The trauma of a boy, the violence of a man and how two men want to heal the world
Scott Harrison runs an organization called Charity Water and his mission is to bring clean water to all people on the planet. I started MenAlive in 1969 after the birth of my son and daughter. My mission is to heal childhood trauma and end male violence in the world. This is our story.
Scott now lives in New York but grew up in a suburban home in Moorestown, New Jersey. I was born in New York City and grew up in Sherman Oaks, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. We both lost an important connection with our parents at a young age, and the trauma of loss changed our lives.
It all started for Scott on New Years Day 1980 when his mother collapsed in her bedroom, passed out. “I was four years old and slept in my own room. I can’t remember my father lifting her to her feet when she briefly regained consciousness and then passed out,” says Scott. It would be another year before his parents found out what was wrong with her and another year before they finally learned that an invisible carbon monoxide leak had poisoned his mother.
“She didn’t die that day, but her immune system did,” recalls Scott. “She became allergic to everything. She wore strange masks all the time and was often connected to oxygen. The poisonous gas had destroyed her immune system and, in some ways, my childhood too. After the poisoning, our roles reversed and I started taking care of her. “
I’m a generation older than Scott, and my loss occurred on a winter day in November 1949 when my uncle drove me to the mental hospital. I was five years old.
“Why do I have to go?” I asked Uncle Harry.
He looked at me with his round face and friendly eyes. “Your father needs you.”
“What’s the matter with him?” I started crying and squeezed my throat hard to stop the tears.
He turned away and looked back at the street. We haven’t talked about such problems in our family. Gradually I learned that my father had a “nervous breakdown” after he became depressed because he couldn’t make a living from supporting his family. I later found one of his diaries, the last entry written days before his sleeping pill overdose.
A hundred failures, an endless number of failures, until now my trust, my hope, my belief in myself has been completely exhausted. In middle age, I stand and look ahead numb, confused, and desperately concerned. All around me I see the boys in the spirit, the boys in the heart, with ten times my self-confidence, twice my youth, ten times my passion, twice my education.
I see them all, a whole army of them banging on the same doors that I strike and trying in the same field that I try. Yes, on a Sunday morning in early November my hope and my flow of life are desperately running out, so deep, so stagnant that I hold my breath in fear and believe that the dark, empty curtain is about to come down.
Like Scott, my family roles have reversed after the loss of my father. I became “my mother’s little man”. I went to my father’s home with my uncle every Sunday and felt somehow responsible for his breakdown. As the only child, I grew up quickly and took responsibility for adults. When I lost my father, I lost my mother too. When my father was gone, she had to work outside the home and I learned to take care of myself.
I grew up wondering what happened to my father because I feared it would happen to me and was scared of being all alone. It never occurred to me at the time that I would become a successful psychotherapist and writer helping other people mend their broken relationships, or that I would lead a secret life of sexual addiction, broken relationships, violent fantasies, and tantrums. I have had financial success beyond anything I imagined and my clients respected my ability to help them run their lives, but my personal life was chaotic and dangerous.
I thought that if I settled down and got married my life would stabilize, but my first marriage failed and my second was a woman who slept with a gun under her pillow to protect her from “men”. We had endless fights and she threatened me several times with killing me. In the middle of one of our verbal fights, she started poking her finger into my chest while yelling at me, “You are a bad excuse for a man. You are worthless “
I got angry and completely lost control. I knew I was going to hit her and I wouldn’t stop until she was dead. But when my fist came forward, I turned away and hit the wall. I imagined my fist going through and coming out the other side. When I felt my fist crumble and bones break, I knew I had hit a stallion. When I was examined in the emergency room, the doctor wanted to know if I was a boxer. “I’ve never seen breaks like this, except for people struggling to make a living.” I was ashamed and had no words to share. I wanted to die.
I will continue more of our journey into Part 2, which is due next week.
For more information, send me a message at [email protected] and include “End Violence, Bring Water” in the subject line.
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