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.

Same Sex Attraction

(This post comes from John Joseph.)

Aside from all arguments on either side over the origins and morality of homosexuality, one of the primary remnants of my abuse is a strong sexual attraction to men. I don’t consider myself gay and I don’t live that lifestyle. I am a husband and a father and I choose to live in a loving marriage with my wife of now thirty-two years. Still, this unwanted same-sex attraction (SSA) shows up in my life often and always in the form of compulsion.

I have come to understand a few things about SSA in my life. First, it is an irrational state of mind. I never decide to have an attraction to a guy and it is never a romantic thing for me. I don’t dream about getting flowers from a man or of being taken to exotic destinations for a getaway with him. For me, SSA is more about feeling insecure or rejected. It happens most often when I am dealing with stress or something uncomfortable in my circumstances.

SSA generally starts with a feeling of discomfort in my mind. It is like a pot on the stove with a lid on it. As the water inside heats up the steam needs an escape valve. If things inside me are heating up, the escape valve can be triggered when I visualize or see an attractive man. I immediately size him up and compare myself with him. If he seems to be bigger, stronger, more successful, or more “together” in his personality I can become attracted. Fantasy takes over and eventually I’m caught up in an irrational state of mind.

The end of this irrational fantasy can be a foray into gay pornography and masturbation, leaving me shamed and depleted. Obviously, SSA is an unhealthy response to life’s normal stresses for me. Part of my recovery work is to recognize that it is irrational and to learn how to interrupt the cycle as soon as I recognize it.

The Lenses of Abuse

(This post comes from John Joseph.)

I had dinner with a friend the other night and started sharing the history of my abuse with him. His reaction was kind, but his words belied a simplistic view of my pain. “Just let it go,” he urged, over and over. I gently pushed back on his premise, trying to help him see that I am a person who carries deep pain and one who is doing all I can to process it with the help of my therapist, my friends, journaling, and spirituality. I’m not sure he ever “got it” though he finally stopped telling me to “get over it.”

This experience reminded me that I see life through the lenses of my abuse. I cannot completely explain why the pain is still so present in my daily life. I cannot totally tease out every reason that life seems so sexualized and that it taints all with an off-color hue of sadness. I cannot fully explain the lingering effects of violation, or the lies that still hover in my mind that I am “damaged goods.” I can’t explain why I still feel that the abuse was my fault and that no one would love me if they really knew me. I just know that these are the things I still feel deeply.

My recovery doesn’t seem to progress in a linear pattern. It doesn’t always seem to move from Point A to Point B. It zigs. It zags. I feel great one day then BAM! It hits me square between the eyes. I heard someone say in a recovery meeting, “While you’re trying to get better the devil is doing pushups.” Maybe there’s some truth to that. Whether you believe in a personal devil or not isn’t the point. Abuse and the residual effects of it are devils enough. 

 I hope to take these abuse-colored glasses off someday. Or, I hope to at least be able to adjust them enough to realize that there are some fantastic things in my life despite the abuse. I am healed more than I was a few years ago, so I know there is some progress. Maybe in a way these lenses help me to see the wounds in others and to know that the last thing I need to tell them is to just “let it go” or to “get over it.” Healing takes time.

Who You Ain’t

(This post comes from John Joseph.)

An old saying goes, “Be who you is, because if you ain’t who you is, you is who you ain’t.” As funny as it sounds this axiom is packed with meaning for me. I’ve struggled deeply to know who I am as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and I’ve spent years being who I ain’t. My task as a survivor is to learn to live from the authentic center of my being. But where is it?

Finding the center of myself is no easy thing. The millions of messages flying all around me every day, the voices of the culture, news, fashion, and social media mixed with my base of emotional distress confuse me. Seeing the beautiful people on commercials doesn’t help me. Watching the Kardashians or Modern Family or reality shows doesn’t heal me. I’ve become convinced that the only way I’m going to find the real center of me is to work at it within a context of an authentic, grace-filled community.

Grace is a lot more than forgiving someone or saying a prayer before a meal. True grace is a structure that forgives, but it also provides a way to heal and to grow. It’s like having a friend who doesn’t just say that you should work out and lose weight. This friend actually shows up every other day at your house to walk or jog with you to help you get healthy. We all need friends like that.

I’ve realized that I need to live as who I am. If that’s to happen, I need a safe place to be who I am now in order to grow into the person I want to become. We all need a structure, a community of grace, to find the true center of ourselves and to learn to be who we is.

Laughter and Tears

(This post comes from John Joseph.)

There’s often a thin distinction for me between laughter and tears. Folk singer Joni Mitchell pined years ago that “laughin’ and crying/You know it’s the same release” (People’s Parties, from the album Court and Spark, 1974). I’ve thought about that lyric many times. I’ve remembered it especially in moments of laughter that seemed to strike something deep in me, some sad feeling that could just as easily have come out as tears as easily as laughter. Emotions are funny things sometimes.

