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.

"It's Not You, It's Me."

(This post is from Roger Mann.)

​"It’s not you, it’s me."

I know, it’s an old break-up line. That said, it’s one that has gone through my mind over the years in one form or another concerning my childhood abuse. The form it usually takes is, "Was there something about me?"

In my early years as a kid, I didn’t really articulate it like that. There was a feeling inside me that something about me screamed, "Play with me. I’m okay with it." I thought maybe it was the way I looked, or maybe the way I acted or looked at other people. I remember even as a young kid always looking at faces to see how they were looking at me. And every once in a while, there was someone with "the look" that silently signaled something that made me uncomfortable.

I can’t really explain it. It was just a look, along with a feeling I would get that either made me want to hide or later on look back knowingly. It’s said that abusers and victims sometimes seem drawn to each other unconsciously. That may be true. It’s as good an explanation as any, I guess.

Is there something in the face or the eyes that somehow notifies those who know how and where to look that you’re a victim? Even at my age, I find myself going out of my way to project self-assurance and anything else that would not identify me as weak, needy, or victimized. Maybe I overcompensate at times, and that too could be a signal if I’m not careful. It’s an armor I need to wear because it’s not just sexual predators that look for it. I’ve come to realize it’s also people who are selling things.

I know because I have a house full of stuff because my armor slipped and someone saw "prey" written all over me. I really hate that. Another legacy, in my opinion, of childhood victimization.

The Issue of Grooming

Since the early days of this blog, I’ve limited the word count to 400 words. Sometimes I’ve cut pieces into 2 or even 3 entries. In the words below, Lee Boyd had such a good request that I decided to violate my own rule. It runs about 700 words. (Cec)

* * * * *

I have been a follower of your blog for a while and have read your books Not Quite Healed and More Than Surviving. I’ve benefited from all and have recommended them to others. However, there is one issue that has arisen several times as I was reading, and I would like to bring it to your attention. 

The stumbling block I have encountered is the issue of grooming. I realize from reading your story that grooming was a part of your experience. But the impression I get from reading your work is that grooming is an element of most, if not all, abuse scenarios. I am sure that you do not mean to alienate anyone, but this implication tends to make me feel excluded from the community of survivors you are addressing.

You see, I was never groomed.

I was abused by a stepdad from soon after he married my mom when I was 5½ until I left home at 18. From 5½ to 13, it was physical abuse, sexual abuse, and verbal abuse. From 13 to 18, the verbal abuse continued, but the violence and physically sexual aspects stopped.

Additionally, at school and in scouts, from age 11 to 13, I was bullied and sexually harassed and assaulted under the guise of “initiation” by a gang of peers and older boys. I became a recreational scapegoat for them.

Finally, when I was about 15, I was molested in the fitting room of a menswear shop by a clerk who was “measuring” me for a pair of trousers.

In NONE of these instances was there a hint of grooming. Each was an instance of an infliction of power by the abuser(s) to work their will. They did not have to groom me. They were bigger, stronger, more numerous, and had more clout. In the case of the stepdad, it was not difficult because I was available, I was a mere child, and he had the authority of an adult and a parent. There was never a question that he would get what he wanted. With the bullies, they had the advantage of numbers, greater sexual knowledge, and the mob mentality. Both the bullies and the stepdad used physical restraint and greater strength. The clerk was also an adult that took advantage of my youth, his experience, and my “freeze” reaction when he began to touch me inappropriately, so no force was needed. I had already been conditioned to submit passively.

In talking with and reading of survivors who experienced grooming, I have recognized that there is a strong possibility that they may feel partially complicit in the abuse and that this may cause additional issues of guilt and shame. I have observed groomed survivors who suffer from feelings of betrayal and disillusionment, and have difficulty trusting others.

But in cases where force or intimidation is used instead of grooming, the survivor has other issues to deal with. I have identified my own feelings of helplessness and of total lack of control. Because I was repeatedly abused by multiple and unconnected perpetrators, I felt like a perpetual victim with a target on his back. There was not even the pretense of kindness or a personal relationship to temper the trauma. The bullies and stepfather wielded cold, calculated, and intentional cruelty. The store clerk took sudden advantage of circumstances impersonally and anonymously. All of the abuse events made me feel like a commodity to be used at their convenience, without regard for my personhood.

