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Not my Secret to Keep

Not my secret to keep…

For years I have tried to find out how people heal and move on from shame. In my search I have learned that people heal in different ways and on different timetables. As individuals, we will never find a blue print that will work for everyone. However, telling my story in the hopes that it may help one person is my way. This piece of writing is part of my healing. I will share my painful experience, giving up the secret I kept locked up tight for decades. Healing emotional pain is not easy. In fact, once you allow it to scar, the process of healing becomes harder. A scar in the place of an open wound is typically a good thing, but not when the wound does not heal right. This essay is about finding the strength to say out loud the things I do not want to remember and making the decision to heal. Before reading, I want you to understand that the purpose of my writing isn’t to shock you, or to build sympathy on my behalf. I have just been silent for so long that I refuse to censor myself.

I used to play in the basement, we all did, so when my father walked me down the stairs there was nothing strange about it. The front of the basement is where we played. The windows were in the front and the lights of the basement were in the middle, so it was always well lit. As I played I waited for my mother, brother, and sisters who would be home soon. My father had picked me up from my grandparents, but my siblings had stayed with my mother. Johnny had asked me to go with him, so I did. While I played in the front of the basement, he fiddled with the huge storage closet. I knew what was going to come next. That was our secret place. He had taken me to the closet before. This is where he touched me and would show me how to touch him. The other times I didn’t mind because he was my father, and I didn’t know what was going on. He would tell me I was special and I truly felt that way. But this was the night that it all changed.

I did not want to stop playing with my Batman. When he called me to come over to the closet, I ignored him. When he called again I continued to ignore him. When he yelled at me I was paralyzed with fear. That was the voice he used when he would beat my mother. I knew he was going to beat me the way he beat my mother. He walked over to me, pissed, and he told me in Spanish “when I call you to me, you better run to me”. I started to cry and he snatched me by the back of my neck and threw me into the closet. I cried out “Papi” but that made him more aggressive. He told me to stick my tongue out then forced his penis into my mouth. As I gagged he held my head so I wouldn’t turn. I couldn’t breathe and panicked, but I was able to pull away for a few moments. He then grabbed me by the back of my head, forcing my pants down. I screamed but he didn’t care. At that moment I wanted to die. That was the day my innocence was stolen. When he was done he hugged me tenderly and gave me a kiss on the forehead. I accepted it in fear. He took me to the bathroom and washed off the sweat, tears and semen. I cried and he consoled me, telling me that it was my fault for not listening. I believed him. Once I was all washed up he helped dress me and told me in a calm voice, “Nene, si le dices a tu madre ella no va a entender y voy tener que matala” translation: “boy if you tell your mother, she will not understand and I will have to kill her.” I stayed quiet. I told no one. I never said no to him and always went to him when he called. He always gave me a gift afterwards and would remind me to stay quiet, and I did.

This is the secret I have carried for decades in fear that people would find out what my father had done to me. It lasted for a little over a year starting at the age of five ending only when he no longer had access to me after my parents divorced. I am 39 and this short time in my life has affected me deeply over the years, and continues to affect me still. I struggled with this almost daily for three decades. For many years it was just my secret. I told no one. Not even years after my father was gone, did I speak up. I mostly buried it deep within. When I would feel it resurfacing, I would hear his voice threatening to kill my mother and I would bury it deeper. I did find the courage to tell my mother. I didn’t plan it. I wasn’t even thinking about it that day. I came home from school one day during my sophomore year of high school and mom was watching her usual 4:00pm show, Cristina. The topic of that episode was sexual abuse and how this teen told his mother that his uncle molested him. A rush of emotion hit me all at once, and I finally told the truth. I told her what my father did to me all those years ago. My mother took it hard. She took it so hard that I felt the need to protect her when she asked about the details. It could have been because of my shame or because I did not know how to tell her the whole truth, but I lied. I just told her he just touched me. But the truth was brutal and, at the time, I didn’t see any reason to tell her.

My mother loves me, of that there is no doubt. If she could have endured my pain in order to spare me, she would have without giving it a second thought. She did not know how asking me to continue to keep this secret would make me feel. I know my mother was trying to protect me but, in hushing me, I grew more shameful. A16 year-old adolescent can rationalize and cognitively understand that what happened to him wasn’t his fault, but somehow, the five year old in me believed I caused it. I have three siblings; two older one younger, all of whom were not molested. While I am happy they did not experience my torture; it did lead me to question why it happened to me. I told myself I must have attracted him to me somehow. I must have deserved it! If there was innocence to be found in me then why did I have to keep this secret?

