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.

Stealing Second Base

I don’t remember the first time I heard or read this truism: you can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.

The impact of those words is that the healing journey is risky. Any healthy survivor will echo those words. Once we open the door to our painful childhood, we never know what’s going to come out.

For example, I hadn’t cried since I was 11 years old; I started my healing journey 40 years later. Then I cried—almost every day for weeks. I’d see something about mistreatment on TV and the tears would flow. Or read a scene in a book.

More than the tears, I began seeing things about myself I didn’t like—things others could see but had previously hidden from me. It hurt for me to face them and say to myself, “Yes, that’s true.”

Hard. Risky. The safer, easier path is denial. I had lived in that community too long.

The acute responses to my self-knowledge (i.e., the intense pain) lasted months. But I prevailed. I can only thank God, my wife, and my best friend because they were there when I needed them. Even so, it was my pain, my traumatic past. And as one wise survivor said to me, “The only way out is through. You’ll never be free of the pain until you re-experience it.”

Today I’m healthier. I love being who I am—something that didn’t seem possible 10 years earlier. I took my foot off first base. I risked being hurt, humiliated, and misunderstood, and I just kept going.

So can you.

Move your foot off first base. Take the risk.

“I Emotionally Abuse My Wife”

A lengthy email came from a man who had gotten in touch with his abuse in his early 50s. He confessed to emotionally abusing his wife. “How can I stop doing that?”

I don’t know the answer, but I offered him a suggestion: start by being compassionate to yourself.

Whatever is in our hearts comes out in our actions. Long ago I realized that the people who criticize and speak harshly of others are really letting us peak inside themselves. The way we treat others reflects the way we treat ourselves.

I suggested the emotionally wounded do what I did when I realized some of the terrible effects of sexual, emotional, and physical assault: I admitted I couldn’t be truly kind to others until I was genuinely compassionate toward Cec. That meant loving and accepting myself.

I wrote several statements on three-by-five file cards and repeated them several times a day.

Here are examples:
  • I am loveable.
  • I am worthwhile.
  • God created me lovable.
  • I like who I am and accept who I am.
  • I lovingly embrace every part of myself.
Weeks passed before the truth of those new messages slowly sank in. Today I can say those words with a smile on my face. I truly like Cec.

The residual effect has been that as I’ve become more accepting of myself it shows up by my being more compassionate and less judgmental of others.

Collateral Damage

The term collateral damage began as a military term to refer to damage done to civilians or unintended targets in warfare. Today, most of us understand it means the undesired consequences of horrific events. For survivors, it’s the harm done to those within our circle, especially family members.

In my own journey, I can think of nothing more difficult for me than speaking to my family of origin about the abuse during my childhood and then informing my own children. The first was more difficult because I assumed they, like me, lived with denial. To my surprise, my three older sisters either said, “I knew” or “I suspected.”

My own children, again to my surprise, handled it well. The thing about which I’m grateful is that I never took my molestation to the next generation—that is, did to them what was done to me.

I’m grateful I caused no collateral damage for my children.

The Worst Abuse

The worst abuse to any boy can be stated in one word: incest. My online dictionary defines incest as the crime of sexual acts with a parent, child, sibling, or grandparent. I’ve never heard of any culture that affirms incest.

Family members, especially parents and grandparents, are those we naturally trust. We turn to them for love, understanding, and comfort. And if they violate our trust, they confuse us and do irreparable damage to our souls.

Every authority I’ve read says that incest has more far-reaching negative consequences than any other because it occurs within the family system. It’s particularly true when the perpetrator is a parent, because the child grows up trapped in a twisted primary relationship.

Long before I faced my own incestuous abuse, another writer named Mark* told me that when he was a teen his mother raped him. Nearly 40 years later, we met at a conference last year and renewed our relationship.

Mark has now been married four times. His present marriage is rocky, but he’s determined to hold it together. He’s also aware of what his mother did to him. He tried to get closure and peace a few months before she died, but she denied any wrongdoing.

“My head knows all the reasons and explanations for my problems,” Mark said, “but I can’t get my emotions to adapt.” Because of his mother’s actions, Mark has never been able to sustain a relationship with a woman. He and his present wife are getting counseling, but he says, “I can’t open up to her. No matter how hard I try, the trust just isn’t there.” And then he admits, “It’s not because she’s done or said anything. It’s just hard for me to trust any woman.”

“Or impossible,” I said.

He started to disagree, closed his mouth, and stared into space for a minute or so. “Yes, that’s right.”

This is again a plea with incest survivors to get help—a friend, a minister, a therapist. It is possible to overcome the devastating effects of incest.

I know.

You’re Responsible

In an adult Sunday school, I’ve been teaching a series on our bodies are God’s holy temples. (The Bible calls them that.) What surprised me was most class members remained passive about their physical health.

