Written by Robert Teitelbaum
Reprinted from the Desert Sun
There are many children in this world who grow up in ideal settings. They live in beautiful homes with all the trappings, and they are the envy of everyone they know. They might also have successful, extremely popular parents. But if these children know anything, it is this: what looks healthy and good on the outside is often the sickest on the inside. The worst part is that no one usually finds out, because the children will not tell.
I was one of those children growing up. In 1928, my mother and father were pressured to serve as attorneys for Al Capone. They bonded completely with this dangerous lifestyle, and as a result, abandoned their duties to protect me and my brothers and sisters. They left us in the long term care of a sadistic and abusive bodyguard who systematically terrorized and sexually abused us for more than a decade. I was just 4 years old when it started.
Survivors of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse often start out as healthy children who are full of energy and playfulness. They are good students who look clean and presentable, but they eventually cannot tolerate painful feelings, and frequently turn to alcohol and drugs to numb the pain. They change hygiene habits, and become withdrawn or the class clown. As adults, they either sexually shut down or become promiscuous.
From an early age, boys are consistently given messages to be strong, to buck up and be a man. They are warned not to cry or act like a sissy, and certainly not to act like a girl. As a result, many boys learn to repress their feelings and emotional pain, which often resurface as rage in adulthood.
After carrying all that heavy emotional baggage for years, some men choose to direct it outwardly rather than deal with their feelings. Rage, domestic violence, physical, and emotional abuse are cycled and recycled in a destructive fashion that never lets up. Sometimes the pain, shame, and self-hate become so overwhelming that suicide appears the only way out.
The good news is that we are building a better healing community here in the desert.
In 1993, my wife Carol and I joined Riverside County’s Prevent Child Abuse Council, hoping to make a difference in the lives of our valley’s children. In 2006, Carol was asked to assist in research concerning the underreporting of male child abuse. The numbers are astounding. Statistics show that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused by the age of 18, and this is only the reported cases.
This inspired Carol to found the “It Happens to Boys” project, which introduced me to other male survivors and experts in the field of trauma abuse and recovery. I became acquainted with courageous men of all ages who accepted and supported me via group therapy, which Carol offers twice each month at no charge.
This recovery effort has morphed into the annual “It Happens to Boys Conference,” which will take place on March 6-7 at the Annenberg Center for Health Sciences in Rancho Mirage. We offer survivors a safe, nonjudgmental environment in which to explore their authentic selves. Through the years, our authors and speakers have worked with therapists, recovery counselors, attorneys, nurses, school counselors, and law enforcement to provide much needed information about this most overlooked epidemic.
Recovery from child abuse is much like recovering from drugs and alcohol; it must be done one day at a time. The path is not always easy. I still find myself triggered by demonic memories periodically, but now I have the proper tools to deal with those demons.
I know many survivors will relate to my story, and my hope is that they come to our conference and get help now. You don’t have to wait 60 years to tell someone what happened. My message to survivors is: it was never your fault.
Robert J. Teitelbaum is co-chair of the non-profit Creative Change Conferences and author of Frogs and Snails and Mobster Tales: Growing Up in Al Capone’s Shadow. He is an active member of the Screen Actors Guild and is the Director of Palm Springs TheatreSports. For more information about “The 7thAnnual It Happens to Boys Conference,” visit www.creativechangeconferences.com.