On Sept. 5, at the Baylor College of Medicine Grand Rounds for OB/GYN physicians, residents and medical students, guest speaker Gregory Williams turned off all the lights in the auditorium and began a short video clip.
The video showed images of children with hands over their mouths, hunched over and ashamed. A brooding cover of “The Sound of Silence” by heavy metal band Disturbed played while statistics flashed on the screen: every 98 seconds, someone is sexually abused in the U.S.; 1 in 4 girls have been sexually abused; 1 in 6 boys.
Williams, a member of the senior administrative team in the department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Baylor, was one of those boys.
“It took me approximately 35 years before I ever told anybody,” he said after the video ended. “And being 55 years old, you can start figuring out that my life was shattered.”
Williams kept the lights off through the remainder of the lecture, but his message Wednesday morning was one of encouragement, of gently persuading victims to speak. He explained that his song choice for the video was intentional, that, as the song goes, his own silence was like a cancer.
“The longer I kept it down in me, the more it started to fester, the more it started to develop into things that I didn’t want it to develop into,” he said, citing OCD and PTSD, among other conditions and symptoms.
Sharing the secret
But one day, three years ago, he unexpectedly blurted out his secret during a presentation.
“You know, I was abused as a kid,” he recalled saying in front of a large audience.
It was the first time in his entire life that he’d ever told anybody.
As soon as he said it, all of his fears rushed forward. “I thought, nobody’s going to like me, nobody’s going to care about me, everybody’s going to shun me, nobody’s going to talk to me anymore, my family is going to alienate me, I’ll be totally alone,” Williams said. It was the refrain he’d been telling himself for decades.
At age four, Williams’ first recollection of being raped, his father threatened to take him from his family and put him up for adoption if he told anyone. Williams also suffered from shame and guilt—common feelings among survivors of abuse.
But after that seminar when he’d shocked the room with his deepest, darkest secret, more than 20 people were waiting in line to speak with him. In those conversations, he remembered, every person said, “I’ve never told anybody either.”
Now, Williams wants to help others through their own trauma of sexual abuse by telling his story. He travels the country for speaking engagements and has recently published a book about his past.
“I wrote this book and, since it’s come out, I’ve talked to over six doctors on our floor that have come to me, closed the door and said, ‘Greg, this happened to me, too,’” Williams said. “I’ve had several admins come to me and tell me the exact same thing.”
Titled, Shattered by the Darkness, the memoir describes Williams’ life at the hands of an abusive father.
“I don’t want it to happen to my grandson. I don’t want it to happen to anybody that I love. I didn’t want it to go another generation,” Williams said. “I’m using the rest of my life for this one mission: to go around all over the country and to speak and tell people that no matter what happens to you in the negative side of life, you have the opportunity to turn it into something positive. And the only way to be able to do that is to be able to start talking about it. If you don’t let it out, you’ll never get help.”
The effects of sexual abuse last a lifetime. Williams still has nightmares in which he wakes up screaming after reliving particularly horrendous episodes, and sundown almost always brings on suffering.
“That’s why I come to work at 4 o’clock in the morning now,” he said. “I hate night. I hate going to bed. I hate evening-time. I just prefer to stay up.”
Williams cited research to illustrate how a negative childhood experience like sexual abuse can have a lifelong impact on physical health. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have been linked to risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions and mortality, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The risk of these outcomes increases with the number of ACEs a child has suffered.
Williams himself experienced this firsthand. In 2010, doctors discovered his heart was failing and he was in urgent need of major surgery. But they were also puzzled; all signs had pointed to a healthy cardiovascular system and doctors couldn’t understand why one valve had just stopped working.
Later, another doctor told Williams that internalizing so much childhood trauma had left a toxic trail in his body that had affected his heart.
“I was one of those statistics that the ACEs talk about,” Williams said, adding that he had scored an 8 out of 10 on an ACEs questionnaire, with 10 being the worst.
At the end of the lecture, Williams asked if there were any questions. A doctor in the audience raised her hand.
“Did a physician ever ask you if you’d been abused? We’re taught to ask if there are any problems with alcohol, smoking, drugs—but did anyone ever include in that list abuse?”
“No,” Williams answered. “I never recall a physician asking me that—ever. Even to this day.”
“Say that louder,” the doctor requested, “so that all the students in the room can hear.”
RT @McGovernMed: Register now for the Pediatric Neuroscience Symposium at Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital on Saturday, May 4! #McGover…
CHI St. Luke's Health@CHI_StLukes
Our love for #GreaterHouston is at the heart of everything we do. In our mission to create healthier communities, we’re sharing our favorite places to inspire health and happiness in our neighbors: https://t.co/oegrvNAWh9 #WeHeartHouston https://t.co/lO6veLnoku
The mystery of ‘mylk’ drove this Rice alumna coco-nuts! Luckily, a group of freshmen helped this entrepreneur find the right mix for shelf-stable vegan coconut milk. https://t.co/cYPiZxKVqT https://t.co/uIvYfwFJYA
RT @BCMCancerCenter: Did you know you can still sign up for tomorrow's Lunch and Learn with Dr. Andrew Sikora hosted by @TheWomensFund? Be…
In honor of National Autism Awareness Month, Dr. Ruth Ann Luna shares the side of autism you don't see often: https://t.co/UuGS12BGqJ #texaschildrens
Harris Health System@harrishealth
Going through menopause can be a bit like traveling in a new city without a map—or even a clear destination. In fact, you may not even realize you’re there until you’ve passed it. Here's how to better cope with this midlife milestone. https://t.co/6s25Aji4oe https://t.co/YUNpLFz3hh
.@VANatCemeteries Veteran sees duty at 35 locations https://t.co/aFx133klvV #VAntagePoint
Let’s bring to light some surprising habits that could be damaging your skin: https://t.co/7VXEaHA9CT. https://t.co/dioqIgDfHD
Vitiligo, Alopecia Merely Cosmetic? Think Again https://t.co/IrsX5jsoMq
MD Anderson Cancer Center@MDAndersonNews
You don’t need any equipment to do #strengthtraining. Here are our tips for an at-home workout: https://t.co/B6LU00kIH9 @FocusedonHealth #endcancer https://t.co/fjCJ2TuPz5
Running and enjoying treats in moderation are just some of the ways Dr. Christina Weng stays fit. See more of her healthy habits: https://t.co/ttuEhmpRmU #healthy #habits https://t.co/NNehV0jfJD
Join us for season two of @TexasChildrens podcast series, Outcomes! Every day incredible stories occur inside our walls, here are a few of those such stories.--> https://t.co/73SXLUB5Pv (Don't forget to subscribe!) https://t.co/fA7C3hgMgJ
RT @SecWilkie: I had the opportunity to share my command philosophy “Walk the Post" at VHA’s NLC meeting earlier today. I am honored to b…
This could be why your hands are always so cold: https://t.co/T6p3d32EZS
RT @isiahcareyFOX26: Amazing story by the staff at TMC News and edited by our good friend @CindyGeorge https://t.co/KHcTqCVp1h!