Stand Up and Be Counted
Nearly two years ago I sat down with my book agents and my PR team and said “Don’t expect me to be the poster boy for the abused.” I went on to explain that I had simply written a book about my father’s 1955 arrest for abusing a minor and the struggle that my parents went through during that ordeal. However, I felt that I needed to be honest and therefore with full-disclosure, admitted for the first time, that I had been abused as a child – that was all I wanted to say about the subject.
Last year I found myself standing before a packed house at Parnassus Books speaking about the memoir that I had written. Again, I wanted to focus on my parents’ story and not my own – I was clueless as to where this story might lead me.
As more and more people told me of their own experiences of sexual abuse, I realized that I could no longer stand on the sidelines. Little by little, I began to reveal to others, and more importantly, to myself, what had happened in my past.
Several friends encouraged me to seek professional counseling but I resisted. I was fine, until I wasn’t. The more that I focused on abuse, the more I allowed myself to remember. At one point, I ended up being placed in a situation where I felt that I was observing a predator in a restaurant watching a family. When I saw the man in question follow the young boy into the restroom, I spoke up and insisted the father go check on his child.
Another incident this past year involved news outlets giving the horrific details of a boy who was sexually abused by other students at a private school. I had been affiliated with the school in the past by participating in their art shows. However, I decided to take a vocal stand and withdraw from their upcoming show. Suddenly I found myself being interviewed by our local newspaper and one of our television stations.
Then, as a board member of the non-profit organization STARS, it felt like a switch had been turned on for me. I now saw clearly the extent of the work that they do within our schools – not only in helping youth overcome obstacles that are in their way but focusing on bullying and abuse, as well. I found myself more committed than ever to help STARS with their fundraising goals.
With everything happening all around me, I did finally seek professional help. I needed to write, in chronological order, a timeline from when my own personal abuse began at age seven and include my actions and risky behavior into adulthood. I now needed to know: “Why?” Plus, I wanted a better understanding of my life – the hidden life that often had been lived behind a smile.
I recognized that my story was not over. And, whether I wanted to be a poster boy or not, I found myself front and center and comfortable being there. If my past mistakes can help someone that is struggling, then I’m okay with sharing the embarrassing moments and questionable choices that I’ve made because I firmly believe that everything that has happened in my life has happened for a reason.
I will share my story and I will take a stand. My hope is that others will find the courage to stand with me.
J. Ronald M. York, author of Kept in the Dark, is also an accomplished musician and founder of York & Friends Fine Art Gallery.
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