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Making It Work: Former NBA Star Keyon Dooling Opens Up About Sexual Abuse, Saving His Marriage

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Keyon Dooling and Natosha Dooling
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Dooling Family

When a husband and wife vow to support and love one another through thick and thin on their wedding day, they never imagine they’ll see the worst. For former NBA star Keyon Dooling, formerly of the Boston Celtics, and his wife Natosha, their happily ever after changed almost overnight.

The high school sweethearts’ 11-year marriage felt like a fairytale. They had each other, four beautiful children—three girls and one boy—and the success they’d worked their whole lives to achieve.

Then, in the summer 2012, their foundation was rocked to its core when Keyon began exhibiting signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for observation and treatment.

After blocking out his pain for nearly 25 years, Keyon was ready to come clean. He told his wife he was sexually abused as a child, and that it started when he was just five years old. He had never properly dealt with the shame or the pain from what he endured and was now finally ready to heal. By holding tight to his faith and leaning on Natosha’s support, Keyon sought out the help he needed and fought to save his marriage and keep his beautiful family in tact. In September, he retired from the NBA and spoke out publicly, with Natosha by his side, about surviving child abuse.

How do two people overcome the revelation of dark secrets in their marriage? Can they rebuild the trust and get back to happy? This inspirational pair are now in counseling, making strides in their healing process every day. Read how they made it work.

ESSENCE.COM: You have overcome a great obstacle together. What was that like?
KEYON DOOLING: Going through that was the most hurtful time in my life. I’d never felt some of those emotions before as a man. As an athlete, you really guard yourself and you don’t allow yourself to feel certain things that may have happened in your life. When you come from poverty and humble beginnings, sometimes to make it, you have to have a war-like mentality. My life was a struggle. You don’t embrace the hurt when you’re going through the struggle. So, when you finally do, and you realize how deep it is, it just crashes down on you. I really thought I was near death. I didn’t think we’d make it through. My wife’s strength, her belief in the Lord and her faith in me, even when I was at my lowest point and I was broken, got me through. She was the rock that held the family together.
NATOSHA DOOLING: That was it for us. That was our big obstacle. We had to dig down deep and get through it together. There was no other way out. I put my faith and my trust in the Lord and helped my husband through the whole ordeal. It was tough, and I don’t wish that on anybody. But, we made it. We’re both getting counseling. We’re actually starting up a foundation that can help other people who have been molested. We really want to put a stop to it and provide support to those who have been abused and help them get counseling, too. We’re going to do it together.

ESSENCE.COM: What’s your best advice for other couples who feel their marriage has been tested?
KEYON: There’s good and there’s evil out there, and you have decisions to make. Take care of where you are. Guard what you have done and protect it. Temptation is out there, but the way you deal with that is together as a family. Change old habits and build upon new ones. So much has happened to us as a family. Sometimes you have to just live life and trust your decision-making.
NATOSHA: As long as you have trust and your faith in God, everything else will fall into place. I stay on my knees and pray. As long as I trust in Him, I can trust in my husband.

ESSENCE.COM: What is your secret to longevity in your marriage?
KEYON: I don’t think there are two or three things you can just pinpoint. It’s a combination of things that you need to be able to reach your full potential as a couple. Make sure all of your goals align as a family. Build a support system to support what each person in the household wants to do, so that way everyone reaches his or her potential as a family.
NATOSHA: I think it is faith in God, first of all. I think being able to trust one another and to be honest about everything, whether it hurts or not. You have to talk things out in order to make any kind of relationship truly work. It’s the communication.
KEYON: In order to be complete, you have to embrace all of your layers. As men, to reach our full potential we have to allow our women to grow and you have to grow together. Nothing is going to be perfect. You have to learn through your experiences and keep working at getting better.

ESSENCE.COM: Reality TV shows today imply that mixing marriage and professional sports is tough to do. What worked for you?
NATOSHA: For me, having help was the key. My mom was here to help with the kids so he and I could go out and date when we had time to be together. It was hard for me to just leave the kids with anybody, but with her around, I was able to do more.
KEYON: We have our own recipe for success. We have people in our families who have been married for 30 and 40 years. They are our mentors. They pour the knowledge in to us. We have pastors that minister to us, and we have magnificent friends. It’s a healing experience. We just enjoy life. You have to plan dating and family vacations. Plan time for her to be with her girls and for you to be with your boys.

ESSENCE.COM: So individuality is important to your togetherness?
KEYON: Yes. One thing that can help is by embracing what each other brings to the table. If you’re the man or the woman and you’re a great provider or a great care-taker for the kids, the family should embrace that and give thanks for that. Both are just as important as the other. What I bring to the table doesn’t have more value than what my wife brings. That’s why we complement each other so well. We’re not tyrants. We’re together in this. Everyone has to play his or her position.

To learn more about the work Natosha and Keyon are doing to help other sexual abuse victims, follow along on Twitter and visit their website Sportsality.com.

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