Over the holidays I met “Paul” a man who recently retired as a professor from a prestigious university in Tennessee.
He was in town to meet some relatives who are friends of mine. When he learned what I do professionally, he asked me some general questions about how survivors deal with their trauma.
After a while, he shared with me that he had been molested by his music teacher when he was a young boy. The music teacher had “groomed him” prior to the assaults in some typical ways. He made friends with Paul’s parents, he fed Paul his favorite foods before the music lessons began and told Paul how “special” he was to him- and that he “loved” him, but asked him to keep their secret from everyone, including his parents.
Then the abuse began- slowly at first, by exposing Paul to pornography in magazines. As the abuser got aroused, he began to masturbate himself and then forced Paul to fondle him too “as an act of love.” He also made sexually suggestive remarks and exposed his genitals to Paul. Eventually he forced Paul to have oral and anal sex with him.
As is all too common, Paul felt powerless as his abuser continued to exert power and control over him. Since his parents really liked the teacher, Paul was afraid to tell them anything except he wanted to stop music- which he was very good at. His parents told him he couldn’t quit music- that must stick with it for the remainder of the year.
Young children are taught to respect and look up to adults, so it is hard for them to understand that sometimes adults do wrong things. Paul said he blamed himself - even thinking he must be gay. The trauma of the abuse made Paul feel guilty and worthless, and undeserving of love.
Paul shared that he began to engage in risky behaviors in his early teens- promiscuous sex, drinking heavily and driving recklessly. He continually had difficulty with relationships and had been married twice- both ending in divorce due to his addictive behaviors. He became a workaholic which brought him job recognition and satisfaction, but he also became a sex addict- having cheated repeatedly on both wives who he said he loved, but he “couldn’t seem to stop myself” Paul had two grown children, a son and daughter. He said he was “overly protective” of them.
Their mother felt he always went overboard keeping their son and daughter from being alone with other adults. He kept his abuse a secret from his parents and both wives because he felt it would make him feel less masculine and that they might blame him.
After his retirement, Paul said he finally found the courage to seek help dealing with his “demons.” He found a female therapist who specializes in sexual trauma who has diagnosed him with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Now, after nearly a year in therapy, Paul says he can finally see how the trauma of his abuse negatively affected his and his family’s lives.
This weekend, Paul emailed me that he had written a letter to his abuser (who is now a very old man) telling him what that abuse did to him and how much it hurt. Paul said he doesn’t expect the abuser to respond, or to even “get it” as far as the pain he inflicted on Paul, but he said that it felt wonderful to get his anger out and finally tell the abuser what he wanted to tell him so many years ago.