Reclaiming Childhood – Part Two

StowOH3My goal for revisiting the house on Mohican Road was to connect with my childhood and trigger memories. I started Monday morning with a common childhood breakfast – Quaker instant oatmeal. The hotel even had my two favorite flavors, Maple & Brown Sugar and Cinnamon & Spice. I had a bowl of each for good measure! Then I got into my rental car and made the short drive to Stow.

As I drove through the center of town, I began to recognize street names I had not heard since I moved away from Stow in 1975 – Gay Road, Graham Road. Emotion began to bubble up.  Then I drove by Highland Elementary School where I had attended kindergarten and the first half of first grade. Memories started coming back.

I drove down the hill on Kay Drive where, as a preschooler one day, I had reached over from the passenger seat and turned the car key to the “off” position while my mom was driving us home. I had been curious what would happen to the car. Yes, memories were coming back.

When I reached Mohican Road, I didn’t need a map to know that I needed to turn left to get to my old house. But, with no conscious thought, my hands turned the wheel to the right. Apparently I wasn’t ready to go there yet.

I explored the other direction. I passed three streets before I reached the end. None of the names sounded familiar. But by the time I turned the car around, I remembered Kenwood Drive. I made a left on Kenwood Drive and drove up the hill back toward my old school. I recognized a house I had visited many times. I had a friend who lived there. We used to ride our bikes down that hill yelling, “Burnin’ out the woods!” I had not thought of that phrase in forever. I reached the top of the hill and noticed the street sign, Rose Drive.

A most interesting thing happened, that street name triggered a warm feeling. I remembered walking past that spot with two friends on the way home from school. We were talking about football, specifically Joe Namath. Turning on to Rose Drive on Monday, October 30, 2017 marked the first time in my life I remember experiencing a positive feeling about my childhood.

I turned left and rolled slowly toward the path that lead up to Highland.  I had walked it many times as a child. I gazed across the field of grass and focused on the scene. I was surprised at how connected I was becoming with a childhood I had forgotten. I did a three-point turn on Rose Drive and turned right on Kenwood Drive.

When I reached Mohican Road, I turned left toward my old house. As I neared the stop sign between me and the house, emotion surfaced again. When I saw the house across the street, tears erupted. I pulled over and let my emotion out. What began as anger soon gave way to sadness. I sat in the car and cried for the little boy whose spirit was nearly suffocated by something he didn’t know how to process. I mourned the loss of a childhood I should have been able to enjoy.

When the tears stopped, I got out of the car and began walking. I walked the route I had just driven, up Kenwood Drive toward the corner of Rose Drive. I appreciated the beauty of the fall leaves and the patches of blue sky visible between the clouds. I greeted a few residents who were out on a morning walk. As I walked up the hill, I was aware my emotions were changing. The heavy sadness was lifting, and gladness was emerging.

I turned back when I reached the corner at Rose Drive. I realized there was nothing more I needed to see. Something incredibly powerful had happened during my visit to my old neighborhood. That coating of shame, sadness and fear had melted from my memories. I was actually feeling joy!

As I walked back down the hill, a phrase repeatedly echoed in my mind. “Trust your gut.” Many times I’ve wondered if the picture on the puzzle I’ve pieced together is real. It’s a common dynamic among sexual trauma survivors. “Am I crazy? Am I just making this up?” The evidence is overwhelming, but doubt still lingers. If you have been there, you understand. StowOH1

I did not hear an audible voice in that moment, but the effect was equally as powerful – assurance, peace. My faith gives me confidence that the phrase was prompted by a Spirit infinitely more powerful than mine.

When I got back to my car, I decided to swing by Highland Elementary School before leaving town. I drove to the school and parked, then took a few pictures from the street out front. I followed the concrete walkway to the entrance and slipped in with another visitor as they were buzzed in. (I’m sure I violated security procedure, but I doubted “I went to first grade here forty-two years ago and I want to come in” would gain me entrance!)

StowOH2I walked into the office, introduced myself, and said, “I went to kindergarten and first grade here forty-two years ago and I just wanted to come in.” The office staff verified that I had violated security procedure, but they were gracious. I mentioned the names of my teachers, Mrs. Saltis and Miss Wise. The office staff did not know of them. But a long-time teacher had walked into the office behind me, and she had Mrs. Saltis as a kindergarten teacher also!

