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.

When Does It End?

I've jokingly said that if I knew how long and how painful the healing journey was, I wouldn't have started. Some days that's how I feel, and I ask myself, "Why did I start this journey?"

In my worst moments, it seems as if the healing takes place one day at a time, or perhaps even one small step a year. And yet I know I'm moving forward. My healing is taking place.

The intense anguish and sometimes stinging feelings tell me that I am moving forward.

On my best days (and they're becoming increasingly more often) I tell myself, “I’m glad I struggled and fought for my healing. It’s been worth re-experiencing the pain."

The pain is still real; 

The pain would be worse if I didn't deal with it.


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

Merry Christmas!

I Want to Be Healed

Those of us who were sexually molested yearn to be healed. Sometimes we get impatient. We tell ourselves we ought to be free of the painful memories and horrible effects of our assault.

About two years after facing my abuse, I often heard myself saying, "I should be healed by now." When I spoke those words, I didn’t understand the per­vasiveness of molestation. I wanted to be completely free from my past abuse and to have the memories wiped away.

Life doesn’t work that way. Healing is a process—and the word process means that the changes don't happen quickly.

When I consider process, three things stand out. First, sexuality involves our total selves—mind, body, emotions, and spirit. God created us that way, and sexual­ity is a powerful force in our lives.

Second, our abuse took place in secret, and it happened when we were young and innocent. We lived with our hidden anguish for years.

Third, it took a long time before we were ready to face our pain and reach for healing. Deep healing comes slowly. To acknowledge that reality is a powerful factor in learning to endure.

Be kind to yourself. Think of each day as taking you forward toward a full resolution of your pain. As Alcoholics Anonymous says it, "One day at a time."

Healing is a process. 

I'll be patient with myself.

Victims No More

(This is an encore post from John Joseph.)

I was abused.

These words can crush me each time I remember them. They can fall upon me like a boulder out of the sky. They can pound in my ears like monstrous tympani reverberating repeatedly, beating out their excruciating rhythm, “I WAS ABUSED! I WAS ABUSED! I WAS ABUSED!”

They can rattle in my soul like old bones—brittle and broken. They can scrape against me like bad brake pads, metal on metal. They can wound and bruise and cut and batter me mercilessly every time I think of them, but only if I let them.

It's taken me years to understand something crucial to my recovery from childhood sexual assault. The memories have only as much power as I will give them.

This sounds easy enough, but don’t be fooled. The trauma is real. The memories are potent. The reality that an older male raped me is just as disgusting as it ever was, but somehow, little by little, the power of it can be sapped, the pollution of my mind cleaned up, and the venom of the bite be drained as I heal one day at a time.

I was abused.

It happened and nothing can change that fact. But I can change how I respond to it now. The choice I have today is to let the abuse make me bitter or better. There resides in the human soul the power to let the past find its proper place as we pursue the present with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

I was abused, yes, and forced into the role of a victim. But right now, today, in this moment I am living, I choose to be a victim no more. Today, I am an overcomer.

Onions

(This is an encore post from John Joseph.)

In my experience, recovering from childhood sexual abuse is a lot like peeling onions. I have to do it one layer at a time, and it makes me cry a lot. There’s no way to deal with it all at once. Child abuse rapes the soul and creates abysmal depths of shame, fear, and psychological torment. It would kill anyone to face it all at one time.

The deeper the wound, the longer the healing takes. When the emotional injury of abuse is discovered or uncovered for the first time, often our reaction is to cover it back up and ignore it. Either out of protecting ourselves (or our abusers) we tend toward denial and repression over bold and immediate therapy.

My abuse happened decades ago, yet a therapist had to tell me two years ago that I had been criminally violated. People these days are put in prison for life for doing what they did to me. I'd made many attempts to deal with my past, but it wasn’t until I understood and embraced what really happened that I began to heal. A thick layer of the onion was torn away.

As survivors, it may take us years to deal with the stratum of painful emotions that have compounded one upon the other, tier after tier, until it seems like there’s no way to get to the bottom. But if we can endure the peeling back of tender layers, feel the pain, and cry the tears, one day, we'll realize that our healing was worth the effort.

Hope in Despair

(This is an encore post from John Joseph.)

When it comes to recovering from childhood sexual abuse, hope is essential. Without it, there’s no chance of holding on until things get better.

Hope is an anchor tossed into the future to help us get there. Hope is the soul’s seed that grows the healthy crops of emotional wholeness. We all need hope, especially survivors.

At times, hope seems elusive. As a recovering person, I've gone through many seasons of outright despondency. I can’t count how many times my future seemed so dark and empty that I found myself depleted and discouraged. That's when my addictions can kick in, which leads me deeper into gloom and self-loathing. The vicious cycle of hopelessness, despair, and acting out fuels more vicious cycles.

As a survivor, I tend to turn small problems into catastrophes. The future can be habitually in a state of calamity in my mind, and remembering hope is one of the greatest tools I’ve found to bring me out of it.

Hope rises to the surface of my soul when I take a few moments to meditate on the current good in my life. It settles me down again in a way that nothing else can. My goal is to learn how to live in hope every day.

Good Things

(This is an encore post from John Joseph.)

One of the side effects of the childhood sexual abuse is the pervasive sense that I don’t deserve good things. Maybe it’s the way I was treated by my abusers, in that I was only worth what they wanted out of me. Or maybe it’s a self-imposed sentence that condemns me to languish in the land of ne’er-do-wells.

I can’t shake the feeling that I’m undeserving of life’s simplest pleasures. Is it just me, or does everyone cower inside waiting for the next tragic thing to happen? If tragedy isn’t happening fast enough, am I the only one smart enough to choose self-sabotage as a means of controlling my circumstances? Isn’t something predictable— even failure—better than the excruciating fear of the unknown?

The current of fear and the desperate need to control life runs deep. It’s not that I don’t want good things; it’s tough to believe that I should have them. And even more difficult to believe I deserve them. Someone else is always more deserving, better looking, or better qualified. Call it low self-esteem or the fact that I always sucked at sports. Regardless, I always seem to think I deserve to lose.

Even my faith in God suffers on account of this. I assume that I'm the exception to grace. I’m the one who succeeds in out-sinning his forgiveness. I’m the one who stumbles on the unpardonable transgression and falls headlong into it. I’m the one who is mighty enough to predestine myself to eternal damnation because I certainly don't deserve heaven or happiness.

A big part of my recovery is to accept and relish the good things that come my way. I have to choose to by-pass self-sabotage and make peace with the unknown events of my future, no matter how they turn out.

Letting go of some of my control and trusting others again (including God) can be healthy choices and effective steps toward my healing.

"That Boy Is My Hero"

Someone sent this to me, and I can't find the complete email. (My apology for not giving credit.) He wrote about his younger self having to make decisions no kid should have to make. "That boy had no one but himself to rely on, and as an adult I would never allow such things in my life. . . . That boy is my hero. I love that boy. When I think of that boy now I give him a mental hug and kiss and tell him, ‘It's okay. We made it. We survived.’ I thank him for his ingenuity in keeping me together during a very not-together time in my life. I am proud of him and I tell him so."