This one single year, early on in my life, had a major impact on my personal development throughout my entire life. Even now as an adult I try to hide from those thoughts I could never say out loud. Although, only five when it started, I questioned why I didn’t tell anyone. As a teen this would haunt me as I questioned my own sexuality. Growing up a strong Latino Christian, you never questioned your sexuality. In all honesty it is still an undertaking to bring up how I felt as a teen. The anger, pain, and confusion consumed me. The smiles that I had shown acted as masks to prevent others from seeing my true emotions. I hated myself. I would regularly take extreme risks and behave in an overall chaotic manner in hopes that some day my behavior would put an end to this life. I would get into fights almost daily, refusing to back down even when I was out numbered. If God is good how could this have happened to me? I was only five, why didn’t he protect me? Part of me felt unworthy of life. I allowed my father to have total control over my life, even though he was absent. He made me feel unworthy, unloved, and unprotected. I felt worthless; unable to change my circumstances. I learned to hate God because, in my mind, he hated me first. I mean, what kind of piece of shit must I have been, in order for God to have given me Johnny as a father? You see, Johnny is the worst type of human being; He could beat on a defenseless woman, rape a child of his innocence, and then smile in church yelling from the top of his lungs, “Hallelujah.” This is the man that God chose to be my father.

This is not to say I did not find happiness. I have been happy, I have just had to ignore my pain in hopes that I would forget. But I could not ignore that which shaped my life. At the age of 22 I became a father for the first time. That was one of the scariest, then happiest, days of my life. When my wife became 9 months pregnant, it hit me again. I sat in the pew of my church in a panic. I was terrified that I would become my father. At best, I would abandon my son and wife. At worst, I would become that monster in the basement closet. But when I saw my son for the first time, all the fears vanished. I knew I was going to be a great father. I was able to let those fears about my father go back to hiding in the darkest corners of my mind. But they never stayed there for long.

Ultimately, my experience with my father had left me with the inability to discuss my emotions. I bottled up my feelings, keeping them to myself. I became skilled at helping others work through their issues, but always ignored my own. My father told me to stay quiet, my mother told me to stay quiet, so all my life I learned to stay quiet. Even today, I don’t complain in my personal life. I am more likely to let the women I love walk away from me, than to fight for her to stay. It’s because part of me feels unworthy of being loved which makes me feel as though she can find someone better than me. When I am challenged to discuss my emotions, it does not come easy to me. Most of the time I end up feeling like the five year old in the basement closet; full of fear and self-loathing. My experience left me scared of who I am, scared of people finding out that I was an emotional inept, and fearful of people thinking of me as less of a man.

Four years ago I started my journey to recovery. I decided that it was time to get help, with the insistence of my wife :). I am a helper. I was born to help other people. This is what I have always done. The problem with this is that the helper forgot to help himself. In therapy I discussed how I tried to forgive my father in the past. I honestly thought that if I forgave him, moving forward with my life would come naturally. It didn’t. Mostly because what he did to me is not something that can be easily dismissed. There was no taking the high road; saying I forgive you was an attempt, on my part, to hide this evil act. To spare myself of having to deal with anyone finding out what happened to me. While the adult I am understands that most people would be supportive and feel empathy for me, emotionally I feared what people would really think. Since I could remember I have always been the toughest man in the room, or at least I acted like I was, but in truth I never was. It is difficult for me to be vulnerable, even with those I am most intimate. I found it difficult to speak of what happened to me. I relived every moment, becoming angrier and angrier at myself for just taking it! For staying quiet all those years and for waiting decades to get help. I punished myself for being five years old! This is where I am today… Fuck fear.

The man who was supposed to protect me, to teach me how to shave, and to give me advice before my first date, violated me. I did not deserve to be treated so mercilessly by my own father. I can say and believe it now… I DID NOT DESRVE WHAT MY FATHER DID TO ME! The rational adult in me knows I did nothing wrong and the emotional five year old believes it. I have nothing to be ashamed of… Not for being confused as a teen, not for taking so long to seek treatment, and not for being mad at God. It was ok for me to be mad at God and, because he is God, he understood my anger. I know that God has a purpose for my life and a plan for me to prosper. While I can’t tell you I understand his plan, I know I am the man I am today only through his will. God, and my faith in him, helped me through this process. I am still working on discussing my emotions and being open with people whom I am close with, but I am getting better at it. And as for my father… I have learned that he is not worth the time I have spent thinking about him. It just takes to much energy to be angry with a person who has, and is, nothing to me.

