Don’t Make Any Noise And You Won’t Get Hurt

My policy on this blog is not to post trigger warnings; in this case, I make an exception.

If you are a survivor of sexual violence, think carefully about reading this post.  It contains graphic images of sexual predation, and could be triggering to anyone who has suffered sexual violence.  Please be careful.

Some of the following is included in my upcoming memoir, A Runaway Life, and in my novel-in-progress, The Beanbag Chair.  I’m sharing it with you here because I know that for every survivor of sexual violence who seeks treatment, there are untold numbers who don’t, and who live with the horror, shame, and destruction of the integrity of the self and the soul that sexual violence begets.

My first personal encounter with a Male-factor–as we used to call them during my tenure as expert examiner on child sexual abuse cases for a State District Attorney’s Office in a Northeastern state in America–was at age sixteen.

Earth Day, April 22, 1970.

I knew nothing about sex beyond veiled inferences gleaned from “Lady Chatterly’s Lover,” swiped from my parents’ library and read over and over, to try to figure out what all that language was referring to.  I had seen the heifers in heat mounting each other in the pasture next door, but had no idea what they were trying to accomplish.  I had no frame of reference.

I was sixteen.  My interests were Latin, natural science, poetry, music, and art.  At sixteen I was permitted to date, but the boys in the country backwater school I attended were either brutish dolts or eggheads like myself who tended to stay at home trying to teach themselves Greek.

My mother continued her perennial assault on my self-image via an uninterrupted stream of verbal, psychological, and sometimes physical abuse.  My depressions grew blacker, my desire for relief by any means more intense, until finally I despaired of ever finding truth in living, and debated within myself whether this life was actual reality, or perhaps was a construct by some demonic mind for whom I was a toy.

An older man I met in the burger joint where I worked on the weekends admired my legs and asked me for a date.  I was flattered.  Someone thought I was attractive.  I got my mother’s permission–she was thrilled–and I went with him.

The details of that date have been published elsewhere.

“Don’t make any noise and you won’t get hurt.”

I woke up to those words, still muzzy from the drug he had slipped me.  In the dark basement, his hand clamped over my mouth, my back squashed painfully into the cold concrete floor covered with moldy carpeting…..and the searing pain jolting through my body until at last he tore through, not through my hymen, but to the side of it, so that for many years I had not one but two openings there.  (At last in my 40’s I had the courage to take at least some of my body back, and had that part surgically removed.  Later I had a second surgery to try to repair the damage to the muscle between my vagina and my rectum, but that has mostly failed.)

After he finished with me, he bundled me back into his car and let me out in the dirt circle that stood in for my parents’ driveway, my blood soaking through my new spring coat.

That was my initiation into the cold, dark terrorism that is rape.  My virgin sex, shredded beyond repair.

I ran away from “home,” hoping to find relief, but ended up homeless, being raped when I asked for bread, for shelter, for medical care.

I look at the few pictures of myself from that time.  I was so young.  I looked thirteen at the most.  I had no figure, even though my mother’s pet name for me was “fat-ass.”  The eyes looking out of the delicate triangular face were hollow and haunted.

Fast forward two years, and I was living with a kind and honest couple who had taken an interest in helping me pull myself out of the life on the street.

The Viet Nam war was still raging, and I was a dedicated anti-war activist, a still-passionate Peacenik who believed that Good could triumph over Evil if only The People would shout it out loud enough.

Young Mr. Doctor-To-Be frequently managed to take time out from his medical studies at Boston University to help organize rallies.  We were Peace Rally Comrades, nothing more.

That time, I had incapacitating menstrual cramps in the midst of a rally on Boston Common.  The rally had such a huge turn-out that the riot cops were exercising their batons.  I was fainting and nauseous.  Mr. Not Yet Doctor fanned my sweaty face with his poster and proposed that we go to his apartment, where he had some medicine that would relieve my cramps.  Even though I had recently come off the streets, I did not doubt his intentions.  Have I told you that I’m Autistic?  I’m Autistic.  I can’t read intentions.

