Lost Imaginations

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Leaving My Paradise Island (Excerpt from How to Save Your Inner Wonder Woman)

Leaving My Paradise Island (Autobiographical) [Excerpt from How to Save Your Inner Wonder Woman]

“They say I have been so many things to them I never meant to be. But I am grateful all the same.”

Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman #750, “To Me” (2020)

Journaling has always been a part of my healing process. As a child, I consistently wrote about my thoughts on love, relationships, life, and trauma. Writing has always provided me an escape toward understanding myself and others. This first autobiographical chapter explains my exit from the Paradise Island of my childhood and the creation of my trauma mastery in an attempt to cope with the adverse childhood experience of my childhood sexual abuse. This chapter also includes the thoughts of my wife, Sarah, as she helped guide me toward the path of healing rather than coping with the trauma of my childhood trauma in adverse ways. This is done to help caregivers and survivors know that healing cannot be accomplished alone. Without Sarah’s guidance, this book (and all the others) would never have been written. She explains how, similar to Wonder Woman, she answered the call to help me battle my demons, leaving her Paradise Island to become my Wonder Woman.


I am a male survivor of childhood sexual abuse. At eight years old, I was sexually assaulted by my thirteen-year-old sister. For two years, while my parents believed I was being babysat while they went to work, or spent time with one another, friends, and family, I was being groomed through the use of pornographic videos and raped in the basement of our home. In my memoir,
Raped Black Male, I explain how for two years the sexual assault continued, until one day, after church, she told me, “We can’t do that anymore. It never happened, and if you tell anyone, you’ll get in trouble.” Afterward, I was confused, angry, and lived in a constant state of fear. For over twenty years of my life, I kept this secret hidden away and worked at building an armor of protection in the form of perfectionism, hypervigilance, workaholism, and humor in an attempt to feel safe.

On the outside, I lived under the façade of perfection. On the inside, I felt like anything but a hero as I battled anxiety and depression while attending Peoria High School, college at Bowling Green State University, and into my career as a secondary educator in Baltimore, Maryland.

After marrying Sarah and moving to Baltimore, the trauma of being raped as a child began to take its toll on my mental health. I remember morning panic attacks that would leave me incapacitated on the floor of the bathroom of our two-bedroom apartment, crying and repeating, “I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine.” Sarah would hold me in her arms, attempting to stop my body from violently shaking. Those mornings, I would force myself to put on dress pants, a button-up shirt, tie, dress shoes, and walk out the door to teach at-risk boys and girls who looked like me.

At the time, there were numerous reasons to not give up as a secondary educator. Although the job was difficult, I believed it was my responsibility as a husband for my newly formed family of choice to stick it out, no matter how difficult it was to work. Second, as a male teacher of color who suffered from the effects of an adverse childhood, I knew the high stakes of my job. I knew there was a necessity to be at school every day with an engaging lesson and a safe learning environment, because for most of my students, school was the only respite they had from a society that viewed them as an adult when they were only an eighth-grade student. School was their opportunity to eat a (usually) healthy breakfast and lunch. It also provided students with the opportunity to succeed, fail, and act with the carefree nature that should be the right of every child, rather than the responsibility of being the man of the house. These thoughts are what developed my attempt to master my own childhood trauma.

At the end of the workday, I would return home exhausted but also relaxed, knowing that for at least a few hours, the pressure of needing to perform the role of a man who had it all together could be locked away until the new day. At the time, I was in denial of my poor mental health and panic attacks from the previous morning. Sarah would attempt to coax me into discussing the severity of the previous morning, but I would refuse, claiming, “Everything’s fine. I’m fine.” Instead of discussing my emotions, I would visit the gym to relieve accumulated stress and anxiety. The lifting of weights and running on the treadmill would succeed in making me numb until the next morning when the cycle began again.
This was the cycle for the better part of the first years of our marriage. Over time, Sarah began insisting I visit a therapist. Rather than agree, I insisted we did not have enough time or money. To calm her down, I would say, “I’ll find one over the summer, I promise.” A promise that was never fulfilled, because with the heat of summer came the relaxation every teacher strives to reach throughout the haze of standardized tests, SLO’s, lesson plans, and parent-teacher conferences. For three months, the panic attacks would subside. The necessity of needing to relieve accumulated anxiety through the incessant running of miles on the treadmill would be no more, making the need for a therapist obsolete—that is, until the approach of September and the beginning of a new academic year.

For three years, I lived in a state of denial, perfection, hypervigilance, and workaholism that placed more strain than necessary on our marriage, causing my mental health to decline until it completely collapsed shortly after the purchase of our first home, the completion of my master’s degree in education from Johns Hopkins University, and the birth of my daughter, Mirus.

As a child, I was sexually assaulted by my sister from the age of eight until I was ten, the victim of the domestic abuse and alcoholism of my father, and homeless following the foreclosure of my childhood home, all before the age of eighteen. Since then, I lived in a state of fear, coping with my childhood trauma rather than healing from it. This is because healing cannot take place in an unsafe environment. The uncertainty of my future as a college student and young adult caused me to exhaust my energy while attempting to survive. However, in 2013, that all changed. The purchase of our first home and a career that provided a livable salary made it possible to address the adverse childhood experiences of my past, and Mirus ensured I no longer lived in a state of denial.

With Mirus’s birth, there was no longer time available to spend hours in the gym numbing my emotions, afternoons lying in bed battling depression, or mornings on the bathroom floor battling severe anxiety about the unpredictability of teaching a new unit to loving (but very difficult) class of teenagers. Mirus needed to be fed, changed, bathed, rocked to sleep, entertained, and loved. Sarah, who is also an educator, had her own lessons to teach on top of the responsibilities of being a mother. Placing more pressure on our marriage due to my trauma and mental illness was not an option, but rather than talk about my emotions and seek help from a therapist, I suffered a mental breakdown.

Severe depression and thoughts of suicide left me unable to get out of bed. Unable to be ignored any longer, Sarah’s support guided me towards finding a therapist, getting on medication, and beginning the process of healing from my childhood sexual abuse. Over the years, I have learned to communicate with Sarah about how I am feeling, and we both are better at communicating with the other about what we need. We learned to lean on one another following the loss of her younger brother, TJ; the passing of our son, Cassus; the infection of the pericardial sack around my heart resulting in a viral heart infection; and stress-filled work environments leading to anxiety, burnout, and compassion fatigue. This guide is meant to help people like my wife and Susan Todd, my therapist, who are the wonder women in the lives of so many others who are battling to recover from the traumas of their past. I hope they find the support needed to take care of themselves while also helping others to heal and grow.