My Voice Shame Belongs to the Perpetrator

By Robert Teitelbaum

My parents knowingly crossed the line between right and wrong. When all they believed in was blown to hell, what they had left was called faith, and it was not enough, so welcome to the abyss.

My story starts in Chicago when my parents as young attorneys in 1928, by a simple twist of fate and a gambling debt, became the attorneys for Al Capone and his family along with 14 top members of the Outfit. My parents believed that no matter the crime, guilty clients deserved the best representation that money could buy, and my parents did whatever it would take to get their clients off, which made them very popular with the Chicago Outfit.

There are many children in this world who grow up in ideal settings. They live in beautiful homes with all the trappings, the envy of everyone they know. They might also have successful and popular parents, but if these children know anything, it is this: what looks perfect on the outside is often the sickest on the inside. The worst part of this story is that no one usually finds out because the children will not tell. This is my story and I had no one to trust or talk to.

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In 1948, my parents hired a bodyguard to care for their children. He married my aunt, and things went from bad to worse, placing my siblings and me in terrible danger. I am a survivor of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse from the age of 4 to 14. Children can be robbed of their innocence, joy, and childhood. When that takes place, self-hate and loathing can rule the day. Often there is so much anger and nowhere to appropriately deal with it.

Some men, carrying all that heavy emotional baggage for years, will direct that anger outwardly through rage, domestic violence, spousal abuse, and physical and emotional abuse that are cycled and recycled in a destructive fashion that never lets up. Others turn inwardly and self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, cutting, and other self-destructive behaviors. Sometimes the pain, shame, and self-hate become so overwhelming that suicide appears the only way out. I left Beverly Hills High School in September of my junior year, I was just 17 and joined the Marines to get away from my family. Recently I learned about the ACE study, the 10-year study created by Kaiser and the Center for Disease Control about young men with PTST from child abuse joining the all-volunteer military. Abuse survivors have been joining the military services already having PTSD then serving in combat, thus compounding the problem with additional episodes of PTSD and without treatment, the suicide rate has become epidemic to our veterans. It’s a real problem that must be addressed.

In 1963, I married my wife, Carol. We have been together now for over 58 years. I know the damage and baggage that I have accumulated, hurting myself, and my family. Like most men, I thought that I could stuff my feelings and file them away forever. The trauma and abuse I stuffed so long ago as a child caused me to rage. My experience is one of broken promises and dreams that lead me to use of drugs and alcohol. I could snap and hurt feelings in less than a second. I would block out all my feelings and become absent from my wife, children, and friends. The drugs and alcohol were never enough. I could never allow anybody to see the real me, that me had disappeared when I was a child while being abused. I was a total train wreck inside. I was successful in business, but sabotaged my success by listening to the old tapes in my head, “Robert, you are worthless. Robert, you don’t deserve anything good. Robert, shut up, do not say anything. “

Anytime things would trigger me, without even thinking I would revert to drugs and alcohol and l was turning into someone I never wanted to be – my absent parents.

Recovery from child abuse is much like recovering from drugs and alcohol; it must be done one day at a time. Let the truth be known; no one is ever completely recovered, we are all just recovering. I still get triggered periodically, but now I have the tools to deal with my demons.

The good news is that I am resilient and in recovery 12 years and truly now have a different outlook on life and my quest to help others by sharing my story, as every time I tell my story it mitigates my pain and now it is like looking into my rear-view mirror, as it gets father away from my own destruction.

Dave Pelzer said it best “No matter what abuse you suffered as a child you can do the work… You can do the work… and become a productive member of society… It was never your fault.” It is never the survivor’s fault. Let’s break this stigma and stomp out shame… shame belongs to the perpetrator not to the survivor.

Robert Teitelbaum is author of Frogs and Snails and Mobster Tales, a book that takes readers on an intimate childhood journey as the son of Al Capone’s attorney, Abe Teitelbaum, struggled to survive abuse and neglect while a carousel of mobsters rotated through his confused life. It reveals how an innocent child struggled to develop resilience in an environment ripe with greed and entitlement.

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