I hurt for a long time because of childhood sexual abuse. Now I want to provide a safe place for hurting men to connect with other survivors of sexual abuse. Talk to us. You don't have to use your real name to share your experiences or ask questions.

No Self-judging Allowed

On a hand-painted sign I saw those words in a friend’s den. “I think I understand the words,” I said, “but is there a story here?”

“Yes!” Alan Jennings said. “I made up that sign for what I hoped would be an opportunity to tell people about my abuse.” The sign had been up almost two years and only a handful of visitors had asked about it.

“It began in a group therapy session,” he said. Alan was condemning himself for allowing an older boy to sodomize him. Before he sought help, he talked about allowing the horrible things done to him.

Another member of the group interrupted him. “Don’t you have any compassion for that little boy? He did what he had to do to survive.”

When Alan started to protest, others in the group also urged him to be kind to the abused child.

“I had been in and out of therapy for addictions,” he said, “but I realized I hadn’t been kind to my little boy.”

“You survived because of him,” one man said. “You may have done things you’re ashamed of now, but that hurt, despised little boy kept you alive.”

For quite a while we talked before Alan said, “I put up that sign to remind me and to help me to be kind and understanding to my younger self.

“Every night, even now I stare at my reflection in the mirror and think of the eight-year-old boy and say to him, ‘Thank you for helping me survive.’”

He smiled, “I no longer have to say no self-judging allowed. Now I leave the sign up in the den, hoping it will help others.”

The Other Survivor

My wife was also a survivor—a survivor of my abusive childhood. She suffered because she loved me and stayed with me while I worked through my pain.

For a long time, I didn’t realize how my childhood had affected her. I was too busy working on Cec.

As one example, when she was deeply hurt, I froze inside. Today I’d say I numbed out as many survivors do during intense emotional moments. I didn’t understand what was happening to me, and my abuse kept me from giving her the comfort I wanted to show her.

I didn’t know when I was angry and couldn’t “feel” that emotion. More than once Shirley cried and I didn’t understand what I had said or done.

For me, the good news is that healing began, and Shirley was there from the beginning. One evening, I pulled her close and apologized. “Until recently I didn’t understand that you have been victimized by what was done to me.”

I’m glad I was able to see that and apologize. That didn’t change the fact of her being a survivor of my childhood molestation and pain, but I was able to affirm my love and appreciation.

“But You Act So Normal”

I’ve heard that statement in two different ways. The first came from someone with whom I shared my pain. “You’re pretty well put together.”

I’m not sure what people mean when they say such things. I certainly hope he thought I behaved like a normal person. If I’m emotionally “pretty well put together” it’s because I’ve worked hard to get there.

Another person once said, “I never would have suspected that you had been abused. You’re so normal.”

Frankly, that’s just another dumb thing someone says, probably without thinking. Possibly they’re trying to compliment me and their intent is to say, “You have come a long way.” Or “You’ve triumphed over such a painful childhood and I admire you.”

Maybe that’s what they meant. But it comes across as implying they assume anyone who was abused would remain an emotional cripple.

Regardless, when I hear such things I say to myself, He means well and doesn’t realize how stupid his words sound. I want to give those people the benefit of assuming they meant well.

I can do that now. But a decade ago, such statements hurt. In those days, such words minimized my journey as if to say, “You’re normal so it must not have been too bad.”

It’s so much easier to say, “I’m sorry for what you endured.”

Then I believe they “heard” my pain.

“It Could Have Been Worse”

That statement, “It could have been worse,” angered me. I heard it only once from a relative. Even though she probably didn’t mean it that way, the words were dismissive and minimized the damage the abuse had done. I said nothing.

If I were to hear it today, I’d like to say, “And how much more would it have taken for you to consider it worse?” I’d explain the emotional damage the molestation caused me throughout my life. What did she think would have been worse? If my perp had killed me? Made me a sex slave? (I wouldn’t say it, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to.)

Most likely I sound defensive here, and she thought her words were encouraging me.

Because of the abusive behavior of others, my childhood was miserable and one time I was suicidal. I felt worthless, unloved, and wanted. I could add other symptoms, but the question remains: how much worse did it need to have been?

