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.

Questions and Answers (Part 5 of 7)

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

"Should I confront my perpetrator?"

A man needs to decide that for himself. One female and one male abused me and both of them are dead. Even if they were alive, I doubt that I would confront them.

If you feel you want to confront, ask yourself one significant question: What do I want to accomplish? If you want the person to confess, that probably won't happen. Perpetrators usually molested more than one boy and he's probably become an expert in denial. "I would never do such a thing to you. I loved you, but I never did anything wrong."

Or worse, he may turn it around and say, "You asked for it. You were always clinging to me and demanding love."

If you feel you must confront, I urge you to take someone with you—someone who can stop your second victimization by accusing you or twisting the reality. Remind yourself that the person deceived you once and stole your innocence. He can't do that again, but he can confuse you or bring doubts.

Questions and Answers (Part 4 of 7)

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

"If I was abused by a man and it felt good, does that make me gay?"

This is the question most men don't ask aloud. I want to mention that it's natural for sexual abuse to feel good. When someone stimulates our sexual organs, that feels good—that's a natural phenomenon. Tyler Perry, speaking of his abuse, said, "My body betrayed me."

One authority said that sexual identity is established around age 2 or 3—and I pass that on because I'm not a psychologist. But there seems to be no research to prove that being abused makes the victim a homosexual.

Some men become sexually compulsive with women—which I see as part of their unresolved issues. That's a way of shouting, "See! I'm not gay."

One abuse survivor has only one wife but nine children. He said, "If anyone tried to call me gay, I could point to my kids and prove them wrong."

Most of the abused men I've met are heterosexual. My guess is that the therapist was probably right about the formation of sexual identity.

Questions and Answers (Part 3 of 7)

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

"Why do some boys become victims and others aren't?"

That's unanswerable, but I'll give you my observation. Some boys (and I was one of them) feel unloved and alone. Every person in the world needs attention and affection. Because they don't feel loved by their parents or other family members, they become susceptible to predators.

There are exceptions and other reasons, but think of it this way. The boy already has a relationship with a family member or someone in the community who is in a position of trust. They might be neighbors, teachers, church leaders, politicians, or a store clerk—anyone whom the boy looks up to, admires, or trusts.

The point is that the perpetrator already has some connection. That authority figure befriends the boy, giving him needed attention. The boy feels wanted, accepted, and perhaps loved. The perpetrator has gone after the innocent boy and destroys his childhood.

Questions and Answers (Part 2 of 7)

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

"Is it typical for molested boys to keep quiet and not tell?"

It's definitely typical and there are many reasons they say nothing. Sometimes they fear they won't be believed. They think it's their fault. In my case, I believe it was because I didn't think anyone cared.

The official-and-conservative figure is that one out of every six boys has been abused before they reach the age of sixteen. Oprah Winfrey commented on that and said, "Those are only the ones who speak up."

I think Oprah was correct. I was abused and didn't speak up until I hit 50. I wonder how many more men are around who haven't talked. I wonder how many men carried the dark secret all their lives and died without telling anyone.

Questions and Answers (Part 1 of 7)

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

"If it happened only once is that sexual abuse?"

Abuse is abuse, regardless of the number of times it happened. As I see the issues, it's not how many times it happened, but how did it affect the boy who was abused?

If he was traumatized, and it happened only one time, the obvious answer is yes. That's like saying, "The robber stole my money. It happened only once, so was I robbed?"

Logic vs. Emotion

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

I once mentioned in a keynote at a conference that I had been sexually molested. I didn't dwell on the issue, but said it affected the way I saw life.

Afterward a woman who identified herself as a pastor-therapist said to me, "You didn't do anything to cause the assault. It was your perpetrator's fault."

I tried to tell her that I knew, but she didn't seem to hear me. She talked for another minute or two, but her words and her attitude seemed to say to me, "I've explained the logic of the situation and you're free."

I agreed with her reasoning. I had been a child, and of course I didn't do anything to bring on the molestation. It was the fault of my perpetrators. If acknowledging the truth were all I needed, I would have been free much earlier.

She didn't seem to grasp that my emotions hadn't caught up with my cognitive perceptions. I could make the same statements she made—and I did—but they hadn't set me free. It was a long time before I could feel free.

And, sad to say, some men never feel fault-free.

"You Don't Need to Feel Ashamed"

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

Some statements irritate me. "You don't need to feel guilty," or "You have no reason to feel ashamed" are two of them. I wonder about the people who say those things. How can they speak so glibly?

Of course we need to feel ashamed or guilty—it's a natural reaction to what happened to us. No one explained to us that it was something bad done to us. Consequently, we felt bad. We weren't mature enough to grasp that we were innocent, so shame and guilt invaded our souls.

If I could have disrobed myself of those two emotions, I would have done it long ago. Instead it took me many, many years before I knew the freedom from those enslavements. I don't think I'm unusual.

I'd like to say to those glib-speaking know-it-alls, "Don't tell anyone how he should or shouldn’t feel. That advice helps no one."

But we can say, "I'm sorry you're hurting." As we accept them and express compassion they can slowly free themselves.

But until then, they have valid reasons for feeling ashamed or guilty.

"I Should Be Healed"

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

I've heard several men say, "I should be healed by now." When they do, I smile. I smile for two reasons. First, I had made the same statement to myself.

Second, I smile because I think, that's a typical male response. We want to know how long it's going to take, want a time table, and expect it to be over by a certain date on the calendar.

I think of the old joke about a man who talked to a therapist about his depression. He asked how long he would have to undergo treatment. The therapist tried to avoid answering but the patient persisted, so finally the therapist said, "If you come weekly, about a year."

"If I come twice a week," the man asked, "can I do it in six months?"

Because many of us expect healing to have taken place within a certain period of time, we want results—and as soon as possible.

A better response to the statement, "I should be healed by now," is that inner healing doesn't understand time demands or deadlines. Healing happens as it happens.

Instead of thinking what should be, isn't it better to say to yourself, "I'm much healthier right now than I was when I started this journey"?

The Terrible Burden of Secrets

(This post comes from an anonymous reader.)

I felt unloved by my mother; I was unloved and unwanted by my stepfather. “You’ll never amount to anything,” he said. I believed I was worthless. I was rejected at home but at the same time I wasn't allowed to participate in sports, or to join in Scouts. I never had the male companionship that every boy needs and longs for.

The first sexual abuse that I remember was at age five. After that, I told my mother that I could hit my “willie” and it would get stiff; and if I kept hitting it, I would feel good. Shortly after that, they had me circumcised. In those days, many parents believed it stopped masturbation. I don’t remember masturbating again until about 13 when a neighbor boy took me behind our garage and showed me how. That activity became my comfort.

In my mid-teen years, I was enticed by a man. An adult male wanted an unwanted boy. I would have done anything he suggested. And it warped how I saw myself for decades. I had kissed my girlfriend before that, and that had been my most electrifying experience until the same-sex encounter. From then on, I wanted to be a heterosexual man, but I was drawn repeatedly to same-sex encounters.

In my 30s, I married a woman who loved me unconditionally. But I couldn't bring myself to tell her my secrets. How could I survive if she left?

After she died, I comprehended the depths of her unconditional love. I found a folder of poems and letters that she’d written to me when we were dating but had never mailed them. As I read them, I knew she would have been by my side through anything that enabled me to be rid of secrets.

The biggest part of my burden was guilt over my cruising parks where I could watch same-sex activities. I told myself, Watching isn't as bad as participating. Afterward, my guilt was as dreadfully damning as if I’d participated.

As a result, for the last years of our marriage, I was impotent. Had I trusted my wife and let her share my sorrow, we could have had joyful sex.

I finally trusted my pastor enough to tell him some of my story. He sent me to a counselor to whom I told everything. Both pastor and counselor accepted me as a man of worth. They gave me hope.

Secrets are terrible burdens. They can destroy us.

A Third Post from Joseph

(This is the last of three posts from Joseph.)

Mother gave me dolls to play with, played house with me, and taught me how to sew. (Surely she knew better.) My stepfather psychologically abused us both—told me I would never amount to anything. (He lied: I taught school for 39 years; have published local history books; and am a well-known poet in my state. But I still felt less than a man.)

I wasn't allowed to play sports or join the Boy Scouts because the “other boys would be a bad influence on you.” I was allowed to go to one high school football game and that was in the ninth grade. I grew up knowing nothing about sports, cars, or guns.

I was never comfortable around men, but work and church put me around them, so I developed survival skills although remaining “dumb and stupid” about manly things.

