From the outside looking in, Shawn Hittman has lived a pretty privileged life. He grew up in the Milwaukee suburb of Oconomowoc, was a good student, great athlete and got along well with most everyone he met. That was all part of his personal plan and goals to do well. But he didn’t get straight A’s. And he wasn’t given too many “outstanding achievement” awards, either. That was actually part of his plan, too.
“I decided I needed to ‘stay off the radar.’ I wanted to do well in school, athletics, church and with friends, but I never wanted to do TOO WELL so that anyone would shine a light on me. I hated recognition,” he explains.
That’s because Shawn was holding inside a shameful personal secret. When he was just seven years old, he was sexually abused by an older boy that he met through a babysitter. That boy, who Shawn believes was around 11 at the time, also began involving Shawn’s younger sister who was just five. The abuse lasted about two weeks, until Shawn mustered up the courage to do something about it.
“I punched him in the gut as hard as I could. He never came back to our house again. When my parents asked what happened, I told them he stole my Legos. I got grounded, but at least he was gone,” Shawn shared.
Shawn made a conscious decision at that young age to bury the abuse and try to never think of it again. And so he went about his life, doing well by most standards, but never allowing himself the joy or pain of being vulnerable. His emotions were numb, and he wasn’t really “living.”
But everything changed in 2006 when a friend of his disclosed to him, his own story of abuse. “What he told me about himself triggered the secret I had buried long ago… I decided to take a leap of faith and for the first time ever, I told him parts of what I remembered from my childhood.”
It took a few months, but Shawn began to realize how numb he was, how the abuse had impacted his life, and he decided to get help. He found The Healing Center, an Aurora Healing and Advocacy Service in Milwaukee. He began counseling sessions, along with a Men’s Group with other male survivors, each with their own story of abuse and healing. Shawn completely committed himself to the therapy and immediately began to feel a weight being lifted. He started to allow himself to feel vulnerable, and that enabled him to feel true joy he’d never experienced in his adult life.
“Everything in life since that day got better. It was time for me to be big and bold, and I never could have imagined how it would end up bringing me to a place of real confidence in my life,” he shares.
In 2014, Shawn shared his journey by contributing a chapter in a book called “Healing Happens: Inspirational Stories of Overcoming.” And he will share his story publicly at this year’s Hope Shining Blue event, a Denim Day Celebration honoring survivors of assault that supports Aurora Healing and Advocacy Services. Shawn will be honored as the 2017 Thrive Award winner, because of his courage to speak publicly and help others just like him.
Shawn says he will keep sharing his story and shining a light on his abuse. Not only because he’s no longer afraid to be vulnerable, but because he knows it could change someone else’s life, too.
“Someone put faith in me to tell his story first. Without that, none of this would be possible and I would still be an emotional zombie. So I will tell my story as many times as it takes because disclosure is the way we, as a society, will defeat this epidemic.”
Limited seats are still available for Hope Shining Blue. If you aren’t able to attend, you can always make a gift to support Aurora Healing and Advocacy Services, Support for survivors of domestic and sexual assault. CLICK HERE to purchase a ticket or make a gift.