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.

Forgiving Myself

(This post comes from John Joseph*.)

Forgiving myself for my own sinful responses to abuse has been difficult. I have used the abuse a thousand times to excuse my acting out in sinful (to me) behaviors that have dishonored my body and soul. Those behaviors violate my belief system, my relationship with God, and my commitment to faithful marriage. Even if I didn’t physically engage in acting out, the mental/emotional cycle of addiction-repentance-addiction-repentance is enough to make me crazy.

Forgiveness is the ultimate creative act. It takes the aberration, the “sin”, the thing I don’t want to do but did anyway, into a new space that didn’t exist before, a place that says, “Okay, that happened, but it doesn’t define me. I’m not what I just did.” Forgiveness never ignores the behavior, but recognizes that the behavior is an indicator of a deeper need for connection, renewal, and belonging.

By forgiving myself, I create a new space where I can actually be more of who I really am and not be bound to the acting out of who I’m not, the addict, the broken, the depressed, anxious, or otherwise messed up person. Today, I forgive myself.

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

Hardcore Porn

(This post comes from Mark.)

I just reread your chapter "I'm Addicted to Pornography" in Not Quite Healed. Recently I got a cell phone. Last night I used it to access some hard-core, gay porn sites. I didn't want to, but I wanted to. Yes, in this area, I'm still a divided man.

I had not seen any hardcore porn for three years. (I say hardcore, because seeing a man's picture in the weekly Walmart flyer can serve as porn for me. My imagination can fill in what my eyes do not see.)

After church this morning, I confessed to my sponsor. He was gentle with me. Thanked me for confessing to him. Told me I hadn't had to take that choice. He asked me if I'd been able to confess to God (I had) and reminded me that whether I feel it, or not, I am forgiven.

He asked if I would be comfortable handing over my phone for his wife to see if she could install blocks to prevent a recurrence. I was, and I did. For me, the only other option would be to get rid of the phone. I cannot have devices that allow me that kind of access. (My sponsor's wife had already put Net Nanny on my computer, and she holds the passwords - that gives me a lot of protection when I'm on-line with my computer.)

My sponsor put his arm around me and prayed, acknowledging before God that I was hurting. He also told me he loved me. Touch and speaking the words "I love you" are not easy for my sponsor. Like me, he is also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, family dysfunction, and addiction.

This afternoon, my sponsor's wife has sent me an email, expressing her words of encouragement.

Why am I writing all this to you? I appreciate that your book deals with issues such as pornography by sharing real experiences from real men. And writing this to you is another way of helping me to face the reality of what I did, in the light, rather than cower from it in the darkness.

I found it to be no accident that part of this morning's message in church dealt with Philippians 1:6: being confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will carry it out until the day of Jesus Christ.

During my teen years, when I lived in a dark world of sexual sin and brokenness that I cannot put into words, God used that verse repeatedly to let me know that my life would not always be lived in that hell.

And this morning, hours after falling back into the sin of hardcore gay porn, God literally displayed those same words across the screen of my church.

As I look back at a very rough day, I see that God has responded to my failure with gentleness, tenderness, compassion, and restoration. All day long He has been saying, "Son, I love you."

Healing in Community

(This post comes from John Joseph*.)

Recovery from childhood sexual trauma doesn’t happen in isolation. Of course, we want it to, hoping that we’ll never have to share the grisly details of our abuse or have to feel awkward that there was some part of it we may have enjoyed. Childhood violation is a very complicated thing and always requires the love, understanding, and intercession of a community to progressively heal.

Telling our story in a safe environment is one step toward healing. Being able to receive the love and encouragement of others is also a healthy step. Coming to the place where we can own what happened, own our responsibility for our sinful responses, and even moving slowly toward forgiveness are important progressions often facilitated in a healing community.

The abuse happened in secrecy, but the way out is by acknowledging it and sharing it with others in safe environments. Much of my own healing has occurred in 12-Step meetings or one-on-one counseling or prayer encounters in which I could safely share what happened and how it has affected me.

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

Knowing Our Bodies

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

I'm sure that caused my distorted concept, but it now seems strange to write that. When I looked in the mirror I didn't see myself as fat, but I thought I was probably a little overweight. If you knew me, you'd realize how silly that sounds. My assistant, Twila, teases that I have zero body fat—exaggerated but close. I am thin, or sometimes people called me wiry. But I didn't know I was thin.

That's one of the strange things that happens to us survivors. Many of us carry around distorted perceptions of our bodies. And most of us know it affects our behavior and attitude.

After 20-plus years of dealing with abuse I've been able to look at myself and see what I look like. About a year ago I stared at myself in a mirror and thought, my legs are thin, aren’t they?

Right after Christmas I saw a picture of myself when I was about 30 years old, taken in Africa where we lived, and long before I faced my molestation. "I was thin!" I yelled out, hardly able to believe that I had always been on the slim-and-trim side.

As I stared at that picture I thought, if I couldn't see my body properly, how much of myself did I see incorrectly?

I can answer only that each day I see my true self a little more clearly. And even better, I like myself more than ever before. Or is it the other way around? Because I like myself better, I have a true picture of who I am.

Healing Creatively (Part 2 of 2)

(This post comes from John Joseph*.)

