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.

"We Didn't Know."

(an encore post from Cecil Murphey)

"We didn't know," the civilians said when asked about the gas chambers after World War II.

"We didn't know," neighbors say when they learn that the man across the street had molested a boy.

"We didn't know," parents say when their adult children talk about their past sexual abuse.

When I began to deal with my abuse, I told my three older sisters. They said the same thing.

I don't think they were lying. I think they couldn't accept the enormity of the revelation. If they had known, perhaps they wouldn't have been able to face the personal guilt for doing nothing.

What about abused kids' point of view when they hear those responses? One of the witnesses against Jerry Sandusky said he never told anyone. Asked why, he repeated an answer that rang true to me and to many others, "Who would believe a kid?"

When the perpetrator is a prominent person in the community, leads a scout troop, teaches Sunday school, or runs a charitable organization for kids, who wants to hear such stories?

The answer: No one wants to hear such stories.

Perhaps the question should be, Who needs to hear such stories?

When asked that way, the answer is obvious. Parents, religious and civic leaders need to hear. But too often they don't.

Sandusky's wife said she never heard the boy screaming in the basement. Apparently, she also didn't know when their adopted son said Sandusky molested him repeatedly for several years.

When will they believe us?

When will the cries of bruised and raped boys be heard?

Until they are, the survivor on the witness stand has spoken for all of us who were abused in the past. He speaks for those who are or will be molested.

"Who would believe a kid?"

A Response to "Fractures"

(This post comes from Duane and was written in response to a post from John Joseph called "Fractures.")

My wife read this post and said, "I finally understand the part of your personality where you can be 3 different persons with 3 different ways you act out. At times you were that 5 year old boy again."

My wife has stood beside me but my problems are too much for my family of origin to understand as they don't want to admit that this could of happened. They're the reason I have had a hard time moving on with my life. There is the idea that if people would find out I would bring dishonor to my mother; my father has passed.

I didn't tell anyone until I told my wife. She could not believe I kept this from her for 30 years of our married life. I sometimes ask God, "Why did you let this happen to me?"

Now I feel if I can make it through this and have a family of 5 children and 9 grandchildren. They're my true family that God has seen me through this and he is blessing me in my life.

The last 4 years in therapy have been what I needed, but about the time I think I'm healed and can stop seeing my therapist, I pull back another layer of problems that my abuse started.

The hardest thing I ever did was to talk to my children who are now grown and ask them, "Did I ever abuse you as a child or when you lived in our house?"

Thankfully, they all said no, but I had to be sure because I had learned to block things from my memory that were associated with my abuse. I am here to say that I realize that I am a survivor and that it was something I can't change from my past, but I can choose to rely on Jesus, my wife and children and the friends I have been able to tell. If you need something to help out I think CELEBRATE RECOVERY is a good place to start.

Why Am I Still Not Healed?

(an encore post from Cecil Murphey)

"Why haven't I worked through all these issues? Why am I still not healed?" Most of us survivors ask ourselves that question many times. "I've been on this journey for five years. When does it end?" Those are the questions we ask on our worst days.

On our better days, we examine our lives and remember where we started. In those self-reflective times, we admit we've come a long way. A friend said to me, "In those depressing times when you tell yourself that you ought to be farther down the road, you're probably more healthy than you know."

Maybe he was correct, but it doesn't stop us from asking the question. Why not? Why not?

For myself, I can say this. I keep discovering the insidious consequences of my sexual abuse. It's a good thing I didn't recognize all the effects in the beginning, or it would most likely have overwhelmed and immobilized me. In my darkest moments, it seems as if the healing takes place one day at a time, or perhaps even slower—one small step a year.

I've jokingly said, "If I'd known in the beginning that this would be such a hard, painful journey, I probably wouldn't have started."

In my early days of grappling with the issue, I felt that way because the feelings were too intense and too brutal. But now I add, "I'm glad I struggled and fought. It's been worth re-experiencing the pain. I've learned more about myself. I've not only accepted who I am but I honestly like the person inside me."

Here's something I say to myself regularly: I am not quite healed; I am a healing-in-progress.

Fractures

(This is an encore post from John Joseph.)

In a recent session, my therapist and I discussed fractures in the psyche. Fractures often occur as coping mechanisms in children who are traumatized by abuse, violence, instability, or loss. A fracture is like splitting off part of the personality that “takes over” to help the child survive. Though not as extreme as multiple personality disorder or schizophrenia, those fractures and their functions are identifiable.

It didn’t take me long in that session to realize that my psyche is made up of the innocent little boy, the victim, the addict, and the self-actualized adult. Of course they're all me because I'm the sum of my experiences. I can chart the years in which one or the other has been the dominant expression of my personality. Until age four, I was the innocent little boy. Being abused at four moved me into the victim state that emerged into the addict from ten to eighteen years old. From age eighteen on, I've worked to become the self-actualized adult.

In that session, I came to understand that I still move in and out of the fractures, depending on my mood and circumstances. For instance, I was embarrassed in a business meeting the other day, and the victim side of me emerged.

I felt abused for several days afterward even though no real abuse occurred. If I’m not careful about recognizing when I've fallen into the victim mentality, it can drive me into the addict mode and my acting out behavior takes over. That progression helps me understand the years of compulsive sexual behavior I've suffered and gives me one more tool with which to overcome the effects of my abuse.

Same Sex Attraction

(This is an encore post 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.

"I Am a Survivor" (Part 2 of 2)

Cheryll Snow's article appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness. With permission, I've excerpted part of it, which is a letter to an uncle who molested her.

* * * * *

It was such a random, uneventful day as I pushed my shopping cart across the parking lot of our local supermarket. I've battled with my weight for most of my life, and I was feeling especially "unpretty" that day because I had stepped on the scale that morning to find I had gained back ten of the thirty pounds I had lost over the past few months. My self-esteem plummeted, and I decided it wasn't worth the effort to do my hair or put on make-up before I left the house.

After loading my groceries into my car, I got into the driver's seat and turned the key. I caught sight of my reflection in the rearview mirror and I stopped dead. I pulled off my sunglasses and stared at the unkempt hair beneath my husband's old baseball cap. I looked down at the sweatpants that felt a little tighter today and the ratty gardening sneakers I had on, and I felt that familiar wave of shame start to wash over me.

Then. . . before I realized what I was doing, I looked back at myself in the mirror and said, "God thinks you're beautiful."

I cried like a baby all the way home because, for the first time in my life, I truly knew what it felt like to be unconditionally loved. . . .

I am no longer a victim. I am a survivor. And God thinks I'm beautiful.

"I Am a Survivor" (Part 1 of 2)

Cheryll Snow's article appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness. With permission, I've excerpted part of it, which is a letter to an uncle who molested her.

* * * * *

For many years I battled depression and anxiety. I tried various things to ease the pain, not knowing where all this emotional trauma was coming from. Then after recalling the abuse, enduring years of helpful but painful therapy, and seeking God's guidance . . . I can look back and say that most of my life has been . . . shame-based. And it's all because of you.

Ashamed as a child because no matter how hard I tried, I never felt good enough. Ashamed of my changing body during puberty, then later using my budding sexuality by acting out with boys, and beating myself up emotionally for years because of it. Even so, I still deal with issues concerning body image, intimacy, trust, inadequacy, and a profound fear of failure.

I give that shame back to you. It is not mine. It's yours.

The Lenses of Abuse

(This is an encore post 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 is an encore post 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 is an encore post 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.

Self-loathing

(This is an encore post 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.

No Response to Love Expressed

(This post comes from Mark.) 

Over the weekend I had a childhood memory of trying to express love toward my dad by giving him Father's Day and Birthday Cards.