I heard the statement again recently from a man who was trying to share his pain in a small-group setting. And the leader, shockingly, spoke those words.

After the meeting, the survivor asked me, “Should I go back to that group?”

He has to answer that for himself, but if the leader was as insensitive as the words appear in writing, I wouldn’t go back.

None of us survivors need patronizing words that diminish our pain or make us feel as if we’re self-pitying.

Our abuse was bad enough to make us struggle with it all through the rest of our lives.

Isn’t that bad enough?

Lessons I Had to Learn

About a year after Shirley and I married, I was passed over for a job and I knew I was better qualified than the person they hired.

A day after receiving the news, my mother-in-law, Cornelia Brackett, listened to my moaning for a few minutes. Then she said, “It was probably good for you.”

“Good for me?”

Then Mom Brackett said, “I used to worry about you because you’re bright and you catch on to things quickly.”

“And you worried?”

“Yes, because you looked down on others who weren’t as capable as you are.”

Her words didn’t comfort me, even though I knew what she was trying to get through to me. I was in my early 50s when I came to terms with my sexual and physical assaults in childhood. By then I was reaching out to hurting men and trying to encourage and comfort them. And one day I heard Mom Brackett’s voice inside my head.

Finally, I understood. Learning to face my own childhood suffering has done great things for me. I’m far from perfect, but I know God has given me a caring, sympathetic heart. I can extend a loving hand or a warm heart because I know how it feels to hurt.

“God Didn’t Care”

I’ve heard men say, “God didn’t care.” They usually go on to insist that a loving God would have protected them.

“I was an altar boy and loved Father Michael.”

“I never missed his Sunday school class.”

“He seemed like God himself by smiling, listening to me, and expressing sympathy.”

The stories start differently, but they all ask the where-were-you-God question. I understand the confusion of someone who’s trying to relate to a God who says he loves us.

We seem to think that if we love God nothing bad happens to us.

This morning, however, I was reading the story of Joseph in the Bible. Why didn’t God protect him from being sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape, and thrown in prison? Didn’t he love Joseph?

David, designated by God to be Israel’s king, spent years running from the attempts on his life by King Saul.

The only answer I’ve ever had and which has brought me comfort was from the mouth of Joseph himself.

He became the number two ruler in Egypt. Later, when famine struck the entire Middle East, Joseph spared the lives of his family. In the final chapter of Genesis, the ten older brothers, fearing that Joseph will take revenge on them, say, “We are your slaves” (Genesis 50:18).

He tells them, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (verse 20).

That’s my answer: God doesn’t promise to protect us from hardships, pain, and evil. He does promise to be with us while we’re going through our tribulations.

I’ve been a serious Christian since I was 21 or 22. I hate the abusive childhood I endured. But now I know there was a divine purpose. God was with me. And God has taken away all that abuse, healed me, and is teaching me to be more compassionate for others.

I didn’t see God in my young life, 
but he was with me the whole time.

“You’re Not Alone” (Part 2 of 2)

We battle alone, but we also need to know others are there to support us. We can ask the questions, and others can make suggestions, but it’s still a personalized, individual battle that only we can fight for ourselves.

Others can help by their presence and caring. A common biblical story inspired me when I was going through a dark period. In the book of Exodus, chapter 17, the Israelites are fighting their first battle with the Amalekites, led by Joshua. The leader, Moses, stands on a mountain with his hands raised as a symbol of victory. Joshua’s troops are winning.

Moses’ arms grow tired and he starts to lower them. When he drops his arms, the Amalekites prevail. Two men, Aaron and Hur, make Moses sit on a boulder and they get on either side of him and hold up his arms. And that continues until they thoroughly defeat their enemy.

Holding up our tired arms makes a powerful image for me. We get frustrated, confused, and feel lost. One of my problems was that as memories came back, my deep resistance was to say, “That’s only your imagination. That’s not true.” But when I told the two people who held my arms, they helped me accept the truthfulness of my flashbacks and memories.

When I doubted that I’d ever get healthy, they assured me that I would. They held up my weak, weary, and discouraged hands until my biggest battles were over. We all need those caring people who are there to lift up our arms.

Who is holding up your arms?