Furthermore, I was warned against kissing girls—that could start a boy on the downward path to damnation. As an adolescent, when adult men enticed me, I saw it as kindness and I felt needed. When I discovered it was wrong, I felt that I couldn't ever be a real man.

Having a licensed Christian counselor and telling him everything—and I mean every shameful thing I have remembered—has been unlocking doors and I am progressing into freedom from the past.

God has put me in a church with godly men who like me and I am at ease around them. I may be old, but I’m not too old to learn and to enjoy the fellowship of men.

A Second Post from Joseph

(This is the second of three posts from Joseph.)

I gave my counselor the following list at my session this week.

What I’ve Learned/Concluded about Myself

1. I didn’t deserve the childhood psychological abuse or the adolescent sexual abuse that happened to me.

2. I didn’t have a father who loved, nurtured, and protected me; but all the time, through the years, God, the truest Father, was loving, nurturing, and providentially protecting me.

3. Through the years, I avoided fellowship with men because I was afraid I would act unmanly and they would think I was a pervert. I realize that in doing that, I was avoiding the very men who could have affirmed my maleness.

4. It takes a real man to look past abuse and personal failures in the eye and with the help of a counselor gain assurance that you didn’t start the abuse. Next admit and accept the resulting sins and failures, but then turn around and face the future with your head up. I have; I am a man!

5. This year has been the best year of my life because God has brought a change in me. I know how Scrooge felt on Christmas morning!

6. I cannot use the past tense and say, “I am recovered,” but I can with confidence use the continuing present tense and say, “I am recovering.”

My Name Is Joseph #1

Whenever another man bares his soul and writes about the depths of his pain and his journey into healing, I'm deeply touched. The post that follows along with two others came from the same man.

Thank you, Joseph, for your willingness to open your heart to the rest of us.

Please note that Joseph speaks about the help of a trained counselor. Some of us took different paths toward healing, but we had someone there for us—not always a professional. We didn't do it alone.
     
    --Cec

* * * * *

My name is Joseph. After being a widower for 2 years, I made an appointment with a counselor.

Living alone in my house with a computer brought all kinds of old lusts and memories that called me to surf the net. I needed help. My secrets went back to when I was five years old and a boy a little bigger than I wanted to play cow, and he had me be the cow. I have a vague memory of his crawling onto my back.

The other secrets began the summer I turned 17. A same-sex event, but for the first time in my life I felt wanted. I never told anyone—not even my wife who loved me unconditionally and would have loved me no matter what I confessed to her. Instead, I built walls.

My wife died in Oct. 2010. In January 2013, I met with the counselor for the first time, determining beforehand that I would trust him and puke it all out. It has been a life-changing experience. I would still be in my prison of the past if I had not talked to a man about what happened to me.

If you think it will help, you’re welcomed to post it under the name Joseph.

What Does It Mean to Be a Man?

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

That's a frequent question from men who were sexually molested in childhood. "What does it mean to be a man—a real man?"

We have cultural attitudes and expectations within our own social communities about masculinity. But no matter how it's said, most of us survivors face uncertainty about our manhood. Many of us feel challenged and unsure about our masculinity. We say to ourselves, "If I were a real man, I would (or I wouldn't). . ."

For example, he was a victim of sexual abuse, so he can't be a real man, because true men are never victims. If he thinks of the word victim when he thinks of himself, he may struggle or be aware of something he says that will make others think he's not a real male.

If he cries, his friends may laugh at him, imply that's he's a sissy or behaves like a girl. Maybe he's not athletic or doesn't enjoy watching football. Or perhaps he's too thin or too fat—almost anything can cause him to struggle with deeper issues.

It's sad but too often it's a silent, inner battle he can't share with others. He feels that to talk freely opens him to further criticism.

Years ago my friend Charlie said he played with paper dolls. He was an only child and the dolls entertained him. One day he was with a friend and they saw two girls playing with paper dolls. "Only girls play with real dolls or paper dolls."

"After that," Charlie said, "I played only in my room and made sure no one else would find them." He later said that he started dating girls at age sixteen, and even though he liked girls, later married, and was never involved in any homosexual relationships, he still wonders if he's really a man.

"How do I know if I'm a real man?" he asked.

What would you say to Charlie or to any man like him? Please email me if you'd like to respond, and I'll post all the comments at one time.

"Who Am I?"

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

"I didn't know who I was," Mac said to me after I spoke to a Celebrate Recovery group. "Being molested messed with my brain," he said.

Mac didn't have a lot formal education but he said it well. Abuse affects all parts of our lives. I'm constantly amazed in my own life when I have a jarring realization of something I say or do that connects to my abuse.

Here's an example. I recently spoke with "Matt" about his abuse. He made me uncomfortable because he invaded my space—standing about six inches away from me—far too close.

In our conversation I put my hands on his shoulders as I took a step back, and said, "I'm uneasy when you stand so close." Before he could say anything, I added, "but I think it speaks about your need for intimacy."

Those words rushed out of my mouth without my consciously thinking of them. Tears filled Matt's eyes and he nodded slowly. "I know, but I can't help myself. I feel I have to move close to people and yet they move away from me."

I thought of buzz words like lack of boundaries and a number of things to help him, but instead, I heard myself say, "I'll bet you wished someone would hug you—a lot."

He nodded. "And when they do, I don't want to let go and that makes them not want to hug me again."

In that moment, I realized how many times I've wanted to be held, hugged, or even touched. It became clear to me that I had felt a similar need as Matt, but I reacted to it differently. When I hugged, I did it with great intensity (perhaps I still do). But the difference is that back then I tried to signal that I wanted the same intense embrace I gave them. Instead, I think I made them feel uncomfortable.

Like Mac, I continue to realize how much my being molested messed with my brain.

"What We Didn't Get"

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

I wrote an email to a hurting friend, who suffers from the effects of terrible things he's done to others. I'm sorry for his pain, but delighted he's facing himself. It takes courage to look at ourselves and admit that we committed acts we condemn in others. (In fact, condemning others for those very acts is often the way many try to cope with their issues.)

When I faced my childhood physical and sexual abuse, I learned an invaluable lesson. I don't know if I read it, someone told me, or if God whispered it to me, but here's the lesson: What we don't receive in childhood, we spend our lives seeking—usually on an unconscious level.

Like most people I focused on the symptoms—not doing things I knew were wrong. Years ago while visiting an AA meeting, I heard the term "dry alcoholic" and that sums it up for me. Dry alcoholics no longer drink but their behavior doesn't change.

I figured out that "unacceptable behavior" (a nice term to cover compulsive problems) is a painkiller. My dad and brothers killed their pain with beer. The most notorious gossip I've ever known died recently. Many times I've thought that carrying the latest news (true or not) gave her a sense of feeling significant, perhaps even important. The "medicine" each of them took for temporary relief usually worked temporarily.

Because of a loving God who worked in my life through my wife and my best friend, I was able to accept, struggle, and to have those needs fulfilled.

I was a lonely kid who felt different from those around him. When I was 18 months old, a dog attacked me and left terrible scars on my face. Plastic surgery took care of most of the visible scars, but the invisible ones remained for years.

The worst part of my childhood is that I never felt loved. As I ponder some of the things I did which made me feel guilty and ashamed, I now say to myself, "It was my way of searching for what I didn't receive as a child."

I'm probably no different from some of you, so I repeat the sentence that pushed me to face reality: What we don't receive in childhood, we spend our lives seeking—usually on an unconscious level.

Feeling Empathy

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

Two people abused me, both of whom were dead before I began to deal with my abuse. I wanted to forgive them, but it took me a couple of weeks of daily, intense prayer (it may take you only days or possibly years, because we're all different).

I don't know how God accounts for sins. The woman who abused me was a prominent Christian. I doubt that the old man ever went to church. But I prayed—fervently—that God would enable me to forgive them.

As my next step I thought of the prayer of Stephen, the first martyr of the church, who prayed, "Do not lay this sin to their charge." It took a lot of guts, commitment, and love for that man to pray that way for the people as they stoned him to death.

Eventually I was able to pray in the same way as Stephen did. I sincerely felt some of their pain and misery. That's not to overlook their awful acts, but it is to say, "God, their addiction imprisoned them. Surely they were tortured by their behavior. Forgive them for the terrible things they did."

Does such praying do anything for the perpetrators?

I don't know, but it did something good for me: I was free.

"Will It Ever End?"