"That boy is my hero." What powerful words from a survivor. And they are words of gratitude that we deserve to give to our younger selves. Because of his courage, he survived. We can say the same things: That boy is my hero.

I know too many who may have survived by living, but they experience sad, depressed, and lonely lives.

My young boy is my hero.
I embrace him and thank him.

Embracing Myself

Sometimes the loving rebuke of a friend does wonders for us. Immediately I think of one powerful experience. Four years ago in telling my best friend, David, about an incident, I called myself an idiot for something I had said.

"Why do you talk that way about yourself?" he asked. "You're not stupid and it hurts me when you speak that way."

That's an example of a loving rebuke—and I needed to hear it.

As we continued to chat together, I realized how often I criticized myself. Then David said, "You don't talk about others with that critical tone. Don’t you deserve the same kindness as you give them?"

His words shocked me, but they were exactly what I needed. I was kinder to other people than I was to myself. (And that's probably true with most of us.)

The next day I began to make a self-affirming statement every morning: "I like who I am; I like who I used to be; I like who I am becoming." And I repeated it several times. I still say those words every single morning.

I needed to learn to embrace myself—to love myself and to be patient and kind to Cec. It wasn't easy because I've long held him to a much higher standard than I have others. But I also prayed for God to help me feel compassion for Cec. I tried to envision him as something apart from myself.

That's when I realized he deserved my acceptance and my loving embrace.

I like who I am;
I like who I used to be; 
I like who I'm becoming.

Gaining Strength

"Every time I overcome something from my painful past, I become stronger and more prepared for the next self-discovery." I put the words in quotes, because I can't remember who wrote this to me or exactly the way he said it, but that was the gist.

That's also a general life principle, isn't it? Each victory, no matter how small, prepares us for the next. For example, in 2007, our house burned down and we lost everything. As I watched it burn, while waiting for the fire department, I knew we wouldn't save anything.

One of the first things that popped into mind was these words, "I've been preparing for this." It wasn't something I'd thought of until that moment, but it was true. I did a quick review of my life and various trials. I also realized that if the fire had happened 20 years earlier, I wouldn't have been able to handle it nearly so well. Instead, I'd probably ask questions such as, "Why me?" "What did I do to deserve this?"

The other thing that came to me that day was a quotation from the book of Job in the Old Testament. Everything, including his children, had been killed or destroyed. His wife urged him to curse God and die. Instead, Job said, "Shall we receive good from God and not also receive trouble?"[1]

Each time I go through a painful experience in my healing, I try to remind myself that I've been preparing for this agony. I also remind myself that such insights and experiences don't come until we can handle them.

Some might want to argue with that last statement, but I stand by it. Some give up or go into depression, but I believe we have those experiences only when we can handle them.

What do you think?


[1] Job 2:20, CEB translation.

"I've Put That Behind Me"

I had lunch with a man I'll call Ned, and he knew about my abuse. Just before we left the restaurant he leaned toward me and said, "It happened to me, but I've put all that behind me." And he spoke of other things.

I looked at Ned's 300-pound frame and wondered how he knew he had moved beyond his abuse. I don't know if he was obese because of the molestation, but a number of survivors admit that they became compulsive overeaters by finding their comfort in food. That's a nice way of saying, "I'm addicted to food."

Right here I want to point out that I'm not a therapist, but this much I know. People with addictive behavior become that way to fight off or satisfy some painful aspect of their lives. My alcoholic baby brother, Chuck, once said he drank because it was the only time he didn't feel the pain.

There is no putting molestation behind us. There is healing and there is denial. Our abuse will always be there, but if we work at it, the pain decreases and we become stronger and more emotionally helpful.

We don't put abuse behind us. 
It stays with us as we heal.

"By now . . ."

"By now," a pastor friend said to me, "you should be over all that. It happened so long ago."

"So you have some kind of way to set time limits?"

"No, that's not what I meant," he said. "Just that, well, it happened when you were just a kid."

"Time isn't the healer," I said, angry and ready to walk away from him. He kept trying to say that he didn't really mean those words.

"You're digging a deeper hole each time you open your mouth to explain," I said, "and I'm angry. It must be nice to be someone like you without hang-ups or problems that began in childhood and still continue to trouble!"

The shock on his face told me I had touched something in him.

"I apologize," he said and told me his story of growing up with two bright, ambitious parents who seemed to treat him more as a trophy than their child.

I don't know if he ever understood my pain or if I fully understood his. But his last words to me were, "I know only two kinds of people who had perfect childhoods. Liars and people who can't remember."

I'm not a liar and I remember the pain.
I also know I'm healing at my own pace.

"Get Over It"

No one has ever used those three words to me: Get over it. However, they've implied that by now I should be free from pain and agony.

It hurts because they don't understand that our childhoods were shattered. When someone implies that statement or something like, "I don't understand why you're not over it. It happened a long time ago," I've wanted to respond, "Don't you think I'm doing my best to get past the pain?"

Although I doubt that I could do so, I've wanted to say, "You're right. I need to get over it. Please tell me how."

The difficulty is that they probably have answers—simplistic ones. "Talk with a professional." "Pray and read your Bible." Wow, why didn't we think of doing things like that?

Or they minimize our pain by saying, "It's not that big a deal." That statement angers me. Who are they to say it's not a big deal? I feel belittled when they say such words.

Childhood abuse is a big deal;
I'm still recovering.

Please Believe Me

I read somewhere that the greatest fear of survivors is that others won't believe them. It took me a long time to open up to my friends because of that fear. When I did speak up I received so much kindness, it emboldened me to speak up more often. Now I have no problem telling anyone that I'm a survivor of childhood abuse.

Another fear for many of us is that people will think (or say) we made up the story about our sexual rape to get attention. I can't verify this, but a friend told me that the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault says that only about 2 percent of the reports are false.

We're not responsible for their doubts and questions. Our need to be believed is crucial to our healing and some have felt molested again because others have been skeptical or told us we were mistaken.

I need to be believed.
That's crucial to my healing.

More Insensitive Questions

Only once someone asked me. "Do you think God was punishing you?"

That question may not be the most insensitive but it's close. How do we respond to such an inane question?

That time I responded with, "That may be the kind of God you serve, but my God is a healer. He doesn't send grownups to hurt little kids."

The other person squirmed and kept trying to tell me that she didn't really mean it the way it sounded.

Really? I didn't say that, but I secretly gloated that she had become as uncomfortable as I had been.

I am not responsible for others' insensitivity;
I'm responsible to protect myself.

Don't Let Them Say It

Most of us encounter individuals who pry into our lives or ask questions that trigger memories, or they're just unaware of how offensive their remarks sound. Some people don't know what to say or do.

