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Brett's story

Though he’s been dealing with its impact his whole adult life, Brett remembers few details of the abuse itself. In a written statement, he outlined his one memory of what happened, giving this snapshot from when he was nine:

‘I can only recall him taking or meeting me in a small room on the ground floor in a corner of the main building block where he would get me to sit on his lap and he would kiss me, pushing his tongue inside my mouth. I still have very vivid memories of the smell and taste of his breath and his mouth, as he was a smoker.’

The perpetrator was a Catholic priest named Father Conrad who began teaching at Brett’s Brisbane school in the early 1960s. In time, Conrad stepped beyond the role of teacher and ingratiated himself with Brett’s family, accompanying them on holidays and often helping out at the house.

Brett doesn’t remember any of this, but it confirms what he’s always dimly felt: that the priest had regular, private access to him and used that access to abuse him many more times than he can remember. Brett’s not sorry that he’s lost these memories and is glad that he ‘blocked them out’.

The impact of the abuse on Brett as a boy was subtle. He didn’t turn to drink or hurl bricks through windows, and his school marks did not plummet. In fact, the change was apparently so slight that no one noticed it at all. Which is exactly what Brett wanted.

‘I became somebody who didn’t want to be noticed: didn’t want to excel, didn’t want to be at the bottom.’

Still, within this quiet boy ambition grew. Brett wanted to help people. After school he transformed his ambitions into a career that focused on solving people’s problems. This came in part from a genuine desire to do some good, but also from a desire to hide.

‘I never let others get close to me. I thought I did in some ways with some people, but again I was a bit aware that I never wanted to open up about who I was and the things that I was really feeling. I always put it in the context of I was helping them, so my feelings were secondary and were basically unimportant.’

As time went on, Brett got better at hiding and suppressing his feelings.

‘I have, over all these years, been able to keep my memory of the sexual abuse deep within me, not wanting to think about it. I felt I had no reason to revisit the issue, as I thought I was a typical guy with normal feelings and emotions; nothing that would impede a normal heterosexual relationship.

‘I also felt that by acknowledging the sexual interaction, I had to acknowledge that I must have been to some extent a willing participant in what happened, otherwise it would not have occurred. I found this thought disturbing, as it was saying that I was either weak or I found pleasure in what occurred.’

Suppression became a standard way of being for Brett, and it enabled him to function reasonably well in his daily life. But it came at a heavy price.

‘My first marriage did not last. There were a number of factors involved but in hindsight it is now clear that one of those major contributing factors was me not being able to give of myself. I could not engage emotionally. It seemed that I was always looking in from outside rather than being an active participant.’

The same problems put a strain on his relationship with his second wife and stepchildren.

‘I love them all deeply but have a huge problem in communicating that to them, so they don't know what I am thinking let alone feeling. I know that my attempts have largely come across as robotic or lacking in sincerity.

‘How can I expect them to give, and show me love and affection when I do not? How long can I expect them to wait while I struggle with this vice-like grip on my emotions? It is a testament of their love for me, particularly my wife, that has sustained our relationships.’

Brett’s wife continues to support him, helping him to find some hope for the future.

‘I am now only starting to feel “really” alive, to appreciate what I have and what I have achieved. This is happening because the sexual abuse issues are now being addressed through a very patient, understanding and loving wife and the sexual abuse counsellor.

‘While there has been some improvement in my ability to give an appropriate and normal level of trust and to express my thoughts, feelings and intimacy, there is still a very long way to go. It is taking a conscious effort to not fall back into those well-learnt, unhealthy coping strategies and to risk opening up of myself.

‘I may not be able to conquer all my demons but I have started down a path which I cannot and will not give up on. There is too much at stake.’

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