If you have a headache, take an aspirin. Aleve keeps it away for 12 hours. Restless leg syndrome? There’s a pill for that. Heartburn after eating spicy food? TV screens show several over-the-counter liquids and pills to remove the discomfort.

I noticed the TV ads for prescription medications. Many of them end with these words, “Ask your doctor for . . .”

I’m not against medicine or doctors. But I’m against being passive about our physical health.

I am responsible for my health. I have the right—the duty—the responsibility to take care of myself. Too often the sick passively put themselves into the hands of a professional and look for pills or surgery to take away their symptoms.

Instead of immediately seeking a professional, why not start by asking yourself: What is going on inside me that makes me ill? For example, instead of taking Tums or Nexium for acid indigestion, why not avoid spicy foods? It’s often that simple.

My reason for stressing responsibility is simple. If we truly want healing and to rise above our abuse, we have to work hard at it. Too many men give up and medicate themselves with frenzied activities or anti-depressants, or seek the therapist who can set them free.

As an illustration, I’m a professional writer and have taught in more than 200 writers conferences. One of the benefits to conferees is that they are able to set up appointments to talk with the professionals on staff.

Rarely have I gone to a conference without at least one writer showing me a manuscript that’s been rejected countless times. Instead of trying to figure out what they’re doing wrong, they keep seeking. One woman said, “I know that one day I’ll find exactly the right editor, and I’ll sell this book.”

It works like that with healing from our traumatic childhoods. I am responsible.

I am responsible for my own healing from abuse.

Being Ignored

As a child I was beaten by my father, sexually assaulted by a female relative, and verbally abused by both parents. The worst part of my childhood, or so it seems to me now, was being ignored.

Mel was two years younger and died from alcohol abuse at age 48, but he was clearly my parents’ favorite child and we other 6 siblings knew and accepted it. Mel did no wrong. Ever. When he got into trouble—with regularity—they didn’t punish or rebuke him.

The result for me was being ignored. I’ve tried to think of one rule my parents gave me such as when to go to bed, get up in the morning, what subjects to take in school, or restrictions about behavior or friends. None. I learned to make all those decisions on my own. As a boy I decided to be in bed at night by 9:00 and Mel sometimes stayed up until midnight (and was regularly “too sick” to go to school the next day).

The time I contemplated suicide (mentioned in my previous blog), I did think about being missed. I distinctly recall thinking, my mother would cry a little, but within days everyone would have forgotten me. I truly believed that.

Perhaps because I was the good boy—the one who didn’t get into trouble, who did well in school, and didn’t demand attention—it was easy to ignore me.

I didn’t ask for attention, probably because I didn’t think it would do any good. That reality helps me understand why I was such a prime target for a pedophile. Whenever anyone showed me attention or interest, they had me. I was a ready-to-be-victimized child.

That was a long time ago, but those memories aren’t gone. I don’t need to be the center of attention; but I do need to be cared about and loved.

Like any normal person.

I’m grateful for those special people in my life who expressed genuine love and affection for me. They (with God’s help) enabled me to be who I am today.

Defining Abuse (Part 2 of 2)

“A strong component of childhood sexual molestation becomes a systematic tearing down of boys and interferes with their development.” I don’t know where I read those words, but I copied them a few years ago. Another statement reads, “Abuse assaults the boy’s self-understanding and makes him feel unworthy of love and affection.”

Those two quotations nicely expressed my self-concept. I felt unworthy of love and affection. That’s such a terrible burden to impose on a young boy who’s trying to navigate the murky rivers of life.

Unworthy. I don’t know that I ever used that particular word, but that sums up my childhood. Unworthy of love. Unworthy of being accepted. Because I had no one to whom I could confide, it meant I had to face those struggles on my own. No wonder I always felt different and unlike other boys.

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One thing we need to face is that we don’t “just get healed” or grow up healthy. It’s hard work. We survivors start at a distinct disadvantage unless we have a support system. We need other people and perhaps we know it—we just don’t know how to ask for or receive their help.

Looking back, I’m sure there were adults with whom I might have entrusted my secrets, but I didn’t know how to talk about my feeling different. Most of all, however, I honestly didn’t think anyone cared. That’s the damaged self-image.

When I was 12 or 13, my life hit such a low point I decided to commit suicide by jabbing myself repeatedly in the stomach with a knife. (I’d seen it done that way in a film). At the last minute, however, I couldn’t do it. I cursed myself for being a coward.

When our self-esteem is so skewed and twisted, we blame ourselves for everything, even when we’re unable to complete the most self-destructive urges.

Looking back, I can’t pick an Aha! moment when my life changed. For me, it was a gradual movement. I credit most of that growth to the love and patience of my wife, Shirley, who didn’t give up on me.

So it comes down to this. If you want healing from your childhood abuse, face one harsh reality: You can’t do it yourself. You can’t heal without the loving, accepting help of others.