Lost Imaginations

Read. Write. Rest.

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.

Winning the Rat Race

How to Slow Your Inner Flash addresses the need for many survivors to become rat racers. Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D, explain in his book Happier how a rat racer lives life in hope of being happy in the future. This is a form of workaholism in which the survivor strives to achieve the next promotion, or big raise in hope of finally being successful. Ben-Shahar explains how as a society we are taught as children to delay gratification in hopes of achieving success in the future. The only problem is that success does not equate to happiness. Survivors of childhood sexual abuse sometimes become rat racers in hopes of ridding themselves of the shame felt following their childhood assault in hopes that their extrinsic success will create an intrinsic selflove. Unfortunately, beginning the process of healing from childhood trauma is the only method to create lasting change. These thoughts of overcoming workaholism, childhood trauma, and striving to win the rat race made me think of the short story “Race” written and published in my book of short stories, Thoughts in Italics in 2008. At the time I had not begun my journey of healing. Instead, I attempted to cope with my own childhood trauma through the use of creative writing inspired by episodes of The Twilight Zone and stories written by my favorite author, Ray Bradbury. It’s still one of my favorite pass times. Below is the story. I hope you enjoy.


The race begins and all that is seen is a puff of smoke. In that half of an instant the silence that was once unheard throughout the field a few seconds ago was now echoing with cheers and yells of encouragement. A thunder of hundreds upon hundreds of feet hit the now shaking green grass. The field is limitless and extends into a very distant sunrise. Hills and curves can be seen along with a line of self proclaimed diehard fans who’s yells reach and shake the heavens causing and raising hell. The runners have no idea how long the race will last or why they are running it, but none the less they still race.

The runners begin the race.

In the beginning a few fall and stay down as others pass them by. Out of these few fallen runners at the starting line few get back up. Those that don’t are left on the field to watch and wonder what could have been. To wonder if the circumstances were different if they would have finished or even won the competition. In the end they are left with their thoughts and a conscience full of what ifs.

Many sprint off and try to take the lead. A few, a very few, out run the pack and get some distance on their competitors. As these few sprint towards the rising sun the crowd see their spotless running shoes, and never before run in uniform and know they cannot, will not, be stopped. At least so they think.

They forget this is a race and no one, except God, can predict the outcome.

The crowd loves these few exceptional human beings and yell louder with more passion, and in turn pushed the rest of the pack to try and catch up to these imaginary titans so they can gain the same glory, attention, and respect as the runners ahead of them.

Soon the masses of sweating flesh, beating hearts, exhausted legs and lungs get far enough away from the starting line to stay, and feel, they have begun the race.

The last few that lag behind receive little to no encouragement, but still they push on.

The race continues and runners continue to run.

In the beginning the course is clearly marked and the crowd is still thick along the side lines yelling and cheering. The competitors know where to go, and how to get there, but as days go by the crowds begin to thin out until there are only a few spectators still on course.

The race continues and runners continue to run.

Spirits become tired and many want to stop, and a few do. Some fall from exhausting themselves in the beginning of the race and not having anything left to keep their feet moving across the grass and soil beneath their feet. A few fall back and retain the positions they originally had, but the categorizing of people is no longer so easy to determine. The line of runners stretch back for miles with, in most cases, large and numerous gaps, and the leader of the pack often alternated with no definite winner in sight.

The runners felt the constant green carpet underneath their rubber soles with metal spikes and saw it extend in front of them for, as much as they could guess, for an eternity. Coming to the crest of every hill was the hope that the finish line could be seen somewhere, anywhere, in the distance.

With each hill came new hope and disappointment with the realization that the only thing to look forward to was more land and the fact of knowing they had to keep looking and moving forward. Legs became lead, arms became Jell-O, lungs became fire, and spirits began to fall. The brightness that glowed in all their eyes as dawn broke on that first morning began to fade, and in many were a heartbeat and a stumble away from going completely out.

But still the race continued and runners continued to run.

Some stopped to rest for a moment and never took another step. Some cried for help as they were passed by runner after runner in hopes of a savior that would never come.

People were pushed off the course, to the ground, or tripped by other runners. Many retaliated by committing the same crime, others stayed in the spot where they were done wrong to hate the injustice they were forced to endure, and very few did nothing at all. These few dusted themselves off, found their composure, and began to run again only to be dealt the same underhanded blow time and time again.

Everything imaginable that can be done to hurt another individual was done on that field. Acts of kindness did exist, but they were too exhausting and, in many cases, went unrecognized so were few in number. They just continued to move and push and grind forward without purpose or meaning, but still the race continued.

The cheers and applause of the exuberant crowd were not even a distant echo. Many had forgotten the race still existed, and others simply did not care.

The remaining few runners numbered less than a quarter of the original runners that occupied the starting line so long ago. The weather had changed many times and they had learned to pace themselves in all terrain and in all circumstances. They were tired to the point of death from exhaustion, but they still refused to stop. What drove them now was something more than fame or glory. They did not seek respect and they had stopped looking for the finish line so long ago they had forgotten it even was said to have existed. They sought something else. They did not know what it was, but they felt it and they knew the truth of what it was.

The course had stopped telling them where to go. They followed their own path.

In each one of these few remaining athletes was a look in the eyes that showed years of different landscapes, millions of minutes of thought, and countless seconds of coming to an understanding of a question they did not know the answer to. If you could take one look in their eyes you could understand that they weren’t running to win the race anymore.

They were running to finish it.

The finish line existed wherever it was they stopped and lost hope. This is what beat them. Not the people running around, and next to them. You would see they refused to be beat and to give up was not an option. They would continue to run until the last breath had escaped their lungs and they had strength left to move one more step. They would finish the race.

And the race continued and the runners continued to run.