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.

Damaged but Protected

(By Gary Roe)

When people find out I was sexually abused as a child, they are shocked. “I’m so sorry that happened to you. Children should be protected,” they often say.

“I was protected,” I respond.

Yes, I was severely abused by people close to me, but I also strongly believe that God protected me. The damage has been severe, but it could have been so much worse.

For example, my desire from childhood has been to make a difference by helping hurting people. I have always been in a helping profession. I believe that was God, turning evil around and into something positive.

My heart and soul were damaged, but not destroyed. In some sense, I was protected against the full onslaught of evil. And now God is working in me to bring more healing, not just to myself but to others as well.

It’s interesting that the more available I am to God to be used in the lives of others, the more healing seems to come my way. Over time, I am able to see even more of God’s protection in my life, and my heart begins to relax a little more.

We were damaged, but not destroyed. Now God wants to bring healing and let us experience his goodness. If I can open up and heal, you can to. We’re in this together.

I was damaged, but not destroyed.
I can heal and experience God’s wonderful goodness.

(This post was adapted from Not Quite Healed, written by Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe.)

Getting Unstuck

(By John Joseph*)

Plateaus, deserts, valleys—whatever you call them—they’re no fun. The fact that we seem to be bogged down in our efforts to recover from childhood sexual abuse is discouraging, at best, and at worst, leads us to setbacks.

We become restless, listless, and even sleepless. Depression or anxiety begins to creep in and affect everything else in our lives—relationships, work, and recreation. People begin to notice and even wonder why we’re no fun anymore.

We're stuck.

What can we do to get unstuck? What will pull us up out of the mud and put us back on the road to recovery? What will help us re-center and tap into the joy of being alive?

Although the answers may seem elusive, I believe there are a couple of very important things we can do to jump-start the recovery process and start to feel human again.

The first thing I do when I realize I’ve gotten stuck is to gift myself with grace. Grace isn’t an excuse for where I am, but a kind, human-to-human response that I would want to give to anyone else I knew who was stuck. Instead of beating myself up for messing up again, I take a moment to do some healing self-talk that says, “Okay—so we’re stuck a little here. No worries. Just think about it. What do we need to do to get things going?” I don’t know why I always talk to myself in the plural. It just feels good to think there’s more of me here than just "I."

Then I take a little while to journal and meditate, then I wait. Sometimes the very thing I need to get going again shows up in a book or online. Occasionally, it hits me in a conversation with a friend. At other times, I keep pushing into different things and I realize the wheels haven’t really come off the wagon. They’re turning again, even if slowly, and I find myself back up on the road to become the person I am intended to be.

(*John Joseph is a pseudonym of a pastor. He's a regular contributor to this blog.)

Journal to the Center of the Soul

(By John Joseph*)

One of the simplest and most effective tools in my recovery has been soul journaling. There’s something powerful about the act of writing out the pain, the people, and the prayers (positively and negatively) that put them all in a better perspective. I don’t know if it’s the power of the words themselves or just the fact that I write them out of my head that brings some relief, but time and again I’ve experienced good things from journaling.

I’m not a write-in-the-journal-every-day kind of guy. I write when I feel like I need or want to. It’s sporadic, and weeks can go by in between entries. Sometimes I write four or five pages; at other times, only a paragraph.

Recently, when I needed to do some journaling about my mother, I could write only one sentence: “Mom . . . upside down spells ‘wow.' ” Obviously I have some work to do on that relationship.

I think it’s important to write positive things as well as negative. It’s good to celebrate even the smallest victories in our recovery from abuse—a day with less depression or the realization that each day is a gift. It’s also possible to address the true self in our journals—that part of our soul that responds to nurturing through self-affirmation and blessing. There’s a lot of healing we can gift to ourselves through positive words.

Writing things out is an ancient prescription for soul health. Journaling, even sporadically, can be part of your journey to the center of who you really are.

(*John Joseph is a pseudonym of a pastor. He's a regular contributor to this blog.)

Shame, Guilt, and Self-love

(By John Joseph*)

Shame is a universal experience. All of us can recall some moment of deep embarrassment, whether it's the feeling of not getting picked for the team (or being picked last); not getting the promotion we deserved; being caught doing something we shouldn’t do, such as lying or stealing; or something worse. These are the moments that, when recalled even years later, bring a blush to the face.

For most people, shame is a passing emotion. For many of us who’ve survived childhood sexual abuse, however, shame can become a constant state of inner existence. Feeling dirty, unwanted, unloved, and unneeded has left us with a ubiquitous sense that we are flawed internally—a rag to wipe up a mess and nothing more. That kind of shame is something far beyond simple guilt. It's chronic and untenable.

But what can we do about it?

