My Date with PTSD
Friday, July 13th, 2012 • PTSD Guest Post: Professional Perspective •
It took a long time, actually decades, for us to recognize each other. I was sexually molested by many men and women and it started very early in life. It damaged me in ways it took years to understand. For decades I thought I was fine and everyone else was screwed up. What a surprise I had coming.
The nightmare was ever present, the same one, the same pain and the same terror. There seemed to be no way to erase it. Relational issues were a constant and my wife frequently told me I was depressed. “How dare she! I was just ME” I didn’t’ realize that I was living in an emotional cave, it was all I could remember and maybe all I had ever known. For me that was “normal” and it was really irritating for someone, anyone, to say my normal was wrong, sick and dysfunctional. I spent hours in the confines of counselor offices and each has made a contribution to my healing. However, it was not until the early 90’s, and I in my early 50”s that things really started to happen.
Sitting in our bedroom with my wife and daughter one evening watching the news an interview came on. As Frank Fitzpatrick discussed his experience of child sexual abuse at the hands of Father James Porter, a switch flipped and suddenly the nightmare became clear and the memories flooded back. I knew in an instant the source of my trauma, but it took time to see and understand better the true scope. At this point I started going to counselors who specialized in the issue of child sexual abuse and over the next few years, I was able to piece together many of the memories that had haunted me as fragments on a day-to-day basis. From the moment I listened to Frank Fitzpatrick’s interview, I have never had the nightmare again. This alone was a life changing relief, since I could actually sleep through the night.
After we moved to Georgia, I found a new counselor and he was the first to diagnose me as having PTSD. We went through the very systematic approach of surfacing and dealing with life events. The process gave me a new measure of calm and confidence that these experiences could be addressed and didn’t need to control my life. This was new information for me and probably welcomed by my family. However, even with this progress, it felt like something very important was missing. My openness and candor in a counseling office was refreshing, but in the outside world, I was much the same. I stopped the counseling because I felt I was no longer progressing.
Retirement brought a new set of challenges. Without travel, projects and meetings to occupy my mind, the depression and isolation became prominent parts of daily life. While I was able to see my problems and challenges more clearly, true healing had eluded me. Then one Sunday I sat in Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, GA looking at the bulletin and one line jumped off the page—“Support Group for Adult Survivors of Child sexual Abuse.” I carried the bulletin for weeks before I found the courage to join the group. Once there I listened to other men and women tell their story of childhood sexual abuse. It was an eye-opening time for me. At the end, I finally spoke and realized that I had found the missing piece for me. I didn’t know these folks and they were not officially bound to secrecy. I had truly broken my silence for the first time. As I left that night I weighed 150 pounds lighter. It was an amazing transformation. It launched me on a path to use my abuse as a talent to help others and advocate for the protection of children. It was in the support group that I learned to trust people again. It was there that I was able to understand that impervious walls are not boundaries, just as porous ones aren’t. It was there I learned to have true friends.
Three years later, I have been able to use those experiences to rebuild my life, my personal boundaries and my image of self. I have more joy in my life that I ever remember. My faith is stronger and God uses me every day to minister to others in ways I could never have imagined. Forgiveness for the many perpetrators that violated me came slowly at first, but Jeremiah 17: 9-10 helped me to understand the foundation for true justice and to leave it in God’s hands. Today, rage has been replaced with outrage, Shame has been replaced with a compelling mission and the need for vengeance has been replaced with compassion and understanding. The predators took much of the joy and happiness of my 65 years, they will not have any say in the future.
PTSD and I have met and we have talked. The wisdom of other’s struggles has been passed to me and healing and freedom have launched me into the future, no longer stagnating and festering in the past.
I am me. I wanted to be someone else, but they were all taken. Healing has taught me to love and appreciate being me.
Bio: Tom Scales, Executive Director, VOICE Today, Inc.
Tom Scales holds three degrees; a BS from Wheeling College, MSfrom Villanova Universityand an MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Scales is retired from a 30-year career in the healthcare industry, which included a broad range of executive assignments domestically and internationally. He is a certified trainer in workshops that educate adults on the dangers of child sexual abuse and explaining safe practices to protect children. In addition, he has written workshops to highlight the impact of divorce, grooming, boundaries and workplace challenges in the life of the child and the adult survivor. Scales is a survivor of child sexual abuse and the author of “Terrible Things Happened to Me: A True Story of Violence and Victory.” Tom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions express in this piece solely represent those of the author.