Why I Share My Story
By Larry Ruhl
As an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I face many challenging questions. Is it truly possible to move through the shame I carry every day? Can I have a full life without depending on mind-numbing drugs and alcohol? And the hardest question of all: Do I tell? But how do I tell? Who do I tell? What happens if I do tell?
My decision to share my story was not easy. I‘ve heard I should be over it by now. By this age, forty-five, the pain, confusion, and shame should’ve magically dissipated. They haven’t. But I’ve found safe ways to navigate my world.
It’s been suggested I’m betraying my father and my family by publishing Breaking the Ruhls. And those suggestions are from people I’ve trusted. A friend shares her concerns about bullying. But it’s not me she’s concerned about. She’s concerned for my father, the man who sexually abused me. She says if he’s harmed in any way, because I’ve shared my story, the responsibility for that harm falls on me. I steady myself. Does she realize she’s aligning herself with a pedophile? I ask, “What would you suggest? That I not publish?” She suggests I wait until he’s dead.
Did you know people tell actual “jokes” about sexual abuse? Since I’m gay, a friend chose to tell me I got my “experience” early, referring to my father as my first lover. At a party, a man chose to lighten up the conversation around the subject matter of my book by telling an offensive joke about a child and an adult. I hear casual chatter that romanticizes and sexualizes young children, referring to their young perfect bodies.
Society continues to blame victims. Shame and guilt are piled on victims, with devastating consequences. Young children are told by the adults who should protect them, to remain silent, to keep secrets. Women are accused of ”asking for it” if they dress certain ways. Adult male victims keep quiet, guilty for not being “man enough” to fight off an aggressor. Those who do finally speak out risk character assassination and worse, at the hands of their more powerful abusers.
I grew up with my own Golden Rule, or Golden Ruhl, as my father called it: silence and secrecy. This made his abuse our special covenant.
Sexual abuse reaches into every corner of the population, and leads to countless cases of addiction, suicide, eating disorders, depression, and anxiety. And more.
My dark rage hums beneath the surface. Alcoholism took me by storm. Anxiety plagued me since childhood, evolving into debilitating panic attacks as an adult. I’ve questioned my sexuality repeatedly.
And my father wasn’t the lurking, sinister predator many imagine pedophiles to be. He was a friendly, fun loving, and well-liked guy. He fixed cars for a living, a “masculine” trade. He was an usher in our church, and always willing to lend a hand. Behind the scenes, he was sentimental. He left flowers in my bedroom, instructing me on how to properly preserve them: a way to always remember my old man.
By sharing our stories, especially the most painful and shameful pieces, we can shed our own shame and find unity, compassion, and understanding for one another.
For me, the camaraderie with other survivors of sexual abuse is paramount. Eye contact often signals understanding and belief without question. Soothing murmurs of “me too” pass among the group, as you describe triggers that still ruin your days.
Accepting what my father did has seemed, at times, unfathomable. Accepting my mother’s betrayal has been equally hard. I was groomed to nurture her. In her mind, I was the only one who knew how to make her feel special. In turn, I believed that my mother loved and needed me. That false sense allowed me to feel that I mattered, in her eyes.
I’ve grappled with how much my mother knew about my father’s frequent trips to my bedroom. But I was brought up to forgive and forget. I‘ve found ways to achieve the former, but will never allow for the latter.
I am a victim of childhood sexual abuse, but I am also a survivor. Each is significant.
“Victim” is what I was. It’s still hard to accept. “Survivor” is what I am. I lived through that now unfathomable time, and I do indeed heal. My path to healing has no end date. It ebbs and flows, and changes course at unexpected junctures. But it moves forward, still.
I share my story to help others believe that healing is possible.