A successful entrepreneur, Chris Carlton regards recovery from childhood sexual abuse as a side-project he will be working on for a long time.
About three years ago, I made a gut-wrenching decision that would alter my life forever. At that time, I was in the middle of a breakdown of sorts. I wasn’t sure why I was in the middle of a breakdown, and for that I was confused, but since I couldn’t manage my anger and emotions, I decided to quit my job in advertising; a job that many people would kill for.
I was the senior account executive on the ESPN advertising account. My work life consisted of long hours servicing the X Games and Men’s Basketball accounts, which demanded ski trips to Aspen, events in Los Angeles and television shoots all over the country. Tough life. Still, I was miserable.
When I quit my job I didn’t exactly have a plan in place. I began searching for happiness through entrepreneurship and business plans to right my proverbial ship. Still, no matter what I did, I was unhappy. I decided to take an hourly job as a delivery driver, in order to keep myself busy while I pondered what had happened to my career and why.
Then, one day, while driving my delivery route, I heard an interview on the radio with Theo Fleury, the NHL all-star who had recently written a book, Playing With Fire. He talked about being sexually abused as a child by his hockey coach. As I drove my van, I began getting emotional. I started crying. Uncontrollable crying.
For the next six months, my crying continued. Here I was, a successful business person, with six years of service in the U.S Navy as an intelligence officer, with an advanced degree, and I was a delivery driver crying my way around the interstates of Virginia. I was lost. But in some strange way, I was finding myself for the first time.
After several months of sorting through my memories of being sexually abused for seven years as a child, with the help of my wife and family, I came to the conclusion that I needed to see a therapist. This conclusion went against every Cro-Magnon instinct I had, but I knew it was necessary.
Within a week, I was sitting in a chair, terrified, telling my story to a perfect stranger. My first question to my therapist, after telling my story through snot bubbles and tears, was: “How long before I’m fixed?” She laughed. She’d probably seen my type before. The type who likes to solve things quickly and get on to the next problem. I naively thought this is how it would work. Unfortunately for me, I would come to the realization that recovering from childhood sexual abuse isn’t like other solving other problems. It would take some time for me to grasp this concept, but once I did, I truly began to recover.
I’ve been in therapy for over two years, and still, I know that I have a long road ahead of me. The good news is that I’ve come such a long way in those two-plus years. I’m functional again. I’m happy again. I’m connecting with people again. These are feelings that I thought were forever lost and I now realize that my life is just a bit more complicated than most, and that is all right. I have a side-project, my recovery, that I will be managing for a long, long time. But, knowing that I have this project to work on, and that I will continue to improve in small steps, gives me the comfort to do the things in life that I need to do, and to enjoy every single day knowing that the next will probably be slightly better.
Recovery from childhood sexual abuse takes hard work. It takes letting go of the grip on life we are accustomed to keeping, and it requires patience. And in all of those things, if we are focusing on managing the side-project through ups and downs over a long period of time, we will be able to live in the moment again, knowing that recovery is slow, painful, non-linear, and brilliant, all at the same time.
Chris Carlton is the Development Director at 1in6. He is the author of Nice To Meet Me, a book that chronicles his journey through therapy for sexual abuse in an effort to help fellow abuse survivors and those who love them better understand the process of recovery. Chris is a former U.S. Navy intelligence officer and advertising executive living in Richmond, Virginia.