Why did I write this? Why do I share this with you? Healing is a verb. I will not declare myself healed, but I am working on it. I am still in the process of becoming the man I want to be. I am 39 years old and it took me 30 years to find this peace within me. It wasn’t easy but my family is supportive, my therapists were talented, and while I may have not wanted God in my life for a time, he never left me. My greatest fear was that people would find out about my past and believe I was less of a man. I felt emasculated by what my father did to me. Well, not so much for what was done to me, but because I took and said nothing. But not anymore… I am done with my silence, I am done with self-pity and I am done with fear. This secret was never mine to carry in the first place. It belongs to the monster in the basement, and he can keep it. I am a survivor because I didn’t let my father ruin my life. I share this with you because we all have circumstances that make us feel less. Your circumstances may be different than mine but what holds true for me is true for you. We are not inadequate, none of us are and those things that make us feel that we are less are lies. This is not my secret to carry anymore, it never was… But when does a secret stop being a secret?

Best,

Charles De Leon

As an added note I allowed my brother to preview my writing before posting this online. He confessed to me that my father had sexually abused him too. I guess I always knew even though he never told me. He has quietly received help to get passed his issues with our father. I didn’t tell him at the time but I appreciate the bravery it took to tell me. I love you Joe.

22 thoughts on “Not my Secret to Keep”

  1. Dear Charles, I support you and respect you. As a child I share the trauma of sexual abuse. As does the pain, isolation, shame, helplessness, and ensuing rage, risk taking and distress. I still cant share details publically, though I did seek help, coincidently upon the birth of my first child. Through Gods grace, I am on the other side of the pain. But not of the impact, which I’m afraid will remain. Love you man. Keep going!

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  2. This is a very well written article and I am so happy that you were able to seek help and begin your healing process. This occurs to often with children under the age of ten and this consume them. I am so proud of you and glad you are now able to share and continue with your healing process.

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  3. As much I would like to say I am proudest of my little brother for his confession. I am proudest always because he chose to love the people around him. He has always done his best to help others since he was in Sheppard elementary. I am thankful that through the horror of the past. He saw that the best thing you can do is stick up for people. He wouldn’t let someone fall just because that person hated him. He has always fought to keep his humanity. I just recently reclaimed my humanity & I don’t ever intend to lose it ever again. I hated God too,But in the end God has shown me that I could of loved people the way my mother did, my sisters & my brother. I helped 2 step sons that call me father for 10 yrs now. My only regret, That I didn’t start when I saw their mother in 1996 when she signed a petition for me to run for state representative. I out of fear didn’t pursue her, 8 yrs later I did. Same fears my brother stated about abandonment back then. Choosing to love as soon as possible makes all the difference. Instead of 10 yrs, I would have 18 yrs being called dad. I may have been married instead of having a broken engagement. My brother faced the perils with love instead of fear. That is what I love about my brother the most. I have been a cheerleader for him since he was a teenager because I could see he leads through love & not fear..

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  4. I love you Charles and Franco! My heart aches knowing that you suffered like that. Both of you are incredible men!!! May sharing your posting bring you inner peace. Big hugs, my friends!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Charles, I have ALWAYS looked up to you and ADMIRED you, while working alongside you. Now, after reading this beautifully written, albeit painstaking story of your abuse, I admire and respect you MORE THAN EVER. You are a survivor, a witness to the ability to overcome… Your strength of spirit and character have been BORN with you and ENDURED a monster!!!
    You are absolutely right about God having a plan for you. I believe he recognizes that sometimes we are in (emotional/physical) harm’s way, but through it all, we are meant to LEARN, SHARE, TEACH others who struggle similarly and LEARN about ourselves —how TRULY STRONG & WORTHWHILE we ARE as Human Beings enduring such horrendous acts, yet RISING above them all
    You have DEFEATED the Monster simply by NEVER giving up in your fight to UNDERSTAND, TO RATIONALIZE, TO JUSTIFY because YOU, my friend are a BEAUTIFUL MAN, A BEAUTIFUL HUSNAND, A BEAUTIFUL FATHER.. and A BEAUTIFUL SON…the REAL MONSTER … As well as the monster someone tried to create within you … IT IS HE WHO HAS LOST THE BATTLE… So proud to know you, Charles and sooo admire your bravery, your desire to ALWAYS help others. GOD has always been there…THATS WHY YOU ARE TAKKNG IN AIR TODAY!!!! You ARE blessed … Love you !!!
    Anne Alesiani ♥️

