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Hey everybody, welcome back to The School of Greatness!

Today, I will be sharing the story of how I was sexually abused as a child. I’ve found that part of the healing process is sharing your truth, and by sharing my story here on the show, I hope I can create a space for people to feel safe, vulnerable, and experience healing. However, I know that this subject matter is extremely sensitive and challenging.

Today, I have my friend, author Jonathan Fields, on the show to help facilitate me as I share my story. It’s been a long journey to get to a point where I felt I could tell anybody what happened to me. I was just five years old when it happened, and growing up, I experienced so much shame, anger, and fear. I felt sure that if anyone knew, no one would love me.

But let me tell you something: Today, I feel stronger than ever. Today, I can be a loving, vulnerable, and free man. I have forgiven my abuser, and I can share my story with courage. I can use my experience to create safe spaces for others to confront their own past experiences and traumas, and that’s what this episode is all about.

In this post, I’m going to lay it all out there. I’m telling you the story of what happened to me and how I reacted in the immediate aftermath. I’m sharing how it affected me growing up and how I finally told my sociology professor during my freshman year of college. I’m also talking about my experience of telling those closest to me. And lastly, I’m going to tell you what my life has been like ever since.

But here’s the main thing I want you to take away from this episode: If you have experienced trauma or abuse, you are still worthy of love. You deserve freedom, love, and joy, and if you feel compelled to share your story — whether publicly or privately — I want to encourage you to do it.

As Jonathan reminded me today, “We’ve been taught to assume that vulnerability is a weakness.” But in fact, vulnerability is a source of strength. I’m being vulnerable today, and I hope I can empower you to be vulnerable too. Facing this has been one of the most uncomfortable and emotionally challenging moments I’ve ever had, but it’s changed my life forever.

What Happened to Me

I was a happy kid. I grew up as the youngest of four, and I loved my big brother and sisters. I have two happy memories from when I was really little: I remember my first day of kindergarten when I colored in an outline of Clifford the Big Red Dog, and I remember taking brownies to preschool to share with my classmates for my birthday.

I don’t have any other memories from before. I don’t remember my brother, Chris, playing his violin, my dad throwing me in the air, or my mom holding me as I cried to sleep. I do have one picture of me with my two inspiring and compassionate older sisters, Katherine and Heidi, but I have no memory of it. I wish I could remember more of those things.

Growing up, both of my parents worked full-time. So, my brother, sisters, and I would walk to a babysitter’s house near the school until our parents could come and pick us up. I remember my babysitter was an older woman in her late 40s, and I remember we had a lot of peanut butter sandwiches! It was a totally normal situation, until it wasn’t.

I was five years old when he raped me.

My babysitter had a teenage son, though normally I didn’t see him while I was at their house. But one day, I walked past his room and heard that he was playing a Nintendo game. So, I walked in and asked if I could play Nintendo with him, and he said, “Yes, but you have to do something for me first, and then I’ll let you play.” That’s when he had me lay down on the bathroom floor while he performed a sexual act on me.

I remember what happened vividly, though I don’t remember the guy’s face. I also remember not really understanding what was happening and not knowing if it was right or wrong. I played with the Nintendo, went home that evening, and sort of went along as if nothing unusual had happened.

But when I was in my early teenage years, I started to put the pieces together. I realized that what happened to me was wrong, deeply wrong, and I realized that it had an effect on the way I acted. All that my childhood self, with his long, flowing, golden locks and smile as wide as the ocean, wanted was to love people and have them love him back. He trusted — I trusted — everything and everyone with my huge, open heart. But that all changed that day.

I had become extremely defensive and guarded. Throughout my childhood, if I felt the slightest little bit of an attack — even if the other person meant nothing by it — I felt the need to protect myself. It was an intense feeling, and it affected the way I dealt with relationships.

This new defensiveness showed up big-time in sports. I gradually became meaner and more aggressive both on and off the field, and others noticed. No one knew what happened or why I was that way because I was so ashamed of it and thought if anyone knew, they wouldn’t love me. To say I felt lonely growing up would be an understatement. There were many days I told people I wish I were dead due to the shame I felt.

When I was in high school and starting to date and experience romance, I constantly felt that there was this huge, unapproachable thing inside me that I couldn’t talk about. My girlfriends and I would have emotional and intimate conversations (as much as we could at that age), and I could talk about how my brother went to prison, and my parents got divorced, but I still felt that if I told them what happened to me, they wouldn’t like me anymore.

