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Guest Post: Therapy Helped Me Forgive My Grandfather
Trigger Warning: This Article Deals With Sexual Abuse and Harm against Children
In 2014, I started going to therapy. A friend told me about a free consultation so I decided to give it a shot. In that first session, I unloaded and realized how much I needed it. I kept going for 3 and a half more years until I just couldn’t afford it anymore. I believe that everyone should try therapy, and it should be affordable. During the three years that I went, I learned a lot about myself. I learned that I worry too much about what people think of me. I learned that I let people take advantage of me because I like to be liked. I learned that I’m very affable because I don’t like to upset people. That last lesson I learned because of a repressed memory. When I was a child, I was sexually abused by my grandfather.
My grandfather isn’t a bad guy. I met him for the first time when I was 7 while visiting Haiti with family. Before that, I’d only heard stories of the “hard-working tobacco farmer” named Jean that raised six children. He was the man that would give his daughters money to get new clothes and school supplies every year. He was the man that taught his kids the lessons I’d be taught as I grew up. He was the man that built a makeshift wall in a few hours to keep the neighbors from staring at me when I bathed in the backyard of my grandmother’s house. For some reason, I guess New Yorkers bathed differently and everyone in the town had to see it. He let me ride my first donkey, he carried me across a river and promised me a cow. He was a good guy. When I got older, I got the sense that good people can be complicated and good people can make mistakes.
My grandfather first visited the US when I was about 11. He ended up sleeping in my room, where we’d share a bed. It was one of those twin trundle beds where you could pull out the other bed from underneath. I slept on the bottom. I still find it difficult to talk about because it all seemed so dreamlike in the sense that I can’t remember when it began, how long it lasted or why it stopped. In fact, the only thing I do remember is the actual abuse and why I decided to do or say anything about it. One of my aunts had been living in Texas and decided to move back to New York with my two cousins, they were toddlers at the time. I don’t know why but I felt like I had to protect them, so when talk of grandpa coming to visit started, I had to break my silence.
I remember telling my mother and aunts what happened when I was younger. I remember them asking me if I was sure it happened and whether I could be confused about what actually transpired. I also remember this feeling of not getting any justice for myself, but I knew my cousins would be ok.
Years passed, and my grandfather passed as well. I didn’t go to Haiti for the funeral, but I would have gone if it were possible. Shortly after, one of my younger cousins fell in with a bad crowd and got into drugs and alcohol. The hardest part for me was just as I was starting to open up and become more vocal, he was closed off and found it difficult to express himself. It made it hard for the family to figure out what was going on. One night, both of our mothers were commiserating. They couldn’t figure out what “led him down this path” It was then that my aunt said, “It’s not like he was abused. We would have known.” To which I replied, “Yeah, and besides, that only happened to me.” It’s possible that they also repressed the memory of me telling them. It’s also possible they forgot I told them. Is it possible that I totally imagined telling them at all?
They looked at me like I was insane. “What are you talking about?” “When were you abused?” “Why didn’t you tell us?” At that moment, I was 12 years old again. I looked at the ground, at a loss for words, trying to explain what my now deceased grandfather did to me 20 years ago. The conversation did not go well. I was incredulous because how could something so vividly burned into my psyche be fake? To make matters worse, they explained it away saying, “Well, there’s nothing we can do about it now, he's passed away.” They might as well have said, “And look, you turned out fine, what’s the big deal?” What’s the big deal?
I’ve dealt with anxiety, anger issues, panic attacks, and this constant worry that I’ll end up alone because I always isolate myself, and I have a tendency to sabotage relationships and opportunities. What does “turning out fine” really mean? What does it look like? What my family probably saw was the relatively well-adjusted person that went to school, got a degree, and got a job. But under all of that was just a walking mass of insecurities that stem from something that happened 20-plus years ago. The kicker here is that when I decided to go to therapy (and it helped), I told my family, and they all asked me why I was going. “You seem fine.” The keyword there is "seem."
For more on this "seeming fine:"
My therapist was a huge help, and I hope to one day be able to afford to go back to on a regular basis. She helped me realize that what happened to me is a big deal. It’s a big deal that I was able to overcome the abuse. It’s a big deal because I was able to recognize the effects of sexual abuse on survivors, face them and continue to face them. One in every six men has been sexually assaulted or abused. Even less of them talk about it because they’re afraid of ridicule or rejection.
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Society will make you believe that boys who are sexually abused will never be real men because they didn’t fight back. People will find a reason to doubt survivors and make light of their abuse. When adult women abuse young boys, we call the boys lucky, why aren't we outraged that it's happening? What happens to us as children can’t be used to determine who we are as adults. How can anyone consider me less of a man because of the actions of a 70-year-old who took advantage of a child?
We talk about mental health issues being ignored all the time. Every time a school or a church is shot up, we bring up mental health. In sports, we’ve seen more and more professional athletes talk about their mental health every day. As it becomes more and more normalized, we should all take advantage and seek therapy. The strong and silent type have gone by the wayside with Jordache Jeans and corded phones. We’ve evolved in ways we haven’t even realized yet. We used to live in a society where men would die on the toilet because their diets consisted of steak, cigarettes, and whiskey. Now we have Metamucil and Activia to keep us regular. The same should go for mental health. You’re not a little bitch because you want to talk about your feelings. You’re a little bitch if you don’t.