The next time someone says something inappropriate, we need to be able to quietly-but-firmly reply with something simple such as "I don't want to talk about that."

One of my friends smiles and says, "Can you keep a secret?" The other person always answers yes. "So can I," he says and says no more. They usually laugh. If they don't get it, he walks away.

That approach may not work for everyone (and it's not something I'm comfortable doing), but I suggest we find simple-but-kind responses to irresponsible statements. I remind myself that because they're rude or insensitive I don't have to mimic their behavior.

The worst question I've been asked was at an informal gathering and a man I scarcely knew came up to me. He said he heard that I had been molested and I affirmed that I had been.

"Did you like it?"

I was so offended, I stared at the man who asked. "Excuse me, please," I said and walked across the room.

"I guess you didn't," he said.

I'm not saying I handled it well, but I didn't give into his voyeuristic question.

We have a right to privacy and to protect ourselves. In fact, it's more than that. I consider it a sacred responsibility to protect ourselves from such insensitive people.

They may ask;
I'm not required to answer.

"What's That on Your Lapel?"

I'm one of those guys who likes to wear a tie and coat. And I was wearing a sports coat on a Sunday when I taught an adult class at our church. After we finished, I chatted with Evan.

"What's that on your lapel?" He pointed to a small safety pin with a yellow ribbon. I had received it at the Oasis Conference earlier in the year, and it was the first time I'd worn the sports coat since then.

"It's for survivors of sexual assault," I said. "I was abused when I was a child and I often speak to such groups."

"Oh," he said, nodded, and moved on.

Years ago I would have felt rejected by his words. (Okay, even before that, I wouldn't even have taken the risk of wearing the pin.) This time I smiled. It's all right, I thought.

Evan wasn't rejecting me; he wasn't comfortable discussing the topic and did the right thing for Evan. For me, that awareness was a decisive victory in my growth.

These days, I'm able to talk easily about my abuse. Had Evan asked any questions, I would have talked freely. He didn't say anything and that was all right.

Others' discomfort or lack of interest isn't rejection. Part of our growth is to be able to get such responses without negative emotional responses.

That experience may seem insignificant, but to me it was a powerful moment. I could hear Evan's single-word comment, "Oh," and not be upset, threatened, or fall into a dark zone. I smiled as I walked down the hallway. A small victory, but those minor triumphs keep me moving optimistically forward.

The more freely I can talk about being molested,
the closer I am to complete healing.

"When I Was a Boy . . .'

"When I was a boy . . ."

That's where my story begins; that's where our stories begin. If we can say those same five words, "When I was a boy," we've made an excellent start. Then we can add, "I was sexually assaulted." (Or abused or molested.)

I was a child, and I was innocent. I trusted someone and that person stole my trust, my innocence, and my childhood. I've suffered because of the actions of another person. No matter how caring, kind, or warm the perpetrator may have appeared to be, he or she took advantage of me.

If we can focus on our childhood and realize how immature and innocent we were, we can also remind ourselves that we couldn’t reason the way we do today as an adult. We may also have taken the guilt on ourselves for what happened. We remind ourselves: I was a child and the abuser was a perpetrator.

If we’re typical, we’ve already gone through (or are now going through) a period of questioning and doubting while vague, often terrifying memories occasionally intrude. Deep inside, something nags at us. Yet in our most vulnerable moments, we know the truth that someone stole our innocence.

One of the reasons I write this blog twice weekly is to remind myself and others that we're not the only ones. I knew I wasn't the only victimized kid, but I felt as if I were.

Many of us have been where you have been or where you are now. We've felt the same kinds of pain you have. More than just having been there, we have survived and are still overcoming the trauma.

In the early days of healing, any of us need to remind ourselves a hundred times a day that someone victimized us. Or it might be easier to say, "Someone older and more powerful took advantage of my innocence and youth."

We need to do it because we want to convince ourselves that we made up the stories, that it didn't really happen to us. We don't want to feel demeaned (although we are) and we don't want anything to reflect on our masculinity.

And we need to tell ourselves that we won't start a sentence with the words, "I should have . . ."

Go back to the beginning. Start with, "When I was a boy . . . ." That beginning can help us become kind and compassionate to ourselves.

We didn’t know how to cope with such seductive assaults—especially when it was someone we trusted who whispered, "I love you and I won’t hurt you."

Now we may choose to say, "When I was a boy, he lied to me." To make it worse, he bribed us, called us special, or made us feel loved and wanted. We were wanted, but for his needs and not ours. Today we hurt because in childhood we were victimized.

"When I was a boy" starts my story.
Now I am an adult and I'm healing from my childhood.



Telling

From my own experience and learning about other survivors, we usually start the healing journey by telling someone. That someone may be a person we've learned to trust, or we take the risk, hoping that person will understand.

Usually we start with innocuous statements and little detail, thinking if they can accept that, we'll tell more. It's sad, but sometimes those first answers push us back into silence. "I'm sorry," or "That was long ago." They don't mean to be unkind, but I assume that's a safe way for them to signal that they're not going to be comfortable or compassionate in listening.

The worst response is, "You're imagining everything. Who would do such a thing to a child?" Such responses usually come from family members who refuse to face the reality.

Then someone does understand and we sense that. Once we break the silence with a single, caring individual, we're ready to start healing.

Some rush to see a professional, and it's an excellent healing step. They can open up and have someone listen.

Others, like me, can't face opening ourselves to someone we don't know. I needed someone I could trust and who cared for me. Having a reliable person was like reversing the process. Someone I trusted violated me; a second person I trusted opened the door to healing.

Regardless, we're constructed in such a way that telling is the only viable way to healing. As long as we hold the pain inside, it never goes away. We may temporarily bury it, but it won't stay buried.

Here's one of my sayings: I know of myself only what I say of myself. That means, I know who I am only by saying the words, hearing them accepted, and affirmed by someone else. That "witness" verifies my experience.

I know of myself 
only what I say of myself.

Anger Against Ourselves

Counselor Dr. Gordon Grose refers to a study of 17,000 people in which experts analyzed the effect of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE). They examined ten categories, including physical and sexual abuse, and they followed their lives.

"Fifty years after those traumatic events, the study matched the person's current state of health and wellbeing against their ACE score. . . . Results revealed the strong relationship between increasing ACE scores and chronic depression in men and women in later life."[1]

Grose also stresses the correlation between increased ACE scores, increased health costs, and decreased life expectancy. "People tend to respond to early injustice with life-long self-destructive tendencies. It's as if they tell themselves, If I can't make someone else pay, my body will."[2]

The lesson for us is that the pain and anger of childhood will come out in some form—unconsciously. The more obvious way is anger at others. If we assume the results are correct, what do we do?

The answers vary for each of us, but this much is clear: We need help for those outcroppings. Too often we treat anger as something different and separate. But it's really a symptom.

[1] Tragedy Transformed by Gordon S. Grose (BelieversPress, Colorado Springs, CO: 2015, p 49–50).
[2] Ibid.

