Your story matters. You matter. Beyond Survival: Still We Rise is intended as a place to share. We want to hear your story, to learn how you are thriving, to see your creativity at work. It is a space for courageous healing. Today we have the first of a two part entry from David Day. We are grateful for his courageous willingness to share his story. Please be aware that some may find parts triggering.

May David’s story be a reminder that your story matters. You matter. You are not alone.


My Story

By David Day
Part 1

“A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way.”

Flannery O’Connor

Once upon a time, there was a boy who was neglected and sexually abused.

My parents divorced when I was one year old. I have memories.

Mom carries me into the kitchen, sets me down on horrible gold-flecked linoleum. Dad sits at the table by the window and eats his dinner. My diaper is full. My mother stands over me, yells and screams, her voice a tapestry of anger and rage and regret.

Why doesn’t she change me? Why doesn’t she love me?

I have more memories.

I am six or seven or eight, and my sister tells me that if I have to pee, it’s okay to pee inside her.

My sister teaches me to play five minutes in the closet. Confusion and fear and disgust fill the dark space. She teaches me other games. She threatens suicide. On one occasion, she brings her friend over to play with me.

Years stretch on. I wish they would end, wish I would end.

On a vacation with dad, she and I share a room, a bed, her on top of me again as she’d done too many times to remember. That dark, dreadful feeling in my stomach. She cries, stops, apologizes. I roll over, utter the only words my pre-adolescent, people-pleasing mind could find. “It’s okay.”

My sister leaves for college. I am 12 or 13. I think it’s over.

Every day, the boy would find ways to numb his pain and avoid the constant question in the back of his mind: “What’s wrong with me?”.

I saw very little of my sister in the ensuing years. She would come home for the holidays, that dreadful time of year filled with constant conflict. Our overbearing, controlling mother would kick into overdrive, tripling the ever-present tension. Visitation with my father was always a point of contention, but especially so in December. While I never really knew him as a drinker, my father was an alcoholic, something my mother would never let us forget. In a twisted dance of wills, she would simultaneously push him away from us, yet keep him roped in to her life. Having my sister come home for the holidays just made everything so much worse.

I started smoking somewhere around 13 or 14, and I’m only now realizing my long-time battle with nicotine is probably rooted in my abuse. I started drinking occasionally around the same time. And smoking pot.

I floated through high school with only a few friendships, many of which revolved around drugs and alcohol. I kept my head down. At home, it was just my mother and I, and I did everything I could to avoid being there, to stay out from under her control. I got decent grades, stayed out of trouble (mostly). I hid my shame, my sorrow, my secret. I hid myself.

Freshman year of college I lied, told the school, I was living at home to avoid staying in the dorms. Too many people. Too many possibilities for my secret to spill. Instead, I lived with two friends in a crappy duplex a mile north of campus. I worked hard, attended classes, maintained appearances. I drank a lot, learned to be highly functional. We snorted coke, dropped acid, thrashed on our instruments at all hours. My secret faded fast, neglected, but not forgotten.

During Christmas break that year my roommates went back home to spend time with their family. I drank wine by myself, watched TV, thought about ending it all. By chance, my two best friends from high school showed up at my door in time to keep those dark spots from consuming and obliterating me.

I was still too close to home, too close to the pain.

The following year I moved to another college a few hours away, abandoned the hard drugs, but the alcohol and cigarettes traveled with me. Five years later I left with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. My secret lay buried under a mountain of grief, denial, self-hatred, and hard work, so far out of view as to be invisible. I had successfully tuned out the background noise of my abuse.

I moved on, still hating myself, still hiding myself. I worked, married, had children, got a second master’s degree, excelled at my career, lived a seemingly reasonable and successful life. I drank sometimes. I smoked all the time. I forgot what I could.

Somewhere in that life the overwhelming feeling of always being in the wrong room became unbearable, and I sought therapy. My first therapist told me that everyone hated their job and that I should just suck it up. I stopped seeing him, but I took his advice.

I sucked it up, held it in.

After my children were born, I realized I needed to try therapy again. How could I help my children if I couldn’t even help myself? My next therapist was much more compassionate. She helped me as best she could, but without the context I’d buried deep under those feelings, her help only took me so far.

But, one day, many, many years later, the boy’s mother died.

My mother passed away in July 2017. I was there, along with my brother and two sisters. She didn’t go quietly. My siblings would say she went out trying to sing. I think she suffered pain and torment and sorrow.

I think she knew.

Her funeral was not well attended. She was a creative person who likely had the creativity beaten, perhaps even molested, out of her as a child. She never asked for the help she needed, help that may have changed everything, and so she treated the world as if it were her enemy. I read some of her poetry at her funeral, and as I did so, I cried, my tears a blend of grief and relief.

She was gone. I was glad.

Because of that, the boy’s secret shame began to claw its way out.

In the following months as we settled my mom’s estate, I spent more time around my sister than I had since she first left home for college. My anxious, restless shame stirred, clawed at my consciousness.

I sucked it up, held it in.

My sister left again, and I thought it was over again. I continued therapy. The progress was slow, as the work always is.

I attended a writer’s conference in May 2019. These were people I was eager to be around, to grow existing friendships and make new ones. But the secret had begun burrowing out from under a lifetime’s worth of self-hatred, anger, and malaise. I should have been socializing, but instead I bought a couple bottles of liquor and hid myself away in my room. I drank. I smoked. I tried to keep on forgetting.

The secret finally unfolded, a poisoned flower, and showed me in a mirror of bourbon that I can’t expect anyone to like me if I don’t even like myself.


Next week we will have Part Two of David’s story. If you would like to share your story, a reflection, a poem, some creative expression of your journey, your healing, your movement to thriving please let me know. You can email me at mike@menhealing.org or use the form in the sidebar under Join the MenHealing Blog and I will be in touch. Remember, you matter! Your story matters!

Be well. Stay safe. Take good care.

Mike

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