They need to believe life will improve.
My wife, Shonna Milliken Humphrey, has been an intimate witness to my struggle with the legacy of my childhood sexual abuse, and a primary agent of my healing. In turn, I have seen the pain, frustration, and sense of helplessness that a person who loves a survivor of childhood sexual abuse often experiences.
I asked her to share her experience so that it, and by extension, my own, can be of help to other survivors – just as other survivors have been of so much help to me; and to give voice to the partners of those survivors. Whoever you are, I wish for you love, strength, courage, and a sense of humor. What happened to you was not your fault. You can and will outlive your pain.
–Travis James Humphrey
Loving a man who experienced sex abuse can be a tricky, lonely existence, and I wish there was a universal path to healing. I wish I could recommend a guaranteed treatment, a surgical solution, or a single pill to swallow. So, when I receive messages from partners like me, I know they very often just need to write the words and tell their story.
They need to believe life will improve.
I need to believe that, too. And so far? It has. It just happens in soft, slow baby steps.
Since writing an essay for The Atlantic, describing life with my husband, Trav, I have received hundreds of requests from partners like me. When my book/memoir Dirt Roads and Diner Pie is published this year by Central Recovery Press, I imagine those requests will multiply.
It is beyond weird when I search online for new treatments, medications, professionals—anything that might help Trav sleep—and see my byline listed as a resource. But, people do write to me, also looking for anything that might help ease some aspect of their own partner’s situation.
These notes almost always arrive after midnight. I nod when I read every one of them. I, too, have watched my husband not sleep for days only to bolt toward the bedroom door in an attempt to escape whatever night terror happens when he does, finally, close his eyes.
I, too, have huddled motionless under blankets, cupping a shield around the glow of my phone, afraid the light will wake him as I tap an excuse for my tardiness or absence because Trav’s hand on my waist helps him sleep, and because of this, there is no way I can leave.
I, too, have snuck from our bedroom—ninja style—timing my footsteps to his soft snoring.
These are the moments when I feel most alone. When I am under those blankets bargaining with the higher powers for just one good night of rest, I recognize the inclination to send a note to anyone, even a stranger, who might understand.
When Trav achieves three good hours of deep sleep, he wakes so damned happy and refreshed because three hours of uninterrupted sleep is a blessing. But, instead of feeling grateful, I want to scream at the rotten unfairness because these sleep issues continue to dominate his life.
Trav has asked me, in the course of morning small talk and chatter, to stop asking how he slept.
“I will probably never sleep well, Shonna.”
It is such a common inquiry. I heat the kettle and pull eggs from the fridge. “Good morning!” I rattle on instinct. “Can I get you some coffee? How was your show?” And now, as part of a long list of things I must remember, I delete, “Did you sleep well?”
For Trav, any rest is a point of gratitude, and three hours IS a blessing. Most aspects of trauma, I have learned, are relative.
I have also learned that despite any common trajectories, if I meet one man who experienced child sex abuse, I have met exactly that: one man who experienced child sex abuse. Sex abuse is complex, and both symptoms and treatment are unique and intensely personal. Medication dosages and combinations are an ever-changing crapshoot of luck and tenacity.
Trav takes no comfort in commiserating with others and rarely enjoys hearing about other men’s trauma. His trauma is enough for him to handle, he says.
Trav has, however, developed a system that helps, and he is happy for me to share those aspects. Every day, with no excuses, he must exercise his body hard, eat natural and low-glycemic index foods, meditate, and swallow a carefully curated series of pills. No liquor. Therapy every two weeks. Regular chiropractic care. Reiki and yoga nidra help, too.
These rituals mitigate most of his symptoms.
And, I am confident that he will eventually tackle the night terrors, too. When I think of where he started with his first, “I have this feeling” and now, when he can name and treat his experience, pride is what I feel.
As the space between overwhelming moments continues to grow, it gets easier. After years of fearless, intense work, both Trav and I can say that while child sex abuse will always color our shared life, it will never exclusively define either of us.
By Shonna Milliken Humphrey
Shonna Milliken Humphrey’s nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Salon, and Down East magazine. Her forthcoming book, Dirt Roads and Diner Pie (Central Recovery Press) chronicles a month-long road trip through the southern United States as she and her husband struggle with the long-reaching effects of the child sex abuse he experienced as a student at the American Boychoir School. She holds an MFA in Writing and Literature from Bennington College.
Travis James Humphrey is a Maine-based musician. For eight years, he performed with the United States Air Force Band. He has opened shows for Ricky Skaggs, Blackberry Smoke, Bill Chinnock, Nora Jane Struthers, and with Murali Coryell for B.B. King. Trav’s voice was featured on two Air Force Band albums, and he has released four studio albums as a civilian. His most recent effort, “The
Roadhouse Gospel Hour” is a result of the 2014 road trip chronicled by his wife in the forthcoming book, Dirt Roads and Diner Pie.
Photo Credit: Getty Images