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

I asked that question a few months into what we now call my recovery period. The pain was intense. In some ways I felt victimized a second time. "I had to go through that as a kid," I said to my wife. "Now that I understand what was going on, it hurts even worse."

Maybe it wasn't worse; maybe it only felt worse.

And the pain went on a long time. I didn't keep any record, but the most intense period was probably about two years. I had opened the door and I couldn't shut it. I knew I had to keep going.

I've long moved past the pain. The memories have begun to dull the way most memories do. That's one powerful reward for pushing forward. But there's more.

I have healthier relationships with my wife and my family. I understand friendship on a deeper level than ever. But most of all, I have a good life. I like being alive and I like who I am.

The journey has been worth it, even with the pain.

"I Zoned Out"

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

I heard a man say, "I zoned out," and it's not a new term; I understood what he was trying to say. I would say that I went numb. He had emotionally detached himself is a simple explanation. He felt detached from his body or his conscious awareness.

Zoning out occurs during a traumatic event, such as molestation, and it's not that uncommon. He said, "It was like being a spectator and watching the abuse."

And it worked for him. "I survived childhood without being filled with anger."

But like many short-term methods that work, it has a drawback. As an adult, it ruins relationships. The man who talked to me had been in therapy for more than a year and could finally say, "I'm beginning to feel sadness and anger—two emotions I didn't understand when I was seven." He's now 41. It took him a long time to learn to feel.

"I'm Afraid"

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

Those were Evan's first words to me when he talked about his abuse. He had been in a support group through Celebrate Recovery and had come a long way in less than a year.

He was afraid, he said, that he might become an abuser and perpetrate what had been done to him. Because I didn't know what to say, I let him talk.

He had talked to his former pastor and the man said, "You be careful now. Most molesters were once abused as children."

"You mean you're afraid because of what the pastor said and not because of any urges or desires?"

"I wouldn't want to hurt kids. Why would I bring such pain on them after what I've gone through?"

Probably I could have said, "Your fears are unfounded," or "Your former pastor is a jerk." Instead I said, "As long as that troubles you, it may be a good sign that you don't want to molest others."

Evan stared at me for what seemed like a long time. Then he smiled. "You know, that feels right. If I wanted to hurt kids I wouldn't be afraid, would I?"

I think Evan understood a powerful lesson about life.

"I Struggle with Same-sex Attractions"

(This amazingly transparent comment comes from a man named Mark, and he has given me permission to print it. Cec.)

I read your post, "Something is wrong with me," Throughout my entire childhood, the memories of my abuse were pleasurable in my mind. They represented acceptance from my teenaged abuser at a level that I never found elsewhere.

I struggle with same-sex attractions. In recent days I am finally seeing that every time I meet a man—whether at church, at my favorite coffee bar, my recovery meetings, or just passing on the street—I look to see if there's something that will attract me.

My friends are godly men, married, and with families. At times, I've been attracted to them physically and emotionally—craving their touch, attention, and approval.

Even though I know it's wrong, if I were to put myself in the wrong situation, I could choose homosexual activity with a man. By God's grace and protection, I have not made that choice in more than 10 years. But it continues to happen in my mind.

I'm entering a point in my journey where those around me cannot walk with me. Their responses to their own abuse have been different. I know God is always with me. But I long for more than Him. I long for strong arms to hold me. I long for strong fingers to brush away my tears and for a strong chest to lay my head against.

When I'm completely honest, I know that none of my longings are about homosexuality. I'm longing for what I've always yearned for—which my father was unable or unwilling to provide. I long for the expressions of intimacy that were withheld from me, and which, in turn, made my sexual abuse seem so good.

I'm really hurting. And yes, only God can touch this place. Is He good enough? Is He God enough, to touch this place? My years of "church training" make me want to automatically answer, "Of course."

I may be wrong, but out of respect for the lonely, hurt child within, I am not going to answer that question. I'm going to allow it to stand, unanswered: "Is God good enough to touch this place I've been afraid to let go of, since I was 5 years old?"





"Something Is Wrong with Me"

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

One of the saddest, most painful meetings I had with a group of men who had been sexually abused was when I heard Ron say, "Something is wrong with me."

In the past, I had said those words to myself many times. I had learned that such a statement wasn't true, and I didn't want another man to repeat such a self-indictment.

"No, you aren't wrong or bad!" I probably shouted those words. "Something wrong and bad was done to you!"

The others nodded but Ron shook his head. The tears began to fall as he said, "I liked what he did. I hated it but I liked it."

George, the therapist in the group, leaned toward him. "You mean it was pleasurable? That you responded with an erection or that it felt good when you were abused?"

Ron nodded and more tears came.

Slowly and softly George explained, "It's a physiological response and it's automatic. You stimulate the penis and you get an erection."

I marveled at the compassion in his voice as he tried to make Ron realize that his reaction had been normal.

And he spoke healing words for several of us.

Defending Our Abusers

(an encore post from Cecil Murphey)

The first time I ever heard an abuser defended was in a small group of men. All of us were survivors. One of them, who was quite handsome, said, "If I hadn't been so good looking, he wouldn't have done that to me."

The rest of us were quick to protest. His looks may have attracted the abuser, but the man wronged him. The abuser knew what he was doing.

"That's what he always told me," the survivor said.

I've heard survivors excuse the abuser because he was lonely or misunderstood. They'll say. "He just tried to prove he loved me." Another excuse is, "He was sexually abused when he was a child."

Regardless of the excuses made for them, they are only excuses. They wounded us. They destroyed the innocence of our childhood.

There is no excuse for anyone who sexually abused us. We were children, usually much younger than our perpetrators. The abuser hurt us. It's good to forgive them, but not because of such an excuse. We forgive because we've been healed and are able to move on with our lives.

"I'm Angry."

(an encore post from Cecil Murphey)

I met him at a writers' conference and he showed me a book he had written. The writing wasn't good but as I read it, I said, "Why are you so enraged? You seem to be against everything."

He said nothing at first, but the tightness of his jaw had already told me. "I'm angry a lot," he finally said.

"It shows in your writing."

We talked and finally the tears flowed. He told me about his childhood abuse. He wouldn't give me permission to use his name, but I've met other men like him. They tend to focus their anger in three different ways. The most obvious one is toward the person who abused them. They're angry at themselves—because they let it happen. A third target is the adults who didn't protect him from the predator.

I've met a few men who are just generally angry at the world. They don't focus on any of those three. Sometimes they live a long time in denial of the abuse or they sublimate it. It's as if the anger goes underground and comes to the surface in an area where it's safe to be mad.

Many of us male survivors know about anger. We haven't always known why we were angry, but we know the feeling. As healing takes place, the anger usually subsides—at least it did with me.

There Is Nothing Wrong with Us

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

"There is nothing wrong with us; something wrong was done to us."

I don't remember where I read those words, but they have stayed with me.

Like a lot of other men, I felt I was defective or flawed. I didn't think much about God because I thought God only liked good people, and I certainly didn't qualify. I felt ashamed; I felt worthless.

"There is nothing wrong with me; something wrong was done to me." That's how I say it now.

Keep Going

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

At a time I was going through a particularly painful period in my own inner healing, I read John Bunyon's classic allegory Pilgrim's Progress. Near the end of book one, the pilgrim, Christian, must cross the river (death) to enter into the celestial city. He's terrified, cries out, and wants to turn back. One of his companions says, "You must go through, or you cannot come into the gate."[1]

Christian's other companion, Hopeful, stays with him and urges him on, telling him that even though it seems as if he might drown, he won't. "Be of good cheer, my brother; I feel the bottom, and it is good,"[2] he says. Because of Hopeful, Christian makes it to the other side safely. When he gets there, he realizes he was not in any real danger, but that fear had made him want to turn back.

I understood. I had been at the place of despair. I hurt. As I daily opened myself to those painful memories of childhood I wanted to give up. I prayed, "God, is it worth the pain?" Some days I didn't feel I could keep going.

That section of Bunyon's book gave me courage to keep going. I felt as if God whispered, "Don't give up. Keep going forward." I stayed with the pain and I discovered, as Bunyon's character did, that it was solid on the bottom and I wouldn't drown.
________________________________________
[1]London: Thomas Nelson, undated, p.165.
[2] ibid

Lasting Effects

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

The impact of sexual abuse can be devastating and it is long lasting. Because you were a child, and you were victimized by someone—and most of the time it was someone you trusted.

The first thing you need to know is this: The sexual abuse was not your fault. You may even be told that you did something wrong, but that person lied. You were a victim; you were an innocent child.