I would sign those cards "Love Mark". Our family never spoke the word "love". Yet, I used it in his cards. I remember struggling to get the courage to give him my cards. I usually would end up leaving them someplace where I knew he'd find it. Then I'd watch him as he opened and read it.

He did not respond. Did not express thanks.

That gave me the message that my love wasn't good enough. My love didn't matter.

I still struggle with wondering if my love is good enough to be accepted by others. To be accepted by God.

I am realizing that for a parent to consistently not acknowledge his child's attempts at expressing love is not natural. It's a rejection that boggles my mind. Men (and women) who live openly wicked and evil lives will respond to a child's innocent expressions of love.

My dad's lack of response to my love was not natural. My desire to love my dad and to express love to him, was natural.

The wound from that rejection of my love is yet something else that I need to forgive. And without God's help, I can't.

The Real Me

(This is an encore post 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.

Redeeming the Pain

(This is an encore post from John Joseph.)

A Zen aphorism says, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” I’m not Buddhist and I can’t vouch for the ultimate truth of the aphorism. People die from horrible diseases like cancer or AIDS. People lose loved ones or endure separation and divorce. Our entire society feels the pain of financial crises, violence, terrorism, and corruption. And those of us who have been sexually abused have suffered emotional torment for years, even decades, all the while trying to find a way to stop the misery we feel.

While many religions throughout the ages have sought to solve the problem of pain, it’s still with us. Affliction is the lot of the human race no matter how we try to explain it, conquer it, or ignore it.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I’ve tried to explain my exploitation, but there’s no reasonable explanation. I’ve tried to conquer the hurt, but the hurt never surrenders. I’ve even tried to ignore the awful memories I own, but they resurface in my mind at the worst times and in the worst ways. The only way I find to deal with the wounds of my abuse is to make them work for me, to redeem them in some meaningful way.

To redeem something so dreadfully unthinkable as child abuse is a tall order. The snatching away of childhood innocence by being lured into unspeakable sex acts with an adult seems beyond our capacity to turn into anything redeemable.

There are two options here. I can let the overwhelming effects of abuse kill me or I can choose to let the scars teach me how to be a better person.

When I take a few moments each day to recognize that my abusers no longer have any power over me, I redeem the abuse a little more. When I realize that I am no longer a helpless child victimized by someone older and stronger, I take back the power I lost to them. When I recognize the irrational nature of my fear and anxiety, I rob the memories of their hold on me. When I look myself in the mirror and reclaim my dignity, I take a bold step to end my suffering.

Maybe the Zen aphorism is right, after all.

Porn

(This is an encore post from "J".)

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 felt the typical shame and self-loathing after indulging. The more I watched the more I want to do it.

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.

Owning the Pain

(This is an encore post from "J".)

One of the things that has kept me in the pain of my abuse is not owning it. So much of my life was spent avoiding the pain of my childhood abuse that it didn't have a chance to be felt and ultimately healed.

No one wants to feel pain. We're wired to seek pleasure and to avoid pain. The truth about abuse, however, is that it can't be processed and healed without acknowledging it, feeling it, and processing it.

I didn’t know that I had been abused. I was grown when I was driven into counseling through addictive and compulsive sexual behavior. I was out of control and close to losing my marriage. I hadn’t acknowledged the depths of the pain of my childhood; the molesting at four years old; the odd encounters with older boys in my family; what I now understand as a rape when I was ten; and the fact that I was criminally abused by an older man and woman when I was 15 to 18 years old. It was like I was a magnet for abuse.

My pain flooded in when I came to understand that my hyper-sexualized appetites weren’t appetites for sex but an insatiable yearning for acceptance and healing. I'm thankful that the pain isn’t experienced and processed all at once.

I've experienced the pain in doses, some large and some small. There have been seasons of pain and reckoning with it. There have been good times and bad, but I'm continually amazed that owning the pain of it is the only way to process and get it out of the way.

Lies I Believed

(This is an encore post from "J".)

Among the worst of the many lies I have believed about myself is that the abuse in my childhood was my fault. It's common among victims to believe they brought the abuse on themselves or caused it to happen. I've learned that the abuse was the sick choice of the abuser and not my doing.

I was about 16 before I understood that men had sex with women and not just with other men or boys. I knew that men liked to look at women, but the abuse was so pervasive in my life that I didn’t understand the basic physiology of the human body.

Gender confusion and identity struggles haunt me to this day. A therapist had to tell me I had been abused. It didn't occur to me that something was wrong with the people who touched me and used me.

The lie that I caused those broken people to have sexual contact with me has affected me throughout my life. The sexual confusion alone is devastating, but there are many more consequences that victims experience because of that distorted belief. Here are a few of mine:

* A sense of chronic failure; 
* The feeling that I have no control over my emotions or my body; 
* Problems making decisions;
* Compulsive behavior.

The best thing that has happened is gaining the understanding that I did not cause the abuse—not any of it. I participated at some level because I didn’t know that it was abuse or that I was being taken advantage of.

I was a child. I didn’t understand what was happening. It was not my fault.

Waiting to Exhale

(This post comes from an anonymous reader.)

One of the effects of my abuse has been the feeling of holding my breath inside. Because sexual addiction was a huge result of abuse in my life, I didn’t think I could breathe unless I was acting out the brokenness inflicted upon me through sexual molestation. I found my deepest worth in being used by a man. When that wasn’t happening, I didn’t feel I was breathing.

A therapist related my need to be abused to people who cut themselves. I’m not an expert on cutting, but my therapist said that cutters seem to feel as I did, existing miserably between periods of cutting themselves. He indicated they feel like they can’t breathe until they cut. Once they cut, they feel temporary relief, then all the self-loathing returns. That described me.

I lived for years holding my breath between acting out sexually online or with others as a result of my abuse. If I wasn’t engaging in my addiction I was thinking about it. My life revolved around secrets and shame, knowing that I wasn’t being the man I should be or wanted to be. I understand men who are living a double life and who often become suicidal because of the depths of pain and shame.

Yet the more I've come to understand that abuse wasn’t my fault and that I was victimized by older men, the closer I come to finding wholeness in my life.

I'm learning to breathe on my own and not just exist until acting out my addiction. I understand that my thoughts and feelings are often irrational and overwhelming and that I have to have safety precautions built into my life to help me to overcome them.

Learning to breathe emotionally is a function of the knowledge of being part of a caring community. Knowing I am a survivor is a great step, but I need support and understanding to overcome the abuse.

One day at a time I learn to take a breath, exhale, take a breath, and then exhale. I no longer have to act out my brokenness in order to breathe.

I’m no longer waiting to exhale.

Separation Anxiety

(This is an encore post from an anonymous reader.)

Sexual abuse began so early in my life that I missed the chance to become my own person in the way that I should have at an early age. My initial identity was formed as someone who existed to bring another a sick pleasure.

The secret use of my body to satisfy someone older and bigger was the first place that I felt valued as a human being and that identity stuck to me like hot glue. Fortunately for me, I have come to know that that was only a false identity and not the real me.

Babies and small children often suffer through what we know as separation anxiety. Having been so close to the mother in the womb and at the breast results in fear and anxiety when infants experience separation. I have experienced a different form of separation anxiety as I have faced the reality that the identity formed in me early on was the wrong one. Or worse, that it was forced on me by my abusers. I became an object and not a human to them and then to myself.

My abuse stretched out over many years, and I was acting it out in multiple bisexual relationships primarily as the sex-slave of others. I lived to pleasure others and took that role because it was the only thing I knew. I was the powerless one and the partner always the strong one. It was sheer hell in so many ways, even though I thought I wanted this. I didn’t know that I was living out the wrong identity for many years after the abuse. Eventually, truth broke through.