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  6. You are truly an believably amazing human being for finally taking control of your life back! You are reclaiming your life and stepping on Johnny aka as your father like the piece of shit cockroach that he was or is. (Not sure if he is still alive). It take a strong man to share such gruesome details that NO 5 year old should endure. Correction ANY child. Point, blank, PERIOD!
    Sexual abuse is W-R-O-N-G and for those who have endured this horrific pain, I sympathize/empathize with your inner child, your adolescent, your teenage years and your adult hood. There was never a time that those memories didn’t control you. But Chaz let me be the first to say, Johnny controls you NO MORE and will NEVER control you ever again. You my love broke the chain that was holding you back for 30 years simply by finally taking care of YOU… Seeking the necessary help and making your story public. With your beautiful wife and children by your side, I doubt you couldn’t over come all the obstacles that were holding you back before. So for now… Continue this healing journey and educate, educate and keep educating others. CHILD ABUSE OR ANY KIND OF ABUSE SHOUL BE TOLERATED. Open your ears, eyes and hearts and let’s help many more in our shoes.
    Although not always next to you guys I will continue to pray for you and join your “Awareness Cause”. When days are hard look up and thank the Lord. Was this bad yes, could it have been worst YES. But never underestimate the power you took back by sharing.
    I wish you peace, love and faith.
    MariWari

    P.S If you have time, feel free to read my blog: http://www.mariwari.webnode.com one positive affirmation after another is what this world need. Love you kid!

    Smooches

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  7. Handsome, I am so very proud of you for coming forward and sharing your story. I know more than anyone how difficult it has been for you to have come this far. You had so many doubts fears, worries and terrors about the person you would become because of the abuses you endured. You believed that you would become that monster in the basement one day but look at you now baby. You are one of the best men I’ve ever known. The way you perceive the world is amazing. Through those dark brown eyes you have never looked at this cynical world as just black and white or with gray in between. You see all the colors surrounding it with faith and hope. You have a love that comes from your very soul that shines through to all who know you with your kindness, your humor, your intelligence, your strength, your devotion, your courage, your dedication in helping others and especially your tenacity for justice. You are an exceptional father, a loyal friend and a wonderful husband. As I see it you ARE who you are destined to be. That monster could not take any of these things from you because you were strong enough to fight against it and prevail. Even on the darkest of days you were able to find the light and not many of us can do that. By opening your heart and opening the door to Sexual Child Abuse Awareness you are helping others by letting them know that it’s ok to speak out, that they are not weak, that they matter and are important and to the abusers they are nothing but a waste of space and not worthy of thought. Abuse in any form is an affront to humanity, especially when it is done to a child. Keep being who you are babe and keep moving forward. You are an inspiration and will continue to be. Thank you for always being you and the kids and I will always have your back 100%. I love you!!!!! ♥

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    1. I am overwhelmed over the thought of the amount of courage you have to possess to share your deep inner life’s challenges with us. Chuck your the Ace when it comes to kids in trauma because you candidly know the emotions and and circumstances they face. I hope you continue to be a voice for our children and families. I PRAY THAT YOU FIND THE that Peace you deserve my friend. Your Storie branded in my mind why your a true super hero.. Not one made in the dc comics. Not narrated by Stan Lee but the one who has a heroic purpose in the world. Thank you for sharing. I’m filled with anger because of your description innocence being taken away but I’m also motivated to be justice for those voices that are not being heard… Your choice to share was an honourably bold sacrifice to let other come out and share their pain. Inevitably causing a chain reaction of awareness in our homes, jobs, and communities. I’m have been totally affected by your words as I’m sure any one else who reads this and sees a genuine man make the best for his life and all the people around him. Thank you.

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  8. Charles,

    I admire your courage and bravery. Your article has the capacity to help and heal others. I wish you well in your healing.

    Nadine George Harrigton

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  9. Thank you so much for sharing your story as I can not imagine how difficult it must have been to gather up the courage to do so. I must admit that it was not an easy read as my heart ached for that 5 year old boy who must’ve felt alone and powerless. Having known you a short time, I can truly say that you are a genuine and good willed person and my hope is that this helps you move forward in your journey to healing. I truly admire your strength and perseverance through it all and you must definitely have my support. Keep striving to make a difference everyday, as your life is a testimony of God’s plan for you manifesting. Remain blessed and true to yourself.