See, in school, I was already made fun of because I wasn’t the best student. I was a good athlete, but I wasn’t one of the smartest kids, so I was teased a lot. While I don’t think I blamed myself for the abuse that happened to me, I felt ashamed. I felt so ashamed that I thought if anyone knew, they wouldn’t care about me. They wouldn’t respect me. And surely, they wouldn’t love me.

Sharing My Story for the First Time

I experienced that shame and that defensiveness throughout my childhood and all through high school. But I kept moving, and I kept trying to ignore the fact that I had this massive thing inside me that I needed to get out. That is, until I got to college.

During my freshman year, I took an introductory sociology course. I remember one day, the professor gave a lecture and shared with us some of the statistics around sexual abuse and rape in our society at large, and the experience came flooding back in my memory. All of my feelings of insecurity and shame returned, and I felt myself trying to block those feelings again. I think at that point, too, I was trying to block those things even more because I was a heterosexual man, and it was a man who abused me.

After class that day, I went to my professor and told him what happened to me. He was very kind, and he made me feel very comfortable. But he also told me that, unfortunately, what I went through wasn’t uncommon at all. Unfortunately, a lot of young people are abused the way I was.

At that point, I started to get mad. This is so messed up. I never understood why this would happen to me, an innocent child who just wanted to love everyone. I was asking questions like, “Why is this happening? Is it safe to have kids? What are we creating in the world that people don’t feel that they’re getting the love that they want so that they have to go off and do this? Why would someone take this innocence and abuse it emotionally and physically?”

Even though I was angry and asking those kinds of questions, I still felt a small sense of relief. I’d finally shared my story with someone, and I’d received reassurance that I was not a bad human being because this happened to me. But I still had a sense of fear. I’d told someone fairly anonymously — what would happen if I told the people who were supposed to love me?

My journey to healing wasn’t over yet, but I’d taken a crucial step.

Finally Talking About My Story in Public

Throughout my twenties, I learned a lot. I learned about mindfulness, what I’d created and hadn’t, and I relaxed into a little more peacefulness. I felt okay with what happened, but I still wasn’t able to share it with anyone close to me. 

Meanwhile, my relationships were still suffering. I still reacted defensively whenever I felt the least bit attacked because my body was telling me I needed to protect myself. I was living in a place of fear and unforgiveness, and it was taking its toll.

At the same time, my dad got in an extreme car accident. He was in a coma for three months, and we didn’t know if he would live or die. He’d been an amazing father. I remembered feeling fearful of him and his authority as a small child, but around the time I was 12 or 13, he became this happy, fulfilled, loving man and an incredible dad. So I was experiencing the trauma and strain of potentially losing my dad, and at the same time I was still struggling with this big secret inside me, and I didn’t know where to turn.

During this time, I knew that my family loved me… I just didn’t feel loved. There was this total disconnect where I knew in my head that I was loved, but I just couldn’t feel it. And because I didn’t feel loved, I wanted to be the most loving person I could be to everyone around me. I didn’t want anyone else to feel the way I did. But still, I wasn’t ready to be vulnerable.

Then, I attended a leadership workshop. The workshop lasted for five days in LA, and during one of the sessions, the facilitator — now my good friend, Chris Lee — opened the floor for anyone to share an emotion or experience they felt was holding them back. Other people stood up and shared stories of their experiences, and my ego started telling me all kinds of things. “I’m pretty good. I’m doing great things. I’m crushing it. I’m getting what I want, making the money, achieving my goals. I don’t think I need to share anything.” But my heart started pounding anyway.

I started imagining myself at the front of the room, speaking about my story, and I knew what I needed to do. The leader made a “last call,” and I stood up and told a room full of about 50 people what happened to me.

The room went silent. I calmly walked back to my seat, and when I got there, I started crying like I’d never cried in my life. I bawled my eyes out. But then the first incredible thing happened — the women sitting on either side of me hugged me. They comforted me. They didn’t think less of me — they wanted to help me and love me.

Still, I needed a little air after that experience. I walked outside, and moments later, the second incredible thing happened. A few of the men who were in the room came out to me, looked me in the eyes, and said I was their hero. They hugged me, and they told me they were sorry for what happened but that they were amazed at my courage in sharing my story.

That was an incredible moment of healing for me. It was so uplifting to share my story and have those grown men who were even older than me express their love and support for me in my moment of vulnerability. Whatever stereotypes I represented just by being a larger guy who wasn’t supposed to express any emotion disappeared at that moment.

The Final Step — Telling My Family

I had finally shared my story publicly, and I had finally started feeling some real, significant relief. I’d expressed my emotions, and no one had reacted negatively. No one judged me or thought less of me. 