Most of the adult survivors with whom I've talked told me that they grew up feeling something was wrong with them. They believed they caused the abuse and blamed themselves.

You may have tried to talk about the molestation and no one listened. Until recent years, too many adults refused to acknowledge that such things occurred. If that happened to you, you have probably felt inadequate, embarrassed, isolated, guilty, shameful, and powerless. Then you probably reacted by suppressing this as a shameful secret.

For example, I was once involved with a men's group. One member, Greg, said that when he was seven, he wanted to tell his mother that his own father was sexually abusing him. One night at dinner, he said, "Daddy has been pulling down my pants and doing bad things to me."

"Eat your dinner," his mother said.

His two siblings said nothing; Dad continued to eat. That was the last time Greg opened his mouth about his abuse until he was thirty-one years old. That's when he joined a group of survivors of male sexual assault.

Research now affirms the link between the abuse and the effects. Each of us needs to be able to admit that the long-term effects are powerful and include poor self-esteem, difficulty trusting others, anxiety, feelings of isolation, self-injury and self-mutilation, eating disorders, sleep problems, depression, self-destructive tendencies, sexual maladjustment, and substance abuse.

"This Is Hell."

(This is another transparent, courageous email from Lee Willis.)

I've read the posts and could feel a connection. It was reassuring to read that I am not alone in my struggles and feelings. I walk this journey by myself since there is really no one to talk to.

I noticed the other day how church is very difficult. I look at the men in the church and I feel like a freak and an outcast. I know I don’t fit in because I haven’t acknowledged my own sexuality and gender.

Being sexually abused by men, I shut off that part of me. I didn’t relate when I was growing up. I thought when I became an adult that it would go away, but I still feel like I’m the nothing on the playground. So I question my own masculinity and wonder who I am and what I am.

This isn’t life. This isn’t joy. This is hell. How do I endure each day? I realized that I have shut off my feelings. I put on an act for everyone so I can fit in, but it’s not me. Sometimes when I get brave, I say a little something about being abused, but no one wants to know. I don’t think they know how to respond.

Some people know I suffer from PTSD, but they are not interested in how and why. So the lonely kid on the playground grows up to still be the lonely kid on the playground still wanting to be like all the other guys, but knowing something is really wrong. Knowing I’m just a freak.



Facing Monsters

(This blog post comes from Mark Cooper.)

A friend recently commented that he sees me as one of the bravest people he knows because of the things I have faced and am learning to face as I heal. Of course, I do not see myself that way. But it did encourage me and helped to give me the following word picture.

A little child / facing monsters / Afraid and small / knowing he can't run / because he's held / by walls that surround
Years pass / A man grows / and hides the child within / believing he's free / and leaving behind / walls that surround
But the day dawns / that monsters reappear / Forcing to the surface / the childlike heart / which once again / sees walls that surround 
Fear rises / freeing the child / finally to stand / eyes on his Father / seeing through / walls that no longer surround

All who are willing to face the painful reality of past abuse are the brave ones—becoming children again, facing the monsters again, and finding the courage to see that the walls no longer imprison.

God has never repented of choosing me; therefore I am beginning to repent of limiting who God has chosen me to be.

Moving Beyond the Abuse

(An encore post by Cecil Murphey)

"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.

Coded Words

(By Cecil Murphey)

I've lost count of the number of wives who've contacted me about their husbands' intense struggle over his childhood sexual abuse.

Here's one email (and I changed the name):

Just before we married, Jim said, "I was molested when I was six." That was all—no details and nothing about his response, or even who did it. It seemed unimportant, like saying he received only a "C" in eighth-grade math. Now, after 18 years of marriage, he's struggling with his abuse and he's become a man I don't know. He's in pain and I can't seem to help him. When I said something, he angrily reminded me that he had told me about the abuse.

Jim used the code words: "I was molested." I write code because he could have intended many different meanings. One is that he was testing her. He gave her a safe sentence and she didn't respond negatively. In fact, she apparently made no comment because she didn't hear it as a cry of pain, but only as a statement about his childhood. The code words protected him from having to say more and risk her disapproval of him.

Second, he might have been exploring and for the first time, mentioned his abuse. By receiving no positive feedback, he didn't feel secure about pursuing it.

Third, he might not have been prepared to face his trauma. If he had been ready, his words would surely have hinted at or expressed his inner battles. The fact that he waited 18 years would make me inclined to accept that reason.

When a man is ready to deal with the anguish of his abuse, he's usually ready to talk. When Jim spoke in code words and she didn't get his message, that may have said to him that she didn't really care, didn't want to know, or that it wasn't safe for him to say more.

If he intentionally used code words, he might have been thinking, If you got the hidden message you'll know what's inside me.

One survivor told me, "I guess I expected my wife to read my mind. When I mentioned it a few days after we married, she acted as if it were no big deal, so that's how I treated it." He went on to say that he pushed away the pain as long as he could.

I'm not blaming the wives, partners, friends, or parents for not understanding. Code words hide the reality. They also say that the person isn't ready for full disclosure. And for those who feel guilty for not having been a super sleuth, please remind yourself that you did not know. He didn't speak clearly enough for you to perceive his meaning.

There are two significant things you can do for him, whether after 18 or 38 years together: First, remind him that you love him and that hasn't changed.

Second, listen—uncritically. You're involved but it's his problem. Let your face and your reaction be the mirror he needs to see compassion for himself.

(This blog post first appeared at 1in6.org.)

Raw Hope

(By John Joseph*)

Recovering from childhood sexual trauma requires a lot of courage and raw hope. Not only are we strapped with the excruciating memories of the abuse, we have to endure the stigma and misunderstanding of people around us should they learn of it. On top of all that is the Herculean effort to overcome the crippling side effects of addiction and emotional dysfunction. Recovery isn’t for sissies.

If not for the hope of getting better we would all give up. Hope is the fuel that keeps us going and drags us out of the ditch when we’ve driven off the road. Maybe hope is like a wrecker service we can call on when we need it. Instead of just crying by the side of the road, or worse, camping out there indefinitely, we should keep hope on speed dial and use it as necessary.

One thing that gives me hope is remembering that I am better off today than I was when I started dealing with my abuse. I was in crisis then; I am not now. I had little knowledge of what to do with it then, but much more now. I had no ability to quell the flood of emotions that was like a tsunami of guilt, shame, and fear sweeping me off my feet and swallowing me up, but I’m learning how to swim a little better now. Hope, if nothing, is a day to day choice to believe things are getting better despite how I may feel.

(*John Joseph is a pseudonym of a pastor. He's a regular contributor to this blog.)







Forgiving Me

(By John Joseph*)

One of the most difficult things I’ve faced in trying to recover from childhood sexual trauma is forgiving myself. It’s so easy to say that it wasn’t my fault, but it still feels like it was my fault. It still seems like I should have done something to resist my perpetrator—scream or cry out—but I didn’t. The most shameful part to me now is the fact that a lot of it was pleasurable to me. I craved the attention and found something oddly satisfying in the secrecy of it all.

I have learned that these feelings are common to abuse victims. There was pleasure in the attention. There was something I needed in the physical touch that I wasn’t getting in a healthy way in my family unit. I was so young that the moral implications of the perpetrator’s behavior with me were completely unknown. I simply couldn’t know that this behavior was wrong and would have such devastating effects later in my life.

One of those horrible effects is the pervasive sense of guilt over the abuse. There’s no changing that it happened, so my only hope is in forgiving the abuser and forgiving myself. Neither is easy, yet both are necessary if I’m going to recover from it. Somehow not only do I choose to release the perp from his unforgivable actions, but I have to forgive me, too.

(*John Joseph is a pseudonym of a pastor. He's a regular contributor to this blog.)

Erasing Negative Emotional Scripts

(By John Joseph*)

From infancy emotional scripts are being created in our minds. We learn without even knowing we’re learning that mother is safe and cares for us. We learn that significant others are available to meet our needs and that we can trust them, too. Unfortunately, we also learn negative emotional scripts when mother isn’t available and, worse, when she or someone else near to us is abusive. Those of us who’ve been sexually violated in childhood were infused with a commanding negative script (maybe many of them) that we carry into adulthood.

This damning script says you are scum. It says you are worth nothing more than a rag and you deserve to be used this way. It takes great faith and perseverance for anyone to overcome these pernicious inner messages that seem to come out of nowhere. Many of our relationships have suffered for these scripts. Certainly we’ve suffered from them inwardly even if we’ve had the willpower to act outwardly as if we were “just like” everyone else. But can a powerful mental script be broken or changed?

