A letter from RCS Editor-In-Chief Kenneth Kahn…
I am a once-homeless, twice-high school dropout, former drunk and recovering drug addict. Desperately trying to kill the pain of childhood trauma, I began drinking at the age of 12. I spent nearly every day of my teen years self-medicating on recreational drugs. My self-esteem was so damaged, I could not be with friends unless I was inebriated, for fear they would hate the real me.
I certainly hated the real me, so why wouldn’t they?
Beginning at the ages of 3 and 4, respectively, my sister and I suffered childhood trauma as we were raped and molested by two babysitters over several years. One babysitter tortured us, putting us through absolute horror. There was nothing I could do to save my baby sister as that beast violated her.
I was born Kenneth Kahn. My earliest memory goes back to when I was two years old. I remember seeing the back of my father as he rode off on his motorcycle in his brown leather jacket, never to return to me. Throughout my tender years, I was convinced it was my fault he abandoned me. This too was childhood trauma. I believe that painful experience is the underlying reason why I spent most of my life fearing that people I love will leave me, my employees will quit, and that the good things I have been given or earned will be taken from me.
My father was an abusive alcoholic. He would come home in drunken rages and beat my mother in my presence when I was a baby. I believe that trauma resides in my subconscious memory, and is the cause of my fear and distrust of others who deserve to be trusted.
The Wicked Stepfather
Then came the Irishman who brought with him his own special brand of child abuse. My mother remarried while my sister and I were in grade school. Finally, we had a family. He adopted us, which is how I acquired my Irish patronymic and became Ken Kilpatrick. I’m not Irish. I have no idea if the so-called St. Patrick was a leprechaun, a priest, or a drunk. (I have since taken back my real name, Kenneth Kahn).
It didn’t take long for the man’s true colors to shine through. He had no love for us children. He adopted us out of spite to keep our birth father out of his life. Jumping at the chance to be relieved of his $24 per week child support obligation, my father agreed to terminate all parental rights.
Our new “dad” became a child abuser, physically and psychologically. He got off on beating me with garden sticks and drilling into my mind that I would end up poor and imprisoned. I came very close to fulfilling his prophecies. He grounded me more often than not, limiting my activities to only reading or chores. When my mother took us to the pool, I was not allowed to swim but had to sit on a ratty old blanket, humiliated as friends played and hung out at the snack bar.
His abuse and those many times of confinement began to shape who I would become, for bad and for good. While grounded, I would read the Bible, Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham, and Woody Allen’s classics Without Feathers, Side Effects, and Getting Even. Woody left a significant impact upon me as his work molded a dark and dry sense of humor into my impressionable mind.
On my Own: The Illegal Entrepreneur
After many violent fights with my stepfather, various incidents involving the police (we would both call the cops on each other–sometimes at the same time), and running away from home, my parents gave me away, signing me over to the custody of a friend’s parents.
My life went from one extreme to another. I was, in effect, on my own at the age of 15. I needed money for food, fuel, and basic living expenses. Shortly after turning 16, I quit high school. As mandated by state law, I had to maintain a full-time job, which I took in a shoe factory’s shipping department where I began to learn about Supply Chain Management and Logistics.
Hopeless and Homeless
After a year in the workforce, I decided to go back to high school. I was still an emotionally wounded wild child. Though my intentions were good, my behavior was not due to the childhood trauma I had suffered. All the years of being blamed, punished, and ridiculed by teachers, principals, and guidance counselors ignited a devil inside me.
Instead of receiving help for the damage inflicted upon me by child molesters and abusers, I got condemnation. Nobody thought to identify the root of my problems and get me the help I needed. I carried so much guilt and shame for being forced to perform sex acts at such a young age. I felt guilty for not being able to protect my little sister. I felt guilty for not fighting the molesters. It remained a dark, embarrassing secret that our family buried.
Children cannot process that they were violated nor can they conclude that what happened was no fault of their own in any way. Instead, they live with ever-deepening emotional wounds that never heal. Ultimately, many like myself try to run away from the pain through drugs, alcohol, and even suicide.
This time back at school, the principal and guidance counselor talked me into dropping out. And like my father, I walked away in a leather jacket, off to find something that I thought would be better.
