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.

Did You Tell?

I’ve lost count of the number of radio and TV interviews I’ve done on the topic of sexual assault. In the majority of them, they ask me to tell my story. Almost as soon as I finish, the next question becomes, “Did you tell anyone?”

“No, I didn’t.” If they ask why, I usually say, “I didn’t think anyone would believe me.” That answer is only partially true. Probably more accurately the answer should be, “I felt no one cared enough to listen.”

Like a lot of abused kids, I felt alone, unloved, and unwanted. Who would I have told? Who would have listened?

I haven’t posed such questions on this blog, but if you didn’t tell, I’d like to hear your answer. Use your own name or write anonymously.

If you didn’t tell, do you know why?

Timing

“The earlier the abuse took place, the deeper and more traumatic the impact on the survivor.” I read that statement by an authority on childhood abuse. He never presented any evidence, but he did say that came out of his “30 years of practice.”

He also wrote something to the effect that the more deviant the perpetrator’s behavior, the greater the detriment to the survivor’s recovery. He seemed to believe that, as adults, they had deeper issues to work through.

He added something about the wider the age difference, the more negative the result.

That’s when I stopped reading, although I’m no expert who can disprove what he wrote. But what he ignored was the personality of the child.

We all heal differently, and his statements didn’t reflect that. Some boys are more sensitive than others; some survivors never seem to overcome the effects.

Immediately I think of John, a member of a small group of six men I joined during the initial year of my coming to terms with my abuse.

In one of our first meetings, John told us about his painful childhood of abuse, and it sounded much like mine, except his was a single perpetrator. He had been seeing a therapist for 20 years. He ended by saying, “I feel like a bag of shit.”

Our group met every Thursday for four years until I moved out of the city. On the last meeting, John made the same statement about himself.

I haven’t seen John since, but I wonder how he feels about himself today. My guess is that he’s probably at about the same level as he was back when he was part of the group.

Why was John unable to recover after more than two decades of therapy? I don’t know. I’m hesitant to say it was because his abuse took place so early. Or blame the length of it. I could say the same things about mine. John knew his abuser was at least 25 years older. The old man who assaulted me was at least 55 years older than I was and the woman was 35 years older.

Why have I been able to achieve almost-but-not-quite healed status and John seemed stuck? I don’t know.

I’m grateful for the friends and loved ones who have stood with me and helped me. I’m even more grateful to a benevolent and compassionate God.

Why me?

Why have I moved so far down that road?

I have no idea, but I’m filled with gratitude at the growth and progress.

Excusing

“She couldn’t help it,” I once said of my female perpetrator. “Her father made her his sexual partner after the death of his wife.”

For a long time, I used that as a way to excuse her. “She couldn’t help it. It was behavior she learned as a child.” That’s true, but it doesn’t pardon her for sexually assaulting me.

I excused the old man who molested me. “He was such a lonely man.”

More than just excusing the culprits in my life, by defending them (and I was defending), I didn’t face my anger.

But one day that changed. I went out for a late afternoon run by a small lake and (fortunately for me) no one else was around. For at least an hour I raged at the two now-dead people. I was angry at myself for defending their actions. After the venom poured out, I allowed myself to grieve over my stolen childhood.

I finished my run, sank on a bench, and cried for a long time. “I’ll learn to forgive you,” I said to both culprits, “but right now I want to feel my anger. You hurt me and made my childhood sad and lonely. I didn’t deserve what you did to me!”

It was almost dark by the time I left the park. I didn’t feel vindicated or happy. At the time I was worn out, but deep within was the sense that I had faced reality. I had pronounced them both guilty of murdering the innocence of my childhood.

When I no longer defend the guilty,
I can have compassion on the innocent.

The Perfect Life (Part 2 of 2)

The speaker referred to “strategies for protection from painful memories.” He talked about unconsciously rewriting childhood history into perfect family memoirs.

Yes, I thought, I was one of them. In seminary we had to take a course in pastoral counseling. The lead professor asked me about my childhood.

“My mother was warm and accepting; my dad was quiet. I had a conventional, happy childhood.” I said more than that—and thought I was telling the truth.

Years later, I was showering and realized I had not seen my family the way they truly were. “My mother was hard-hearted and unloving!” I yelled at my wife. “My dad was mean and brutal!”

Shirley hugged me and said, “Yes. Several times I heard you talk to others about your warm, loving family. I thought your mother was one of the coldest individuals I’ve ever met.”