Recovery can often be sidetracked by self-pity. I know this because I’ve spent an ungodly amount of time feeling sorry for myself. If only I had that time back to pursue my healing, how much better I would be! Of course, that time is spent now and I only have today to work on my issues. I must use today as wisely as I can. That’s where creativity comes in.

Creativity is an innate quality of the human soul. We can choose to develop it or ignore it, but those of us who deal with the remnants of childhood sexual trauma have a greater need to be creative about life and how we live it. In my previous post I pointed out that creativity isn’t always about art, but more often about artfulness.

How can we heal creatively? How can we choose to use every resource available to us creatively to be better people, despite a rough start?

The first place to start is by taking a creative inventory. Look around you now. What’s at hand? What books have you read to find healing? What music causes your soul to soar again? What prayers or friends or groups seem to never fail to reconnect you with your humanity, your essence, your soul? As you identify these paths to healing, use them well. Use them creatively to find yourself again.

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

Healing Creatively (Part 1 of 2)

(This post comes from John Joseph*.)

Matthew Fox wrote, “Creativity may be the nearest one-word definition we possess for the essence of our humanity, for the true meaning of soul” (Tarcher/Penguin, 2004, italics mine). To heal from abuse of any type is to reconnect, to re-engage with the true essence of ourselves as human beings, to become the people we really are despite what happened to us.

My own recovery has taken many twists and turns, some up and some down, but the recurring pattern is always that creativity of any kind heals me. By creativity I don’t mean writing a poem, a song, or choreographing a dance routine, though each of those are a lot of fun to me. Creativity is a mindset, a way of thinking that alters our consciousness and thus our experience of life. Therapists help their patients begin to think creatively about their lives to facilitate healing.

Most people react to this by saying, “I’m not creative. I’m an accountant." But creativity is innate to the human species and your own creativity is waiting to be tapped. The simplest way I know to do this is to go for a walk. A friend says, “Angels talk to those who walk,” and I think there’s some truth to it, at least for me. Often my first step in reconnecting with my soul is to get up from the television and the computer and just go for a quick walk. Before I know it, the endorphins have kicked in and I’m feeling better.

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

"Please Touch Me" (Part 2 of 2)

Some of us didn't get those embraces, and it feels as if we'll never be touched enough. I was one of those skin-hungry types, which is probably why the words skin hunger spoke to me. In my family of origin we didn't have much physical interaction. My dad was anything but warm; my mother wasn't good at embracing, but she liked to be hugged.

Many years passed before I understood why I enjoyed being hugged or having someone touch my shoulder or arm. My skin hunger was starved. I wanted anyone—everyone—to embrace me.

One time several of my male friends and I attended a conference called "Men and Masculinity." They asked us to hug the people around us. The man on my left grabbed me and held me. It wasn't a good hug. As an adult, it was the first time I had become aware of feeling that way about a human embrace.

He held me and pressed his body into mine. I said nothing. When we sat down, his leg rubbed against mine several times. By then, of course, I figured out what was happening. As soon as we were dismissed, I hurried away and avoided him for the weekend.

I still like being hugged and I still have skin hunger, although I'm no longer as needy as I was back then. One thing I've learned is the difference between good touch and bad touch.

Please touch me—if you can give me a good touch. 
I'll know when it's a good one.

"Don't Touch Me!" (Part 1 of 2)

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

About four years into my healing journey, I began to hear men speak about not wanting to be touched. I heard it the first time after I became a member of the Men's Gathering in Louisville, Kentucky.

We met on alternating Saturday mornings. To help newcomers feel comfortable, two or three of us stood in front of the building and welcomed them. Don hugged every man that came his way. I'm a hugger, but once in a while it didn't feel right for me to embrace someone I didn't know.

"Don't touch me!" one man yelled at Don and started to turn away. I stopped him and said, "It's all right. Not everyone here is a hugger."

"I hate being touched," he said, but he allowed me to escort him to our meeting room.

He was the first man I met who said those words aloud. I had encountered others who allowed themselves to be embraced but their bodies grew stiff. I assume physical touch—any kind of touch—thrusts them back into the painful memories of abuse.

I told Don (the hugger) and I've since told others, "Trust your guts. If you sense the other person is open to a hug, give it. But if you intuit resistance or you're unsure, don't touch."

The wrong touch can cause great damage.

I Serviced Her

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

"I was a good husband and we had a good sex life together," Hal said. "Why shouldn't we? I serviced her."

As we talked for several minutes, he confided that he received little personal enjoyment from the sexual intimacy with his wife. While I was trying to figure out what he meant, he connected "servicing her" with his abuse. "My role was to give my perp pleasure and he rewarded me with money or gifts."

Hal had permanently pushed aside his own sexual enjoyment. I use the word permanently because it was his major coping method in childhood. By focusing on taking care of his perpetrator, he "learned" that his own needs were insignificant.

I'm not a therapist, and I didn't try to heal him. I did say—and meant—these words, "You have a right to be as sexually fulfilled as your wife."

I don't know the outcome of Hal's story, but he told me he reads this blog. So, Hal (or anyone else), this is for you:

We were born to give pleasure; 
we were born to receive pleasure. 
You deserve both.