I've spent many years untangling the effects of abuse. I've made great strides in separating myself from the false identity forced on me and in developing the real me, the man who has power over my own mind and body. This causes anxiety at times when I seem to fall back into old patterns of thinking. Like a baby, I don’t know who I am apart from the abuse that "mothered" me in many ways. But with each day I find that I won’t die becoming the real me.

I will live and I will live well.

Shadow Boxing

(This is an encore post from an anonymous reader.)

One of the strange things about surviving sexual abuse is that it never quite feels like I’ve survived it. I have to remind myself quite often that the abuse was in the past and isn't happening to me today. However, having suffered so much in my childhood resulted in a nasty case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that went undiagnosed for more than thirty years. I’ve realized that this is why I keep shadow boxing with the memories and feelings of being abused long into adulthood.

Someone older and bigger abused me. The size and age differential were massive and caused me to live my life in fear of other men. When I walked into a room or drove down the street, any man I saw was bigger and more powerful than I was, even if they really weren’t.

In business meetings the other men had advantages over me because I thought of myself as weaker than them. Even women were stronger and more powerful, especially if they seemed to be "together" or strong-minded.

One of the most difficult things I've wrestled with as an abuse survivor is realizing that these thoughts and feelings are irrational. They're the shadows of the past, the specters of abuse that rendered me powerless and feeling that I'm less than the man I really am. I struggle with continually giving my power away to other people, especially men, even if they have no advantage over me.

There's no way to win at shadow boxing. The shadows are real; they have no real power. As I continue to overcome my abuse, one of my greatest strengths is to realize that shadow boxing is useless. When I realize that I am caught up in an irrational thought pattern or feeling, I stop, surrender to God, and claim for myself the true freedom of who I am at this moment.

The Long Road to Forgiveness

(This is an encore post from an anonymous reader.)

I was ten years past the physical abuse before a therapist explained that I had been abused. I thought all little boys did the kinds of things I did with family members in secret times and hidden places. It never dawned on me that what was happening to me was wrong, though somewhere deep inside me I felt dirty and knew I couldn’t talk about it to anyone. I actually thought that was normal.

Now thirty years beyond the abusive behavior of my relatives, I realize that the struggle to forgive them is like a giant mountain I can’t imagine being able to climb.

They abused me.

They should have known better; they shouldn't have done it. I've paid an enormous price in my life for their horrible actions. There are times I have hated them for what they did.

The big problem is that resentment and hatred fueled my emotional distress, addiction, and dysfunction. Carrie Fisher once said, "Resentment is like drinking poison, and waiting for the other person to die."

Forgiveness means so much more for me than it does for my abusers, but it seems so counter intuitive to do it and almost impossible considering the damage they did to me.

For now, I take it a day at a time. Two of my abusers have passed away, and that releases me from the fear of having to see them again in this life. I sometimes try to imagine them standing before God as the men they should have been all along.

I know they have to reckon with him one way or another. I am responsible only for myself and for the kind of life I choose to lead. Forgiveness for me is like traveling on a giant mountain or a long road. I can live successfully by taking it one step at a time.

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.

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.

The Room

(This post comes from a reader named Mark.)

I realized it was time to ask my Celebrate Recovery sponsor to visit the room where I was abused as a child. I wanted him to see that room. I needed him to see it.

"The room" is a bathroom. It’s remote, mostly unused, unseen. It appears as if it is in a house that has been long abandoned. For me, that room has been the family secret.

As I led the way, I cried. I was shocked, anxious, and relieved with the choice to allow someone to see the room.

My sponsor stood in the middle of that place and said something I was unprepared for. "So tell me what happened here."

"This is where I was raped."

The room doesn’t hold as much power now. By exposing that room, I’m not as afraid of my memories. I don’t need to cower in shame from the abandonment that the room represents. The room is no longer my secret.

"Who Would Believe Kids?"

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

"Who would believe kids?"

I read those words in the newspaper as part of the testimony of a then-12-year-old boy who testified in the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse trial.

Since then, I've pondered those words.

It's strange how it works with parents. We know those overly protective parents who believe anything their children say and become angry over the slightest injustice they suspect someone has done to their precious child.

It's the other kind of family that troubles me. "Who would believe kids?" That's the cry of a child in pain, a boy who knew he wouldn't be believed and didn't have an adult to stand up for him.

Why wouldn't he ask that question?

His words haunt me because it's a question I might have asked. It didn't occur to me to tell an adult—any adult. I didn't feel anyone cared enough so why would I consider telling? I felt totally alone.

I wonder how many molested kids have asked, "Who would believe kids?"

Isolation Is Emotional Solitary Confinement

(This post comes from a reader named Roger and is used with his permission.)

Isolation is where I've lived most of my life. That's why I felt alone and sad much of the time. Even when I was in a crowd or with a group of friends I felt out of step with everyone, just not quite connecting on the level everyone else seemed to.

Abuse immediately isolated me. At first, the need for secrecy and knowing I was sharing in something no one else could know about gave me a sense of superiority. I felt special, privileged (for a while anyway). Later I felt used and eventually worthless.

At first we can feel pretty special, but later we realize we've taken on a burden we can't seem to throw off. I ended up feeling different and weird, and thinking no one else could possibly have those kinds of thoughts, feelings, or desires. After that came the longing to be normal—whatever that was supposed to mean. I was left outside, stealing glances at other families who seemed happy and normal.

That led to a lot of overcompensating and arrogance and not a little amount of anger, which I tried to repress unsuccessfully. I felt trapped, alone, and unable to break free to interact with my closest friends. There was always a wall there that I couldn't tear down.

With God's help and those who love me and understand, I'm learning new ways to break through the barriers. I appreciate their patience because the trust thing is difficult for me to navigate after all these years.

That turmoil began when I was very young. When young, we're like clean slates; everything that happens to us is written on those slates in capital letters and indelible ink. We don't have the experiences and maturity of adults to dilute the impact. I suspect that's why things can become more deeply ingrained and why, as adults, we have such a difficult time recovering from them.

It's also why I wish I could have received help when I was younger—before the cement dried.

Why Am I So Hard on Myself?

My friends used to say to me that I was too tough on myself. I smiled and said something innocuous like, "Maybe you're right." I didn't believe them, but that was my way to avoid any discussion.

Why couldn't they grasp that I knew my responsibilities and my standards? If I didn't live up to them, why shouldn't I castigate myself? I knew the right thing to do and I didn't do it.

Like many men who were assaulted in childhood, I grew up with unrealistic self-expectations. (I didn't realize they were unrealistic.) I suppose I needed to prove to myself that I was a moral and caring person. Too often, after I failed to live up to my exacting standards, I sank into a pitiful state, rebuking myself for failing. I had no idea how to show myself mercy—let alone think I deserved it. How could I show myself kindness when I had received so little of it as a child?

As I look back, I'm aware that I'm slowly—very slowly—able to believe that I am worthwhile and don't have to be perfect. My friend Jeff wrote a maxim that helped me: "Demand perfect; accept excellent."

The odd thing—at least to myself—was that I didn't hold others to the exacting standards. I often made excuses for them or reminded myself, "She did the best she could."

Trust

(This post comes from a reader named Roger.)

Trust has always been a huge issue for me. My father was very strict, very harsh at times, and I would become self-protective. Then at night he would sneak into my room and be so touching and caressing. I opened up and welcomed his advances like the starving child I was, only to find him distant and angry again the next day.

It became such a part of my life not to trust that I didn't even notice it until others began to tell me of how they dealt with it in their lives. It was like, oh man I do that too! For instance, I would walk into any room and gravitate immediately toward the corner or seat facing the door, back to the wall. Until a friend spoke about his realizing why he was doing it, I was totally unconscious of it myself.

