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.

Moving Beyond the Abuse

"It's the past. Forget it and move on," my youngest brother, Chuck, said to me. We had both been sexually assaulted by the same person. He didn't admit being sexually molested, but he didn't deny it either. On the few occasions when I tried to talk to him about it, his answer was, (1) "You can't undo the past," (2) "We don't have to think about those things," or (3) "That stuff happened back then." His words implied that we need only to forget the past, leave it behind, and it's gone.

If only it were that simple.

Chuck died after years of trying to cure his pain through alcohol. I don't know if the pain he tried to medicate was the abuse, but I suspect it was. On rare occasions when he was drunk, he made oblique references to "that mess in childhood."

Outwardly, Chuck wanted to get past the sexual molestation and get on with his life. So why didn't he "move on" with his life?

I had a second brother named Mel, also an alcoholic. He was married five times and died of cirrhosis at age 48. Unlike Chuck, Mel wouldn't talk about our childhood. "There's nothing back there to talk about," was the most he ever said.

I write about my two brothers because both of them seemed determined to get past the abuse of childhood by forgetting, denying, or ignoring. That approach doesn't work.

We don't forget—not really. We don't forget because childhood abuse affects our lives and shapes our attitudes about people and relationships. Some guys want to hurry and get over it, but it's not something to get over and to move on.

Abuse happened to us. Until we accept it and face what it has done to our lives, we don't really move forward. We only live unhealed lives.

“I Was an Object”

Even as an adult, I looked back on old Mr. Lee (my second perpetrator) as a grandfatherly figure. (All my grandparents were dead by the time I was five years old.) I even dedicated one of my early books to his memory.

He didn’t love me. To him, I was an object. I was there, and he used my body (and my soul) for his powerful lusts.

For me to say I was only a thing was tough for me. I thought I was special (often he said I was). They were lies.

When I told a friend how hard it was to use that word, he suggested I think of myself as a commodity. He used the word to mean an article of trade.

He said, “You were like something he bought by carefully grooming you. It wasn’t because you were special; it was because you were vulnerable and available.”

I hated to hear those words, but they were correct. They helped set me free.

I was a useful object to him;
I am a lovable human being to God.

A Wife's Perspective

During the past four months, I’ve received several emails from wives of male survivors of sexual assault. Two of them found me through this blog, the others from reading one of my two books about sexual abuse.

This came from one of those wives, who gave me permission to share as much of her email as I chose. After the first three paragraphs below, she went into details about her husband’s childhood and his adult struggles.

None of what she writes would surprise regular readers of this blog. And yet each email is a story of pain, struggles, and (sometimes) happy endings.

My reason for sharing this portion is to point out once again that we survivors aren’t the only victims.

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My husband is a victim of childhood sexual abuse from his father, older brother, and father’s friends, starting around the age of 6.

We have been married for 26 years, and I am just realizing through reading your book “When a Man You Love was Abused”, that I am also a victim of his abuse. This has only just become a realization to me, that I am also a victim.

I stumbled across a Focus on the Family podcast that you were on, addressing this issue. I was actually looking for a resource on healing from sexual sins in our marriage, when your podcast came up. I was in shock when I read the title of the show, “Helping Your Husband Overcome Childhood Sexual Abuse”. I did not know that such topics existed, or even books on the subject. Even though the subject matter is so hard to listen to, it was so helpful to hear two men [Gary Roe and Cec] share their struggles and their stories, and practical ways that a wife can help her husband! Up until now, I have only seen myself as the victim and not my husband. I have not realized the depth of how wounded my husband is until I read your book. All through our marriage I have focused on how I have been the victim from my husband’s actions, not realizing that they were a manifestation of his struggle. Up until now, I have not been able to see past my hurts, to be able to help him. I can now look back and see the effects in our marriage from his abuse.

Setting Boundaries

As kids many of us had no boundaries. We were there for others to take advantage of. We didn’t know to refuse. Our lack of boundaries often made us vulnerable to predators.

One result of my lack of boundaries is that I became a rescuer, although it would be years before I acknowledged that. I reached out to other hurting people, trying to help them.

