Stand up and be heard: Couple looks to spread awareness of sexual abuse, find ways to heal
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Ernie Carwile sat in his therapist’s office about 35 years ago, a 30-something-year-old struggling with major depression and severe substance abuse issues, unable to identify the source behind his pain. But all it took was one memory to start bringing it all back.
He described a fear to his doctor; recounting nightmares of hearing the popping of his father’s knees as he approached his childhood bed, presumably ready to kill him. His therapist, taken aback, asked why he would think that.
“It was like he hit me with a hammer, and the first memory just shot back,” Carwile remembered. “It was the first memory where I woke up in the middle of the night, at the age of 15 in California. He had the covers down, my pants down, a flashlight and he was doing something to me. I think I sat up and said no, but then the disassociation hit, and all I could hear was wind and see was blinking, and I was sucked out of the room.
“I’d been doing that throughout my life, and I didn’t know until then.”
Carwile was sexually abused, along with physically and emotionally, by his father from the time he was five years old to when he was 30. Though it wasn’t until he was in his mid-30s that any of the memories returned, a common coping mechanism among survivors of sexual abuse.
Today Carwile is in his 70s, and while he’s made great progress in overcoming a lifetime full of issues, he’s still healing.
And he’s trying to help others do the same.
Carwile recently released a book, “Even the Trees Were Crying,” a story detailing his history of abuse and his road to recovery. Carwile and his wife, Mary, also spoke in front of a crowd at the Church of the Eternal Hills in Tabernash on Saturday, leading a fruitful discussion on the topic of sexual abuse.
The Carwiles spoke in rarified earnestness about their personal experiences facing abuse, the difficulties coping with their past and the current culture of assault brought to light in recent cases such as with former U.S. Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar and film producer Harvey Weinstein.
Carwile said that he faced abuse for the entirety of his youth, and often turned to drugs and alcohol to cope. He started smoking cigarettes and drinking at just 10 years old, and turned to marijuana, speed, cocaine, crack and Percocet in his later years. He also found that during his teenage years he often had accidents, and got hurt — living a more reckless life.
“Looking back it was easy for me to see that I was trying to kill myself,” he said. “When I wasn’t drinking and not using, I started remembering what was on my mind the whole time.”
Starting the healing
He said he tried everything he could think of to confront his mental health issues and addiction, even enrolling in seminary school and becoming a minister for a short time. He tried therapy for years before finally having a breakthrough with a process called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR, a psychotherapy treatment designed to alleviate distress from traumatic memories.
Mary Entrican, a therapist and panelist at the event, described the process as taking traumatic memories that feel like 70-inch color televisions with surround sound and reducing them to 12-inch black-and-white TVs on low sound.
Carwile lauds the process as one of the elements that he identified as necessary for healing, along with talk therapy, overcoming addiction, welcoming adversity and forgiveness. Forgiveness, Carwile said, is perhaps the most difficult step.
“I was a minister, and I have spoken on forgiveness,” said Carwile. “I’ve quoted Bible verses on forgiveness. … Forgiveness is crucial to anyone to get healthy and move on, but I couldn’t find a way.”
But then Carwile came up with a somewhat elegant solution, imagining life as a learning opportunity. He imagines his father and he chose the roles they would take in life, so that they could both learn necessary lessons.
Carwile said he confronted his family twice about the abuse, the first time over the phone while in college. His mother denied that anything ever happened, and said that his father was checking for ringworm when entering his room at night, apparently a common excuse among pedophiles.
The second time, he confronted his family in person. His sister told him she didn’t believe him, and said he had been abducted by a UFO and misinterpreted the events.
“I couldn’t believe she resorted to that,” he exclaimed. “That’s why nobody wants to talk about this. That’s why. Because nobody wants to believe you.”
how to share stories of sexual abuse
Mary Carwile was a single mother with two children, living in the Fraser Valley years ago. She was planning a trip to Mexico when her older son was seven years old, and a scout leader offered to take care of him for the week. Her son spent the night with him one day before her vacation.
“(The scout leader) knew I was vulnerable, and that I needed a break. It was a free babysitter for a week,” she explained. “He’s a Cub Scout leader. It was perfect. He was so nice to me, and I trusted him. He groomed me beautifully.”
Mary, who shared her experience with the audience alongside her husband, discovered the abuse a couple days before her vacation, but still went, leaving her son with a trusted friend from the church. She expressed the experience of dealing with that guilt, and worrying about how her son would cope with the traumatic experience.
Her son is now in his 40s and reportedly well adjusted.
It took a while for the Carwiles to be able to tell their story, taking years of learning how to cope and heal from their respective experiences, a process that is still ongoing. But they said it’s important for them to reach out to others to try and help them learn methods for healing, if at all possible.
They want to spread awareness that sexual abuse is a pervasive issue in today’s society, with almost 20 percent of the population having experienced some form of sexual abuse, according to the National Sex Offender Public Website, a subset of the U.S. Department of Justice. About 30 percent of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are family members, while almost all perpetrators know the victim in some capacity.
“When I finally became fully aware, I got nervous,” Ernie admitted. “I got nervous because of the intimacy of the subject. But I realized that there were so many people who have not been able to talk about this. Maybe if I can be open, that might open up the door for others, as well.”
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