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.

Who I Am and What I Do

In the previous blog I mentioned I began to focus on my childhood only after I felt loved for being who I was.

As a pastor, I felt loved and accepted by most members, but I assumed it was conditional—based on my performance. It might have seemed a safe environment, and perhaps it was. But when I first faced my memories, I asked myself this question: If I didn’t do those good things for members of the congregation, would they still love me?

A few months after I left the ministry to write full time, I finally voiced that question to my wife, Shirley. She laughed. “That’s a distorted viewpoint. You are kind and caring. That’s part of who you are. You may not trust your motives, but people know who you are. You can’t hide yourself indefinitely.”

My big lesson from that was that I had been safe for a long time, but until I accepted that reality, insecurity and uncertainty troubled me.

Who I am and what I do.
That matters most.

Why the Memories and Flashbacks Now? (Part 3 of 3)

“How do I know the memories and flashbacks are real?” one man said. “I’ve always had a good imagination.”

My answer: You know the difference. The question isn’t “Are they real?” but “Can I accept them?” When the memories first started pouring into my heart and mind, like many others, I didn’t want to believe them as being authentic. But I knew.

No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t convince myself that I had made them up. I knew.

I didn’t have a lot of flashbacks—where childhood memories forced themselves into my head. What I had most were dreams—nightmares—and I awakened in a sweat and sometimes shaking. Those dreams were quite literal, as opposed to what I call the hamburger-and-onion type—the kind that troubles me over something I ate.

In the dreams, I was a child again and I relived most of the tormenting, painful abuse.

Particularly, I remember the old man who rented a room from us. In the nightmares, he was ugly and I was afraid, but I went up to him anyway. When I was awake, I thought of him as having a kind face and he smiled often.

In my dreams I especially remembered his male-pattern baldness with no hair except on the sides of his face. Unless he went outside, he wore sleeveless undershirts and tufts of white, curly hair showed over the top of the shirt.

I mention the hair because he knelt down (or in some dreams he put me on his lap) and had me feel this hirsute chest. My dreams never went beyond that, but I knew—I knew it was real because I couldn’t face what followed.

Dream after dream came to me over a period of months. Each time I awakened abruptly, feeling frightened, and sometimes couldn’t go back to sleep.

Once I learned to accept the reality of those scenes, they went away. I don’t need them because I faced the pain and betrayal, and mourned the loss of my childhood.

Through the help of God and my friends, I’ve stayed on the healing path. I’m closer to the end of the recovery road. Until then, I have to say, “I’m not quite healed. But close.”

Why the Memories and Flashbacks Now? (Part 2 of 3)

My friend Ed Toms has said many times, “Your abusive memories don’t come back until you’re emotionally ready.”

For Ed, the breakthrough was the unfreezing of his emotions. “Once the emotions thawed, I cried for a long time—something I hadn’t done since I was about seven years old.”

I smiled remembering a similar experience in my own life.

“It wasn’t just the crying,” he said, “but it was downloading my serious emotions.” He focused on crying because he said kids learn, either by direct words or implication that boys don’t cry.

“Crying is a feminine activity—something for sissies. I heard that often enough.” The last time he cried his father told him to “suck it up and take it like a man.”

“That’s denial. It shuts off the emotional download,” he said with eyes that blinked with tears.

“The return of tears came the night I saw my newborn son. I hugged the infant and said, ‘I’ll always protect you.’ That opened me up, but several years passed before I learned to cry for myself.”

We’re all different and we don’t respond the same way. If you don’t feel safe, you won’t unlock your heart. And when you finally do open up and struggle through the flashbacks and memories, it’s hard to believe that’s part of the healing process. It’s something most of us have to go through to get past our pain.

When I first told my wife and my best friend, I didn’t know if they would laugh at me, sneer, or turn away in disgust. Both of them hugged me. That gave me the courage and the ability to continue to open up to others.

Why the Memories and Flashbacks Now? (Part 1 of 3)

A few years ago I read a fascinating master’s thesis about men who faced their childhood abuse in what we call middle age—late 30s to early 50s.

Why then? I don’t know all the reasons, but I’m among those middle-aged types. At age 51, the reality of my childhood broke through—and it was a painful time for me. For days I couldn’t get past flashbacks and vivid memories.

Why did it take me so long to face the ordeal and the pain of those early years? The most satisfying answer I’ve found is that it didn’t happen until I felt safe. I’d been married to a caring woman for nearly 30 years. Although I use the term safe, another way to express it is that I finally understood I was loved for who I was and not for what I said or did.

For most of those years, I had been an ordained minister and heavily involved in others’ lives. On some kind of unconscious level, I believed that if I behaved kindly and warmly, I’d be loved and accepted. That may be true, but it also meant I worked to earn that kind of acceptance.

When I finally grasped that I was loved for who I was without conditions or qualifications, I was ready to face my past.

How about you?

When did you face your abusive past?

Questions, Questions, Questions

I’ve been writing this blog for nearly six years. I’ve never asked any of you to send in questions. I may not have answers, but I’d like to know what troubles you.

If you have a question (or more than one) please email me at
cec.murp@comcast.net—my private email address. I’ll respond to them on the blog.


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.