On October 1, 1992, when I was 21-years old, my father was killed in an automobile accident.
It wasn’t so much an accident as it was a brutal, almost unbelievable confluence of occasions. He was a car dealer seeing the Indianapolis Auto Auction to acquire some used vehicles for his car dealer down in Columbus, Indiana. Mom had really told him to not attend work because he had been fighting a stomach bug. Around 8:30 in the morning, Dad was standing in a garage stall command on a GMC Sonoma when a Ford Bronco with a tacky accelerator came hurtling out of the repo line. It pinned my dad from the back bumper of the Sonoma, virtually cutting him in half at the torso. He died almost immediately, or at least I expect he did.
Dad left behind a wife and marriage of 23 years, two sons and two daughters. I was the earliest. My sisters were 15 and 18. My brother, when my dad chose to reverse his vasectomy in his forties, a child conceived, was only 4 years old. Our family was crippled by the loss with grief and despair. Mother became the saddest of widows, plunging herself into a haze of antidepressants and awful relationships, never quite getting over her loneliness. My sisters would both move west to California, apparently to go to school but to escape their despair. My little brother only wanted his dad to come home.
For about nine months after Dad died, I was a walking cliche, a classic train wreck that is emotional, acting out at every turn: self destructive, promiscuous, intoxicated, and high much of the time. I did anything I could to try to ignore the depression that had taken over my entire life as well as the hole in my heart. It looked like that behavior would become my entire life.
As well as the dreadful loss I faced, I harbored a secret while my father was living I refused to accept. It was for him to know something so heinous I couldn’t bear: I was sexually abused by my father’s best friend–my godfather–until I was 10-years-old. With how and when I’d tell people I wrestled. Somehow my father’s death gave me permission to excavate it from a concealed compartment in my head.
But before I even had the opportunity to share, something began to change in my own life. I did something that was either brave or foolhardy, or maybe even a little of both. I let life happen. I met an awesome girl and fell in love. I got married; what’s more, I Have made that union stick for going on 18 years and have three wonderful children to reveal for this.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
My Godfather Is a Pedophile
In the fall of 1995, I got my opportunity to release my weight. My lovely wife and that I had been married for only two months. As she finished up nursing school, we were living within an apartment in Ypsilanti, Michigan. A few weeks after the third anniversary of my father’s passing, my mom called. I could tell from the sound of her voice that she had been crying. I braced myself for the worst, again.
“Your godfather tried to commit suicide yesterday,” she said.
My dad was an only child. He was raised by an alcoholic and abusive mom and also a sweet-natured, big-hearted father. In his buddies, Father sought solace on those days when Grandmother’s love was measured by the amount of a switch and Grandpa was not there to shield him. One particular friend was Ron, a guy Father would come to regard as his brother. For each seminal moment in my dad’s life, “Uncle Ron” was there. He was Father’s best man. He stood watch over Dad’s first-born son (me), both as Godfather at my baptism and later as my confirmation sponsor. The eulogy was given by him at Dad’s funeral. Mom walked down the aisle. Our wedding reception was the final time we spoke. I even felt guilty for not keeping in touch those last eight weeks because in my head he was still my godfather, leading up to his attempted suicide.
“Is he okay?” I asked.
“The paramedics got to him just in time, and they found a word,” said my mother.
“A suicide note?”
“A suicide note, a confession, whatever you need to call it,” Mom said. “It is terrible, Brian. It is extremely awful. Your godfather was charged with child molestation and criminal deviate conduct. He is been molesting young boys, his middle school students. Uncle Ron is a pedophile.”
Uncle Ron is a pedophile. I let those words roll around in my own head for a few seconds, seeking in vain for the right strategy to process the revelation. Memories came flooding back to me. The requirement to express something, now, overcame me.
“Brian,” Mom continued. “A portion of me is almost glad your dad is dead, because this would have killed him.”
Silence on both ends of the telephone. My pulse quickened. My chest was tight. I had to tell her. “I understand this would have killed Dad,” I said. “And that’s the reason why I never told anyone about what Uncle Ron did to me for the first ten years of my entire life. He abused me too.”
My mom was stunned. I’d concealed it so well.
Everyone deals mental, physical, sexual or otherwise–in their very own manner that is very private. I had many bouts of depression. I abused alcohol. My skewed understandings of intimacy and sexuality led me to objectify women and nearly derail my union. But ultimately, I let life happen. While I cannot distill it right into a step-by-step instruction manual, I wish to share my story plus some of my philosophy for many who have similar situations.