I know now that one method of abuse is not necessarily more or less harmful than the other. But when I was learning more about grooming, I actually wished that I had experienced it rather than abuse without grooming like I had. At least I would have had some temporary semblance of relationships and feeling special to someone instead of the isolation, loneliness, and scapegoating that were my lot. I now realize that it would have simply been a different variation of pain.

Anyway, what I am requesting is that you, as a spokesman for the male abuse survivor community, would include more acknowledgments that grooming is not always part of the experience and that many survivors are abruptly abused, without pretext or preamble, under application of physical force or threat or the power of authority or intimidation. I don’t know if there are any statistics available about the percentages of abuse with or without grooming, but I am sure that I am not alone in my experience. I am confident that including my demographic of non-groomed survivors would allow you to speak more effectively to a larger audience.

On Forgiveness

(This post comes from Roger Mann.)

Another abuse survivor wrote, “I have some people . . . from my past who I need to forgive. I have never been ready to and really have never wanted to.”

I struggled with forgiveness as well. Suppressed rage filled me a good part of my adult life. Initially, I believed it was aimed at my father. At times, I also sensed anger toward God. Then I suspected I was angry at my young self for letting it happen.

Later, I realized I was angry at me—an adult who wasn’t handling life well. I made excuses, blamed others for my circumstances, and blamed the abuse for all my mistakes and bad choices. I hated myself for not accepting responsibility.

I’ve learned that what happens to me isn’t as important as how I deal with it. God is developing character in me, and trials and hardship don’t build character; they reveal it. The Holy Spirit uses them to refine me, which usually involves pain. Apparently, I needed a lot of refining.

Understanding that has helped me to forgive. I started with myself, then the boy who was, and finally the father who was never a dad. It was a long and tortuous road but one I needed to travel.

Now, when things get ugly and I get frustrated, I step back and remind myself of why I’m here. Because I’ve been broken and angry, I can reach out to others who are broken and angry. When I recognize myself in others, God works in us both. It’s one of the ways God reveals Himself to me. His love for me, in spite of all that I am and have been, helps mitigate my anger and raises what I call my “stupidity threshold” back to a safe level.

That love followed me through all my flailing and attempts at finding myself. More than anything, it’s enabled me to finally forgive, and has released me from the ghost of my father’s touch. I’m free and at peace (as much as one can be these days) because I’m able to see that love as I look back through those years. It’s a journey, not a destination, and I have always had a faithful—though often unappreciated— companion with me.

Just my thoughts.

Me? A Controller?

I doubt that anyone thought of me as a controller—at least no one ever used that term to my face. But I was and had learned ways of controlling without appearing to do so.

The first time I became aware of that reality was when I met with a group of professionals in the publishing business. We met in a restaurant, where we sat at tables and got to know each other. Within minutes, I realized the other seven people at my table were hesitant to speak up, so I took charge by introducing myself and then asked each one to do the same. After that I threw out questions and kept the discussion moving.

At one point, two of them referred to personal problems connected with their jobs. After a pause, both times I made a humorous comment and moved on to asking why they came to the meeting.

Afterward, I realized I had taken charge of the group. Not that it was wrong; someone needed to do it. But I also admitted that I had manipulated the conversation to keep it on safe subjects—in that case, away from personal problems, especially my problems.

Over the next few weeks I was able to acknowledge that at times I manipulated others and dominated the decision-making process. It was still a long time before I had the insight into my motivation.

Eventually, I faced the reality: I needed to be in control—not that I used that word. I would have said, "I had to speak up." Or "I wanted to keep things on a safe topic." As a child, I had been helpless and powerless and I had that deep, unconscious need not to be dominated by others.

I still struggle with wanting to manipulate the outcome. The more secure I am inside, the less I need to dominate. And the more I can trust in a sovereign, loving God.

God, as you make me feel more loved and secure,
you teach me to manipulate others less. Thank you.