As an abuse survivor I often experience confusion around my emotions. I question myself when I feel something deeply and I tend to censure myself. As a child I had to “stuff” my emotions down inside because they weren’t acceptable in our family system. We didn’t deal well with anger or with any topic that was “embarrassing”. In this way I learned that my feelings were suspect, at best, and unacceptable, at worst. I grew up distrusting my emotions and never knowing what to do with them.

As I have matured in my recovery I have come to see my emotions as a gift. I have them for a reason and they point me to greater realities in life as I come to understand them. Someone has said that, “emotions are terrific servants and terrible masters”. This is true for everyone, but how much more for those of us who have been violated to the point of rejecting our healthy feelings and who have been forced to bury them deep inside of our shattered hearts.


Porn

(This post comes from John Joseph.)

An addiction to pornography was one of the effects of my early childhood sexual abuse. The women in the pictures were fascinating, though I had no clue why they were unclothed. My brother would “show me” what the women did as we looked at the pictures. The natural result was a strong sexual confusion on my part. For years I thought I was a woman.

I now live a heterosexual lifestyle and have been married for three decades. But through these years I have found myself struggling with this addiction. Of course I feel the typical shame and self-loathing after indulging. The more I watch the more I want to do it. As an adult, the people I see in the pornography still elicit in me the same feelings of being needed that I felt as a child.

I have come to understand many things about the roots of my addiction. The primary root is the yearning to feel needed. The abuse scarred me deeply and has manifested itself in me at times as an irrational compulsion for gay porn. This is what is called “acting out” for me. I acted out the early homosexual abuse through porn, compulsive masturbation, and a few gay encounters.

Acting out in any way is destructive emotionally and spiritually, but especially to my marriage and to my work. When I sense a temptation to indulge in porn, I try to remember that this feeling is strong, but irrational. The porn will never satisfy me in the deepest way and it can never heal what hurts the most—my broken heart.

Self Loathing

(This post comes from John Joseph.)

One effect of my early childhood sexual abuse has been self-loathing. For the longest time I didn’t understand that was what I was dealing with. I thought I was just so messed up that I didn’t deserve the air I was breathing. I constantly compared myself to others, especially men, and I never measured up. The problem with that perspective is that it kept me from being the best me that I could be.

Self-loathing is an emotional habit rooted in envy. As a child my body was never as big as the men who abused me. They were taller, stronger, and their genitalia were bigger. I could never measure up. I can see clearly now that my lifetime of irrational comparisons was founded in those moments of abuse in which I was weaker and the abusers stronger. It wasn’t a fair fight. I was a child.

My continuum of self-loathing ran from a minor comparison of hair or height to athleticism or financial status. At best, it caused an irritation. At worst, it caused deep anxiety and self-destructive behavior such as addiction or depression. A few times I was so distressed by not being like someone else that I despaired and could have taken my life.

The cure for self-loathing I have found, is to recognize that envy hurts me. I am learning to celebrate myself—my body, and my lot in life. What I have is what I have. Comparing myself to others causes me to devalue myself. As I grow in recovery my goal is to love and appreciate who I am and to resist falling into the abyss of self-loathing.

The Real Me

(This post comes from John Joseph.)

The real me is the me I choose to be as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I cannot change my history. It happened to me. I was abused. This abuse was horrific, criminal, and damaging to me emotionally. It affected my entire life. Even though it is true that I was abused, the abuse doesn’t have to define who I am. Now I choose to rise above it and to live my life as a triumphant survivor.

I once heard a Jewish survivor of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz say, “the only real revenge is to live.” I resonate with those words. The memories of my abuse and the devastating effects on my life, especially in the area of emotions and relationships, never go away.

Each morning I wake to remember that I was abused. But I cannot afford to let my mind stop there. I have to take the next step into the conscious choice to live above the abuse.

Living above the abuse is never easy. When I think of the people who abused me or when I stumble into momentary fear or anxiety based in the abuse, I often react by shutting down emotionally (which only leads to medicating myself in destructive behaviors). Sometimes the only remedy is to do the next right thing. Often I pray. Reading something that brings me joy can help break me out of the downward spiral. Calling a friend who understands or writing in my journal can work. Whatever helps me out of the funk is how I choose to live above the memories and to remember the real me.

The real me is fearless. The real me is filled with joy and peace. The real me is creative and artistic. The real me is in love with life and with the goodness that it brings. The real me is a helper, a healer, and a friend. The real me is committed to meaningful relationships. The real me is the authentic person I am in spite of the abuse. The real me is triumphant and someone who, like the concentration camp survivor, reeks revenge on the enemies of my soul’s peace by living today.