He half-carried me to his apartment.  I remember a dark stairwell, and being “helped” up the stairs.  I remember the small white bedroom with its unremarkable furnishings.  I remember being told to take off my panties and lie down.  I remember wondering why that was necessary, but he must certainly know because he was the Almost-Doctor.

I remember his voice as he hissed in my ear:

“Don’t make any noise and you won’t get hurt.”

He took something out of his shirt pocket: a penlight, such as all doctors have in their pockets.  I thought he was going to look at me with it, and froze.

He raped me with it, and as he did, he masturbated, and when he was finished he told me to go.

I climbed down from his bed, numb and bleeding, fumbled my way down the dark stairway and into the bright-white sunlight, dazed, blood running into my sandals, squish, squish.

I was in a part of Boston I had never seen before.  I managed to get home somehow, my long skirts hiding the blood.

Fast forward three years and many events less dramatic than those.

Irish flute master classes with a famous and now dead Irish flute master.  (NOT James Galway, thanks to G-d.  And NOT Cathal McConnell.)

One day he refused my payment for my lesson.  I thought that was odd, but did not understand the implications.  I Am Autistic.

He got his tween coat, and off we went to the Custom House Tap, where we played duets for Black-And-Tans until we were both solidly drunk.  He invited himself to my place for tea.  We had not even got off the sidewalk when it started.  This part I cannot write, for it is too triggering for me even to remember.  But I didn’t run away.  I was like a rabbit transfixed by the hard gaze of the wolf.  I went along.  I let him into my apartment.  It got worse.  Then it got horrible.  Then he left me, gagging and bleeding, and I never heard anything more from him.  Several years ago I went about trying to find his whereabouts.  No purpose in mind; I just wanted to know.

The obituary said he had drowned while taking a swim off his private dock in Martha’s Vineyard.  The pit of my stomach was cold: just as cold as that night that he rammed himself down my throat until I lost consciousness, waking choking on my own blood and his disgusting fluids.

Why do I wonder that it’s so hard to trust?  Why do I feel as if around every corner there is something huge waiting for me, a muddy black smudge beckoning, threatening to take me over and obliterate me again and again and again?

Why do I feel a terror of closed spaces, a dread of not being able to escape?  Why must I always have my back to a wall, facing the door, and know every escape route?

Why, when I think of being imprisoned, does the panic rise in my throat, and thoughts of suicide race through my head?

“Don’t make any noise and you won’t get hurt.”



Breaking the Silence of Stigma: David Henry Sterry

Sterry hiding eyesOur esteemed victim interviewee this Wednesday is David Henry Sterry, who has done everything. Really.  I thought I lead multiple parallel lives, but he makes me look like an amateur.  I met him through a consultation I had with him about my book-in-progress.  Among the other million things he does, he is one-half of the Book Doctors, a dynamic duo whose job it is to help you get your book in good shape and hopefully published.  I was blown away by David’s story, so I asked him to give us an interview here on Breaking the Silence of Stigma.

BSS: How long have you known that you are living with a mental illness?

DHS: When I was 17 years old I was violently sexually assaulted.  The sparkly wide-eyed boy who went into that room with a large predator disappeared and when I escaped with my life, my brain had been more or less torn apart.  From that point forward I have suffered (for a long time not knowing it) from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

BSS: When did you find out that’s what was going on?

DHS: I did not tell anyone about this assault for 15 years.  I was diagnosed after I revealed the true nature of my condition to my hypnotherapist.  By that time I was a professional screenplay writer and actor, as well as being an amateur drug and sex addict.  Which is not nearly as much fun as it sounds like it should be.

BSS: How was your PTSD diagnosed?

DHS: My hypnotherapist diagnosed me by asking me lots of questions.  This diagnosis was later confirmed when I was studied like a human guinea pig at Vanderbilt University, where I was brought by the television show 20/20.  I was also diagnosed officially as a Problematic Hypersexualist.  Although I prefer the term Sex Maniac.

BSS: Yes, that’s a much more friendly term.   What kind of things were going on for you then, that made you seek treatment?