We talked. She reminded me of an annual field trip that class took. It was to a farm just a few blocks from the school. When she described it, my memory of going there and petting the animals surfaced. I remembered how much I had enjoyed that experience! We chatted for a couple more minutes, then I mentioned I had a flight to catch in Pittsburgh and needed to head out.

I have always felt weak. Core beliefs that have plagued me since early childhood include “people want to hurt me” and “I’m powerless.” The last time I had walked out the door of Highland Elementary School was the beginning of Christmas break, 1975. I did so a wounded little boy, feeling dirty, shameful and afraid. But on this day, I walked out feeling joyful, confident and whole.

I don’t know that I can adequately describe how good it felt to reclaim my childhood the morning of October 30. I was almost giddy. Like Ebenezer Scrooge awaking on Christmas morning, my perspective had changed and something inside was very different.

On the way out of town, I stopped by Dunkin’ Donuts to pick up a few donuts and a hot chocolate for the road. The friendly server working behind the counter greeted me with the customary, “How are you today?”

“I’m good. Actually, I’m very good.” And for the first time in a very, very long time, I truly was. And I know I’m going to be.

Reclaiming Childhood – Part One

I have practically no memory of life prior to a pervasive sense of shame and secrecy around sex. It was a dark cloud that settled into every nook and cranny of my being. From the moment I awoke to the moment I fell asleep, intrusive thoughts and images occupied my mind.

I clarify my statement with “practically” because I have a few snapshot memories around age 2. They are from the first of two houses I called home in Stow, Ohio. I remember a swing set and sand box in the back yard and listening to records on the big console stereo in the living room. I remember getting a “bed night snack” in the kitchen, my mom reading to me in the recliner, and my sister explaining to me what “weekend” meant. That’s about the sum total of my memories in that house. They are my only memories before the dark cloud appeared.

I have no concrete memory of what created the dark cloud. And the absence of that memory has been the single biggest frustration of my life. Years of trying to make myself remember have been fruitless. As a counselor who specializes in sexual trauma, I know attempting to force a repressed memory into the stream of conscious thought is counterproductive, even potentially harmful. But as a survivor of an early sexual encounter, that knowledge has not squelched my desire to remember.

While the memory of what happened was locked in the vault of repression, the effects were not. Having the door to sexuality opened early in my childhood put me on a path that nearly destroyed my life. I didn’t ask for it, I didn’t want it and I sure didn’t understand it, but I had to live with the aftermath. And I had no clue how to do that.

I have learned a lot since beginning recovery in 2002, about myself and the dynamics of sexual addiction. Add to that pool of knowledge a master’s degree in counseling and multiple post-graduate courses in sexual trauma. I’ve put a lot of pieces of the puzzle together over the past 15 years. I know a 4-year-old doesn’t simulate sex out of nowhere. Fantasy is often the mind’s attempt to correct a trauma. Compulsive behavior has a root. The body stores emotional memory in a powerful way, and when it gets triggered it can be overwhelming. Forty-five years later I still don’t remember what created the dark cloud, but I know something did. And I know what house I lived in when it happened.


My second childhood home in Stow was on a quiet neighborhood street, Mohican Road. Several families with children my age lived nearby. I lived there for about three years, but I’ve never had many memories of life at that house. (When the mind blocks out a memory, it often blocks out large chunks of them.) And the few I do have, they have always felt dingy. It’s as though someone took my childhood memories and coated them with shame, sadness and fear. Even memories that should evoke joy like learning to tie my shoes, pushing the lawnmower with my dad, riding my Big Wheel – these memories have always been accompanied by flat affect. The balloon of my childhood joy was deflated early on.

Since beginning recovery, I’ve done a good bit of work around my early sexual experience. In the absence of a concrete memory it’s been difficult, but I’ve worked with the pieces of the puzzle that I’ve had. I’ve worked through a mountain of shame. And like trying to escape quicksand, I’ve struggled with feeling powerless. I’m grateful for the progress I’ve made, and I watch for opportunities to continue healing.

