I was raped by a trusted neighbor when I was 9 years old, on numerous occasions, over the span of a year and blocked it out for many years until I was roughly 12 years old. I was sitting in bed one day when something triggered the memories, they came flooding back to me and I was overwhelmed with fear, anger, and confusion. I told my parents who in turn then told the police, they approached the family of the teenager that did this to me and he admitted his guilt. We discussed pressing charges against the young man but were told by the police that it would probably be best if we didn’t as it would save me from an embarrassing trial as well as teasing from people within our neighborhood. That was a different day and age and that seemed, at the time, to be the best course of action. Don’t talk about it, bury it and try to forget it. Of course, we know better these days that this doesn’t work. This is where the pattern of shame and guilt took a terrible turn for me and sent me into a downward spiral.
I am now 47 years old with a wife of 20 years, 2 daughters, a wonderful home and from the outside looking in we are a picture-perfect family, so why talk about this now? It has only been in the last year that I can talk openly about my abuse without shame or the fear of judgment. I have lived 37 years hiding my true self in the shadows, putting on a happy face on the outside while feeling scared, lost and empty on this inside. We tried counselling when I was young but would you go talk about this if you were told to keep it quiet as a child? So I went on with my life burying the anger, the shame and never talking about it with anyone at any length because young men don’t talk about these things, do they? I have lived for so many years with questions of why me? Why didn’t we charge him? Why did my parents let this happen? Will I myself become a pedophile? If I have children will I rape them? Only a person that has been raped can truly understand what a depressing and hellish existence it is, minor moments of joy but then pulled back into the drowning darkness, day after day after day.
Now you will ask, “How did you cope?” Like many others I turned to alcohol from my early teen years to help escape my racing mind to give me some sort of peace, some sort of feeling of value, to feel more than…….nothing. Of course, this did not serve me well and there were many bad choices along the way that I look back at now and wish I could change. But I can’t. As I got older the question in my mind was always, “Why does this happen and how can I save the others?” Such a naive and sad view of life but that was what I lived day in and day out for years and years with no hope of change. I attended cognitive behavioral therapy, group sessions, AA meetings but nothing would stick and I was always dragged back to what I knew, what was my uncomfortable reality, until a few special events that changed my life to get me where I am today.
Of course, we all now know the story of Theo Fleury, his battle over the years with substance abuse and coming to terms with his past abuse. So one day I picked up his book Playing with Fire and it pushed me into a different way of thinking altogether. While reading the book I cried, I was angry, I was confused but the one feeling I didn’t expect to feel was,”You are not alone.” It was as if Theo’s voice was calling out to me saying we are now on this journey together and we will get through it. Sounds corny right? His words were my words, his pain was my pain, he understood, he had been there, he was still there. I was no longer alone, even if it was just words, it changed me. So I slowly started talking about my trauma, not a lot but a little here and there with friends that knew what happened and the shame was slowly lifting, I was getting stronger.
The next event was probably the biggest and most profound. I was at a function with casual friends that we had made over the years in a very large gathering and I overheard my friend say that he was worried about a neighbor and his “interest” in his young son. He said it seemed strange that he was always asking where his son was, what he was doing and if he could come over to visit, alone. Then it happened, I just said: “You need to be careful, this is not right.” He looked at me and I could tell by his face that he was asking, “What do you know, why would you have any insight?” I simply said, “This is how I was raped as a child, this is how it started.” The response was amazing, he asked more about what he should watch for and thanked me. I never felt so strong or free. It was incredible. From that moment on the weight had begun to lift and I felt a strength that I never knew.
Finally, the moment where I knew I was going to be okay: The Little Warriors Be Brave Ranch. Remember when I said I wanted the help save them all as a child? I now knew that was impossible so I asked what I could do to help those that are in need of support, that need to know they are not alone. By chance, I came across a couple items from my workplace that were given to me to donate to a charity of my choice, and of course, I chose the Ranch.
What I didn’t know was how this was going to affect me moving forward in my journey of healing. I reached out to the Ranch to arrange the drop off of these items and they were kind enough to take me on a tour and explain how they help each of these children during this terrible time. As I was leaving I cried, I was angry and then I was thankful. Thankful that there was somewhere for these children to get the help they needed, thankful that there are people out there helping them on their journey to healing, thankful I was able to help even if it was just a little bit.
Neil Campbell #metoo