Or the matter of personal space--being stopped in a hallway to chat and putting my back to the wall. And a thousand other odd things like assuming when someone said they wanted to speak to me it meant something bad. Assuming all compliments were preemptive for someone wanting something.

At the same time, being so gullible that when a compliment seemed to be sincere, I would fall for some kind of rip-off scheme because I desperately wanted to believe this person liked me. I know that sounds paradoxical but there was always this waiting for the other shoe to drop and yet wanting desperately to believe this time it would be something different.

I was so untrusting, yet desperately wanting to trust, needing to believe I was worthy of another’s kindness and becoming an easy mark. I suspended rational thought because of that need and fear of trusting. That was an area of my life that was invisible to me until I talked with other survivors. Our stories are different, but our wounds are familiar.

Sometimes when reading others’ stories I can’t help but wonder what other areas of my life, personality, behavior, and character are the real me or which came as the results of my abuser.

The healing must still continue.

Who Am I?

(This is a guest post from a reader named Roger.)

The assaults I suffered in childhood and as an adult left me confused as to who I was. I read a lot of science fiction in middle school and high school and thought I would like to be a physicist and study the nature of our universe. I was fascinated by science and I wanted to be part of that.

But that wasn’t to be. After high school, Dad insisted I go to Bible college, probably hoping God could undo the mess my father’s incest had made of my life. But I was a lost soul at that point. No vision. No more dream and emotionally too messed up to focus on any goal. I settled to just go from one day to the next, trying to keep it together so no one would see how totally messed up my thinking and attitudes were.

I became a social chameleon. I became whomever I was with. I desperately wanted to fit in somewhere, but deep down knew I couldn’t. So I faked it, and in doing that I lost whatever sense of who I was.

I lived that way for decades, and it wasn’t until I came back to my faith in God that I began to heal. God has helped me see that regardless of what happened to me, I’m still His creation. God can’t undo all that has happened, but He can make something beautiful out of it if I allow Him and give up trying to change myself into something I’m not.

I don’t have to be like everyone else or what others think I should.

The Archaeologist

(The author of this post has given permission to print it but chooses to remain anonymous.)

You are an archaeologist. You're digging through the past, sifting through everything oh-so carefully. Reverently even.

Like an archaeologist, you need to be outfitted with the proper tools. Rather than a shovel, trowel, and sifter, you've equipped yourself with godly counsel, accountability partners, and the armor of God.

There are times when you're actively seeking something. You know it's there! You're digging intently until blisters form on your palms. There are other times when your shovel unexpectedly collides with a foreign object. Sometimes you come upon skeletons. Sometimes only fragments of skeletons. When that happens, you have to dig deeper—yet carefully—to find the missing pieces. Only then are you able to fit the whole structure together into something that makes sense.

Like an archaeologist, you also uncover some priceless treasures as you're digging. You discover good memories, positive moments, experiences that have helped form your character. You unearth long-buried gifts and find new pleasure in exploring them once again. You share these treasures with the world, and the world is richer for it.

While the skeletons may not seem as valuable as the hidden jewels, they themselves are priceless treasures. These bones reveal important information about the past. However, like the artifacts collected by an archaeologist, the memories that you dig up don't define the present. Like dinosaur bones or shards of ancient pottery, the memories you're discovering explain what life was like in the past. They fill in the gaps and answer lingering questions.

Specimens from excavation sites aren't cataloged and analyzed overnight. The process takes time, research, patience. Sometimes the archaeologist must collaborate with other scientists. He needs their input to make sense of his discoveries. As an archaeologist curates a collection of his artifacts, guiding others through his finds, you will also have an opportunity to share your knowledge and experience. As your discoveries equip you to truly live, you are also learning how to guide others.


Grieving

From Cec: Roger sent me a personal email and, with his permission, I'm posting this. It's probably the saddest story I've read. It's hard for me to realize how much some males suffered.

I am reading your book, Not Quite Healed. So much of it reads like my life. That said, the chapter on grieving really tore me up. As I read it, I realized that I'd never grieved what happened to me and the subsequent effects and their impact on my life.

It wasn't just the molestation. That in itself was bad and went on for decades. It wasn't just the lies I was told, or came to believe, or even those I told myself. It was also the person of my father.

He was a Bible-thumping, legalistic, fire-and-brimstone preacher, teacher, evangelist and pastor—the essence of God incarnate to me. I believed every word he preached. When his words didn't add up in his actions, it caused great confusion in my immature young mind. I felt betrayed not only by him, but by God Himself.

For decades I lived full of contradictions and conflict and in dreaded fear that I would turn out like him. I was a man of two minds and very unstable. Then he had the nerve to die and leave me that way.

And not just die, he had to get himself caught with another child relative. In his fear and despair, he killed my mother in her sleep then took his own life, leaving me a note and the mess to deal with.

In having to deal with everything, I had to keep it together and get things done because everyone else, except my wife, was a basket case. I had no time to grieve. For the next two years, I blamed myself for not saying something sooner, not warning people sooner, not confronting him, and for not saving my mother's life.

Even now I sit here writing this with no emotion. My irritability, anger, rage—all inappropriate to the circumstances I see now as evidence that I have not dealt with this. For years, I didn't understand why I couldn't control my anger. Now I see that I can't go on like this. I need to process all the pain that I have suppressed.

Day One of a New Season

(This post comes from Mark.)

This is day one of a new season. Yesterday I accepted that the word “raped” is “my” word for what was done to me. An email communication with Cec confirmed that for me.

Last night I had a long face-to-face talk with the man who has been my closest and best friend during my recovery journey.

As he and I talked, (I cried of course), and prayed, I took what once would have been a devastating leap. Last night it was a very small and simple (although not easy) step:
My name is Mark I don’t know when, where, or how But I know that I was raped. And I know my rapist’s name.His name was Dad.
For over three years I’ve had various flashbacks, dreams, vague memories, and body impressions that implicated him. But I wasn’t ready to accept that truth until the pain of denial finally outweighed the fear of accepting it.

When I was young and didn’t want to be around my dad, my mom “corrected” me and told me how I should feel about my dad. She did not explore why I was so set against him. I grew up experiencing tremendous guilt for not liking him, for not wanting to be around him, even as I tried to make myself feel love toward him.

As an adult, I developed a relationship of sorts with him. I ended up being his full-time caregiver. While he lived, I loved and honored him the best that I knew how. After his death, I wrestled with feeling that I was betraying his memory by considering him as an abuser.

But the preponderance of evidence speaks that he raped me.

There’s a scripture that says “the truth shall set you free." The truth that my dad raped me is ugly. But even an ugly truth brings freedom, whereas a pleasant lie keeps me in denial and bondage. I no longer feel the responsibility to defend him. I’m allowed to be truthful. In speaking truth, I am honoring God, myself, and in a strange way, I am honoring Dad.

This is day one of my new season.

Rape? Abuse?

A friend who also reads this blog wrote me recently because he was having trouble using the word rape. I responded by saying that I had struggled using the word assault. I chose assault because it's closer to the reality of what happened to me.

Both my friend and I were children, and we were raped or assaulted by someone bigger and older. We were too naïve to realize the implications or the meaning of what happened to us. We were lonely, love-starved kids, who yearned for attention. When they assaulted us, we believed we were being cared about and the affection was genuine. And it felt good.

Now that we're older, some of us have trouble using the right word to describe the secretive attack (and it was a deliberate, planned attack).

The trouble is facing words like rape because our understanding of that term carries many violent implications. TV has filled our minds with brutal and vicious actions. My rapists were gentle, spoke softly, and made me feel special. How could that be rape or assault? And yet it was.