In my experience the answer is yes with some strong cautions. Through therapy, medication, and a loving network of people around me I am getting better, albeit slowly. The abusive flashbacks are less frequent and shorter. The triggers that would hurl me headlong into shame are losing their strength as I grow in my understanding that I have a lot more control over them than I ever knew before. I am growing more hopeful that the thoughts and deep emotions that have controlled me, these negative scripts, will eventually be completely erased.

(*John Joseph is a pseudonym of a pastor. He's a regular contributor to this blog.)

Turning the Abuse Around

(By Gary Roe)

I’m inspired by the Old Testament story of Joseph. He came from a highly dysfunctional family. His father had two wives and was a deceiver who played favorites. Joseph’s brothers hated him and sold him into slavery. Over the next 13 years he was carried off to a foreign land, mistreated, falsely accused, imprisoned, and forgotten.

Through a series of miraculous events, Joseph the Hebrew slave became second-in-command of the powerful nation of Egypt. Several years later, a famine struck the region and when Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt for food, they find themselves face-to-face with their long-lost brother.

Joseph could have done whatever he wanted with them. His brothers were terrified and expected death, but Joseph embraced and welcomed them. He chose to forgive. "You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good," Joseph said (Genesis 50:19).

Joseph believed evil could be turned around and used for good. He chose to look at the positives instead of dwelling on his brothers’ rejection and abuse. He refused to be controlled by the past. He forgave his brothers, and in doing so freed himself.

That story tells me I can shed the abuse of the past. I know it happened, and I accept that. Now I’m trying to turn it around and use it for good, in my life and in the lives of those around me.

I can find ways to turn the abuse around
and use it for good.

My Life is a War of Obstacles

(By Gary Roe)

Sometimes I get upset and ruffled because I expect life to be smooth. That’s ironic considering my life since childhood has been a painful war.

Sexual abuse has all kinds of horrific aftereffects. We live with the results of the abuse and our lives are anything but smooth.

What if life is really about overcoming difficulty and obstacles? Maybe part of it is designed to bring me to the end of my own strength so I can begin to trust and experience the freedom that comes from not having to be in control. Instead of exhausting myself running from the pain, I can choose to turn around and embrace it.

As I allow myself to feel the pain, I begin to accept what happened. I’m less controlled by my past and live with more freedom. I am less self-conscious and engage more naturally with others.

Healing is not smooth or easy. It can be upsetting and painful. But it is good. Very good.

Life is not smooth and neither is healing,
but both can be very good.

Connecting Thoughts and Emotions

This is an edited comment written by Jack Stoskopf on Facebook. He is the co-founder of ISUVOA (Incest Survivors United Voice of America).

* * * * * * * * * *

For us sexually abused males, to be in touch with our thoughts and emotions is difficult. Many of us survived by disconnecting our minds and emotions from the acts of being used sexually. To this day, I struggle to connect my thoughts and emotions.

Many of us question our masculinity and our sexuality. Our ability to sustain relationships is often shaky. Although we see our weaknesses and vulnerability, most women see the man they have grown to love as strong and powerful.

The problem lies within the men themselves. Some will never open up and tell their stories. A woman may be in love with a man for years and yet he never reveals his inmost secrets.

When we do tell, after intense struggles, our thoughts come rushing like a flood. We worry about the stereotypes and myths of the sexually abused male. We risk being judged. We feel dirty, ashamed, and guilty. It takes a tremendous amount of trust for us to open up—even to the women we love. Many of us experience so much anxiety just thinking about revealing our secret.

When a man opens up, he needs women who listen and remain at his side. She needs to encourage him to speak in an atmosphere of quiet trust. That may occur very slowly over time and it requires great patience. I heard it said that if a man starts to cry, don’t stop him.

Be sensitive and compassionate. I also encourage you to read about the effects of men's sexual abuse. Some of the effects include sexual dysfunction, performance anxiety in the bedroom, acting out sexually, addiction, depression, anger, and irritability. The list is long and many times we men haven't made the connection to understand why we behave the way we do.

I believe in the power of love that a woman can have for a man. I have seen it in my life and trust me I wasn't so lovable. So if you're a woman, never give up on us.









Healing is Tough, but Worth It

(By Gary Roe)

Healing is tough, but worth it.

My daughter recently broke both her arms, one of them very badly. The pain was terrible and she nearly passed out several times. After the doctors assessed the damage, they did surgery. The recovery process was slow, difficult, and painful.

Can you imagine what would’ve happened if we had refused surgery and chosen to ignore that fact that she had two broken arms? Ridiculous, right?

Yet we often minimize the pain and damage of what I call our soul injuries. The abuse perpetrated on us was far worse than two broken arms. The damage was internal and extensive. In order to heal, we’re going to need some soul surgery. The recovery and healing process will be hard, lengthy, and at times painful.

But as we stay with it and remain committed to healing, we’ll find ourselves slowly improving. We’ll be less burdened and live with greater freedom and purpose. And one day we’ll look back and say, “Yes, it was so worth it.”

So stay with it, my friend. Make your healing a priority. It’ll be worth it.

My soul injuries need my attention,
so I choose to make healing a priority.

(This post was adapted from Not Quite Healed, written by Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe.)

Damaged but Protected

(By Gary Roe)

When people find out I was sexually abused as a child, they are shocked. “I’m so sorry that happened to you. Children should be protected,” they often say.

“I was protected,” I respond.

Yes, I was severely abused by people close to me, but I also strongly believe that God protected me. The damage has been severe, but it could have been so much worse.

For example, my desire from childhood has been to make a difference by helping hurting people. I have always been in a helping profession. I believe that was God, turning evil around and into something positive.

My heart and soul were damaged, but not destroyed. In some sense, I was protected against the full onslaught of evil. And now God is working in me to bring more healing, not just to myself but to others as well.

It’s interesting that the more available I am to God to be used in the lives of others, the more healing seems to come my way. Over time, I am able to see even more of God’s protection in my life, and my heart begins to relax a little more.

We were damaged, but not destroyed. Now God wants to bring healing and let us experience his goodness. If I can open up and heal, you can to. We’re in this together.

I was damaged, but not destroyed.

I can heal and experience God’s wonderful goodness.

(This post was adapted from Not Quite Healed, written by Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe.)

Getting Unstuck

(By John Joseph*)

Plateaus, deserts, valleys—whatever you call them—they’re no fun. The fact that we seem to be bogged down in our efforts to recover from childhood sexual abuse is discouraging, at best, and at worst, leads us to setbacks.

We become restless, listless, and even sleepless. Depression or anxiety begins to creep in and affect everything else in our lives—relationships, work, and recreation. People begin to notice and even wonder why we’re no fun anymore.

We're stuck.

What can we do to get unstuck? What will pull us up out of the mud and put us back on the road to recovery? What will help us re-center and tap into the joy of being alive?

Although the answers may seem elusive, I believe there are a couple of very important things we can do to jump-start the recovery process and start to feel human again.

The first thing I do when I realize I’ve gotten stuck is to gift myself with grace. Grace isn’t an excuse for where I am, but a kind, human-to-human response that I would want to give to anyone else I knew who was stuck. Instead of beating myself up for messing up again, I take a moment to do some healing self-talk that says, “Okay—so we’re stuck a little here. No worries. Just think about it. What do we need to do to get things going?” I don’t know why I always talk to myself in the plural. It just feels good to think there’s more of me here than just "I."

Then I take a little while to journal and meditate, then I wait. Sometimes the very thing I need to get going again shows up in a book or online. Occasionally, it hits me in a conversation with a friend. At other times, I keep pushing into different things and I realize the wheels haven’t really come off the wagon. They’re turning again, even if slowly, and I find myself back up on the road to become the person I am intended to be.

(*John Joseph is a pseudonym of a pastor. He's a regular contributor to this blog.)

I Wanted to Die

(Note from Cec: Lee Willis is going through deep, deep pain—and is beginning to heal. I hope you'll sense his agony. And some of you may remember your own.)

* * * * * * * * * *

My life is so messed up and there is so much pain that I wonder what several years of therapy ever did for me. I’m very good about controlling the fight inside of me. I came from a sexually and physically abusive home. I vowed when I got older that I would never drink, smoke, hit, or yell at my family. Luckily I don’t have those feelings to lash out. However, inside of me rages a war, a battle of such with myself. I just want to fight.