Innocence Lost

I used to wonder why victims of molestation feel responsible for the damage done to them by sexual abuse. I was one of those who felt responsible even though I had no control over my innocence being stolen from me.

In my own story and in the stories I know of other men who have been molested in childhood, we felt guilty. We were unable to reason out that the wrong was done to us, not that we were wrong. The self-blame seemed to come from realizing we suddenly "know too much." The culpability I accepted kept me from talking to anyone, or seeking safe adults to whom I could talk.

An insight, which helped overcome my sense of guilt, was to realize that I wasn’t the one who was tempted to do something that went against the laws of nature and God. Something abusive was done to me. By realizing that truth in my journey of seeking healing from the damage of the abuse, it becomes easier to believe that it wasn’t my fault and there was nothing I could have done differently.

I’ve also considered how my own abuse isn’t an excuse for actions that I’ve taken because of my brokenness. I’ve never sexually abused anyone, yet I’ve acted out of my own woundedness and I have hurt those I love the most. If people can still love me in spite of that, who am I to withhold love, grace, and forgiveness when I’ve been wronged?

I was never a perpetrator, but I might have been.
They assaulted us, and they are also victims.

Our Perpetrators (Part 2 of 2)

They too live in pain.

I've said that sentence hundreds of times when I refer to perpetrators. I've chosen to say it that way instead of seeing them as vile and totally evil.

I sometimes wonder if their pain isn't worse than most of us survivors. If they were molested, they not only have to cope with those issues but also struggle with the driving compulsion to do to other children what was done to them. It's not that they don't know what they're doing, but I see it as a drive so strong they can't defeat it.

As I've studied the research, it's common for the perpetrators to rationalize their actions. Here's how I define rationalize: It's an attempt to provide a reasonable explanation or to justify wrong or unacceptable behavior with a logical explanation.

To rationalize isn't a thought-out action, but it's instinctive—an act to "save face" for unacceptable actions.

The research doesn't excuse them and might even make us angry. I also realize that it means the victimizers probably can't face the heinous crimes they committed so they give themselves explanations to be able to live with themselves. The only way they can live with their actions is to find some way to self-justify.

If they face themselves—and it occasionally happens—they loathe themselves and their actions. One former predator said, "It was like an addiction. After each time I sat and cried, pleading with God to take away the desire."

They ruined many lives, but worse—for them—they ruined their own lives.

God, give me compassion for perpetrators.

Our Perpetrators (Part 1 of 2)

I'm not a perpetrator, but I might have been. As I've examined my life and heard the testimonies of many abused men, I understand that some violated others because it was learned behavior. They tended to do to others what was done to them. They followed a pattern they learned through their own sad victimization.

Instead of remaining victims, they became the victimizers. I don't think it was an intentional, deliberate decision. It seems like a natural progression.

The injured boy grows up and practices what he knows as a form of sexual or emotional satisfaction. He copies what he observed and what was done to him.

He wouldn't think in those terms, but by reversing roles he becomes the person with power. He reaches for what he wants and he learns how to do it because he was once the prey.

Think again about ourselves as children. For a few minutes at a time we felt loved because we were needy boys who received physical intimacy. We had some awareness of what it felt like to be loved. It was false and transitory, but the experience was real. Those may have been the only tender expressions we experienced in childhood. At least for me, they're the only ones I remember.

I'm not trying to excuse exploiting children, but I am trying to understand those who do such heinous acts. It helps me to compare them with those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. The honest ones speak of what it's like when they got high. They tell me they were free from worries, able to forget the misery of their lives, their lack of feeling loved, or the awareness of hating themselves.

I'm not excusing the behavior of perpetrators, but I've determined to understand. I want to open myself to forgiving those who hurt me. In doing so, I move further down my own healing path. I can't be responsible for their decision, but I can forgive them.

My perpetrators were victims of their own compulsions;
as I seek to understand their actions, I also seek to forgive them.

Reusing Pain

I hate that I was sexually assaulted and physically beaten as a child. So many times I've wished it hadn't happened. But it did.

Despite the fact that I've been on the healing path for years, I continue to learn about myself and how my painful childhood has carried into my adult years.

One wonderful insight has emerged: I've learned to reuse my pain. That may not be a sophisticated way to say it, but it helps me to think in those categories. Recently, people have said many nice things to me about being a good listener, encouraging them, and being compassionate.

For a long time I tried to stop them and said, "That's not who I am." I knew my heart, and when I thought about qualities such as compassion I'd grade myself about a C minus. I'm sure that's because I still struggled with my lack of self-esteem.

Then it hit me. When I was a child, no one listened to me, especially when I tried to talk about serious things. I don't recall anyone encouraging me or expressing compassion. Perhaps a few individuals did listen, encourage, or express sympathy, but I wasn't aware.

As I’ve acknowledged those positive qualities others perceive in me, I think of it as reusing my pain. That is, I give to others what I didn't receive. I turn my pain inside out. That wasn't a conscious decision, but it was a healthy reaction in coping with my painful childhood.

I was abused and hurt as a child;
as an adult, I reuse my pain by caring for others.

"You're Nothing"

I don't recall that anyone ever said, "You're nothing," although I believed I was worthless and a really bad kid. My baby brother, Chuck, whom I am sure was also sexually assaulted, once said—in a moment of rare insight while drunk—"I'm nobody. Nothing. Worthless. And I hate my life."

We were at a family gathering at a park and Chuck turned and walked away from me. That incident happened about six years before memories of my abuse sneaked out of the hidden caverns. And yet I vividly remember his words and the pained expression on his face. Chuck was hardly the introspective type and that was quite an admission from him.

Since then I've met many men who received that message of worthlessness—some being told, others absorbing the concept. Regardless, we believed a terrible lie.

None of us is worthless, but I can't convince anyone of that by words. As I see it, only by our being loved and valued by someone who cares about us can we escape that untruth.

When I know I'm loved,
I know I'm of value.

Mirror Image

This morning as I came out of the shower I stared at my legs in the mirror. "You're skinny," I said to my mirror image. Perhaps that doesn't sound like much to most people. I am thin, and people have long teased me about it.

In the past, when I looked into a mirror I never saw skinny. The image that stared back at me wasn't obese but he sure could drop 25 pounds. (A disclaimer: I've never been on a diet, even though that reflection told me I was too heavy.)

Years ago, I read that bulimics and anorexics saw themselves as grossly overweight and I wasn't either. I was just a slightly chubby guy. And I lived with that perception most of my adult life.

When that distorted mirror image disappeared, I don't remember when, but I think it was about two years ago. One day, I stood in front of a full-length mirror wearing nothing but briefs. I stared at myself and marveled. How did I get so thin? (FYI, I'm 5'7" and weigh 135–138 pounds.)

What I saw for years wasn't reality—I know that now. But it shocked me to realize that I had "seen" and accepted the distorted image. I tried to explain my distortion to a close friend and he didn't seem to get it.