DHS: For many years I did not know I had any kind of mental illness.  I just felt a gigantic gaping yawning black chasm inside me that desperately wanted to be filled.  But no matter how much food, drugs or sex I shoved into that black hole it was never enough.  Also, when people touched me on certain parts of my body, I would flinch and often have a flashback.  My fight/flight reflex was constantly being set off, bells alarms and whistles shrieking shrilly inside me.  Also, I found out later that that when I suffered this terrible and violent sexual trauma, the part of my brain responsible for communication atrophied and shrunk, while the part of my brain responsible for emotion was enlarged, engorged, ready to explode.  I had a very difficult time looking beyond my own needs.  I always feel people hate me and I’m a miserable failure and totally unlovable.  Apart from that, nothing too bad.

BSS: Sounds horrible.  Did you ever end up in the hospital because of your PTSD?

DHS: No, but I self medicated for years with varying degrees of success.  Cocaine really didn’t help.  A wee bit of marijuana does wonders.  The side effects don’t really affect me too much, luckily I don’t suffer much from the munchies, although I had to give up smoking it and now I drink it in a tea.

BSS:  I’ll be right over.  What other things do you do to help with your illness?

DHS: I was cured, or rather I should say I learned how to handle my PTSD with the help of an amazing hypnotherapist, mentioned above.  She gave me the tools to stop having mental, physical, emotional, spiritual breakdowns.  It’s all about catching the symptoms as they first happen.  Being in the here and now.  Dealing with it early before the negativity sucks me down into the black hole.

BSS: That’s fantastic.  How has your illness impacted your life (jobs, education, relationships, children, alcohol, drug abuse…..?)

DHS: With my problem, I was unnaturally drawn to people who were incapable of giving me the love that I wanted and needed.  Most of these people were charming charismatic sexy smart underachievers.  I had what by most standards would be considered a very successful acting career, I was in thousands of commercials, I acted in cartoons, sitcoms, I have a three picture screenwriting deal with Disney, but I never reached my full potential because I was always sabotaging myself.  I was much more concerned with superstar success, so everyone would love me, since I couldn’t love myself, and I ended up not being able to make something great and valuable out of my artistic gifts and my relentless Protestant work ethic.  Interestingly enough, I’ve always felt very comfortable around children.  They’ve always been, for me anyway, so much more fun than the adults.

BSS: Have you ever felt discriminated against because of your illness, or had to deal with disparaging comments, denied a job or other opportunities?

DHS: Well, I can pass very easily.  You would’ve never noted in 1 million years that I had any kind of problem unless we became friends, then at a certain point you would realize and start to hate me.

BSS: If you could give advice to someone else struggling with mental illness, what would it be?

DHS: Ask for help.  Tell your story.

BSS: Anything else you’d like to add?

DHS: Writing has been an amazing healing tool for me.  For years after I was assaulted and raped, I had terrible nightmares about the incident, and the man who inflicted all this misery on me.  I would play out elaborate revenge fantasies in my head.  But when I wrote my first memoir, Chicken, and made art out of the sexual assault, I stopped having those nightmares, and I stopped plotting revenge that was never going to happen.

Sterry crotch carDavid Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, editor and book doctor.  His anthology was featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  He co-authored The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published with his current wife, and co-founded The Book Doctors, who have toured the country from Cape Cod to Rural Alaska, Hollywood to Brooklyn, Wichita to Washington helping writers.  He is a finalist for the Henry Miller Award.  He has written books about the teenaged brain, Leroy Satchel Paige, throwing a pajama party, being the rollerskating emcee at Chippendales Male Strip Club, a patriciding mama’s boy, World Cup soccer, and working at Chippendales’s Male Strip Club. He has appeared on, acted with, written for, been paid to, worked and/or presented at: Will Smith, a marriage counselor, Disney, Stanford University, Hellroller, National Public Radio, Milton Berle, Huffington Post, Sex Museum, George Washington, 92nd St Y,  barbershop singing pig, Brooklyn, a sodajerk, Michael Caine, the Taco Bell chihuahua, Smith College, Penthouse, the London Times, Playboy, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a human guinea pig and Zippy the Chimp.  He loves any sport with balls, and his girls.  www.davidhenrysterry