Boy in the Window: My Journey as an Abuse Survivor | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

Boy in the Window: My Journey as an Abuse Survivor

By James G.

I was born in a beautiful little town in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The first nine years of my life were wonderful. However, in 1967, my childhood was abruptly changed forever.

Often, when I would go to play at my best friend’s house, his older brother would be home hiding in the shadows waiting for his opportunity to abuse me. I remember being there and hearing a door locking, knowing I was in trouble. I would get this sinking feeling in my gut, dreading what was in store for me. My friend would hold me down while his brother attacked me.

At the time, I did not know if my friend’s brother held power over him too, forcing him to cooperate, or whether my friend willingly participated. All I knew was that it was wrong, and it made me feel sick. Afterwards, I would run home to shower, desperate to wash off this filthy feeling of utter guilt and shame.

Experiencing this abuse from him for nearly three years — and wondering why my friend did not come to my defense and stop the abuse — made an impact on me and my mental health. Decades later, I think back, wondering how I could possibly have considered this boy to be my best friend.

Sexual abuse is a kind of trauma that carries intense feelings of shame and fear. I remember that I just wanted to hide.

My mental health deteriorated; the shame was eating me away inside. I felt obligated to keep this secret — to hide this terrible knowledge from everyone around me. The ever-present shame convinced me that I deserved to suffer from the hurt I felt.  

Looking back, I now know that it wasn’t even my shame to carry. What happened wasn’t my fault. But reaching this conclusion came from a long recovery process. My healing took time.

It took me many years to tell anyone about this abuse. It was hard, and it hurt, but it’s what I needed to do — get it out in the open.

Keeping such a painful secret affected me so much emotionally. As time went by, my mental health kept getting worse. To get better, I needed to seek help. By 2018 — over 50 years after the abuse — I still carried that burden. I got to a point where I was non-functional and realized I needed professional counseling and medication.

My local doctor referred me to what is now my mental health team at the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). Once I was receiving the right medication and had one-on-one appointments with my assigned psychologist, I was able to open up safely and share my experience of being abused as a child.

Finally talking about it forced me to face and deal with the long-term effects of this trauma. Time and help from the right people brought healing. I am now able to identify what happened and understand that none of my trauma was my own doing. I can see how I carried this trauma into adulthood, and I can identify with others who have been through similar experiences.

Trauma needs to be dealt with, and we must prioritize our mental health for healing to begin. If I can go through that long, dark tunnel and reach the other side, so can you.

My deepest desire for anyone on their healing journey is to remember that you are worth it!

NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).