But for me, truly seeing my thin frame was one of the most exciting and positive inner proofs of my healing. As I saw my body reflected accurately, it made me realize I was now seeing many things differently. And I like what I see.

As the words from Amazing Grace say, 
"I was blind, but now I see."

Why Am I so Hard on Myself? (Part 2 of 2)

Back in the early 1980s, I saw a film called Ordinary People, for which Timothy Hutton won an Academy Award as the younger son, Conrad. Near the end of the film, Conrad faces his father, played by Donald Sutherland, and confesses that his brother, Buck, who died in an accident, got all the attention.

The father says Buck was irresponsible and took risks, and then goes on to say to Conrad, "I never worried about you. You were always so hard on yourself."

Recently I saw the film (probably for the fourth time) and I cried because I understood Conrad. In one sense I was Conrad—and so are many other survivors. While some give in and mess up their lives with bad decisions, we go the other way. Sometimes we're called uptight; other times we’re told things like "You really have your stuff together" (even though we don't).

I used to think, If only they knew. But instead, I smiled and thanked them.

A long time has passed with many struggles and failures since I started down the healing path. I've finally realized how hard I've been on myself. Too self-demanding, insisting on getting everything done right. Too obsessed with achieving results and rebuking myself for the smallest failure. Others could fail and I made allowances for them, but I held myself to a higher (impossible) standard.

Over the years, I've learned to feel more compassionate toward Cec. Now I remind him: This is who you are. You don’t need to prove anything to yourself. Now is your time to enjoy being who you are.

I used to be too demanding on myself;
now I enjoy being who I am.

Why Am I So Hard on Myself? (Part 1 of 2)

My friends used to insist 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 molested in childhood, I grew up with unrealistic expectations of myself. (I didn't realize they were unrealistic.) 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 ethical code, 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.

As I look back, I'm aware that because of my wife and my best friend, slowly—very slowly—I was able to believe that I was worthwhile and didn't have to be perfect. My friend Jeff Adams wrote a maxim that helped me: "Demand perfection; accept excellence."

I'm not perfect,
but I like who I am, and that's enough.

Looking Backward

When I was living in Africa, early one morning I watched an African with his ox pulling a plow through his field. The lines were straight, and for the twenty minutes or so I stared at him his gaze never focused anywhere but straight ahead.

I thought of that after I read an inspirational message that urged us not to look backward. "Looking backward means going backward," the person implied.

Sounds like good advice in farming, but I'm not sure it's helpful with wounded people like us. We need to look backward. That's where our problems began. Unless we go back to the source, we stay so busy moving forward—but our childhood injuries stay unhealed and keep pace with us.

Going back to that damaged childhood isn't easy. And it takes courage—a lot of courage—to re-experience those wounds. But as one authority said, "The only way out is through. He meant that if we want release—true healing—we have to push ourselves to revisit that pain. The big difference is that we can accept our pain and let it help us move forward as mature adults.

We can learn to say things to ourselves like this:

* I didn't ask for that. I didn't want it.

* I was a kid with no way to defend myself.

* That bigger person overpowered me and stole my innocence.

* I felt unloved and unwanted and someone took advantage of me.

Those statements aren't cure-alls, but they can help us feel tenderness toward that isolated child. Here's a statement I've said to myself many times when I've revisited my childhood: "I did the best I could."

For me, that statement means that I took care of myself through innate childhood wisdom and survived. No self-blame or recriminations. Being a six-year-old kid with no one to help him, I remind myself that I handled myself the best I could.

Now I can walk—and run—along the healing path.

Instead of condemning my childhood, 
I say, "I did the best I could."

Loneliness

A frequent contributor, Mark, sent me an email in which he spoke about his intense loneliness, which I've paraphrased.

"I go to bed at night feeling a void that's been there since I was a child—a void that causes me either to fight illicit thoughts or give in to them. It's hard to believe that God isn't angry with me for the mess that's still a part of my heart, mind, and soul."

Loneliness is common to us survivors—and perhaps to most people. We yearn for those who can truly see into our hearts, know us, and still love us.

Maybe we need to reach out to others more readily, but that's not easy. We were the kids who trusted the wrong people. The theft of our childhood made us feel different, isolated, and unwanted. We didn't know whom to trust and the more we held back, the deeper our estrangement.

§

Loneliness has often intruded in my life, but most acutely since my wife died in the spring of 2013. On January 1 of 2015, the loneliness became so acute I went for a four-mile walk and kept praying, "God, help me embrace my loneliness. It's part of who I am. I'm tired of trying to run from feelings of isolation."

Nothing happened that day, but within a week I realized the loneliness was present, but I didn't fight it. That may not sound like much to others, but for me, it made feeling alone bearable.

I've accepted my loneliness. I don't know the cure for it and maybe it will always be there. Maybe that's simply part of what we call the human condition. But I also remind myself those are emotions. And my emotions fluctuate constantly. I know I'm loved by God, by others, and have finally learned to love myself.

When I feel lonely and isolated
I remind myself, "Those are my emotions. They aren't reality."

Healing and EMDR

A survivor named Phil gave me permission to post his email to me. In it he refers to EMDR. I heard about this only two years ago when I worked with Katariina Rosenblatt, a survivor of sex trafficking, for the book Stolen: The True Story of a Sex Trafficking Survivor. She found immense help in using EMDR.

My understanding is that Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) emphasizes opening up and healing the disturbing memories of PTSD. The theory is that those traumatic memories have (obviously) not been processed and are stored in the brain.

If you have used EMDR treatment, I'd like to hear your response to the treatment. At best, it's called a "powerful new process" and at worst, it's said to work as well as cognitive therapy. I've read nothing that says it's been harmful. 


Cec
* * * * *

I was referred to your blog by another survivor. I have been struggling with recovering my own childhood for 10+ years. I discovered after EMDR that abuse had happened, but to this day, 10 years later I have been unable to recover the memories.

People ask me "why would you want to even have those horrific memories?" I tell them that along with those memories, I shut out a significant part of my self (the child inside me that has not only fear and anger but also compassion, empathy, and longing to connect in a deep, meaningful way with other people).

I have twice built my life to a point of apparent success (job, wife, house, circle of friends) and twice had it crumble to the ground. I both pick the wrong people to be close to but also run when things get too close. I am now divorced with two wonderful teenage kids (one in junior college and one in high school). I put everything I have into being the best dad I can to them. Yet I know I am not complete and it is not possible right now for me to bring my entire being to my relationship with them regardless of how hard I try.

I know I will not be able to have a fulfilling life going forward without knowing who I really am.

If you have any recommendations about how I can recover that younger part of myself and the memories of what happened, I would like to hear them.

I loved reading your blog and really appreciate your open approach to talking about these tough issues.

Secrets

In our family, sexual abuse wasn’t the only thing we didn't talk about, but it was the most important. Although no one ever instructed me, outside the house we were an average family with normal problems—no worse than anyone else.

