On the outside, life looked great for Rob Vallentine. He had a solid job at Dow. Good friends. Loving family. He was happy. No issues.
But that was on the outside.
“What I’ve learned is when we have secrets, we are lonely,” Rob said. “There’s no room for peace. For the longest time, I promised myself that I would never tell anyone that I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I struggled with anxiety. I felt like I carried a backpack of rocks my whole life.”
Due to society’s expectations, Rob felt like he couldn’t share his story.
“There’s a stigma around mental health issues with my generation,” he said. “With most people, the philosophy was toughen up, pull up your bootstraps and solve it on your own. You didn’t talk about it.”
So Rob kept carrying the backpack of secrets…until he was forced to acknowledge the weight he held.
A Familiar Place
In 2010, Rob got a new job that put him in charge of community donations. He started visiting local nonprofit organizations as part of his role.
A visit to Shelterhouse—a local nonprofit organization that provides emergency shelter, counseling and advocacy to victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault—was an unexpected and monumental moment.
“I had a hard time walking into the building,” Rob said. “I was shaking. I tried the door and it was locked. I pressed the buzzer but I didn’t want to give my name. It took everything in me not to run from that building. I kept telling myself, ‘You’re here for WORK.’ But I was so nervous.”
That day was not the first time Rob had visited the building. Twelve years prior, he went to Shelterhouse to receive counseling for childhood sexual abuse. He said that his return in 2010 for work was pivotal to his recovery, as it jogged memories he had pushed deep down.
Then the Penn State child sex abuse scandal in 2011 happened. For Rob, the intense and frequent news coverage hit close to home. He couldn’t avoid his past any longer.
“During the Penn State crisis, I was walking through my work, and we have TVs all over the place showing the news, and the Penn State crisis was all over the news,” Rob said. “I walked into a co-worker’s office and shut the door. The person said to me, ‘How are you doin’?’ I couldn’t hide it. I said, ‘This Penn State thing is really hard…I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.’ And he said to me, ‘So am I’.”
Rob said sharing his story felt like unloading the backpack of rocks.
“There were thousands of times that I wanted to share my story but didn’t feel safe to share it,” Rob said. “The pivotal things that gave me the energy to keep working on recovery was when I was around other people who struggled with the same things.”
Rob began to share his story with those he deemed safe: family, friends, counselors. He utilized community programs and resources to further support his healing process. He said being honest about his journey was life-changing, both for him and for others.
“By opening up about my story, it allows other people to be comfortable to share,” Rob said. “I had put a lot of energy into keeping the secrets. But when we let them out, there’s more room for love, joy and peace.”
Rob said seeking out resources offered by organizations like Shelterhouse and other counseling services was the best thing he could have done.
“Reaching out for help to an amazing therapist who understood trauma was the greatest gift I gave myself and the greatest gift I gave my family,” he said. “My kids grew up knowing that their dad was getting the physical and mental support that he needed.”