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  10. Hey charles very touching story n iam proud that u talked about it i take my hate of to u in i no its not easy i fill the same way u do ive been touch at the age of 5 fm a fam member i still carry that with me n i think about it all the time in iam 47 it dnt never go away it still hurt

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    1. Rachel,

      I am sorry that you have experienced this type of pain in your life. I want you to know there is peace that can be found in processing our pain. It’s not easy, and it is not a short process but it can be done. If I can help you in anyway please feel free to contact me. Maybe I can help you on your journey.

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  11. That all too familiar basement, the regular beatings of your mom and threats of what will happen if you tell, even down to the disappointment of your mom’s response all too familiar. I applaud you in your bravery, I’ve yet to be bold enough to share my story openly for fear of being looked as at broken. Instead I am the helper that does not practice self help. Through life maturity and education I have come to understand my process and I’ve learn to understand who I am, I can attest that I’m not that fearful child I am a lioness reading your blog will help many including me know and understand we were not alone and despite what happened we can still be great. I always wondered how you and I relate on social media now I know it doesn’t matter we ran into one another for a reason. May God continue to bless your brave soul and allow you to complete your journey of healing.

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    1. Thank you… I can relate to the fear and reservations you have about sharing your story. But aren’t we all a little broken in our own way? What I can say with certainty is that I am stronger and free of shame because I shared my story. It is my hope this writing will help others as it helped me. God bless.

      Best,

      Charles

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  12. This is what most of my childood as like
    This is part of my story All my life I was hiding from my past so much of my life I felt like it was all my fault what happened to me as a child. I fault all alone like know one could understand what it feels like to have your childhood taken away from you by someone who was supposed to keep you protected and love you. Do so many bad things to me was the one that abused you. It is hard when most of all my childhood memories are of being forced to do sexual things to the person that was your parent. I fault so alone and ashamed for letting this happen to me. I cried a lot and they did not care about me most of the time they just laughed at me crying and told me it was my time to become a real man. This happens to everyone it was just my time. I was so scared I didn’t even know what to do I just froze and felt like I was not there most of the time. I just closed my eyes and cried. If this was supposed to happen, why do I feel so bad and so wrong about it. What am I doing, I never had any friends and I was not aloud to go to school. I was home schooled by my abuser my own mom. I still loved her in a way. I was just so confused about what was going on in my head it hurts to knowing. I was forced into sex at a time when. I was just about to go through a lot of changes the worst thing ever is when I was forced to do stuff with her and him i never weit to school ever and was never a loud to get my license because i was held prisoner by them from the age of 6 to about 16 and physical abuse and sexual abused this is part of my childhood story my childhood was very bad sexualy abused by faster mom and her boyfriend and hit a lot and told I was never going to have a good life and that I was stupid and only good for sex with her and him and never went to school are had people that have ever cared about me to know Elaine is so sweet and kind and caring and loving and very supportive she is beautiful and very good at helping me I have ankidy and panic attacks mostly at night time when I have bad dreams and I am afraid of the dark I was keeped in a dark room most of my childhood in the basement of her house so I have had a lot of bad stuff happen to me but Elaine is the best and I have hope and faith that with gods help one day I will be able to get over my past experiences and move on and I have started to do just that it is still hard sometimes but it has been better as of late I have been in the hospital for panic attacks and have mediation to help me get through stuff and a good counseler and friends and family too and most of all God and Elaine by my side just wanted to shere my life story. Thank you for your support this is part of my recovery

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    1. Cliff,

      I can’t begin to tell you how sorry I am for what you have expereinced. You did not deserve that and especially not from your mother. I am happy to know that you have some who cares about you and knows your worth. I want you to continue to get professional help and if you need to, want to talk to me please email me @ wefallwerise@gmail.com

      Best wishes Cliff,

      Charles

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  13. Charles,
    I was moved to tears by your amazing blog post. It is so compelling and well-written. I am truly sorry for the pain, hurt, shame, self-doubt, and confusion you have had to endure for far too long. I believe that shame is one of the most painful and damaging emotions we can feel. I am so glad that you have taken these steps to release the shame and the multitude of other feelings that never should have belonged to you. You are strong and truly resilient. You have a gift and you will continue to touch many lives. I am honored that you shared this with me.
    Many blessings as you continue your healing journey,
    Julie

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  14. Salute bro. A soldier for truth, the voiceless, the weak and the young. You couldn’t fight a better battle with gun on a field. Much love and respect💯💪🏿.

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