This article was originally posted as Post-Abortion Trauma: “Jesus, what have I done?” on National Review Online, May 4, 2011.
By Kevin Burke
Long before he won accolades as an American Idol judge, Steven Tyler was a bona-fide rock star, with all that that implied. In 1975, when he was in his late 20s and the lead singer for the band Aerosmith, Tyler persuaded the parents of his 14-year-old girlfriend, Julia Holcomb, to make him her legal guardian so that they could live together in Boston.
When Miss Holcomb and Tyler conceived a child, his longtime friend Ray Tabano convinced Tyler that abortion was the only solution. In the Aerosmith “autobiography,” Walk This Way (in which recollections by all the band members, and their friends and lovers, were assembled by the author Stephen Davis), Tabano says: “So they had the abortion, and it really messed Steven up because it was a boy. He . . . saw the whole thing and it [messed] him up big time.”
Tyler also reflects on his abortion experience in the autobiography. “It was a big crisis. It’s a major thing when you’re growing something with a woman, but they convinced us that it would never work out and would ruin our lives. . . . You go to the doctor and they put the needle in her belly and they squeeze the stuff in and you watch. And it comes out dead. I was pretty devastated. In my mind, I’m going, Jesus, what have I done?”
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines a traumatic event as follows: “1. The person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others. 2. The person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror.”
Those who support abortion rights assure us that post-abortion complications are a myth. But Steven Tyler cuts through this fog of denial and lays it on the line: Jesus, what have I done?
This is the cry of a post-abortive father whose very intimate exposure to the reality of abortion fits the textbook definition of trauma — as set down by the very same American Psychiatric Association that assures us abortion is a safe procedure with no negative effects on a man’s or a woman’s mental health.
GO NUMB AND RUN
What happens to someone who is exposed to a traumatic event and fails to process the images and memories of that experience and heal the psychic wounds? The person is likely to go numb, run, and act out the unresolved themes of the trauma.
There is no easier occupation in which to react this way to post-abortion trauma than that of a rock star in the 1970s and ’80s.
After the abortion, Tyler began a torrid affair with Playboy model Bebe Buell while still seeing Julia, the mother of his aborted son. If you were wondering what happened to Julia (who is referred to as Diana Hall in the book) after this purportedly psychologically safe procedure, Bebe tells us: “There were many suicidal calls from poor Diana as they were breaking up. It was actually a pretty sad time.”
And how was Steven coping?
He went on a European concert tour, accompanied by Bebe, who tells us: “He was crazy . . . totally drunk, really out of it. . . . Steven destroyed his dressing room at Hammersmith . . . when we got back from Europe. . . . One night I found him on the floor of his bathroom having a drug seizure. He was writhing in pain.”
This was followed by Steven’s “Tuinal days” — a period he spent stoned on massive doses of the barbiturate. He says: “I would eat four or five a day . . . and be good for a couple of months . . . which is why that period is blackout stuff.”
This is the dysfunctional recipe for dealing with post-traumatic stress: Take heavy doses of drugs to numb the memories and feelings — and throw in a portion of toxic rage at bandmates and hotel rooms. Anger, especially in men, is often an undiagnosed sign of depression and repressed grief that needs a healthy expression and healing. Many post-abortive fathers tell us that anger management was a major problem for them after their abortions.
Then Bebe Buell became pregnant with Tyler’s child. She realized it would be impossible to raise a child with him given his out-of-control substance abuse and rock-and-roll lifestyle. She returned to her former lover, the composer, producer, and recording artist Todd Rundgren, who agreed to act as father of the child and keep Tyler’s fatherhood a secret. Their daughter, who grew up to be the actress Liv Tyler, was born on July 1, 1977.
TRAUMA AND HEALING
For many post-abortive men and women, the anxiety associated with an abortion can surface at unexpected times, triggered by events such as a subsequent pregnancy, the death of a pet or a loved one, or some other person, place, or thing that in some way connects with the traumatic memory.
Years later, when Tyler married, and he and his wife were expecting their first child, he was still haunted by the abortion: “It affected me later. . . . I was afraid. I thought we’d give birth to a six-headed cow because of what I’d done with other women. The real-life guilt was very traumatic for me. Still hurts.”
At Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries, we often see men and women many years after their abortion, when they are ready to take a look at this secret and shadowy corner of their souls. Most people cannot make sense of the fragmented, disjointed pieces of their post-abortive lives until they attend a healing program. Tragically, the spin doctors of our pro-abortion culture work overtime to make sure that these connections are never made.
Despite the opposition, post-abortive parents, grandparents, and siblings are finding their way to healing programs around the world. As they travel together through the healing process, they learn from and support one another. They discover that the fragmented pieces of their lives start fitting together and making sense. This may be one of the reasons that it is so difficult to counter the propaganda of the pro-abortion movement. It is often only after the healing journey that post-abortive men and women can see the intimate connection between their abortions and their emotional problems, addictions, and other post-abortion symptoms.
STILL A FAN
I grew up with the music of Aerosmith as a teenager in the 1970s and continue to have a great respect for the songwriting ability and performing talent of Steven Tyler. His actions in the abortion of his son were very wrong, and he suffered the consequences, as his life descended into a quagmire of addiction and self-destruction. Fortunately, Tyler was successfully treated for his drug addiction in 1986.
At the heart of post-abortion healing is the cleansing of a wounded heart. The post-abortive parent must be free of shame, guilt, and grief before he or she can embrace the unborn child with love. Let us hope and pray that this rock star and Idol judge can make peace with his abortion loss and find forgiveness and reconciliation with God and his aborted son — and that he will then use his considerable talent and influence to call other post-abortive fathers to healing.