Last month I presented a weekend workshop on sexuality at the Stop Nine Church in Byesville, Ohio, less than two hours from Stow. I thought that visiting my childhood home could be a healing experience, so I made plans to take a detour through Stow before my return flight home on Monday.  Friday morning as I was leaving for Ohio, I typed the address for the house on Mohican Road into Google Maps. I wanted to verify how long the drive from Byesville would take.

When the address popped up, I clicked on the street view. There it was, just as I remembered – a two-story house with a grassy front lawn. My childhood home of forty-two years ago appeared to be in much better shape than I expected! I swiped right, then left, checking out the houses next door. They looked like I had pictured in my mind. But I certainly did not anticipate what happened next.

StowOH5On a whim I started to turn the view to the house across the street. From the core of my being instantly came the thought, “Don’t do that!” Too late, my finger had already swiped the screen revealing the house. The emotion flooded over me in an instant! Anger, disgust – I don’t recall a time when I have felt more raw anger. The tears erupted. There was no visual memory, but the emotional memory was unmistakable.

That experience Friday morning sealed my resolve to return to my childhood home Monday morning. Fortunately I had a most enjoyable and encouraging experience speaking at the Stop Nine Church. The connections made with the leaders and several members over the weekend filled my emotional reserves. It left me in a good place for the emotional roller coaster ride that was coming.

(to be continued)


Please set aside your politics.  This post is not about the 2016 presidential election or a particular candidate. Let me emphasize, NOT about any particular candidate. It is about something much more important.

News cycles for the past week have been filled with allegations, conjecture, denials and deflections related to sexual exploitation and abuse of numerous women. Both major party candidates have their individual baggage related to the issue, and every voter will make his or her decision about who to support as the chaos continues.

Listening to the barrage of media commentary  in recent days, I have been struck by the dehumanizing and calloused discussions among individuals on both sides of the political fence.  Among the many alarming comments I’ve heard is the questioning of why a victim of unwanted sexual touch would wait “so long” to bring it up.  I’d like to offer my perspective on that one.

It is the summer of 1984.  I am 16-years-old.  I am a camper at a Bible camp in North Carolina.  It is just after midnight of the first night.  I wake up in the middle of a thunderstorm and discover that my sleeping bag is soaking wet; there is a leak in the roof above my top bunk.  I lay awake for what seemed like eternity, not wanting to bother anyone with my problem.  Eventually I muster the courage to wake up an adult chaperone in the cabin, a youth minister popular in that region.  I inform him that my bunk is wet and ask what I should do.  He responds, “You can sleep with me.”

He opens his sleeping bag and instructs me to lay down next to him.  I just want to go to sleep.  He wants something very different.  What happens next should never happen to anyone, but it happens.  It is unwanted, non-consensual and devastating. Eventually I pretend to be asleep.  It stops. I am silent…for 17 years.

I type these words sitting in a Chick-fil-A surrounded by the spectacular beauty of Superior, CO.  I have dealt with my abuse experience in therapy. I have shared this story on four continents and across the US as a speaker on sexual issues.  I have a masters degree in counseling and specialized training in sexual trauma & abuse.  I have worked with scores of sexual trauma survivors over the past 10 years.  Yet, I am still holding back tears as I write and sipping on my second Cookies and Cream milkshake to calm the emotion that has been stirred. The effects of unwanted sexual touch are a deep mine shaft drilled long ago – always there.

The fact that I was abused 32 years ago does not lessen the impact it had on my life.  The fact that I waited 17 years to disclose the details does not mean it did not happen!  The fact that I have not confronted the youth minister that perpetrated the abuse does not excuse his behavior or remove his responsibility for it.  And what HE did most definitely is not MY fault.

The abuse that occurred in a relatively brief period of time resulted in consequences that hurt me, my wife and my children.  Sexuality is attached to the core of our being, and it effects every aspect of our person – mental, emotional, behavioral, relational and spiritual.  Trivializing the impact of sexual abuse, devaluing victims or attempting to silence their voices, be it from perpetrators or society at large, are inexcusable responses! Male or female, as individuals made in the image of the Creator, every person deserves much, much better than that.

If you are voting in the 2016 American presidential election, by all means vote for the candidate you choose to support.  But please, please don’t allow your political fervor to turn a topic deserving of respect and sensitivity into a political chess piece. I choose to believe that we are still better than that.  We certainly should be.