That opened me up. I had deceived myself (or I could call it lived in denial) and used words like conventional or happy to express my childhood. From that day onward I began to unwrite my family history. A year later, I was able to admit I had been physically, verbally, and sexually assaulted as a child and neither of my parents expressed affection.

When we no longer need the perfect life,
we accept the real one.

The Fantasy Life (Part 1 of 2)

I wonder how many of us had a rich fantasy life. I never thought much about that until recently. I had a vivid imagination and put myself in every kind of troubled, problematic situation and always, always came out victorious.

As a child that fantasizing probably “saved” my life. I learned to pretend, to imagine a happy life where everything was fine. During intense periods of pain, I discovered solace in my fantasy world. In school, I was skinny. Short. Not athletic. One of the two or three kids the captains argued over. “You take him this time. I got stuck with him for the last game.”

My late friend Steve Grubman told me that he invented an imaginary friend who was there for him in those painful times. That was how he coped.

Many of us received temporary peace through our imagination or pretense. And we can look back and be thankful that we could face some of our problems, even if they were only in our imagination.

As I thought about fantasy, I remembered the verses from the famous love chapter of 1 Corinthians. The Apostle Paul said that when he was a child he thought and behaved as a child, but after he became an adult, he pushed those things out of his mind.

I still have fantasies, but I’ve noticed in the last 10 years they’re far more benign and rather fun. I focus on events or experiences when I relive a situation and think of what I might have said to make me smug. But I don’t need them any more to escape an impoverished, stolen childhood.

Do you?

Distorted Relationships (Part 5 of 5)

Ron* called it the blame game.

“In our family, we had to find out who was wrong and then we moved on,”

Ron said and pointed out that the blame game had been ingrained in him and his siblings.

He began to date Darlene* (who became his wife), and “during her first visit to my family, she saw that in action. All of it over who left an empty glass on a wooden table.”

“I was stunned because I hadn’t realized what we did to each other.”

“It was like a criminal investigation you might see on TV,” Darlene commented. “Does it make any difference who did it? The effect is the same.”

Those words forced Ron to think about his life and particularly the molestation he went through. “It hit me: I blamed my uncle who abused me.” Finally, Ron stopped focusing on blaming and turned his attention to the effect. The problems were the same, no matter who perpetrated them.

“It sounds like a small thing to many,” he said, “but as long as I played the blame game, I focused my anger on who did it instead of what he did. And it wasn’t just abuse—it was anything that went wrong.”

The blame game diverts our attention so that we don’t try to cope with the results. And it’s the consequences that need examining. That doesn’t absolve the culprit, and forgiving him is another issue to face.

But Ron, like others, spent so much effort on pointing to the guilty, he had no insight into what had happened to him.

Isn’t that the way it sometimes works in our lives? We charge the wrongdoer and don’t move on to ask, “But what has this done to me?”

Distorted Relationships (Part 4 of 5)

“It was all a lie,” Max, a 23-year-old, said to me. He told me of the leader in his church who befriended him when he was 10 years old.

“I was the only boy who didn’t like sports, and my classmates called me ‘faggot,’ even though I didn’t know what the word meant until later.

“The youth leader encouraged me. ‘You’re a nice, sweet kid. Don’t pay attention to what they’re saying.’ He spent time with me and he was the first adult who ever listened to me. After I cried, he hugged me and whispered, ‘It’s all right to cry. Let it go.’

“After that, we started with hugs and I felt so grateful to have a friend. I didn’t like it when he taught me to masturbate him and the other things, but I loved the man so much I would have done anything for him. ‘It’s our secret,’ he said. ‘Just you and me.’

“I thought he really loved me. The church fired him, and he refused to talk with me. So it was all lies. He hurt me, and I thought he truly loved me.”

Max and I met at the 2016 annual conference of “Hope for Wholeness.” He said that occurred during his teens. “For a couple of years I became that faggot my classmates labeled me.”

When Max was 20 years old, he was a miserable drug addict, a college dropout, and isolated from his parents. He attempted to take his own life and obviously didn’t succeed. A wise therapist suggested that he attend the “Hope for Wholeness” conference.

That was three years before we met, and he said that group saved his life and he’s finding others who strengthened him.

“My classmates were wrong about me,” he said. “And for the first time in my life, I’m happy and like who I am.

“I can define myself,” Max said, “And I don’t give anyone else that privilege.”