCC for months before I got clean. She knew about my addiction and remained nonjudgmental. I tested her, and my trust in her grew. I’d finally found real acceptance.
Because I was a guy, I thought I wouldn’t be accepted at SBRCC. Nothing was further from the truth. I feel accepted and liked by everyone there. My counselor is amazing-I can tell her anything. I feel appreciated, accepted, and loved for who I am. I’ve found hope. SBRCC is a safe haven for me to address my unmet early needs and to heal the wounds of an emotionally troubled childhood.
My present is now very different from my past. Most days are amazing. I love my life, I’m back in school, I’m in recovery, and I’m working on an awesome career.
Readers can contact the author by calling the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center at 963-6932 x12.
• In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, SBRCC is launching the Tools for Change campaign, which focuses on sexual assault as a youth issue. One in four girls and one in six boys experience sexual violence before age 18. The sexual assault continuum-which includes sexual harassment, molestation, incest, and rape-permeates our society; it is found in our families, our schoolyards, college campuses, and our workplaces. SBRCC provides services to all sexual assault survivors and their loved ones. To speak with a counselor, call the 24-hour hotline at 564-3696.
• You can help by becoming a sexual assault counselor! SBRCC’s next training session is May 8-June 28, with sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Call 963-6832, x19 for more info.