Sharing the Secret that Haunts and Impacts You
This month’s thriver blog comes from Steve Peacock who is claiming his voice and sharing it to benefit both survivors and supporters. We thank Steve for his courage and his heart.
The Opportunity: High School Homecoming
As I sat in my high school gym for the first time in over thirty years, my hands began to sweat, my body tensed up, my stomach initiated evacuation signals, and my mind begged for time to advance to warp speed. This time was also different for another reason, I wasn’t there to listen to a speaker, I was the speaker
I stood alone on the podium and looked briefly out at the audience of over 500 male students, their faculty, and administrators from a number of neighboring schools. I tried to collect myself before jumping into my remarks. I had envisioned this moment for the past few months. As with most big events, my fantasies ranged from fearful to joyful. Would they listen? Would they care? Would they validate? Would they celebrate?
I wasn’t sure where to start, or what tone to use. Thankfully, I did know exactly what to say. I had carefully written a script and practiced scores of times in front of various audiences of friends and family. This was too important to just follow my usual path of having broad concepts in my mind, carelessly uttered, coalescing somehow over the course of the monologue to a reasonably satisfactory landing – reasonably as invariably I would later think of important points I had omitted.
For a millisecond, my life passed before my eyes – how did I get from grade school to high school to college to a three-decade career in finance, to my own family, to becoming an empty-nester, to this very moment?
I slowly picked up my papers, checked the presentation screen for the correct images, and began.
The Message: My Painful Secret
Thank you for the warm welcome. And thank you to McQuaid for giving me the opportunity to do something I could not do nearly 40 years ago. I entered McQuaid a bit scared and nervous but generally excited. Feelings that I actually have today, right now. You see, a number of my brothers had attended McQuaid so it was very familiar, already a big part of my experience.
However, I held a secret. A secret that I had told no other living soul. A secret that I would keep to myself for over a decade. One that would haunt and impact me to the present day.
And here it is – I was sexually abused – just a short few years before walking onto the Freshman Football field in August of 1984. A field where I came to life, a building, this building, where I excelled academically, and a campus that gave me even more brothers than I already had.
Over those decades, I held myself responsible for participating in the abuse that I endured, for not being strong enough to stop it, for not saying anything to anyone after it was over, AND for several more decades of public silence as well as my own sexually inappropriate behavior.
A few months ago, I shared my story with my extended family, and shortly thereafter I shared it with Congressional representatives. Two weeks ago, I shared it with over 400 colleagues (I actually said colleges- whoops!) at work on World Mental Health Day. Today, I will share it with all of you.
I could not have done that if my childhood self did not survive. He survived, so now I can do what he never felt comfortable doing. He did the hard part – he did what he needed to do to survive. I not only forgive him now, but I also celebrate him. He is a survivor, I am a survivor, and here is my story.
It took me a long time to recognize that I was a survivor.
- That what was done to me was not my fault, that I bore no responsibility at all.
- That I did what I needed to do to get through, and passed, something that nobody should ever have to endure, yet so many of us do.
My most recent therapist opened my eyes to the reality that I built a suit of armor, or perhaps more accurately, humor and emotional distance to protect myself from a world that was not as it should be – to hide myself and my feelings from even those closest to me just to survive.
I shared with the students, and now you, that my eventual disclosure a decade after the final humiliating abuse did little to ease the pain or regrow the parts that had deadened. Instead, the responses that I interpreted as apathy or ignorance, left me lonely, isolated, and misunderstood.
Those feelings only intensified over time as the thing that haunted me every day fell off everyone else’s radar, save that of my wife, my sister, and a few high school friends. This led decades later to a fateful family event where my childhood was recreated and celebrated, and my withdrawal accelerated.
A few years later, I read the following four words that changed the trajectory of my life forever – “Sexual Assault Survivor Advocate” – the Linkedin header on the bio of the father of a courageous sexual assault survivor. This opened a door to another dimension for me, where I could begin to imagine a new life, an authentic life, a full life.
The Key Points: For Today and the Next Generation
One, for anyone else suffering in silence, know that you are not alone, it was not your fault and you didn’t do anything wrong. Know that there are people out there who care about you and will support you. We need to, and will, change the narrative to transfer the shame and the blame from survivors to where it rightly belongs – those that abused us.
Two, let’s start celebrating, rather than hiding our mental health journeys – that is the only way we can destigmatize one of the most important tools available to help with our recovery and healing.
Three, know that everyone has a role to play.
- For bystanders that means picking a side, standing up to those that seek to dehumanize other people through sexual, physical, and verbal abuse, as well as creating safe and supportive spaces for our classmates and community members who have been abused.
- For those tempted to use other people’s bodies for their own pleasure or personal gain, there is another way, far different from the path that leads to emptiness and constant fear of exposure by others like me. Actively think of the devasting lifelong impact that your actions can have on another human being as described today. And ask yourself – is it worth it?
I truly believe, have faith, that by all of us working together vigilantly in all of our spaces – work, school, community – we can actually forge a path to healthier lives, free from our invisible trauma and we can make progress towards stopping the vicious cycle of violence so woven into the fabric of our culture.
Thank you all for reading. And good luck knowing you are not alone wherever your journey goes from here.
In solidarity, Steve
We thank Steve for sharing his heart and his story to encourage this Thriver Tribe. When Steve and I first met, he signed his email to me with, “In solidarity.” I absolutely loved it because we are indeed stronger together, stronger in solidarity! Here’s to Thriving, Tambry
Steve claimed four words that changed the trajectory of my life forever – “Sexual Assault Survivor Advocate”. This opened a door to another dimension, one where he could begin to imagine a new life, an authentic life, a full life. This is the LinkedIn tagline of Alex Prout, co-founder of the I Have The Right To organization, and father of Chessy Prout, a courageous survivor of sexual assault in high school and an incredibly powerful advocate as well. Steve courageously shares his story to encourage others to share the secret that haunts them so they are no longer haunted by it.
Steve Peacock with Alexander Prout, founder of I Have The Right To
Talk To Tambry
I am glad you have taken the time to engage with this blog. Sometimes it is helpful to process new insights that emerge. If you would appreciate brief time with a someone who understands, our Talk to Tambry offering is for you. For 30 minutes, you can receive support from Tambry who is a certified life coach, spiritual director and a survivor who has been on the journey as well. This is offered at a reduced rate of $50.