As I have been watching the Ray Rice story unfold, I feel myself watching and listening closely. I know that every story is unique and infinitely complex, and I know I can’t be one to judge because I don’t know the whole story. At the same time, I saw the video, and I was absolutely disgusted like most everyone else.

Many familiarities resonate in my mind when I listen to the commentary and read the opinions of those chiming in on the situation. I feel for Janay Rice, a victim of domestic violence and someone who seemingly doesn’t yet understand that she does not deserve to be treated the way she was–ever–by anyone.

I, too, was once in a spot where I thought my world was normal. I had a brother who I asked to be the best man in my wedding, and he asked me to be the best man in his. I looked up to him, and I didn’t see anything strange about that. Not until he came to visit one weekend and asked to stay an extra day because he wanted to go to the track in Saratoga.

On the drive up, I felt a giant pit in my stomach. It was August 1996, fourteen years after he had sexually abused me as an eleven-year-old, and little over a year after he had been my best man. I guess it was my body’s way of telling me, “You’re ready. You don’t have to hold it in anymore.”
Less than a month later, I told the first person ever. It was my wife, Margaret, and it was while we took a break from our hike at Bryce Canyon National Park, high up above one of the arches. I had brief thoughts up jumping and ending it all right there. The shame and guilt, which was all mine at the time, were just too overwhelming. But I didn’t. Somehow I knew I could persevere through this massive pain.

She didn’t quite know what to say to me. The concept was just so foreign. It didn’t make sense. This was the guy who was the best man in my wedding. Someone she had known since she had known me. We both bottled it back up for a few years, and when I became the best man in his wedding a few years later, I started to become very unstable. Everything was confusing to me, and I didn’t know what to do, what to say or how to be.

I got through the wedding, and I realized for the first time in my life that I needed help. I just needed some serious help. I didn’t know who I was, and I didn’t understand how and why the abuse had impacted me in such a deep way. I found a therapist in the Yellow Pages, and I began my long road to recovery.

It has taken me a long, long time to understand that I didn’t deserve what happened to me and that it wasn’t my fault. I know now that I am an individual that does not deserve to be mistreated, and that I am not a doormat. What he did to me was his issue, and he is the one who needs to bear the burden and face the consequences.

So do I feel sorry for Ray Rice? No. In fact I don’t feel anything for Ray Rice. What I feel is compassion and empathy for Janay Rice. While I have not experienced her personal, unique circumstances, I have indeed experienced a situation in my own life in which I was extremely vulnerable and had some terrible, unacceptable things happen to me at the hands of someone who was supposed to love me and care for me. I can understand the massive confusion and denial that sets in under such circumstances from first hand experiences. I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone, and while I’m glad that I was eventually able to come to this realization myself, I feel for those who may not yet have the capacity to do so for themselves.

If you (or someone you know) needs professional help for addressing issues emerging from childhood sexual abuse, try locating a Child Advocacy Center near you.