The first thing that has helped me is to realize the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is a momentary, passing feeling that tells us we did something wrong. In that sense, guilt is a built-in guidance system that helps us to become better human beings. We do something wrong, guilt helps us to realize it; we ask forgiveness of the person wronged (even ourselves), and we move on. Guilt ends. But chronic shame is about who we are, not what we did. Guilt says, "I did wrong;" shame shouts, "I am wrong."

The second thing that has helped me recover from chronic shame is to recognize I have built too much of my identity around that feeling. I have become the shamed person I think I am. Instead of choosing healthy self-love I need to live, too often I’ve lived out the false script of shame that tells me I am a mistake, after all, and the world doesn’t need me.

Each day I must choose self-love over shame.

(*John Joseph is a pseudonym of a pastor. He's a regular contributor to this blog.)

Self-pity and Sorrow

(By John Joseph*)

One of the best things I’ve learned in my recovery is the big difference between self-pity and sorrow. One is useful; the other isn’t. One can benefit the process of healing; the other exacerbates the problem. One is like poison and the other is more like necessary medicine—it might not taste good, but it brings health in the end. You already know which is which.

Self-pity is, of course, one of the worst indulgences a recovering person can entertain. It focuses all emotional resources on the self and its pain, abuses, maladies, and bad luck. Self-pity is the iconic “smiley face” always turned upside down. "Poor me," it says. "Nobody loves me. I’m a victim forever. Nothing good ever happens to me." Such repetitive inner messages never uplift the soul, but drive it deeper into despair.

Sorrow, on the other hand, is a necessary part of the healing process. We were victimized. We were unloved by someone, at least in the abusive moment. Abuse was something bad that happened in our past. But to focus solely on those unfortunate moments and to constantly indulge them is to empower them.

The abuse in my life was real. It did happen. But the moment I have right now doesn’t have to be wasted on feeling sorry for myself. I can, at least as an act of faith, decide that I will let sorrow over the things that happened take its proper time to lead me into productivity and acts of kindness for others.

(*John Joseph is a pseudonym of a pastor. He's a regular contributor to this blog.)

Courage to Heal

(By John Joseph*)

The recovery process is an active one that demands a lot from me. It isn’t a passive progression that happens on its own—I must be a daily, and often aggressive, participant. I don’t like that, but it is true.

To deny my responsibility to pursue wholeness in the areas of my broken soul is to give my past power to destroy me through addiction, depression, and shame.

Am I going to let that happen?

The terrible truth is that there’s something in me that works against me. Call it my “addict," my “disease,” my “inner child,” or the “devil." Its name doesn’t matter. It's still out to take me down in any way it can.

John Mayer wrote some poignant lyrics about this in his song Gravity:
Gravity is working against me
And gravity wants to bring me down
Oh I'll never know what makes this man
With all the love that his heart can stand
Dream of ways to throw it all away[1]
How many of us survivors have found ourselves on the edge of the emotional cliff, ready to jump off again? How many times have we acted out the same demeaning behavior only to go down the shame spiral again? Why do we feel the constant weight of what Mayer calls gravity in our bones that brings us to the brink, again and again, of throwing it all away?

Our various faith traditions may call it karma, fate, fortune, or sin. Whatever it is, it will gain the upper hand and destroy me if I am lazy or unmindful of it.

To recover is to have the courage to heal every day.

(*John Joseph is a pseudonym of a pastor. He's a regular contributor to this blog.)

*****
[1] Writer(s): John Mayer
Copyright: Reach Music Publishing-digital O.B.O. Goodium Music, Specific Harm Music, Sony/ATV Tunes LLC

Codependency

(By John Joseph*)

I’m the kind of guy that, if I saw you first thing one day, I would say, “Good morning! How am I today?” Yes, I am a codependent. What is a codependent? It is someone who is dependent on another person to define his or her feelings about themselves. It is a psychological term that came into use a few decades back to describe the behavior of family members living with an alcoholic.

Far too many wives and children become codependents, sentenced to the hell of merely reacting to the dependent behaviors of the alcoholic. They’ve been forced to define themselves based on the addictive behavior of another. Although they aren’t the addicted person, they are co-dependents and much of their lives are wrecked by the addiction and the addictive person.

Thus I’m a codependent. Maybe you are one, too. The sad truth is that someone else’s addiction to sexual abuse has affected our ability to live normal lives and to define ourselves in the healthiest ways.

What do we do now? How do we untangle the wreckage of the past? How do we cease living as codependents and find emotional health?

The first step is to move out of a dependent relationship. If someone in your life is abusive or addicted, leave them. Get out. Then get good counseling and enter a recovery program. It’s only when we rise up to reclaim our personhood that we cease to be dependent on others, no matter who they might be.

(*John Joseph is a pseudonym of a pastor. He's a regular contributor to this blog.)