* * * * *

This post is excerpted from Cec's new book, More Than Surviving: Courageous Meditations for Men Hurting from Childhood Abuse (Kregel Publications, 2018).

What I Missed the Most

(This post comes from Roger Mann.)

I saw an ad on the MSN home page about Chuck Connors, the guy who starred for five years as The Rifleman back in the fifties. The show still airs on MeTV in our area from time to time.

​I was instantly curious to read about the backstories on the series, and especially his little co-star Johnny Crawford, who played his son. It was an unusual story line for back in those days—a single dad raising a son whose mother had died. Most shows had the usual formula for families: dad, mom, and kids.

​I was intrigued because my dad loved this series and never missed it. I loved it too, but not to the extent he did. As I pondered and read about the personalities, I understood why he was a dedicated fan. It was the idea of the healthy father-son interaction. The two characters portrayed great love and affection, and I wonder if my dad was missing that as much as I.

​I wished my dad was like Connor's character, who wasn’t afraid to hug and talk and listen to his son. They were both fiercely loyal to each other and had many sweet, tender moments throughout the series.

​Knowing what I know now helps me look back and identify things I never noticed at the time. I was the same age as the character Johnny played when I became aware I was being nocturnally molested. I will probably never get over missing the relationship that should have been between my dad and me but never was.

​I can't go back, but I can stop the cycle.

Past Tense of Abuse

A few weeks ago, I compared the rape of 15-year-old Maya, to that of male assault. She’s a major figure in the novel, Beartown. Today I finished reading the sequel, Us Against You.

It’s now months after her rape and the author shows us her heart—and her pain.
When people talk about rape, they always do so in the past tense. She “was.” She “suffered.” She “went through.”

But she didn’t go through it, she’s still going through it. She wasn’t raped, she’s still being raped. For Kevin it lasted a matter of minutes, but for her it never ends. It feels as though she’s going to dream about that running track every night of her life. And she kills [Kevin] there, every time. And wakes up her nails dug into her hands and scream in her mouth.

Anxiety. It’s an invisible ruler.[1]
Obviously, I made a comparison and realized the relevance. For us men, our assault remains present tense for a long, long time.

Once my memories of childhood rape came back to me, I relived them for months. I’m glad no one said to me, “that was the past. Just move on.” I couldn’t have moved on any faster.

Until we start healing inside, there is no moving on and no past tense. We feel it, and like Maya, we live and re-live it.

For me, it took more than a year before the worst flashbacks and memories stopped tugging at me. But gradually the healing showed. I can now say that my abuse has become past tense. Still back there, but no longer controlling my emotions.

Perhaps I’m not fully healed, but I keep getting a little closer to that goal. I rarely feel the pain—at least not the way I did “back then.”

I still hear from survivors who may not use the present tense, but it’s obvious, it’s still part of them. I want every survivor to live in the past tense. Even better, to live in the past perfect tense—an action fully completed in the past.

For a long time I lived in the present tense of pain. 
Now I’m experiencing it as a past event 
and getting closer to it being a past-perfect tense. 

[1] Us Against You by Fredrick Backman (Atria Books, 2017), page 255.

Contemplating My Father (Part 2 of 2)

(This post comes from Roger Mann.)

I swore to myself repeatedly that I wouldn't allow myself to become my father. I've managed fairly well, but sadly, there are exceptions, and that brings me many regrets.

I've imitated my father's work ethic, his charm and charisma, his wit, and his intelligence. Still, I also have the imparted weaknesses. Is it generational? Have the sins of the father actually been passed down to me by decree or by nurture? IDK.

What I do know is that, like him, I’m manipulative, competitive, secretive, lustful, angry, and by my own actions, a loner and lonely. I've done all the things he did with few exceptions and many more he probably wished he had done. And yet, I have no STDs, I'm in good health for my age and look and act at least ten years younger than I am.

I've been wishing my life was over and I could rest. But that's not to be. I must still be needed here for something, and I'm happy to stay a while longer.

If my father’s actually in heaven, as I suspect he is, I don't look forward to seeing him. I think it's because I understand him a lot more now than I ever did. A lot more than I ever wanted to.