When we can use such strong words, we face the reality of what was done to us. My use of assault has pushed me a little farther down the healing path.

Rebuilding My Core

(This post comes from a reader named Mark.)

Standing in my kitchen, I feel the tiredness of this old house. Almost a decade ago I moved back into my childhood home to take care of my ailing parents. They are gone now; I’m still here.

This house is where my sexual, emotional, and religious abuse and physical neglect took place. During those years, the house wasn't ever clean or orderly. The walls were dirty with faded paint and torn, greasy wall paper. The kitchen ceiling had a gaping hole surrounded by sagging plaster. Old linoleum floors were cracked and peeling.

There’s been a lot of changes made to the house since then. I keep it (mostly) clean and neat. Dirty walls have been updated with fresh paint. The ceiling’s been replaced. The floor covering is new. On the surface, there is little similarity to the house I grew up in. But no amount of remodeling will change the reality of what occurred within these 1,100 square feet.

Many abuse victims try to cover up the damage done to their souls and bodies by pursuing job promotions or more degrees, by investing blood, sweat, and tears into building a killer physique, or by changing relationships, or burying themselves in addictions. I’ve been there. (Not the killer physique part.)

No matter how much effort we pour into making ourselves look good or successful, or how much we try to make our pain stop, we still know that underneath the many layers is a scared child wanting to be loved and accepted. Our hearts are broken.

My heart is healing as I open up my pain and memories to trusted friends and my Celebrate Recovery group. I’m changing for the better as I share what was done to me, and admit the wrong choices I made trying to fix myself. I’ve formed friendships with other men who understand abuse. My relationship with God is growing.

Although the facts of my past won't change, my heart is healing. Repainting the walls of my house doesn't change its core structure; the healing of my heart is rebuilding my core. I accept that I am a man whom God has created with value and worth. A man who forgives, receives and gives love. A man standing for my own freedom, and for the freedom of others.

I may still live in the house of my abuse, but I am no longer defined by its walls.











Just Beginning to Figure This Out

(Occasionally unsolicited responses come to me personally. This one, from James, touched me and I wanted to share. His entire message covered several pages, but I wanted to pass on to you the first paragraphs. --Cec)

I'm trying to figure this out, and I am just beginning . . .

Twelve months ago, I recognized/admitted that I was sexually abused as a child, but I still struggled to understand what that means, to be abused. Seven months ago, I started more focused therapy for that abuse, and joined a male survivor group. I’ve come a long way since beginning that group, but I recognize that I’ve barely began to peel away the outer layers of the artichoke/onion, to understand and deal with the consequences of that abuse. About two weeks ago, I began reading Not Quite Healed by Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe. It feels like I’ve made more progress in these past two weeks than the 12 months prior.

I need to be healed, I need to stay in the fight, there is too much at stake. I am tempted to turn back, to forget, to ignore the problems, to pretend it will all be okay if I turn my back on the process of healing. Because healing requires dealing with the struggle and the pain, dealing with my own shame and failures. It is so foolish to turn back, the struggle doesn’t go away, my childhood has affected all of my relationships, the shame eats at me from the inside; it just remains private. I realize this is going to be a lifelong journey.

“At our core, we are sexual creatures, male and female. This is part of being created in the image of God. When others abuse us sexually, they touch us at the center of our being. Everything becomes skewed and produces a ripple effect that spreads through our entire personhood. The abuse alters the way we see ourselves, others, God, and life itself.”

Some effects of the abuse and unmet needs of childhood: lack of intimacy with my wife, attempt to be in control, lack of self-worth, maintaining silence about my needs and wants, not having a voice / speaking up for myself, sexual deviance. Somewhat related is a desire for a mother love and father love that I didn’t get. I will review these first few chapters again as they have hit so many nerves. I want to go more in depth and explore and identify them more fully.

Fears of Intimacy

(This post comes from a reader named Roger.)

Surviving sexual abuse left me confused about intimacy. I want it and need it, but it brings up so many negative things about physical touching and being pressured to surrender my body in ways I didn't understand and seems so closely related to what should normally happen when two people love each other.

What happens if I meet someone else with the same issues? What happens if I meet someone with normal feelings about this who becomes hurt and confused by my reactions?

This has been a painful struggle for my wife and me. She tends to interpret my reactions as negative toward her. That colors the rest of our interactions, making honest communication difficult at best, grossly misunderstood at worst. We both end up feeling rejected by the other.

It takes patience, understanding, and a desire to fight through the fears of rejection to learn how to approach each other lovingly. Those aren't traits my parents gave me. They are traits that I'm desperately trying to develop and, with God’s help, I may master someday.

My wife finds it difficult to understand that I love her and yet at times can appear inept at showing it. Lies and fears are chains forged long ago that take time and effort to replace with honesty, truth, and trust.

Why can’t I just get over it? Maybe because it's not a broken bone that needs healing; it's a broken soul. That healing may take some time. A wounded soul or a broken spirit can't be placed in a cast for six weeks and be good as new. It's complicated by the deep infection of a fallen nature, which only God can deal with.

As the serenity prayer goes, "God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference."

My Sorrow Seems to Hang Around

(This poem comes from a reader named Joseph.)

I grow old outside;
but deep inside I’m still that five-year-old
who needs to crawl into Daddy’s arms
and know I’m safe and loved.

It’s not his fault.
He died before I was born.

After church, I see the boy run to his daddy
who stoops down to catch him in his arms
both laughing at the joy of being held.
Arms around Daddy’s neck,
the boy nuzzles his head on love’s shoulder.

Sorrow disintegrates me.

Unhugged
unwanted
ignored
I lived abandoned in our house.

One day in the men’s room at the park,
a fatherly man reached for me
touched me
made me feel wanted.
I did not know I was abused, that he was perverse;
we briefly met each other’s twisted needs.

I searched for other father-substitutes,
found public men’s rooms where they waited,
accepted their minutes of pseudo-love,
then watched them hurry out when they were done with me

A starving child will eat from any garbage can.



The Funeral of My Abuser

(This is an encore post from an anonymous reader.)

My eyes were red and swollen even before we arrived at the church. I had already been crying in the car, not so much for him, but for all that I knew had happened between us so many years before this day. My older brother was just one of four primary abusers in my childhood, but in many ways he was the most damaging to me. And now he was dead.

The swirling emotions I felt as I entered the church were toxic and overwhelming. Family members greeted me with saddened, concerned faces, yet no one seemed as broken as I was, including his widow and children. No one else seemed to be struggling to hold back scalding tears, even though I know that many were genuinely sad that a friend, son, husband, and father they loved was now gone. I had known a completely different person than they had.

Music played softly on the sound system. I tried to put on a nice smile and talk with family members and friends, but as I saw the black and white photographs of our childhood years scroll by on the screen in the front of the church I ran down the hall to hide in the kitchen as I sobbed uncontrollably.

Mercifully, the service was brief. I managed to stand and read his obituary and to sing The Lord’s Prayer at the end. I don’t know how I made it through, but I did. It was my “gift” to him, even though I don’t believe God’s will was done “on earth as it is in heaven” in our lives in any way. I don’t believe that big brothers were made to abuse their little brothers.

As the service ended, the tears sprang up again from deep inside. While others dabbed at the corners of their eyes, I sobbed again. My wife stood there and wept with me. She held onto me and whispered, “No one knows. No one knows. You’ve done the hard work. It’s over now.”

I shook a few hands, hugged a few necks, offered a few platitudes, and exited the building. My wife offered to drive, but I refused. A few moments later, as I was backing out of the parking space, the sobbing returned—even harder. We changed places and she drove us away from the church. I had said goodbye.

Why Did I Go Back?