We were also liars and frauds by our silence and cover-ups. And yet had anyone said that to my parents, me, or any of my siblings, we would have been aghast, even angry. The hidden reality was so deeply ingrained in my family of origin we didn't know a different way to behave.

I broke the silence and brought my sexual assault out into the open. After talking to my wife and friends about my childhood, I gained the courage to talk to my surviving siblings. It was the most difficult conversation I ever had in growing up.

To my amazement (and delight) they were open to me. In addition, and even more important, we no longer had to guard the family secrets.

Secrets trapped us in the past;
now we're free to live without secrets in the present.

"It's Not Too Late to Have a Happy Childhood"

I first read those words in a book by Claudia Black and I scoffed. "More psychobabble," I mumbled. But the words stayed with me and it took me at least a decade before I grasped what she meant.

Obviously, I can't re-do my childhood; I don't want to rewrite my early experiences. But I can emotionally embrace that crushed, beaten down, pain-stricken part of me from my childhood.

I've learned to show myself compassion and to understand my defenselessness. Instead of hating that part of myself, I'm able to emotionally hold that wounded boy tightly.

Because I'm a strong believer in self-affirmation statements, here's one thing I say several times each morning: I like who I am; I like who I used to be; I like who I'm becoming.

If that's what Black meant by it not being too late to have a happy childhood, I now agree with her.

I like who I am;
I like who I used to be;
and I like who I'm becoming.

"Why Do You Keep This Blog Going?"

"You seem pretty well put together," one of my friends said, "so why do you keep your blog going? You don't need it, do you?"

"Because I want to offer hurting men the help I needed when I was in deep pain." Those words flew out of my mouth before I had time to think about the answer. They were right. After I reflected, I came up with other reasons.

This is my way to give back. My best friend, David, and my late wife, Shirley, were both available to me when I finally—at age 51—confronted my sexual and physical assault. Without them, I probably would have made it, but the road would have been bumpier and slower. Both of them embraced me (emotionally and physically) when I could only cry and words wouldn't come.

I can't be there in person for all survivors, but I can hold out my arms through my words. Many of you have responded and done the same thing. Which leads me to another reason: In the giving is also the receiving.

Here's how I arrived at that statement. At the church I attend, nine elderly widows sit in a single pew. I can't remember how I started, but each Sunday I walk up to the "sunshine row" and hug every one of them. "I love your hugs," one woman said on Sunday.

"And I need yours," I answered. "Here at church are often the only hugs I get that week."

I was the giver, but in the giving of myself to them, I was able to receive their expressions of compassion and affection.

I wish I'd thought of that when my friend asked me why I kept this blog going. I've finally put my response into two simple words.

I care.

Permission to Heal

(This is an encore post from John Joseph.)

Do you remember having to raise your hand in school to get permission to go to the restroom or sharpen your pencil? As children, we knew the rule and lived by it the best we could. As we’ve grown we’ve forgotten about it. We take a lot of our freedoms for granted because we rarely have to ask permission from anyone.

But what if there’s a part of me that is still raising its hand, asking for permission to heal?

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I’ve come to face a part of me that is still sitting in that small wooden desk. He’s squirming a bit and has his little hand in the air waiting for me to recognize him again.

He’s the wounded child, the neglected boy who got lost in the family system. Tears streak his face and fear is in his eyes. He wants badly to gain my permission to heal from the wounds inflicted upon him by older boys and men.

He needs my help. Will I see him? Will I notice the strain in his arm from waving his hand for so long?

Some dismiss the idea of an “inner child.” I know that I'm not separated from the little boy I was when the abuse occurred. I’m the same person.

The little boy was me. That little boy is me.

Sometimes I have to go back and sit with him to help him know I see him, that I recognize he's hurt, and give him permission to heal a little more.

Self-Affirmations

I was skeptical about positive self-talk, and I'm still not fully comfortable in some of the practices I read about. Some seem to imply they accomplish magical things just by repeating certain phrases.

Self-talk refers to the ongoing internal conversation within ourselves. We do it constantly, and it influences how we feel and behave. We talk to ourselves all day long and too often our self-talk is negative, focused on guilt about our past or anxiety about our future. Our thoughts inspire our actions. If we can redirect the way we think, we can change the actions we take.

Daily, I've repeated self-affirmations or positive self-talk, but only those that I believe are possible. They're what I consider reachable goals. Research shows that if we focus on those possibilities and keep reminding ourselves, eventually our behavior and attitude change.

As an experiment I began to say several times a day, "I accept my feelings; I feel my emotions." I started that because of my abusive childhood, when I became overwhelmed with good or bad news, I numbed out. I wanted to experience my feelings, so I began to say those two statements.

I can't remember when the transformation took place, but months later I realized that I was feeling and I no longer numbed out.

Here's another I repeated for a long, long time and now believe it without having to say it: I am lovable.

Try your statements. They might make drastic changes in your life.

Disconnecting

When I think of disconnect, it means there are people who admit to being abused, do nothing about it, and will say things like, "Yeah, it happened, but it didn’t affect me."

Three days before I wrote this, I received a phone call from a man who fit that description. He was crying because he said he'd finally figured out that what his mother did to him was sexual molestation. He treated his wife shamefully—not sexually assaulting—but humiliating and yelling at her, and occasionally striking in anger.

He told me that he hadn't made a connection until his wife finally said, "I've had enough. You're just like your mother!" (She referred to the brutal, angry behavior.)

"I felt like she had hit me with a jackhammer," the man said. He's 41 years old and it was the first time he had connected his unresolved childhood pain to his own abuse.

I understand. His mother sexually assaulted him; he physically beat his wife. But his irrational conduct came from his mother's actions. Because what he did to his wife wasn't the same as what was done to him, he made no connection.

We're changed by our abusive childhood, and it doesn't mean we copy what was done to us. We may never sexually assault another person, but the molestation changes in form. Until we resolve our many issues, we exhibit behavior that may seem to have no similarity to our past. But it often does.

Part of healing is to recognize that.

Alan's Story

(Alan has been reading the blog for a few weeks and decided to write to me. With his permission, I've forwarded his story.)

 * * * * *

I have been enjoying the blog posts and comments from the guys. It is very encouraging hearing the victories of these men and sobering knowing they also have struggles as well.

My story goes like this:

I was molested when I was only 4 years old by a male family member. At the time I was too young too know what it was and that it was wrong, but it affected my life tremendously. It wasn't until I was in my late teens that I remembered what happened to me. I struggled with same-sex attraction and couldn't understand why. I prayed and I had a flashback to my childhood when and how it happened.

I only recall it happening once but its effects lived on. From a little boy I was confused about my sexuality. I wanted to be a girl and dressed up in my grandmother's clothing. I was often teased and called all manner of names, e.g. sissy. It was a painful childhood for me. I felt rejected by my peers, family members, and men. I never felt I was manly enough. I still struggle with that. Right now I feel a sense of sadness but, at the same time, appreciate being able to share my experience. 

