By Mike Hoffman, Founder
After I told my story of childhood sexual abuse to my wife, I said I was fine. At the time, we had been married 12 years. We have 2 beautiful healthy children, a lovely home, good jobs, great friends and what I consider to be a blessed life. I was scared to introduce into my marriage such a sick and depraved story. I didn’t know if she would think differently of me as her husband, a provider and the father to our children. With my heart pounding in my chest, hands shaking, tears streaming down my face, I told her things that happened to me that I had never told anyone. I thought if I could tell her the story I would be fine. I would “get over it.”
Soon after that, I met Michael Bland, PsyD, DMin, LCPC and Leah McCluskey, LCSW, the 2 officials of the Archdiocese of Chicago who hear clergy abuse survivor’s stories and present the stories to the Review Board. I made the conscious decision that day to not hold back. I told them more details of the perverse and painful actions that my abuser imposed upon me when I was 12-16 years old. Again, I felt if I could tell my story to them, I would be fine.
As one aspect of that discussion, Dr. Bland made the offer that counseling services can be provided by the Archdiocese at no cost to me should I feel the need. I smiled and said, ‘thank you – no, I will be fine.” However, carrying that heartache with me, the recurrent painful memories, and the various triggers which set me back and caused me to lose sleep, lose weight, and be distracted from my wife and children, I realized that I was not fine. I realized that I needed help.
Up to that moment, I had never really asked anyone for help. Besides asking a friend to help move a couch, or carry some boxes during a move, or other things we all do for our spouses, or our children, I had never asked anyone for real help. I called Dr. Bland back and I told him that I was not fine, that I was struggling to get through each day and night, and I asked for his help. The next day he got back to me with the name of a therapist with an office convenient to my home and work.
I began individual counseling soon after that and I continued for 4 years. In addition, I participated in a support group of other childhood sexual abuse survivors for a year and a half. I look back fondly now at that time in my life because although it was painful to recall the many hurts of my youth and to understand the effect on me as an adult of my lost childhood innocence, I felt that I was on a journey of personal growth, and my therapist and the support group was helping me.
I had a misunderstanding of the mental health profession. Previously, knowing I had so much in my life that was going so well, I didn’t consider myself as needing help from a mental health professional. I thought I could get over it on my own. I was wrong and I am glad I finally asked for help – real help. Even though I still struggle with certain painful memories which can trigger pain and sadness, I have been helped along my healing journey by this therapeutic process. I am grateful to my therapist and the support group. As I move forward in my attempts to live a full, complete and healthy life, despite the abuse I endured, I have found inspiration and support from so many people. With all of that, and with God’s grace, I now feel free to be myself. I encourage any childhood sexual abuse survivor to ask for help.