Metro businessman finds ‘internal peace’ speaking out about sexual abuse

C. David Moody was at the top of his game.

His Lithonia-based C. David Moody Construction Co. had grown into one of the nation’s largest black-owned businesses and one of metro Atlanta’s top general contracting and construction management firms.

But something dark gnawed at him. This thing crawled into this thoughts at night. It robbed him of sleep. One time he had a panic attack so bad he called his wife of 30 years, Karla, to say goodbye.

After a second attack, he realized it was time to confront something that had plagued him for decades.

He had been sexually abused as a child.

And he had kept the secret hidden for 26 years.

But acknowledging it to himself and going public were two different things. Moody decided last year that the only way to truly silence his demon and help others was to speak out.

“I decided I was going to find the internal peace that has eluded me for decades,” Moody, 56, wrote in a blog in October.

Moody will be the keynote speaker Thursday at the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy’s annual Change Makers Breakfast at the Temple. The nonprofit works with children who have suffered physical, mental or sexual abuse.

There were two incidents that provided that extra push. In 2010, he and his wife were touring the offices of the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy when he suddenly broke down in tears as he remembered his own abuse. Then there was the firestorm that surrounded revelations that former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky had abused young boys.

“There was no one to protect those boys,” Moody said. “It bothered me how adults left kids in that environment with that guy.”

Since he’s started the blog, Moody said he’s gotten a number of telephone calls from people who start crying or say he has given them the courage to speak out.

Many others felt the same way as the Penn State scandal came to light. The online hotline of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network saw a huge increase in people reporting they had been sexually abused as children, said Jennifer Marsh, the network’s vice president of victim services. A large percentage of them are men, she said.

Nancy Chandler, the CEO of the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy, said that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18.

“People think men and boys aren’t victimized,” Chandler said, “and when they are, it is so difficult for them to come forward.”

She said Moody’s blog, which combines his thoughts about building a business, his travels with Karla and his struggles as a survivor of sexual abuse, has been enlightening.

“He’s very out front about the demons he had to fight,” Chandler said. “The demons stay with people if they don’t get treatment early on. He carried that burden by himself all those years.”

Moody won’t discuss details of the abuse, which he says happened twice at the hands of a male teenage baby sitter when he was 10 years old. His response, though, was pretty typical of victims — especially young ones. He felt shame and guilt. He didn’t trust people. Sometimes his anger seeped to the surface and he questioned himself.

Was it his fault?

Why couldn’t he fight off his attacker?

And, as he got older: What if by not speaking out, Moody enabled his abuser to hurt someone else?

He didn’t tell a soul until 1992.

He and his wife told their two children, now adults, when they felt they were old enough to understand.

“I couldn’t make them live in my fear,” he said.

Moody said he sought counseling and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I was shocked,” Karla said about hearing of the abuse for the first time. “And as a nurse my shock meter is a bit high.”

Moody only saw his abuser once about four years after the incidents. But by then Moody was an older and, at 6 feet tall, much bigger person.

“I gave him that look that said, ‘I’m not that kid anymore,’ ” said Moody, who later excelled in football, basketball and baseball. “It’s best that you don’t come near me.”

When his family moved from Chicago to Michigan, Moody believed he had buried the incident. Occasionally, it returned, triggered sometimes by smells.

Longtime friends and colleagues were stunned by the revelation.

“Construction is a high-stress business and I saw that stress in Dave, but I did not think anything was out of the ordinary,” said Larry Gellerstedt, the president and CEO of Cousins Properties.

Gellerstedt said he’s noticed a change in his friend since he spoke out.

“I think speaking out has also brought a calmness and balance to Dave as his perspective of life and family has matured,” he said. “David’s courage has made me admire him even more than I already did, and I’m lucky to have him as a friend.”

Moody eventually started to tell more people about his abuse. He first spoke publicly in 2012 during an Operation PUSH event. He was on a panel and noticed several young women in the audience looking like they had lost hope. “Something just came over me,” he said. “I told them we’ve all been through a lot in life. I’m a sexual abuse survivor.”

Moody said it took years for him to come to grips with what happened and to be able to forgive his abuser.

Do people think he’s crazy for going public? Perhaps.

“I know God has a plan for me,” said Moody, who wants to give others hope. “We have a choice. I decided that that person was not going to control my life and take away my joy. Happiness feels a lot better than pain and sadness.”

His wife notices the difference as well.

“A lot of things you don’t get over, but you can get through,” Karla said. “It doesn’t change how I feel about him. Having a secret, no matter what the secret is, can tear you up. I think it freed him.”

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