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Breaking the Chain
Tom Antonek, P.H.D.
I saw your face in the eyes of a patient today. She was describing a horrific history of sexual abuse – an event that occurred 30 years before – as if the violation had occurred moments before, curling herself in a fetal position in my office. Listening to her story, I was consumed by unbearable suffering. Nothing I could say could take her pain away. Hearing of atrocities on an innocent child by a parent meant to be her protector, I was repulsed as always, but also intensely aware of my own maleness, and distressed by the thought that my sex might inhibit her from healing from such violence.
This is happening to me with alarming frequency. There seems to be no end to the number of women who have been victimized by their fathers, uncles, brothers, lovers, husbands, male friends, and strangers. I don’t know what concerns me more: the plethora of victims or the abundance of perpetrators. These women come to me as a psychologist in hopes of receiving some measure of reprieve from their overwhelming despair. I often feel as helpless to impact change and facilitate healing in their lives as I did when I tried to be the perfect son for you, the retributive answer to your great anguish.
As a child, I did not have the capacity to begin to comprehend the measure of damage inflicted on you as a little girl, brutally victimized by your father, a pathological sociopath who only had concern for his own immediate base libidinal needs. Even now, the cost you paid is unimaginable to me. Intellectually and professionally, I’ve acquired the skill of diagnosing the constellation of symptoms that comprise the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. While each woman is unique, for those who take the risk to trust me, there does appear to be a similar pervasive pattern of residual tribulations in the clinical presentation to include feelings of depression, fear, anxiety, shame, guilt, anger, and powerlessness.
I recall the revolving door of drunk, horny men from the neighborhood who would come knocking on our front door to be with you while dad was working late at night in the city. I clearly recall coming home from school early one day as a young adolescent only to what sounded like a frenetic sexual free-for-all between you and your boss in the very same bedroom you shared with my father. I stood motionless outside your bedroom door while time stood still. I was paralyzed by the reality of what had just happened, with you standing there in your panties in his intimate embrace as you gave him one last kiss goodbye.
Before dad passed away he told me that you had an abortion as an adolescent after being impregnated by your own father. I remember seeing you swim in the nude with your father when I was only about 5 years old while we were on a family vacation. My sister told me that your father attempted to sexually violate her the night that he took his own life.
How could so much pain and suffering be inflicted upon so many innocent children across generations by one reprobate predator? It was easy to hate my grandfather for these atrocities and the cycle of violence they perpetuated in how you abused your own children. As much as I wanted to abhor you as a child, I couldn’t. Instead, I dedicated myself to the mission of saving you from yourself. I only wish I could have, Mom.
I’m a psychologist today because of this need to save someone, at least in part. If only one lost soul. I carried an overwhelming burden of guilt and shame for how I couldn’t protect you or my siblings. I lost myself in the process of focusing on the needs of others and found solace in alcohol and drugs. This caused me to fail at being the father that my own children deserved. While I did not physically or sexually abuse them, I was not emotionally available to them when they needed me the most. So, I am faced with my own anguish over the scars inflicted on them by the violence your father started, this family heritage of shame. And each day is a step in atonement and mercy as our relationships continue to heal.
I’ve finally come to a place where I can forgive myself and genuinely weep for you. I can bring you into the work I do with women, the sanctity of these trusting hours in the therapeutic relationship, helping them to move through pain. For this gift that you have given to me, I thank you. Please know that I will forever love your grandchildren and that they turned out to become loving and compassionate parents of their own children despite my transgressions. I trust you will rest in peace knowing that the chain has finally been broken in your grandchildren. In the meantime, as women have told me their stories, I’ve witnessed the miracles of lives transformed in my presence. I feel honored and humbled, amazed at the audacity and strength of patients who open their hearts to me. The message and gift that they have given me, Mom, is “THERE IS HOPE!”
Dr. Antonek is a licensed psychologist who specializes in substance abuse treatment. Subsequently, he has also worked extensively with victimized women who have developed addictions in an attempt to anesthetize pain related to their trauma. Dr. Antonek is the Founder & Clinical Director of “The Growth Center” and the President of "The Florida Medical Professionals Group." For more information see the websites @ www.thegrowthcenter.com and www.fmpg.org