Chris Carlton didn't set out to write a book or start a company. But, as he underwent therapy to properly address years of sexual abuse he had suffered, he soon realized he needed to tell his stories so that others could begin their own healing process. The result is Nice to Meet Me, the story of Carlton's journey with counseling. He tells his story so that others can understand what therapy is like and seek to recover. He is also the founder of Mugwump Publishing, a business aimed at helping people tell stories that need telling. We had the chance to interview Chris Carlton about his life and work.
CPC: Tell us a bit about the book - who should read it, what should people do with it, and what will they get out of it?
Carlton: Believe it or not, I never intended to write a book. Before I started therapy for seven years of sexual abuse as a child, I wanted to better understand what therapy would be like. I was terrified of the unknown. I scoured the internet and bookstores for weeks and couldn’t find anything to prepare me. So, I summoned whatever courage I had and walked into a therapy office. That night I started an anonymous blog, chronicling each therapy session and sharing my thoughts in between. I expected it to help a few survivors as they began their journey through therapy. What I wrote was ugly, sad, confusing, heart-wrenching, and even humorous at times. What I found was that tens of thousands of parents, teachers, therapists, and loved ones were equally interested in what I wrote. So, after dragging my feet for months, I decided to write the book, which included much of what I wrote in my blog. My hopes are that survivors can gain a better understanding of what therapy is like, that they can understand that recovery is undeniable, and that others can grasp the kind of struggles that come with being a male survivor of childhood sexual abuse.
CPC: Do you think our society places a stigma on therapy or counseling? If so, do you have hope that will change?
Carlton: Without a doubt, there’s a stigma attached to mental health in general, but I think our society is headed in the right direction. I remember going out to dinner with my wife, Ellen, just after I started therapy. She said something about my “therapist” and I recoiled in my chair and asked her to lower her voice. Just the thought that someone may know I was in therapy frightened me. Granted, I was raised in a military family, so mental health was not exactly dinner conversation, but I doubt I’m different from many people, especially men, who are taught at a young age that men should be self-sufficient and strong. It took a little while for me, but now I’m incredibly open about my past and how much I have benefited from therapy. I think our society will continue to open up about mental health - we all have our issues and can benefit from a little guidance.
CPC: Writing and publishing your book led you to start a company to help others do likewise. Tell us a little about Mugwump Publishing.
Carlton: When I wrote my book, I decided against going the big publishing house route. I felt I needed to control the content of the book and to market the book in a way that made sense to me. I decided to start my own publishing company, Mugwump Publishing. It was much easier to do than it sounds, and I’m helping other independent writers edit, publish and market their books without jumping through the hoops that a big publisher requires - and at a tenth of the time from manuscript to sales. With the continuing popularity of eReaders, it is becoming more and more cost-efficient to self-publish. It’s amazing what technology is doing to the industry.
CPC: Can you share some success stories or positive moments that have happened to you since the book came out?
Carlton: The best moments are when I receive letters from readers who share with me their personal struggles and let me know how my book has in some way helped them. It’s unlike anything else. While it’s sad to hear their stories, I know that talking and sharing is a positive step forward. As they say, you’re only as sick as your secrets.
CPC: What advice do you have for someone thinking of starting therapy?
Carlton: Therapy is different than anything else. In therapy you have to go easy on yourself, and learn to accept that with every step or two forward, there may be a step back, and that’s alright. It took me a long time to learn how to be a therapy patient, but once I figured out how to give myself a break, I made more progress. The other thing is to try to keep a sense of humor. Luckily, I was able to do this. Sometimes I’d be so miserable and self-destructive, I’d have to force myself to take a step away from the situation and laugh at myself and my mess. It was difficult at times, but very important. Life is beautiful. We need to consistently remind ourselves that things will get better, and once we believe that, there’s no stopping our progress.
CPC: What is your one big dream for the world?
Carlton: Besides the invention of the extra-medium t-shirt? My focus right now is on giving back to male survivors of sexual abuse. I am incredibly lucky. While my childhood was marked with abuse, I have been blessed with amazing parents, siblings, in-laws, and friends. There are many survivors without these gifts, so I want to be a positive voice for them. I am currently the Development Director for a fantastic organization, 1in6.org, whose mission is to help men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood live healthier, happier lives. My dream for the world is that sexual abuse and mental health will become open and honest conversations in society, and if that can happen, perpetrators will no longer have the advantage. We are the cure.