Andy Bhatti needed to escape.
He searched for a way to dull the pain associated with being sexually abused by a Big Brothers volunteer from Langley.
Bhatti said the abuse started when he was nine years old. It continued until he was 14.
“I went crazy. It screwed up my life. I lost everything,” the now 34-year-old Bhatti said. “Legally, I only have a Grade 6 education.”
While the abuse was happening, Bhatti channeled his anger towards those around him.
He rebelled against his mom. He refused to study or listen to teachers. He wouldn’t associate with other boys, or his friends’ dads.
Bhatti turned violent, getting into fights and stealing.
Marijuana use that started at 11 wasn’t enough to numb the pain. When pot didn’t do the trick, Bhatti turned to hallucinogens like acid and magic mushrooms.
Then he snorted cocaine, but being an “upper,” it didn’t suppress the hurt he felt inside.
When Bhatti was 14, a friend turned him onto heroin.
“She said, ‘It’s the best painkiller in the world. It blocks everything out of your life,’” Bhatti recalled.
He was a heroin addict until he was 27.
Through the years, Bhatti got in trouble with the law for a laundry list of offences: robbery, aggravated assault, and trafficking.
Bhatti said he went from the Maples Adolescent Treatment Centre, to a youth detention centre, to adult jail, to a full-blown heroin addict on Main and Hastings in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
But by facing his demons, Bhatti emerged from the darkness. He says he’s been clean from drugs since 2006 and made a decision to turn his life around “100 per cent.”
Bhatti got a job, immersed himself with those in recovery, and went to meetings every day.
Today, Bhatti says that he’s six-and-a-half years clean, does siding for a living, has full custody of his child, and is an advocate for victims of child sexual abuse.
Not long after Bhatti stopped using, investigators tracked him down after his attacker was charged with abusing two other children in Vernon.
Bhatti found the courage to speak about the abuse he endured from a man who twisted his life around as a young boy, and well into adulthood.
“I was like, it’s better to talk now, so maybe it won’t happen to somebody else,” Bhatti said.
At the time, Bhatti was already nearly eight months clean of drugs. Friends in recovery convinced Bhatti that the biggest issue he had was the suffering he was exposed to as a child.
“You need to speak up, you need to tell the truth, and you need to find support,” they told him.
Bhatti said the easiest way to face his past is to accept the fact that the abuse wasn’t his fault.
“I didn’t grow up saying I want to be a heroin addict and get molested,” he said. “I tell other guys in groups, ‘dude, all you have to do is accept that you can’t change the past, it’s not your fault… you were an innocent little child, and you were manipulated by someone who was in breach of trust.’”
A nine-year-old’s brain isn’t fully developed yet, Bhatti said, and could perceive sexual abuse as “normal.”
Bhatti had caused so much trouble at school and at home, he was afraid no one would take him seriously if he came forward with accusations.
“Once you know it’s not normal, you don’t know what to do,” he said. “Now you’re too scared to tell somebody because you don’t know if they’re going to believe you or not, because you’ve just created all this chaos. If you tell somebody, ‘I’ve been molested by this guy,’ well, he’s a productive member of society and you’re a 10-year-old kid that’s ripping off stores, and beating people up, and lighting fields on fire. So statistically, they’re not going to believe me.”
Bhatti said in the 1980s and ’90s, sexual assault on boys wasn’t publicized.
This started to change when public figures such as Toronto Blue Jays’ pitcher R.A. Dickey and former NHL players Theo Fleury and Sheldon Kennedy came forward, stark and transparent about the sexual abuse they suffered in their formative years.
To help all those who are on a similar journey, Bhatti is putting together a poker tournament that will raise funds for the BC Society for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse.
BCSMSSA is a Canadian registered charity that provide victim services, and individual and group therapy for boys and men who have been victims of sexual violence at any point in their lives.
The first annual Men of Hope Charity Poker Challenge takes place Saturday, April 6 at the Royal Canadian Legion in Aldergrove.
The guest list includes Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Johnny Bower, former NHLers John Craighead and Steve Passmore, and actor Nathaniel Arcand.
The event offers a silent auction and prizes available for participants.
Registration is $50 which includes the buy-in fee for the tournament, a complimentary beverage, and chances to win prizes.
Registration opened Jan. 1 and there are only 100 tickets available.
There will be table sponsorships available for $250 in exchange for the business logo being on display at each table, and on the Men of Hope website, banners and signage on display at the event, and recognition on social media.
The exclusive main event sponsor is $1,000.
Tickets are available at Pastime Sports & Games, 20378 Fraser Hwy.
Bhatti is receiving support from Lee Ferrill from Ontario-based Men of Hope.
He connected with Ferrill through his seach for sexual abuse support groups on the internet.
Bhatti travelled to Belleville, Ont. to take part in an MOH charity golf tournament for victims of sexual abuse.
He was inspired by his experience at Ferrill’s tournament, which raises awareness for both male and female survivors.
Ferrill is himself a survivor.
The abuse began when he was two years old in Toronto, from a teenaged female babysitter. As the years passed, he had three perpetrators, including a man who was a close family friend, and a male neighbour who lived down the street.
The abuse ended when he was 13.
“It created a great deal of anxiety and fear, an inability to form intimate relationships, anger, guilt and shame, confusion, depression, and by the time I was not even an adolescent I was already using drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism,” Ferrill said.
He was 11 years old when he suffered alcohol poisoning for the first time.
Ferrill was a drug addict and an alcoholic by the time he was 21 years old, and he finally told someone for the first time about the hell that he went through.
“I actually verbalized it and that’s when the healing journey began,” Ferrill said.
The 29-year-old is now a therapist and group facilitator for support groups in Belleville.
“I’ve been clean and sober, and I have been for years, and I continue on healing journey,” Ferrill said.
Events like this upcoming poker tournament is a big part of Ferrill’s healing.
“It’s a lifelong journey that never ends,” Ferrill said. “Now I’m in my pay it forward stage, but I still have to do my maintenance.”
When celebrities come forward with their stories, Ferrill said it’s a huge “shamebuster for other survivors who are suffering in silence.”
“It really inspires other people to first of all know they are not alone, and also tell them they have the courage to come forward and ask for help, and break the silence.”