I was exposed to pornography at an early age, and it has been a struggle since then. I struggle with same-sex attraction, gay porn, masturbation, and other psychological effects from my abuse. I want to please God with my life and overcome my struggles, but I continue to fail.

I desire to get married and have children. I've tried seeking help from different individuals, but it continues to disappoint me. I pray that God sends someone that will truly understand my predicament and help me through it. The person I thought was going to help me started to but abandoned the process. That was hard for me. It's such a sensitive area.

I need someone to help me, but at the same time I'm tired of people disappointing me regarding this area of my life. 

Thanks, Cec, for your blog and being courageous enough to share your story and to all the guys who have shared theirs. I pray that God helps me to overcome this fully!


PTSD

(Joe W., one of our faithful readers, asked me to blog about post trauma stress. This is an encore, especially for Joe.)

* * * * *

It surprised me the first time I heard sexual assault linked with the idea of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and yet it fit. Until then I'd associated PTSD with military veterans who continued to relive their horrible ordeal. When I was a kid, the experts used the terms shell shock or combat stress

My connection began when I read an article about PTSD and learned about their having flashbacks and recurring dreams. I said aloud, "That describes many of us survivors."

In my first year of healing, those flashbacks occurred several times a week. I felt as if the abuse were happening all over again. At other times, especially when I faced an extremely emotional situation, I numbed out, which was also listed among the symptoms.

One man who wrote me privately told me about his PTSD and said, "When the flashbacks occurred, I dealt with them by drinking them away. I called it recreational drinking, but I was self-medicating."

It's not just the symptoms, but how we react. For some men, the effect is debilitating. I was fortunate because I'm a fulltime, freelance writer. For three months after I started my healing, I didn't work much and I was able to stall on projects. Because the pain and the memories were so new and invasive, I told friends I was just taking off a little time for myself—it lasted three months.

I wasn't cured, but during those three months, an almost nightly recurring dream stopped. The flashbacks came less often with lower intensity.

I'm still not fully healed,
but I'm getting closer all the time.

What IS Normal?

That question stunned me when I first heard it. But I've met several survivors who don't know what is normal. I usually turn it around and ask, "What is healthy?"

The big difference is that for many of us normal meant sexual assault on a regular basis that often went on for years. That fits the definition.

But was it healthy? I can't think of a time when I've changed the question and the other person didn't get it. "No, it wasn't," they've said.

"It messed up my life," someone wrote in an email recently with a stronger word than messed up. When anything happens routinely, it may be normal, but that doesn't mean it's healthy.

Immediately I think of the beatings from my dad. They happened every week, usually just before he went on a weekend drunk. Normal, but the pain was anything but healthy. I never told anyone because it was just one of those things that Dad did regularly in our home.

Part of our reaching for healing comes from realizing that just because something happened frequently in our childhood doesn't make it healthful or right. It means only that it happened.

And we were the ones who suffered.

That Was Sexual Abuse?

To support his wife, Wayne Jamison attended a two-hour presentation I called "Healing4You." At the end of the evening, as I was packing up my books, Wayne came to me.

He leaned over and said softly, "I—I'd like to ask you something."

I stopped boxing my books. Haltingly, Wayne told me about an older cousin who "did things to him" when he was 12 years old. He described what took place, and added, "It happened maybe four or five times, but we outgrew that, and I forgot about them." He hesitated and asked, "Was that abuse?"

I stared at him, not sure how to answer and then I said, "It was and if you're now aware of it, it says you didn't forget."

He admitted that and went on to say, "I just thought it was things guys did until they were old enough to date girls. That's what my cousin said."

Sounds naïve, doesn't it? Yet I occasionally hear stories from men who didn't recognized that they had been sexually assaulted. The predator made it seem like something natural—as the cousin did to Wayne. As one man said, "It felt normal because my dad came into my room at least once a week. He told me he loved more than he loved my mother and my sister."

Normal. That's just one of the ways we don't face our sexual assault as children. Or perhaps we think that if we could convince ourselves that it was normal, it wasn't really abuse.

On some level we know. And we don't forget.

Trusting My Guts

For 30 years I've earned a living as a fulltime collaborator or ghostwriter. Only a decade ago I realized why I've been successful at this. Editors tell me I have the ability to get inside others' heads and hearts. Clients trust me. I don't know what I do to engender their faith in me, but that's true.

Here's an example. A few years ago I did a retreat for 15 men. After our first session, Kurt said to me, "You've earned our trust remarkably fast."

That was the first time I'd thought about it. But since then, I see it as my divine gift that developed as a result of my abusive childhood. As a young kid, I learned to sense when my dad was working up toward beating me—usually a day before he erupted. The best I can remember about the old man who sexually assaulted me (and he rented a room from us), is that he became especially friendly and smiled more before he invited me into his room.

I can't attempt to explain how that transfers to adult behavior, but I know it does because I've learned to trust my guts. On two different occasions, I sensed I couldn't work with the people who hired me. But I went ahead anyway, because I couldn't explain the reason to myself for the hesitation. Both efforts bombed.

As survivors, many of us survive and mature because we're willing to trust our instincts. We don't wait for proof or reasons. It's enough to trust our gut instincts.

It's Not Fair

While a member of a recovery group sponsored by the State of Georgia, one man cried out during the second meeting, "It's not fair!" He went on to compare himself with his older and younger brothers who, seemingly, were not molested and had no serious problems.

After allowing him to rant for several minutes, the therapist said, "You're right. It's not fair, but it is real."

Dean, the quietest man in the group, pulled up his left pants leg and showed his prosthesis from just below the knee. "And this isn't fair either. It's not fair that I'm alive and my dad died in the accident."

We were stunned and hardly knew how to respond but Dean added, "You can groan all you want about the unfairness, but nothing will change. If you're willing to grow up, you'll accept the reality and ask, 'Now how do I live the rest of my life'?"

I can't remember how the exchange went after that, except the it's-not-fair complainer yelled and groaned. He never came back to the group, and was our first dropout.

Maybe the poor man couldn't face the reality of his situation. Storming against the unfairness of life does no good. If anything, it makes it worse because we can't accept life as it is.

It took me a long time, but I finally began to say, "What is is what is." That's my shorthand way of saying, "That's the situation and I can't change it. But now I can make decisions on what to do next."

The Need to Trust

A few days ago I received an email from a man who was hesitant to post, afraid that I might share his information. I understand his concern and lack of trust. I could reply only that I never share anything confidential. I also informed him that he could post as anonymous.

Below is part of his response to me. I'd appreciate any of you responding to him on this blog. His final paragraph touched me deeply—and I'm sure some of you can still remember when you took the risk of speaking up.
I'm a young man carrying many scars from my childhood and they affect me more than I would like on a daily basis. Some days are good and some days I wish what happened to me never did. It feels unfair at times that I never asked for this but it happened and now I have to deal with it. I have been through some healing but it seems like there is so much to be dealt with. No one seems to truly understand what I experience and I often feel lonely as a result of it.