But then I thought, “You know what? My family doesn’t know this about me.” I had been afraid to tell my family for so long, but finally, it was time.

An amazing coaching friend of mine told me that I should start off by creating safe spaces for people to listen to my story. She suggested that I start with the question, “Is there anything that I could do in my life that would make you not love me?” So I did. I remember when I told my brother, I started off with that question, he said “no,” and then I told him what happened. And his response blew me away. He was so loving and so nurturing. He even started to open up to me about things he’d never been able to tell me about before.

One by one, I called each member of my immediate family and told them the story, and every one of them reacted with astounding kindness. My sisters and my mom were gentle and accepting. They continued to love me free of judgment. They respected me for my choice to be vulnerable, and they supported me in my healing.

Finally, I was at a place where I could fully forgive my abuser, and I was free of the secret that had kept me in fear and shame for over 20 years.

My Life Today

Here’s what I know: In any experience, I can either be the victim and let that experience control me, or I can use it and say, “What can I learn from this? And how can I ensure that I don’t create this in my life moving forward?” I’ve chosen to move on from my experience with vulnerability, courage, compassion, openness, and love. And I’ve chosen to show people what it takes to step up and communicate openly when horrible things happen.

Today, I’m in a place where I’ve done so much work on myself that when a breakdown happens, I can quickly shift out of it. I can enjoy intimate relationships without being held back by this huge weight on my shoulders. And I can create spaces for other people to be vulnerable and start to heal as I did.

And I’ll admit — when I first started to think about sharing my story here on the podcast, I was a little worried. What if it affected the business? What if I put people off in a negative way? But it was more important to me that I acted from a place of complete vulnerability. I knew I needed to be open to the world, and I knew that I could create a safe space for other people who have experienced sexual abuse to come to a similar place of vulnerability and healing by sharing my story.

Here’s what I want you to know: If you’ve experienced any kind of sexual abuse or trauma, you are not a bad person. You don’t have to feel guilty. You can forgive yourself, and you can forgive the other person. You don’t have to be a prisoner anymore — you can be free.

I also want to encourage you to share your story and talk to the people closest to you. Reach out to a parent, sibling, friend, mentor, coach, or anyone else who is important in your life, trust that they will continue to love you, and tell them what happened. You can even write a letter to yourself, tell your story in writing, and then burn it. Step out of the shadows in the way that’s most appropriate for you. I promise you’ll be amazed at the relief and healing you’ll experience.

And for all the parents reading this — I’m not a parent, so I definitely won’t try to tell you what to do — but I want to encourage you to talk to your kids. Create safe spaces for them to come to you when they’re afraid to talk about something and make sure they know you’ll love them no matter what.

Thank You for Reading My Story

I want to thank you all for taking the time to read my story. I appreciate your kindness and willingness to listen and care about my experience. I hope that I’ve created a space where you feel safe to share your experiences and helped you realize that you are not alone.

I’m so grateful for every experience in my life, including this one, for the lessons it has taught me. I want to thank my dear friend Jonathan Fields for guiding me during this interview and creating a space for me to share so openly. You are a generous soul and a healer of hearts.

To my friend Chris Lee, who created the opportunity for me to face this in the first place — thank you for the dedicated work you continue to do. You and your humble service are a gift to this world.

To Glennon Melton — you are a graceful angel. Thank you for your encouragement to share this openly and freely.

To my family and close friends I shared this with personally — your tender love and acceptance when I finally shared with you allowed me to feel safe again with my childlike innocence. You mean the world to me.

I want the comments section below to be a safe place for you to share openly and free of judgment. Do you know someone who has experienced sexual abuse, or have you experienced this yourself? What have you done to go through a healing process? Or are you still holding onto something that isn’t serving you?

I’m here to listen, love, and accept you no matter what. If you prefer to share anonymously or message me privately, I’m here as well.

I am not an expert in this matter, but I have found personally that it’s worth a lot to share your experience with someone to allow healing to occur. There is also a great charity that has a free support line to do this as well at RAINN.org along with other information and statistics on rape and sexual abuse (as it’s way more common than you think). And there’s one that is just for men at 1in6.org.

I also recommend listening to Dr. Guy Winch and his talk about healing emotional injuries.

Thank you for allowing me to share publicly with you my story. I’m so grateful even if you took a moment to read any part of this post.

Until next time, remember that you are loved. You are not alone. You don’t have to carry fear, anger, guilt, or shame. It takes courage and radical vulnerability, but you can share your story, and you can experience deep healing — I did.

To Greatness,

Lewis Howes - Signature

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