As a child, my husband endured years of sexual abuse. He never sought help for it, nor did he disclose his abuse while he was alive. Due to shame and complex trauma, he kept his abuse hidden. At 34 years old, he took his life. On the outside, my husband was a happy, easygoing, successful man. But as his wife, my intuition always told me something underneath was wrong. The few times I brought it up, and the handful of times I suggested we get external help, he shut it down. He’d change the subject, make a joke, and laugh. I would feel his love again and would tell myself I imagined it all. The (very) few times he let me in enough to see the pain, he closed back up as soon as he let that sliver of light in. It wasn’t until after he took his life that his truth came out, and I began to understand the extent of what he lived through as a child. Hidden Abuse My husband’s life ended because of suicide. But a driving force behind his death was repeated childhood sexual abuse. Since childhood, a façade was cultivated to keep the abuse hidden and the abusers protected — a pattern that he, too, had been conditioned to maintain. The weight of the abuse and the secrets, lies, and shame surrounding it led my husband to struggle with hidden depression and complex post-traumatic disorder (C-PTSD) which he experienced in childhood and in adulthood (the latter of which I only now see and understand). On the outside, he was the opposite; cool, calm, collected. I now see how hard he fought to keep everything hidden and “under control,” out of sight to the world and as much as he could, to himself. When he died, he left behind letters, documents, and other information which described a terrorized man completely out of control inside his own body and mind. He was humiliated, terrified, and confused. He hated himself and was ashamed of who he was because of what was done to him. All the while, he blamed himself for how he felt, not fully making the connection that the sexual abuse from years before had shaped the adult that he had grown into, and the emotions, thoughts, and behaviors he embodied. All of this was exacerbated by acute yet covert emotional abuse, which morphed from childhood but never relented, continuing until his final days. Shame, Expectations — And How I Truly Saw Him My husband couldn’t fathom telling me, his wife, what had happened to his body, his ego, his self-esteem, his identity, his masculinity, even his sexuality. He was ashamed of what had happened. In his mind, it was all his fault. But as soon as I found out what he lived (and why he died), I felt nothing of what he feared I would. In fact, I felt the exact opposite. When I found out about his abuse, this is what I did feel — and what I wish I could have told him: 1. I loved him even more. When I found out about the abuse, I wasn’t embarrassed of him, ashamed, or disgusted. I didn’t think he was “dirty” or “less of a man.” Instead, my immediate reaction was bursting love and deep empathy. He was already gone from the world when I found out, yet all I wanted in that moment was to hold him, tell him how much I love him, and let him know that I was here for him, indefinitely. The love I have for my husband is unconditional and eternal. It always was and it always will be. No experience can take that away, no matter how much stigma and shame surround it. 2. I immediately knew that none of it was his fault, no matter how deeply he was led to believe that it was. He was a child when the abuse began. Full stop. 3. I finally understood him in full. Everything clicked. It finally made sense. I finally understood what was beneath the surface all those years, causing the behaviors that my intuition told me weren’t right. I finally understood why he behaved as he did, and why the abusers behaved as they did. 4. I wanted to be his bridge to getting professional help. I wanted to stand by him in his pain and be his support system as he opened up to the realities of the abuse he endured. 5. More than anything, I wish that he had known that he didn’t have to live in pain forever. Whether it’s due to abuse, traumatic loss, or another traumatic event, the pain of trauma never fully goes away. At the same time, as I’ve discovered in my own healing, trauma does not have to be a life sentence. It all starts with telling someone that we’re in pain. Say Something Looking back, I wish that my husband had told me what he was going through. I didn’t need to know the details. But I do wish he had broken the seal on the pain he carried, and had let me in to know he needed help. I also wish I had trusted my intuition that something wasn’t right. At the time, I didn’t want to rock the boat. Even more, I wanted to believe that everything was fine. It didn’t compute that we could be so in love, and at the same time, there could be something wrong underneath. I now see that this juxtaposition is not only possible — but that if not confronted, it only fuels the façade. Ultimately, the air of perfection made it even more difficult for my husband to talk about his abuse. He thought that he would let me down if our perfect life cracked. In actuality, I would have listened and stood by his side. More than anything, I wish that we had trusted our love enough to know that no matter what was said, we would be there for each other. We were life partners, and that entails holding space and showing up amidst the greatest pain. My Hope My husband is now gone, and as I’ve learned from our experience, the ripple effects of child sexual abuse are vast and wide. In many ways, my husband’s pain has been transferred to me, as I now navigate life as a widow and survivor of suicide loss. It’s my hope that by sharing our story, others who are scared to speak out about abuse — or are afraid to rock the boat when something with their loved one doesn’t feel right — are encouraged to talk. Healing starts when we say something. May our story be an invitation to do so. A starting place to find free, confidential help: If you or a man you care about has been sexually abused, contact 1in6.org for live chat and anonymous online support groups. If you or someone you care about having thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255 or live chat at suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/ Follow this journey on The Alchemy of Science & Spirit.