At that time, my friend’s family went through changes and I had to move out. They were wonderful, generous people who had done all for me that they could. My wicked stepfather would not let me come home. I had nowhere to go, and I became homeless. The only shelter I had was a rusty old van that would not go in reverse.
My entire life was driven by fight, fight, fight, and sometimes flight. Everything I have done, for win or for lose, for keeps or for not, was a battle for survival, a war with the world.
Misery caught up with me. I was so sick and tired of living a lie. Sick of the pain. Sick of the guilt and shame. Sick of everything that childhood trauma had instilled in me.
I got my GED, and joined the Army Reserves, from which I ultimately received a dishonorable discharge for failing to show up for drills. Although it would take another two decades for me to heal, basic training began to reverse of my lack of self-confidence and low self-esteem. Moreover, the army ended my love affair with recreational drugs.
At 22, I enrolled in Temple University where I excelled studying History as part of a Pre-Law program, and like everyone who goes to Temple, I ranked in the top 15 percent of my graduating class. I became interested in politics and served a Congressional internship at the same time Monica Lewinsky interned at the White House. This was my launch into public relations.
A number of life changing events occurred while at Temple. I became Student Government Association (SGA) President, pushed to victory by the black vote—something I never forgot, which played a role in my success as the founder and CEO of a public relations agency that specializes in public charter school education.
Secondly, I met a beautiful girl who worked in the copy center. As SGA President, I often had copies to make. However, I could often be found in the copy center making copies I did not need. That girl is now my wife and the mother of my little daughter.
Third, I found an outlet in writing through which I could release my pain. Writing is medicine for my soul. I can rant, I can rage and it gets read. As King Azaz the Unabridged says in The Phantom Tollboth, “words are very powerful things.”
After college, I failed my Law School Admission Test (LSAT). There was not much I could do with a degree in history.
So, I did what anyone else who can’t find a job in his field would do. I went into sales.
And, I when I got into sales, I did what many people do when they go into sales. I got drunk. A lot.
I was drunk several times a week, mostly on work nights. The hole in my soul left by the pain of my past needed to be filled. But holes can’t hold booze and booze can’t heal a wounded child.
Last Call or Wake Up Call
Then I woke up. One afternoon at 2 pm, I felt that I put in an honest day of work and went to the bar. The bar was designed in a circle so people could look at each other rather than a mirrored wall. As I sat drinking a Heineken, I caught a glimpse of the man across from me. He was in his mid-40s, swigging his beer, smoking a cigarette, his head cocked up obediently watching a boring afternoon talk show.
I hated him.
I’ve always been a deeply emotional person. I’m not sure if that’s just my nature or the result of childhood trauma or a mix of both.
I fell in love with my wife the moment I looked at her, and it was for real. Twenty years later, I’m telling you, it was for real.
As I could love with a look, I can hate with a glance.
Though I did not know it at the time, I hated him because, in him, I saw reflections of an older Kenneth Kahn and his hopeless future staring back at me. I wondered for a moment how he got to where he was. A voice inside me said, “he started on your bar stool at your age.”
That was the beginning of the end of my enslavement to alcohol.
Writing becomes my Rx for Childhood Trauma
At the time of this writing, I am 19 years sober. And there’s still a hole in my soul.
So I write.
Writing is my therapy that relieves me from the childhood trauma that to this day still haunts me. It’s my release. It’s my medicine. And it works.
The pain of my past, the Woody Allen books, and warring with the world has taken shape within me for something good. I own a highly profitable public relations agency and have sold millions of dollars in services since we began 14 years ago. I am also now a published author.
Pain has paved a way to purpose. Without my pain, I would not have this gift. Everything is still fight, fight, fight, and sometimes flight, but my gun is my pen; my keyboard is the key to my soul.
Putting others First Brings Healing Faster
Though it’s my medicine, writing isn’t about me. It’s about my readers. The twisted humor inside of me has shaped the satirical pieces I create. And those pieces have made others laugh and forget about life for a while. That means the world to me.
To be sure, not everybody gets it. Though there’s nothing naughty about my work, some find elements of my craft offensive. But I am happy to offend my way through 100 people just to make one person laugh.
I hope to put a smile on your face whether you are a survivor of childhood trauma or just someone who enjoys a good laugh.
That would mean the world to me.
If it has, please share with me at firstname.lastname@example.org