I remember being an older teen vowing that the next time my dad would beat up on my older sister I would intervene. It didn’t take long before the screams began and he was dragging her screaming and crying down the hall in a rage. His face was bright red and purple. I ran up the stairs and got between them and stopped it. So the consequence for my disrespectful action was to be shunned by my family including my sister with the lecture from my mom and sister on how horrible I was to my father. I didn’t care. I did it and it was awesome.

I went to therapy for years and know all of the jargon and phrases. I cried all the tears I think there are. I should feel peace. I just want to fight some invisible creature out there, grab it by the throat, and beat it to death. Sounds crazy, I know. Addiction doesn’t work any more either. It’s just a waste of time and energy. All of this has ruined my life.

I think if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t have told anyone in my family. I became a social leper. I wish I could contact my family at times, but it’s no use. We all died once I opened my mouth. I thought I was helping by talking about it. I thought I could help others in my family. I don’t think just talking about it is a good idea. It doesn’t set you free, it just makes the pain and the shame worse.

Not Quite Healed

A note from Cec: 

Lee Willis emailed and gave me permission to reprint this. He also wrote, "In any future emails, please use my name.” It’s part of saying, “Look at me. I’m a real person and this really happened.” He said, “Thanks for helping me finally find a safe place. I’ve tried other internet sites and felt uncomfortable and abandoned them. This is safe. I’ll be back often.”


* * * * * * * * * *

I found the book Not Quite Healed. I haven’t finished reading it, but it has already helped a lot. I did therapy over the years, which helped, but I became burned out and stopped. I don’t regret stopping because I believe it was beginning to do more harm than good.

I started therapy after my mother died and I had some strong anger issues with her and my father who died years ago. My first therapist, whom I completely trusted, was cautious not to sway my way of thinking.

After several visits, he diagnosed me with severe PTSD, since I had most of the usual symptoms. I journaled privately and then read my journal in our sessions and talked about the entries.

One day I was reading my journal to him, and he stopped me. He told me to go back because he felt I skipped over something. I read the part about being a young boy at the day care and two men abusing me.

I threw my journal to the floor, buried my head in my hands and sobbed uncontrollably, wishing I would die. Throughout the next two years, I talked to my therapist about sexual and physical abuse in our home as well as the day care.

In an effort to help my sister, I tried to bring this up to her; however, she adamantly denied it, and turned the rest of my extended family against me.

My memories are vague. My therapist told me that I had traumatic amnesia. My therapist told me that I would not be making up stories about such abuse and he didn’t plant any ideas in my mind that would cause me to come up with specifics.

I have told my family and been shunned as a result, I feel considerable shame, wondering if my so-called recovered traumatic memories were nothing more than an overactive and exaggerated imagination.

I have continued to struggle with intimacy issues and addictions. I came to the conclusion recently that those things must be true and began to accept them.

I still feel anger, but it seems to lessen when I own up to the abuse. In the back of my mind I wonder, “Suppose it wasn’t true. Then I have slandered people.”

I have found relief in your book and your blog. I feel at peace there.

We all have stories. It’s all about pain and shame and owning it, I think. I try not to dwell on it and push it out of my mind, but then the anger comes and the addictions worsen. I realize I can’t do this on my own.



Journal to the Center of the Soul

(By John Joseph*)

One of the simplest and most effective tools in my recovery has been soul journaling. There’s something powerful about the act of writing out the pain, the people, and the prayers (positively and negatively) that put them all in a better perspective. I don’t know if it’s the power of the words themselves or just the fact that I write them out of my head that brings some relief, but time and again I’ve experienced good things from journaling.

I’m not a write-in-the-journal-every-day kind of guy. I write when I feel like I need or want to. It’s sporadic, and weeks can go by in-between entries. Sometimes I write four or five pages; at other times, only a paragraph.

Recently, when I needed to do some journaling about my mother, I could write only one sentence: “Mom . . . upside down spells ‘wow.' ” Obviously I have some work to do on that relationship.

I think it’s important to write positive things as well as negative. It’s good to celebrate even the smallest victories in our recovery from abuse—a day with less depression or the realization that each day is a gift. It’s also possible to address the true self in our journals—that part of our soul that responds to nurturing through self-affirmation and blessing. There’s a lot of healing we can gift to ourselves through positive words.

Writing things out is an ancient prescription for soul health. Journaling, even sporadically, can be part of your journey to the center of who you really are.

(*John Joseph is a pseudonym of a pastor. He's a regular contributor to this blog.)

Shame, Guilt, and Self-Love

(By John Joseph*)

Shame is a universal experience. All of us can recall some moment of deep embarrassment, whether it's the feeling of not getting picked for the team (or being picked last); not getting the promotion we deserved; being caught doing something we shouldn’t do, such as lying or stealing; or something worse. These are the moments that, when recalled even years later, bring a blush to the face.

For most people, shame is a passing emotion. For many of us who’ve survived childhood sexual abuse, however, shame can become a constant state of inner existence. Feeling dirty, unwanted, unloved, and unneeded has left us with a ubiquitous sense that we are flawed internally—a rag to wipe up a mess and nothing more. That kind of shame is something far beyond simple guilt. It's chronic and untenable.

But what can we do about it?

The first thing that has helped me is to realize the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is a momentary, passing feeling that tells us we did something wrong. In that sense, guilt is a built-in guidance system that helps us to become better human beings. We do something wrong, guilt helps us to realize it; we ask forgiveness of the person wronged (even ourselves), and we move on. Guilt ends. But chronic shame is about who we are, not what we did. Guilt says, "I did wrong;" shame shouts, "I am wrong."

The second thing that has helped me recover from chronic shame is to recognize I have built too much of my identity around that feeling. I have become the shamed person I think I am. Instead of choosing healthy self-love I need to live, too often I’ve lived out the false script of shame that tells me I am a mistake, after all, and the world doesn’t need me.

Each day I must choose self-love over shame.

(*John Joseph is a pseudonym of a pastor. He's a regular contributor to this blog.)

Self-Pity and Sorrow

(By John Joseph*)

One of the best things I’ve learned in my recovery is the big difference between self-pity and sorrow. One is useful; the other isn’t. One can benefit the process of healing; the other exacerbates the problem. One is like poison and the other is more like necessary medicine—it might not taste good, but it brings health in the end. You already know which is which.

Self-pity is, of course, one of the worst indulgences a recovering person can entertain. It focuses all emotional resources on the self and its pain, abuses, maladies, and bad luck. Self-pity is the iconic “smiley face” always turned upside down. "Poor me," it says. "Nobody loves me. I’m a victim forever. Nothing good ever happens to me." Such repetitive inner messages never uplift the soul, but drive it deeper into despair.

Sorrow, on the other hand, is a necessary part of the healing process. We were victimized. We were unloved by someone, at least in the abusive moment. Abuse was something bad that happened in our past. But to focus solely on those unfortunate moments and to constantly indulge them is to empower them.

The abuse in my life was real. It did happen. But the moment I have right now doesn’t have to be wasted on feeling sorry for myself. I can, at least as an act of faith, decide that I will let sorrow over the things that happened take its proper time to lead me into productivity and acts of kindness for others.

(*John Joseph is a pseudonym of a pastor. He's a regular contributor to this blog.)

Courage to Heal

(By John Joseph*)

The recovery process is an active one that demands a lot from me. It isn’t a passive progression that happens on its own—I must be a daily, and often aggressive, participant. I don’t like that, but it is true.

To deny my responsibility to pursue wholeness in the areas of my broken soul is to give my past power to destroy me through addiction, depression, and shame.

Am I going to let that happen?

The terrible truth is that there’s something in me that works against me. Call it my “addict," my “disease,” my “inner child,” or the “devil." Its name doesn’t matter. It's still out to take me down in any way it can.

John Mayer wrote some poignant lyrics about this in his song Gravity:
Gravity is working against me
And gravity wants to bring me down
Oh I'll never know what makes this man
With all the love that his heart can stand
Dream of ways to throw it all away[1]
How many of us survivors have found ourselves on the edge of the emotional cliff, ready to jump off again? How many times have we acted out the same demeaning behavior only to go down the shame spiral again? Why do we feel the constant weight of what Mayer calls gravity in our bones that brings us to the brink, again and again, of throwing it all away?

Our various faith traditions may call it karma, fate, fortune, or sin. Whatever it is, it will gain the upper hand and destroy me if I am lazy or unmindful of it.

To recover is to have the courage to heal every day.

(*John Joseph is a pseudonym of a pastor. He's a regular contributor to this blog.)