Consider my professions. I started as a public school teacher and asked for the lowest achievers in the sixth-grade class I taught. For 14 years I was a pastor and part-time chaplain. Being a professional writer may not seem to fit that role, but I’ve recently completed writing my third book for survivors. I’m also a professional ghostwriter—I help other people tell their stories.

As I’ve become aware of my need to rescue, I’ve also seen other areas of my life, such as not having the skill to say no without a lengthy apology.

That’s been changing the last three years. I’m learning to set boundaries for myself. In this blog, I frequently refer to self-talk. Many times I write simple, direct, and positive statements, put them on 3x5 file cards, and repeat them several times a day, often for months.

These two I’ve said since March of 2015:
  • Appropriately I say no.
  • I maintain wise, prudent, and practical boundaries.
Because I value who I am;
I can set boundaries for me.

No Self-judging Allowed

On a hand-painted sign I saw those words in a friend’s den. “I think I understand the words,” I said, “but is there a story here?”

“Yes!” Alan Jennings said. “I made up that sign for what I hoped would be an opportunity to tell people about my abuse.” The sign had been up almost two years and only a handful of visitors had asked about it.

“It began in a group therapy session,” he said. Alan was condemning himself for allowing an older boy to sodomize him. Before he sought help, he talked about allowing the horrible things done to him.

Another member of the group interrupted him. “Don’t you have any compassion for that little boy? He did what he had to do to survive.”

When Alan started to protest, others in the group also urged him to be kind to the abused child.

“I had been in and out of therapy for addictions,” he said, “but I realized I hadn’t been kind to my little boy.”

“You survived because of him,” one man said. “You may have done things you’re ashamed of now, but that hurt, despised little boy kept you alive.”

For quite a while we talked before Alan said, “I put up that sign to remind me and to help me to be kind and understanding to my younger self.

“Every night, even now I stare at my reflection in the mirror and think of the eight-year-old boy and say to him, ‘Thank you for helping me survive.’”

He smiled, “I no longer have to say no self-judging allowed. Now I leave the sign up in the den, hoping it will help others.”

The Other Survivor

My wife was also a survivor—a survivor of my abusive childhood. She suffered because she loved me and stayed with me while I worked through my pain.

For a long time, I didn’t realize how my childhood had affected her. I was too busy working on Cec.

As one example, when she was deeply hurt, I froze inside. Today I’d say I numbed out as many survivors do during intense emotional moments. I didn’t understand what was happening to me, and my abuse kept me from giving her the comfort I wanted to show her.

I didn’t know when I was angry and couldn’t “feel” that emotion. More than once Shirley cried and I didn’t understand what I had said or done.

For me, the good news is that healing began, and Shirley was there from the beginning. One evening, I pulled her close and apologized. “Until recently I didn’t understand that you have been victimized by what was done to me.”

I’m glad I was able to see that and apologize. That didn’t change the fact of her being a survivor of my childhood molestation and pain, but I was able to affirm my love and appreciation.

“But You Act So Normal”

I’ve heard that statement in two different ways. The first came from someone with whom I shared my pain. “You’re pretty well put together.”

I’m not sure what people mean when they say such things. I certainly hope he thought I behaved like a normal person. If I’m emotionally “pretty well put together” it’s because I’ve worked hard to get there.

Another person once said, “I never would have suspected that you had been abused. You’re so normal.”

Frankly, that’s just another dumb thing someone says, probably without thinking. Possibly they’re trying to compliment me and their intent is to say, “You have come a long way.” Or “You’ve triumphed over such a painful childhood and I admire you.”

Maybe that’s what they meant. But it comes across as implying they assume anyone who was abused would remain an emotional cripple.

Regardless, when I hear such things I say to myself, He means well and doesn’t realize how stupid his words sound. I want to give those people the benefit of assuming they meant well.

I can do that now. But a decade ago, such statements hurt. In those days, such words minimized my journey as if to say, “You’re normal so it must not have been too bad.”

It’s so much easier to say, “I’m sorry for what you endured.”

Then I believe they “heard” my pain.