(This post comes from a reader named Roger.)

I have shared with only two people that I did go back—long after I no longer needed to, and long after he was probably through with me. After the divorce from my first wife, I spent a holiday weekend with my parents. That first evening, dad told me I could have his bedroom and he would sleep in their camper/trailer.

Later, I turned out the light to go to sleep. Tired as I was, I found myself alert and lying once again in the dark, a 10-year-old kid in a 33-year-old body. Sometime after midnight, I heard familiar sounds outside my door. Without thinking, I pulled back the covers so he could see me.

Why would I do that? At that point in my life, I was well aware of what we were doing and how wrong it was. What did I want/need from him? It was just as unsatisfying as it was 23 years earlier, but now it was embarrassing, humiliating, and I ended up feeling like crap. Why did I feel the need to surrender access to me? Was it familiarity, guilt, a chance to rewrite history? Or maybe I thought it was a chance to talk about what we were doing.

Of course, the next day it was as if nothing had happened. He was my father and the pastor of my church all my life.

How long would this go on?

Dad took that terrible dilemma out of my hands with his suicide years afterward. But I'm still left with the question of why I went back, and whether I would have continued.

Not many of us incest survivors have to face those questions and doubts, but I understand the terrible pull to accept that phone call, answer that text, or open the door to someone whom I know is going to hurt me.

"Why Did He Do That to Me?" (Part 7 of 7)

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

I can't explain or justify the behavior of those who abused us. I know two former perpetrators and the response I've received from both is that they acted out of an overwhelming need. I'd call it an addiction (many may disagree), but the urge was so compelling they felt powerless to resist.

If that's correct, they struggle with greater internal monsters than we do. Generally, perpetrators are victim-survivors of sexual abuse and carry the pain most of us have experienced. On top of that, they also become victimizers.

I believe our abusers are tormented by their actions. Even though they feel they can't help themselves and find excuses for what they did, they also know they did something terrible. They stole our childhood innocence and brought immeasurable pain into our lives. Consequently, I see them as people in even greater pain than the rest of us.

It took me years to feel that way, but now I've learned compassion toward myself but also toward the abusers. I had to move beyond my own pain before I could understand that those who hurt me were also living in agony.

"Why Didn't God Stop the Abuse?" (Part 6 of 7)

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

When we ask such questions, we imply that if God is good, nothing bad should happen to us—or at least nothing bad to the innocent. Life just doesn't work that way. I've been reading the Bible for more than 50 years and the promises of God are to be with us in our pain and not to shield us. For example, "Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me" (Psalm 23:4, New Living Translation).

I wish God had protected me during childhood. I hate the pain I've had to go through. Now—after dealing with my issues for years—I can look back and thank God for taking me through those terrible times. He didn't let me give up, and I'm healthier today. However, that's not all: I care about others in their pain because I can feel what they feel.

Too often we forget the purpose of our ordeals. We come out stronger and more sensitive to the needs of others. We can wrap our arms around the hurting because we know how it feels to be hurt.

I don't know why God didn't intervene.
I do know that I can intervene when others are in pain.

"Why Should I Forgive Those Who Hurt Me?" (Part 5 of 7)

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

This question comes up regularly, and I could give many answers, but here's one: I forgive because I want to move forward in my healing. That probably sounds like a selfish answer, and it is—but it's also a necessary one.

If I don't forgive, I hold on to my pain and won't let go. As long as I refuse to forgive, I will feel anger, rage, or some kind of negative emotion toward another. Holding on to those feelings holds me back.

I want to make it clear: This is not a demand to forgive. We forgive when we're ready. We are the only ones who can decide on the right time.

I want to forgive my perpetrators 
because I want to be free from my painful past.

"Why Am I Not Healed By Now?" (Part 4 of 7)

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

After we've been treading up the painful winding path toward wholeness, we look ahead and see how far we have yet to go. It's like hiking up a mountain, and just as we reach the summit, we stare ahead and realize that to reach the destination means we have to keep going to another summit.

"There's always another mountain to climb," I groaned after about a year. Then I remembered the testimonies I used to hear from members of AA. After they told their stories of debauchery and agony, they went on to express the peace and joy they had experienced since their sobriety. Their presentations made it sound as if they had been totally healed.

They weren't healed. Some of them hold up their tokens to proclaim their sobriety. And many of them didn't go back to alcohol. None of them had everything figured out. The best members of AA would say to me that the journey was still one day at a time. The most victorious were able to say they were closer to a healthier life. None of them ever talked about arrival.

If you're agonizing over the journey yet ahead, perhaps you need to pause and look backward.

I can look at how far I've already come.
I can say, "I haven't arrived, but I'm on the way."

"Why Does It Hurt So Much?" (Part 3 of 7)

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

Early in my healing process, I asked that question repeatedly. I was hurting and I couldn't understand the reason for the intense pain. I wanted to face the reality of my traumatic childhood, learn from the experience, and move on with my life. But I didn't want the pain, or at least I wanted less of it.

My real question didn't involve why as much as it did how. "How do I get rid of the torment, the painful memories and re-experiencing my childhood trauma?" Like thousands of other survivors, I learned to say those now-clichéd words, "I had to feel the pain to move beyond the pain." As memories trickled back (some exploded), I faced each one. In private, I cried often in those early days; I raged and I yelled at my perpetrators.

In the midst of those rants and tears, I wanted relief. And it did help to vent, but it helped even more to talk to the two people who loved me enough to stay with me in my pain—my wife and my friend David.

What worked for me may not be the path for everyone. We have different temperaments and see life through our personal, unique experiences. If we want healing, each of us needs to find our own way.

I don't want to feel the pain; 
 I remind myself that it won't last. 
The more I heal, the less the pain lingers.

"Why Me? What Did I Do to Deserve This?" (Part 2 of 7)

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

"Why not you?" I've heard people say. That response lacks compassion.

None of us survivors deserved to be molested. It wasn't our fault; something dreadful was done to us. (The previous sentence is important and I say it often.)

We were needy—but again, that wasn't our fault. We didn't receive the love and affection we deserved and should have had. Our parents may have loved us but they didn't express it or we didn't feel their love.

If we didn't get what we needed from them, we became vulnerable and open to predators who treated us lovingly and gave us attention—but only as a means to take care of their own lust.

Here's an answer that helps me. I was a needy kid and was abused, but now that I'm well into my healing journey, I can help others on their path to wholeness.

I didn't deserve the abuse;
it wasn't my fault.

The Why Questions (Part 1 of 7)

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

Many of the emails that come to my personal box ask why in some form. Here's my answer: I don't know. I'm not sure anyone can fully give the reasons behind the queries about pain, injustice, healing, and anguish.

Instead of asking for the reason something happens, it's more healthful to focus on the deeper, perhaps-unasked question.

Here's my major reason for suggesting this: When we ask why, the natural answer is logical and analytical. We may gain information, but we rarely find help because our issues come from multi-layered pain and we want satisfying, emotional responses.

When you want to ask why, 
ask yourself, "What do I really want?"

I Was Driven

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

"What drives you?" my editor asked.

I thought it was a strange question and I said, "That's just the way I am." That was as true as I knew how to answer then.

Today I would say, "I was driven by the pain of my abuse. I thought I was worthless. I worked extremely hard—constantly—to prove that I was as good as anyone else."

As of this writing, I have published 126 books in 36 years. That's the evidence of being driven. Was I conscious of that compulsion? Absolutely not. In retrospect I realize that I didn't allow myself to feel tired. For me, to be tired implied that I was lazy because only lazy people complained of being tired.

I still write a great deal, but there is now a difference. Now it's an ingrained habit and I still have a lot of ideas and energy. But I do it from a different place. In the past, it was lazima—a Swahili word. An obligation. Something I had to do.