Be Epic but Humble. As someone who writes for a living, I can’t help but love Oprah Winfrey for how many people she has brought back to reading novels. That being said, sometimes she goes a little too far with her armchair psychology, perpetuating a culture of victimhood that insists truth can be derived through hyper and tears -avowal. Overwhelming abuse is heroic, and yes, we should be lauded, but I think we also have to be careful to not allow abuse to define us.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey, there is an average of 207,754 sufferers (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year. There are 525,600 minutes in a non-leap year. That makes 31,536,000 seconds per year. 31,536,000 broken up by 207,754 comes out to one every 152 seconds minutes., or about one every two Translation: There are plenty of us in this lifeboat. A lot of us feel broken, but the word “victim” need not be synonymous with maltreatment. For me, not treating myself as a victim, and learning the difference between flailing and flying, is a far more powerful restoration mantra.
Give Yourself Permission to Despise. My abuse happened at such a young age that by the time I ‘d the mental tools to recognize that it proved to be a lousy thing, I had long since created two separate and distinct Uncle Ron personas: The Godfather as well as The Monster. The Godfather was the guy I loved and Father’s brother, the guy everyone adored. The Monster was this shadowy figure who enjoyed sticking his own hand down the front side in their underwear and crawling into bed.
It was that his departure gave me permission to completely comprehend Uncle Ron as The Monster, if there is a silver lining to losing my father. I was twenty four years old, and to that point had chalked up my pre- union promiscuity and compulsive masturbation to hormones, not my own personal demons. Telling my wife, and then my mother, actualized the abuse. I’ve been to the therapist’s couch. I’ve read my share of self-helps books. I understand all about giving myself permission to grieve and permission to forgive. But seriously, I was being given permission to loathe by step one in my recovery. It may well not seem politically correct, but it was not emotionally incorrect for my recovery. It could be that after you let that actual feeling to increase you could find your path beyond it, but it was important not to cheat myself out of the chance to really feel hatred toward the individual who’d damage me.
Love and Laugh. When I think back to the twenty something young man who used to drink a bottle of hundred-proof peppermint schnapps just to get through the day, I fight linking to him. Once you have given yourself permission to despise, flip the script. Learn how to love yourself, learn how to love others, and most importantly, learn how to laugh.
Humor is an underrated tonic. For the closest bottle of Class IV narcotics, my mom usually reaches like far too lots of people when she is feeling down. Conversely, I place Caddyshack in the DVR and have farting competitions with my kids. Create a set of things you find humorous, and pull that list out when depression starts to reach. How many times have you been to a funeral home and observed the surprising and unexpected transition from tears? It happened at my dad’s wake. The heart desires to heal. It is your brain that gets in the manner.
Find Your Treatment. The journey forward from mistreatment is an extremely personal one. I’ve discussed to careful strangers with fancy degrees and sat on a sofa. My mother’s struggles notwithstanding, I’ve seen prescription anti-depressants significantly enhance the lives of a lot of folks. Neither of the approaches works for me, and I suspect a lot of people find themselves in this limbo between modern psychiatry and medicine that is Western. The final step is learning just how to direct that self-confidence and humility to find your treatment once you’ve figured out how to be epic but humble.
Since conventional treatment failed to work, I took to writing my story in the form of a fictional account of my encounter. I poured my heart, soul, and private pain into my debut novel, Exotic Music of the Belly Dance. It is a coming of age story of a boy who loses his father and is mistreated by his monstrous uncle. Sound familiar? Brian Sweany became “Hank Fitzpatrick,” Uncle Ron became “Uncle Mitch,” and everything I ever desired to say to him played out on the webpage. Calling my book just a “novel” is an understatement. It ended up being a catharsis. It was my therapy. Perhaps yours is additionally writing. Perhaps it’s eighteen holes with your best friend. Perhaps it’s an early morning jog when the day is fresh and full of chance. Maybe it is talking to your professional and taking medicine. Regardless of what your therapy could be, merely find it.
Move Forwards. I don’t know if I ‘ll ever completely recover from my own personal disasters, but does anyone? Spoiler alert: I’m nowhere near “healed.” My intimacy issues stay, I try overly hard to be liked, and that I seldom stop at that second cocktail. And yet, I ‘ve a wife who adores me. My three kids at least pretend I am the most awesome guy on the block. My brother, now twenty-five years-old, is not waiting for his dad to come home because he looks up as his dad to me.
I’ve decided to live my life, not just survive it. Brave or foolhardy, or possibly even a little of both, I would rather let life happen.
Exotic Music of the Belly Dancer, was released by The Writers Coffee Shop Publishing House in May 2013. His second novel is due out in 2014. His godfather is currently a registered sex offender. Follow Brian on Twitter@briansweany.