*****
[1] Writer(s): John Mayer
Copyright: Reach Music Publishing-digital O.B.O. Goodium Music, Specific Harm Music, Sony/ATV Tunes LLC

Codependency

(By John Joseph*)

I’m the kind of guy that, if I saw you first thing one day, I would say, “Good morning! How am I today?” Yes, I am a codependent. What is a codependent? It is someone who is dependent on another person to define his or her feelings about themselves. It is a psychological term that came into use a few decades back to describe the behavior of family members living with an alcoholic.

Far too many wives and children become codependents, sentenced to the hell of merely reacting to the dependent behaviors of the alcoholic. They’ve been forced to define themselves based on the addictive behavior of another. Although they aren’t the addicted person, they are co-dependents and much of their lives are wrecked by the addiction and the addictive person.

Thus I’m a codependent. Maybe you are one, too. The sad truth is that someone else’s addiction to sexual abuse has affected our ability to live normal lives and to define ourselves in the healthiest ways.

What do we do now? How do we untangle the wreckage of the past? How do we cease living as codependents and find emotional health?

The first step is to move out of a dependent relationship. If someone in your life is abusive or addicted, leave them. Get out. Then get good counseling and enter a recovery program. It’s only when we rise up to reclaim our personhood that we cease to be dependent on others, no matter who they might be.

(*John Joseph is a pseudonym of a pastor. He's a regular contributor to this blog.)

Trusting the Right Person

(By Gary Roe)

Trusting that you will make things right,If I surrender to your will,So that I may be reasonably happy in this lifeAnd supremely happy with you forever in the next.
This is the conclusion to Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer. Trust is huge. Without trust, there can be no serenity. Without serenity, there can be no real happiness.

As a sexual abuse survivor, trust is difficult for me. Yet God designed me to trust him. He planned me, created me, and included me in his love story. I want to live my destiny and be "reasonably happy" in my day-to-day living.

Happy? That's a word I don't allow myself to think of too often. Perhaps I think it’s beyond my reach. If happy means pleased, content, joyful, and peaceful, I long for happiness. I want to be loved and be more loving toward others. I would like to be transparently real and surrender to God more fully.

He will make all things right. Things are not simply what they appear. There is far more going on than I’m aware. Can I trust that the one in authority, my Creator and Savior, will work out all things for my good, even when those in power when I was a child chose to abuse me?

Yes. He is teaching me. I can heal. I might actually become reasonably happy.

As I trust God loves me and works for my good
I can begin to experience more real happiness.

(This post is adapted from Not Quite Healed, by Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe)

Making Healing a Priority

(By Gary Roe)

God, give us the grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
the courage to change the things which should be changed,
and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
This is part of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer. I like the word serenity. Peace. A sense of inner calm. I tend to be up and down. I need steadiness. My soul longs to be more settled.

To experience serenity, I need to accept what happened. I was sexually abused. Many times. And that abuse had drastic, lifelong effects. I didn’t get what I needed growing up. I cannot change these things. I need grace to accept them.

But there are things I can change. I am not stuck; I can make choices. I need supernatural courage for this. I can resolve to make my healing a priority—not just for my sake, but also out of love for those around me.

I can't change what happened, but I can heal. I can grow in serenity.

If I want to experience serenity,
I must make healing a priority.

(This post is adapted from Not Quite Healed, by Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe.)

Accepting the Past, Enjoying the Present

(By Gary Roe)

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it….
This is part of The Serenity Prayer penned by Reinhold Niebuhr. I have real difficulty living in and enjoying the moment. I worry about what’s next. I get stuck on what happened yesterday.

In order to survive the repeated abuse, I had to go somewhere else in my mind. This strategy worked then, but it doesn’t serve me well now. It’s time to move on and begin to embrace the present. As I do, I accept hardship more readily and experience more of God’s peace.

Serenity comes when I begin to take the world as it is. The past is what it was. Words, behavior, and relationships are what they are now. I could wish things were different, but that doesn't change the facts. I need to see the world as it is and engage with it. This will happen as I heal, and I can begin to really enjoy each moment.

Won’t that be wonderful?

As I accept the past
I can heal and begin to enjoy the present.

(This post is adapted from Not Quite Healed, by Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe.)

Secondary Survivors

(By Cecil Murphey)

My friend Steve introduced me to the term Secondary Survivor. Those two words say it well for those of us who have significant people in our lives.

We're survivors, and the people who truly love us have also endured. I used to refer to them as the "other victims" of abuse. While that's true, survivor is a stronger, more positive term. All too often, however, we’re so caught up in our own turmoil we fail to realize that they also hurt—not in the same way, but the pain isn't less real.

Perhaps the most difficult thing for secondary survivors to understand is that the effects of abuse are long lasting. Our perpetrators were probably individuals we trusted and believed they loved us.

We were young when they betrayed us. And because those once-trusted people victimized us, many of us find it difficult to believe we're worth being loved or that anyone could truly care for us. We question others' motives or lash out at them when they deserve to be embraced.

It's sad, but the secondary survivors have the demanding role of proving to us that they love us. Too often it appears as if healing must flow in one direction—our loved ones reach out to us, and in some marvelous way, they heal the anguish and the torture of our past.

Their responsibility isn't to heal us. They can't remove our agony or rub out our pasts. They can encourage and support us as we struggle through our own issues. They love us and are aware of our past and that makes them the other survivors of abuse.

What is our responsibility to them? Their anguish is often as perplexing as ours, especially when they can't understand our attitude or behavior. As we become aware of what they suffer, it also acts as another level of healing for ourselves.

Here's a lesson I've learned: I tried to appreciate the secondary survivor (my wife) for sticking with me, and I slowly learned to accept her love as genuine. She doesn't need to prove her commitment to me; I need to show my love for her.

(This post first appeared at Joyful Heart Foundation.)

Victimized Again

(By Cecil Murphey)

I heard comments on TV after the sentencing of Jerry Sandusky for sexually molesting ten boys—and most people know there were far, far more. At his sentencing, one of the survivors said "You had the chance to plead guilty and spare us the testimony. Rather than take the accountability, you decided to try to attack us as if we had done something wrong."

As I listened to that statement and the rest of the report, two words hit me: Victimized again.

To his great credit, Judge Cleland said to Sandusky, "The crime is not only what you did to their bodies but to their psyches and their souls and the assault to the well-being of the larger community in which we all live."

Sexual molestation shatters our lives. Even after we begin to heal, we still face being misunderstood, questioned, and even contradicted. That victimizes us again. Cleland and the jurors understood; the "larger community" doesn't seem to grasp the meaning—or perhaps they're too uncomfortable to ponder the message.

When we need compassion, we feel accused; when we speak, others tell us to be quiet; when we need to be believed, they question our integrity.

I doubt that any of us expected an apology from Sandusky. But he not only maintained his innocence and made a horrible statement, "I would cherish the opportunity to be a little candle for others as my life goes on as they have been a huge light to me."

(This post first appeared at Joyful Heart Foundation.)

"Why Tell Anybody?"

(By Cecil Murphey)

I don't know how he got my telephone number and he never told me his name. As soon as I identified myself, he blurted: "Why should a man tell anyone about his abuse?"

"He doesn't need to tell anyone. He can keep it a secret until he dies," I said.

"But talking is just talking—just mere words."

Certain he referred to himself, I asked, "Have you ever told anyone?"

After a long silence, he mumbled, "No."

"Suppose I had a tumor inside my body," I said. "I could live with that a long time as it slowly grew. But I'd be aware and have some discomfort or even a lot of pain. And suppose the tumor wasn't operable. Then what?"

He didn't respond so I said, “You might use medication to shrink that tumor. It would likely take place over a period of time, but you could do it."

"So you think that's what talking does?"

"It worked for me," I said, "and for many men who've talked with me."

Before we hung up. I gave him one of my original maxims: I know of myself only what I say of myself.

By that I meant, we have to speak the words of our pain to someone else for the healing to begin. "Survivors need other people," I told him. "If you don't want to start with a spouse or a good male friend, go to a professional.

"Once you can start talking about it, you become an instrument of your own healing. You enlist others. Each time you're able to talk about it—"

"The more effective, right?"

I tried to explain that we've been created to connect with other humans. And with a basic need to be understood by others. I'm convinced that as I enable others to understand me, I also learn to understand myself.

(This entry was originally posted at Joyful Heart Foundation.)

Did It Really Happen?

(By Cecil Murphey)

I "forgot" (that's denial) about my abuse until I was 51 years old. For several months after the memories began seeping back into my consciousness, I kept trying to convince myself that the abuse hadn't happened.