These days, it's not as much what I do, but the part of me that does it. I love to write. I enjoy the hours in front of my computer. But I can also stop working at 4:00 in the afternoon or take off Saturday and Sunday without guilt—something I couldn't do a decade ago.

I was driven;
today I do the driving and enjoy the scenery.

He Thought He Was Gay: A Comment and Response

(This post appeared on June 13, and Jason B. commented on July 17. I've included his comments and my response below. --Cec)

Blog post from June 13: 

Brian told me about his abuse as a child and said, "For years I thought I was a homosexual." Because he seemed to be a rather well-adjusted heterosexual, I asked, "Any idea what made you feel that way?"

Without hesitation he said, "Because I enjoyed it. From the first time I had an erection and it felt good." When he was a little older, he ejaculated. "If it was that awful, why did I enjoy it? I thought I was gay."

Until he was in his early twenties and after Brian "tried sex with a man once," he spoke of enjoying it and hating it at the same time. He didn't try it again and found it revolting to think about.

"Am I gay or not?" he asked himself.

Shortly after that, Brian visited a group that focused on male survivors of sexual abuse. "The penis responds to stimulation," the leader says. "That feels good, and that's absolutely natural to get aroused. But it doesn't mean you're gay. It means you have responded in a normal, natural way."

That was the day Brian started to say, "I'm a healthy, heterosexual male." It was also the beginning of a new life for him.

Jason's comments: 

Let me first say I love your book Not Quite Healed. It is a wonderful, overall helpful book to survivors of abuse like myself and for that I am very thankful. However in your book you recommended Exodus International for their reparative therapy. Around the same time your book was released they made a statement that they were stopping operations because they realized they were wrong and were causing great harm. Are you willing to make a similar statement recanting your recommendation of reparative therapy?

While I believe some people who were abused can have confusion about their orientation, I don't believe that environmental factors are the "cause" for a person to identify as LGBTQ. I know this story is only one person's experience but are you suggesting that all people who identify as LGBTQ are just confused?

I'm not saying you are not entitled to your beliefs, whatever they may be. But I do think it would be incredibly helpful to be sensitive to the possibility that this issue is more complex than what just one group of Christians wants to define as being biblical. Suggesting that sexual identity is just a learned behavior is incredibly naïve and damaging to survivors who have SSA or identify as LGBTQ. 

Cec's response:

Jason, thank you for your good attitude.

I'll do my best to explain. My understanding of Exodus--at the time I wrote--was they they were a resource for people who had been in the gay lifestyle and wanted help to get out. For me, it's that simple. If they want help to change, that was the best resource I knew. (They disbanded after the publication of my book.)

Not Quite Healed was certainly not written to tell anyone they had to change or were rushing to hell if they didn't. I don't think that way.

I confess I don't understand why some people are gay and others not, whether it's nurture or nature (or a combination) that makes them who they are. I've tried to show respect and compassion for everyone, regardless of their sexual status. I'm sorry if that didn't come through in my book.

One of my good minister friends is transgender. I still love Erin as much as I loved Eric before his sexual surgery.

I agree with you that it's a highly complex issue. I'm not smart enough to know the answers; I am smart enough to know that the great command in the New Testament is to love. And Paul says that if we love, we fulfill the laws of God.

Effects of Abuse

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

I watched the second half of a TV program on sexual abuse and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Here are a few of the facts I remember:

* Sexually molested boys are four times more at risk for injecting themselves with drugs.

* Abused boys have more sexual relations with anal penetration—without protection against STDs.

* They're more likely to prostitute themselves than nonabused boys.

* They contract STDs twice as often as nonabused.

The TV program referred to them as a subgroup who were highly at risk for HIV and AIDS.

As I watched, I thanked God that I wasn't part of that subgroup. I also thought of the well-known proverb, "But for the grace of God, there go I."

Trying to Remember

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

"I keep trying to remember," he said. "I know something happened, but I can't remember exactly what it was." That's not uncommon.

I've written a number of times about my abuse from an old man named Mr. Lee. I know he abused me. I remember his inviting me into his room, putting me on his lap, and laying my hands on his hairy chest. But I can't tell you what happened after that.

For a time I tried hard to recall the details, but they didn't come. I finally decided that they were too horrendous for me to accept. That sounds simple to me now, but it was frustrating then. I wanted to know.

Or did I?

What I truly wanted to know was the certainty that I had been molested. Because I couldn't recapture the intimate details, for a time doubts filled my mind. Am I making this up? Is this my imagination at work?

So much has happened since those days, but two things stand out. First, even though I didn't have the so-called smoking gun of full, intact memories, I had the effects of the abuse. Second, when I finally talked to my three sisters, they confirmed several facts about the abuse.

If I don't remember details, 
it's because I probably can't handle the details.

Trying to Forget

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

"I just wanted to forget," Mal said. "But it didn't work. Even when I tried to push everything away, my memories insisted on remembering."

We don't forget. Not really. We don't remember everything—and blot out the most horrendous events. But something remains to remind us.

Sometimes trying to forget causes us emotional pain by re-experiencing abuse, or we have difficulty in sleeping. Some speak of frequent nightmares. We become hyper-vigilant. We're anxious or we become sexually dysfunctional. The list is probably endless and certainly varies among us.

We're not meant to forget by pushing away from the memories. The only way I know to truly get beyond the pain of our past is to face what happened. Accept it, and find ways to move on.

I'm a serious Christian and, for me, prayer has been my best therapy. I prayed daily to face whatever I needed to know and to have the courage not to deny my pain.

I've largely forgotten my pain—not the memories themselves—but the deep, searing hurt of those experiences. It's like the time I had serious dental surgery. I know the needle shooting me with Novocain hurt, but I endured that because I wanted the results.

I remember sitting in the dental chair and can tell you many details, but I don't feel pain. That's what we strive for in our healing from sexual abuse.

We don't ever want to forget that it happened to us; 

we do want to forget the pain of the abuse.

Cutting Yourself

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

Until recently, I assumed self-injury or self-cutting was a female response to pain. Increasingly, however, I hear stories of young men who are cutters.

I've never been a cutter, but I've seen the results of several who are. Some cut their wrists or arms, but I hear more of it occurs on the legs so it's not readily seen. My understanding as a non-therapist, is that it's a form of self-medication—a way to control the pain. Using a knife or a razor blade, cutters hurt and they use self-injury as a temporary fix for their extreme pain or depression.

From what I've read, most self-harm or self-mutilation hits between the ages of 15 and 35. They're not suicidal and they know it's not a solution, but it is a form of self-medication.

"I wanted to stop," a teen-aged boy said, "but it was the only thing I could do to keep from giving up on life."

He has gone into a year-long residency at Teen Challenge. "I can't help myself, but God can help me through the people there."

How Do I Love?

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

One of the saddest telephone calls I've ever received came from Joe, an Hispanic from the Chicago area. He said he was unable to love—he had known that. But worse, he was unable to receive love.

He emailed me and I gave him permission to call. He said he had met a young woman who claimed to love him and he assumed she did. "I don't hate her, but I can't feel any love for her—not for anybody."

Joe emailed after hearing me on a radio interview about sexual abuse. "It was done to me," he said. ("It" was his constant expression for abuse.)

I don't know how much I helped Joe, but I was aware that his actions as a 22-year-old adult mirrored what he had lived as a child. His attitude seemed to say that he experienced only powerful or powerless relationships. If he didn't exert control, others would "use" him.

"I feel like a zombie," he told me.

I felt sadness for Joe. Being abused prevented him from developing the capacity to express himself. He said he had never been able to talk to anyone about how he felt. "I had to remain silent or get beaten by my older brother who did it to me," he said.