I hadn't gone to a counselor or therapist, but that happened around the time we heard so much about the false-memory syndrome. Therapists had inadvertently planted false memories in some of their clients.

I wanted mine to be false memories.

But they weren't.

I was molested. 
Because I can accept that fact, I can overcome the pain.

(This post was adapted from Not Quite Healed, written by Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe.)

What if I Become an Abuser?

(By Cecil Murphey)

Although he said the words in 2008, I can still see his sad face. "I've been afraid to hug another man. I was afraid that because I've been molested, I might become a perpetrator." Tears slid down his cheeks as he said, "I don't ever want to hurt anyone the way I was hurt."

Although his response was more extreme than what most of us would say, for many of us, a secret, unspoken fear lurks in our hearts. We read that most perpetrators were themselves survivors of molestation.

What if I become one of them?

My response is that the fear may be a positive factor. It can mean the person is truly vulnerable and could abuse a boy. But more likely, it means that such a fear robs us of the joy of life. If we're constantly afraid of what we might do or could become, we can't fully experience life.

Are you afraid because you feel a strong attraction to children? If so, please seek professional help.

Or are you simply afraid that you might become a perpetrator? One of the lies many men struggle with is that they fear they'll do what was done to them.

I refuse to believe the lie that I'll become a perpetrator
just because I was victimized.

(This post was adapted from Not Quite Healed, written by Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe.)

"I Felt as if God Himself Had Molested Me"

(By Cecil Murphey)

"I felt as if God himself had molested me." Objectively and intellectually, he knew the reality, but he said that from an emotional perspective. His pastor was like God to him. "He represented everything I believed and cherished," he said.

He sounded like other church throwaways. I call them throwaways because they have no respect for the church, for ecclesiastical hierarchy, and can't comprehend a loving and compassionate God.

I wouldn't argue with such people. I would hope they could reach the emotional level of forgiving "god" for hurting them and enabling them to turn to the true lover of their souls.

God didn't molest me.
Someone who was supposed to represent God molested me.

(This post was adapted from Not Quite Healed, written by Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe.)

"I Don't Feel Like a Man"

(By Cecil Murphey)

Culture and training gives us a skewed picture of what it's like to be a man—a real man. Many of us pull back, convinced that we don't, or can't, live up to those imposed standards.

We who were sexually molested have struggles with our sense of masculinity. Some take on the macho image to hide from reality; others slink back and don't try. Regardless of how we respond, it's a challenge. We know we have the same anatomy, but we wonder—and sometimes worry—about muscles, strength, and penis size.

One of the biggest obstacles to feeling like a real man is the message that we absorbed, even though no one said it. "If I were a real man, I wouldn't have been a victim. I wouldn't have let him do that to me. I would have fought him."

Here's my message to men who struggle with this problem. You were a child and defenseless then. Now you are facing the issue. You are struggling. That ongoing effort makes you a man—a real man—because you refuse to give up.

I struggle with issues arising from my abuse.
The struggle reminds me that I am a man.

(This post was adapted from Not Quite Healed, written by Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe.)

Embrace the Pain

(By Cecil Murphey)

I remember the first time I heard the term embrace the pain. How could that ever be good? It hurts. It makes us feel weak.

That's probably the reason many of us don't experience healing—we refuse to revisit the jabbing, torturous memories and emotions of the past. I wish we had an easier way to find health and wholeness, but it doesn't work that way.

As much as it sounds like a cliché, we have to embrace the pain before we're free from it.

I saw a film on TV that helped me understand. A boy was bullied by school mates and he determined not to let them destroy him. One of the things he did was to take punches in the gut every day from a professional boxer. As he learned to absorb the pain, the thrusts were stronger and more frequent.

After a few months, the bullies struck again, and he not only deflected their blows by not feeling the pain, he also learned to strike back. They never troubled him again.

That was a powerful lesson for me. And now, in retrospect, I can assert that it's true. I learned to overcome the anguish by accepting the painful thrusts.

This is my pain. I accept it.
Because I accept it, it loses its power.

(This post was adapted from Not Quite Healed, written by Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe.)

Memories and Flashbacks

(By Cecil Murphey)

Some of us struggle more with memories of the past than others do. They come back as quick, spurts of something in the past and they're gone. Or they torment us, often for days.

During those in-an-instant experiences, we relive our molestation. Despite their brevity, often they’re so intense it feels as if the abuse is happen­ing a second time. "I felt like my priest was molesting me again," one man said. "It was horrible."

Who wants to re-experience such terrible moments? It's natural to want to deny them or medicate ourselves so that we don’t hurt again.

But what if we valued flashbacks? What if re-experiencing is a required step toward wholeness? What if they’re signals for us to pay attention because they aid us in our healing?

I hated it when memories haunted me—until I figured out something. I need them. Only by bringing them to the surface once again can I free myself from them.

At least four years have passed since I've had any in-a-flash memories of my childhood abuse. Their absence says enough healing has taken place that I no longer need them.

I need to face the past
to heal the pain of the present.

(This post was adapted from Not Quite Healed, written by Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe.)

Healing Help

Too often we're so engrossed in our own recovery, we can't focus on the pain of others. By opening up about our pain, however, we also become instruments of healing.

Recently someone commented on this blog, expressed appreciation for the words, and said they helped. The person referred to a blog entry by John Joseph.

I forwarded the comments to John, and I added these words: "And you are part of that person's healing." John was shocked (and grateful).

I know John fairly well and appreciate his insightful comments and his transparency. He's struggling, and he shares his deepest, most painful thoughts. I'm sure John didn't send the blogs with the idea that he'll be a healing instrument. He feels the need to speak about his pain and his insights.

That's when healing takes place. We learn from our experience and share the information. Others read our words and find help.

As we find healing and tell others,
they gain insight from our experiences.

Unpleasant Things

"We don't talk about unpleasant things in this family." While he was growing up, my friend Rodney told me that was what he heard regularly.

Whether parents say such words isn't as important as their behavior that implies those words. They probably mean they don’t want to face difficult issues or have their lives disrupted. For Rodney and others like him, there was no openness to talk about the sexual abuse by his much older brother. He obeyed the family rules and kept quiet.

We refer to that as a conspiracy of silence. That term usually means the family ignores, denies, or chooses to remain ignorant. They don't know because they don't want to know.

It may appear as if they are protecting the family; in reality, they're worsening the effects. By not addressing painful issues, parents fail their children.

It's not that all parents say such negative words, but they still don't invite the Rodneys to open up.

I refuse to remain silent 
because others consider abuse an unpleasant topic.

Family Secrets

(By Cecil Murphey)

I dealt with my sexual assault for at least two years before I told my family of origin. I made dozens of excuses for myself, such as:

* It no longer matters.

* They don’t care.

* What difference does it make?

* I talk about it to others; why should I have to bring in my siblings?

* It will only stir up anger and hurt.

* They probably won’t believe me.

Despite all the excuses, I knew that speaking to the people among whom I had grown up was something I had to do. For me, it was a significant barrier to overcome on my healing journey.

I finally spoke up and, to my surprise, my three surviving sisters understood. I felt such great freedom in opening up. Maybe my siblings didn't need to hear as much as I needed to tell them.

To tell my family about my abuse—
regardless of their response—
can be a powerful healing experience for me.

(This post was adapted from Not Quite Healed, written by Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe.)

Two Questions for Me

(By Cecil Murphey)

I nudge other men not to try to walk the road alone. We need to open up and talk to people who are trustworthy.

Here are two questions to help us decide to open ourselves to others.

1. What do I hope to receive? We need healthy, positive expectations. We also need to prepare ourselves for disappointment or skepticism.

2. Do I speak up because I want help from the person who listens to me? If so, we have to learn to say what we want. If we want the other person just to listen and care, we may need to say, "I don’t want you to do anything; I only want you to listen."

You may want to ask yourself other questions, but this is a good place to start.

Before I open myself,
I want to ask myself the right questions.

(This post was adapted from Not Quite Healed, written by Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe.)

"I Can Handle It Myself"

(By Cecil Murphey)

No one heals alone. You may challenge that statement, but I'm convinced it's true. We're survivors, but we need others—at least one person who cares.

As human beings, we're built to relate to others. We need them to love, rebuke, encourage, and inspire us. Those who are willing to hear, who can understand our pain, and assure us that we matter, are the people who help us realize the healing we receive from others.

We need other human beings to help us confront the lies and deceptions of our perpetrators.

I need others. 
My denying that fact doesn't destroy the truth.

(This post was adapted from Not Quite Healed, written by Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe.)