"I want to feel loved; I want to offer love."

Everything I said felt flat and weak to me. As I told a close friend, "My heart went out to him, but I wasn't sure my words offered healing."

Joe has become a lurker on this blog.

What can you say to help Joe?

Control Issues

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

Every person I know who was sexually assaulted struggles with control issues. Or perhaps power issues is the better term. We tend to have to be in charge (in control) of things or we surrender and give up any self-assertion. Some vacillate between the two extremes.

I am a controller, although many people don't recognize it. For instance, recently I was at a dinner meeting and five of us were at one table. I started the conversation going and kept it moving. One woman was largely silent while the rest of us laughed and joked. When there was a pause, I turned to her, a woman I didn't know well, and said, "You've been quiet. So tell us five things about yourself that you don't want anyone to know."

Everyone laughed. I was in control. She responded in a joking manner and entered the conversation. That's what I call benevolent control. There have been other times when my assertiveness (or aggression) has been more self-centered, such as my need to protect or defend myself. In the past, if a conversation tended to go in an unwelcome or dangerous way I cracked a joke or changed the topic.

I rarely need to do that these days.

I'm learning to give up unhealthy power—the kind of control that belittles or hurts others. I want to submit gracefully to those who still need to assert themselves. I recently spoke at a conference and the leader did a few things I didn't personally like, but I thought about her actions and said to myself, so what? Who'll remember? Who will care?

In that instance, I knowingly and consciously gave up control and it was all right.

When It's Time to Forgive

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

One anonymous reader castigated me for pushing people to forgive. I don't push anyone to forgive, but that's how he perceived the tone of the blog.

For those of us who were molested, the time comes during our healing journey when it's exactly the right time to forgive.

Forget about forgiving—until you're ready, until you feel the need to forgive. When that happens, that is the right time to forgive.

Although I can't remember exactly when I forgave my two perpetrators, I know it occurred several months, perhaps a full year, after I began to heal. That day I ran seven or eight times around a small lake in a park. (The circumference was about half a mile.) No one else was in the area, and I yelled at my long-dead abusers. I screamed at them for the pain they had caused me. Just before I started my final loop, I was able to say, "I forgive you." I had spewed out my anger and, to my surprise, it was gone. I was ready to release my pain.

If anyone had pushed me to forgive earlier, I would have gotten angry and felt guilty. Angry because I didn't want to forgive; guilty because I would have felt I should forgive. And I've received the should message several times in my life. For me, forgiving and "letting go of the pain" mean the same thing. When I'm ready to walk away and leave the pain behind, then it's time to forgive.

The important fact is that each of us must determine when it's time. Some of us forgive quickly; others need longer to process through the pain. Regardless, no one has the right to push anyone to forgive.

Forgiveness is always a choice. 
And it's sad but some people are never able to forgive.

Easy Answers

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

"Your blog is full of crap." That was the subject line of an email from someone who called himself J A. He used a number of obscene words (and I was familiar with them). About the third paragraph, he wrote, "Your blog makes it sound so easy. Just do certain things and you're home free."

The only defense I can offer is that he read words that I didn't put in my blog. Thus I wrote an email with the following information to state my position:

* It's not easy to overcome childhood sexual abuse. It will probably take years.

* You have to accept the fresh pain of facing your old pain before you experience any level of healing.

* You have to be strong and determined to persevere if you want to overcome the effects of abuse.

* You'll probably never be completely healed—but you can get close.

* There are no easy solutions and there is never one answer that applies to everyone. Each of us has to find our own path to healing.

* Our abuse was personal and individual; our healing is personal and individual.

J A didn't respond to my email. I'm sorry J A didn't grasp what this blog has been saying from the beginning.

There are no easy solutions, 
but there is hope for those who are courageous.

Flashbacks

(This is a letter Philip wrote to Cecil Murphey.)


I read your book and it gave me great encouragement through a very tough time last year with flashbacks that I was getting through the abuse that I went through as a child. You answer questions that no psychologist or counselor (I have seen a few over they years) have given me. No doubt because you relate it all back to God, and that is how we can get meaning through this madness. God did not do this to us, was crying when we went through it, and he rejoices when we see his plan through this even though the acts we suffered was evil.

I am 42, and I'm not sure when the abuse started, maybe when I was 6, and it continued through my teenage years. It was mainly women, though men were also involved. I didn't remember the abuse. I knew there were gaps of time, and I had lots of questions about these gaps.

My mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was young and I did not want to be mad like her, and I didn't ask the questions about what was going on.

I blocked people out and kept to myself. I haven't been in relationship because of a fear that for a long time I did not know that was there, I just accepted that I was strange.

Since 2005, I have experienced flashbacks off and on, and I've been on different medication to help me cope. I hide away and don't talk to anyone, or return calls, or develop close friendships.

I have accepted the flashbacks. It's in the long term past so that I can deal with because these gaps of time don't occur any more.

Now my question: How recent in the past do the events that produces does flashback, intense memories and emotions of sexual experiences need to be?

Right now I'm as scared as I have ever been because of intense memories and feelings of sexual experiences that I have no memory of. I have zero memory of those events and as a result I seriously think I am going mad. I take no drugs and very rarely drink alcohol.

I don't know what to do with this, and I restarted taking medication because I am struggling to concentrate and to be happy. All I seem to do this week is to have the memory in my head while I talk to people and this is full on because it involves both men and women. I know the medication is not going to fix it, but I need a break from this. It's getting difficult to drive a car because I get distracted so easily.

The two people that I can trust to talk about this, a close friend and a psychologist, are both overseas and will be back at the end of July. I feel shattered and running on empty.

If this memory is true or not it has such huge impacts for me either way and both of them are scary. I yell to God that I want life to be easy like it was and it is far from that.

(Here is Cec's response. We welcome your comments.)


Thanks for writing to me. Flashbacks are normal.

I'm not a therapist, but I have a theory. Those long-hidden memories start to return when we're equipped to cope with them. (I realize you're having trouble coping.) Many of us unconsciously developed a form of amnesia, which is a form of denial. That was our method of surviving childhood. I was almost ten years older than you are when my memories started to return. And they hurt. Deeply.

The only advice I can offer is, "Don't fight them. Accept those flashbacks." Because you sound like a praying man, here is where you learn to rely on divine help.

The flashbacks rarely come in complete form, but usually in fragments. Or as you say, you have gaps. I still have them. Even today, I can't give you details of my sexual assault, but I know the events happened.

Be kind to yourself, Philip. I don't know if this will help, but when I went through the worst of my flashbacks, I said to myself repeatedly, "This is the best I can do at this stage of my development." Some days I wanted to give up, but I knew I couldn't. I kept on.

The really good news is that eventually the flashbacks go away.

He Thought He Was Gay

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

Brian told me about his abuse as a child and said, "For years I thought I was a homosexual." Because he seemed to be a rather well-adjusted heterosexual, I asked, "Any idea what made you feel that way?"

Without hesitation he said, "Because I enjoyed it. From the first time I had an erection and it felt good." When he was a little older, he ejaculated. "If it was that awful, why did I enjoy it? I thought I was gay."

Until he was in his early twenties and after Brian "tried sex with a man once," he spoke of enjoying it and hating it at the same time. He didn't try it again and found it revolting to think about.

"Am I gay or not?" he asked himself.

Shortly after that, Brian visited a group that focused on male survivors of sexual abuse. "The penis responds to stimulation," the leader says. "That feels good, and that's absolutely natural to get aroused. But it doesn't mean you're gay. It means you have responded in a normal, natural way."

That was the day Brian started to say, "I'm a healthy, heterosexual male." It was also the beginning of a new life for him.