I've read many of the posts on your blog and I can relate to some of the men that have been courageous to share their stories, including yourself. I hope to share mine as well. 
My name is Alan and you can use this on your blog as a post if you desire. I guess it would be a start.

Going It Alone

The great American tradition is to honor and applaud those who go it alone—the Clint-Eastwood-John-Wayne heroic types. They didn't need anyone and were able to do it all by themselves.

Really?

Maybe in books and films it works that way, but I don't know anyone like that who's truly happy. I believe God created us for companionship (and it doesn't have to be romantic). In recent years, a number of films have been labeled bromedy—where two men join together for a common goal.

I'll tell you why I haven't wanted to go it alone. I need people and have always been aware of that. I'm a highly emotional person and my late wife was my anchor. So many times I was ready to move on in various phases of my life, but she was the calm one. She didn't argue or yell, but she helped me realize I was making an emotional decision and not a careful or reasoned one.

More than anything else, Shirley taught me that I didn't have to take the lonesome road by myself. Until her death, she was always there to hold my hand.

I no longer have her, but I have friends I can call or visit. I don't have to take that road marked Alone.

Sideways Anger

Most of us struggle with anger on some level.

Anger that 

* we were molested; 

* no one stepped in to save us; 

* no one believed us;

* no one loved us.

Despite the obvious reasons for being irate, some of us don't even know we're incensed. Or I can speak for myself. I had no awareness that I was an angry person. Sometimes the ire popped out—temporarily—but I made no connection that I was an infuriated individual.

If we're angry, it will come out—directly or indirectly. A good way to look at our anger level is to eavesdrop on our own conversation. What do we say about other people? Do we blame the government? Others at work? Those expressions are what I call the sideways anger.

They flow out in unexpected and unrecognized forms such as sarcasm, criticism, speaking our piece, or "just being frank."

About a year after I started my healing journey, I finally admitted my anger. Part of acknowledgment was because I lived among conservative Christians who mistakenly thought it was sinful to be angry. And I believe they were wrong. The apostle Paul wrote, "In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you're still angry" (Ephesians 4:26 TNIV).

Merely to acknowledge my outrage was a release. I had held it inside for a long time, feeling that if I let go I might kill someone. When I confessed that to my best friend, David, he said, "You're more than 50 years old and you haven't killed anyone yet." That was a marvelous release for me.

Sometimes I need to be angry, but I also need to know what I'm disturbed about.

Why Then?

Why did I suddenly open up about my sexual assault at age 51? (And I've since learned that many men don't deal with their rapes until they're in their late 30s to early 50s.) I fit that pattern.

Perhaps it's because we reach a level of maturity that we no longer have to be afraid; maybe we're tired of being tortured with flashbacks and recurring dreams.

Early in my healing journey, I heard others speak about feeling safe. That's probably the best answer for me: I felt safe enough to open up to my wife and my best friend. Because they were safe—and expressed their loving support—that gave me the courage to speak out to others.

No matter when we open up and no matter how painful, it seems to be because of one of two reasons: We feel safe or we can't take the pain any longer. Or perhaps it's a combination.

And those of us who have taken the step of telling others are the ones who truly find acceptance, understanding, and love.

Friendship (Part 2 of 2)

In reviewing my life, which I do occasionally, friendship has always been a large factor. What I didn't get was that I was the good friend. I pursued relationships, reached out to others, and they responded, but I don't think of them as my true friends, let alone best friends.

That's not to speak against them—but to face the fact that I wasn't able to accept others or open myself to them. When a significant piece of our lives remains hidden from us, as mine was, we don't know how to receive such relationships. Even more, we didn't know how to recognize such relationships.

I reached out for something I didn't have and didn't know how to receive. Maybe that's why I surrounded myself with people—and I did that a lot. One thing I did realize, even during my teens, was that when I had a serious crisis in my life, I had no one to tell or ask.

I lived with that paradox: I had many friends, but I had no true, deep friendship. When I was still in high school, I read Edgar Allan Poe's poem "Alone" and memorized the first lines.

They read this way:
From childhood's hour I have not been

As others were; I have not seen
As others saw; I could not bring

My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken

My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;

And all I loved, I loved alone.
Why did that poem stay with me and touch me so deeply? I know the answer now. But it was an enigma then. And part of my tortured life was the secret I had told no one until I was 51 years old.

Like many other men, my sexual assault kept me isolated and unavailable.

These days I have a best friend and several good friends. I'm open to widening the circle.

Friendship (Part 1 of 2)

For the first years of my adult life, I considered friendship one of the greatest things in my life. I had friends—many of them—and spent time with them and enjoyed their company.

In 1978, however, after the third person said to me in less than a month, "You're my best friend," I didn't know how to process that information. The third person was the biggest shock because I hardly knew him. He was a member of our church, who was going through a serious career decision, and I spent time listening to him.

About that same time I met David, who became my best friend. Better, he became my first best friend. That's when I faced a startling reality: I had been "everybody's" best friend; I had no best friend.

I also realized that most of them knew things about me and saw me as open and transparent. I was—but only so far. Until I began to deal with my sexual molestation, I didn't know how to open the deeper part of myself.

I wasn't open to myself; how could I be open to others?

"Sometimes I Think I'm Crazy"

I've heard that statement from survivors several times, and I assume it's fairly common. They don't usually mean they think they're insane, but rather that their lives don't make sense. They're confused about values and behavior.

That doesn't make them crazy, even though it feels that way. They speak of conflicting emotions and often of not trusting their perceptions.

Why wouldn't we feel strange or odd? When we tried to tell the truth, we weren't believed. Or we were told we were wrong when we spoke up. I remember quite clearly that before the old man molested me, I said to my mother, "You like Mel more than you like me." Mel was two years younger.

"I love all of you the same," she said.

As young as I was, that statement didn't make sense to me, and I knew Mel was the favorite. Years later, my other siblings and I talked about Mel, and they all agreed he was the favorite.

Because I wasn't believed when I made a simple observation, why would I expect my parents to believe me on something like sexual assault?

We're not crazy; we're hurting or confused, but if we persist, life will make sense.

Grieving

Yes, we survivors need to grieve—grieve for our lost childhood, for our painful memories, for our exploitation. Years ago I read a proverb that went something like this: Those who hide their grief have no remedy for it.

In our healing journey, most of us go through a plethora of emotions, including anger and shame. And we can't neglect grief. By that I mean the anguish and heartache of our stolen childhoods. We need to mourn over the energy we expended trying to help ourselves out of something that wasn't our fault. It's all right to feel sad, miserable, or distressed.

We were victimized because we were young and defenseless. We wanted someone to care for us, to love us, and to accept us. What we received was none of those. And we suffered.

So grieve for that little boy. This may seem strange to some of you, but I've learned to talk to that little boy and say, "I'm here for you. I've suffered with you. We don't want to focus on what we might have been or what we've lost. Together we'll concentrate on what we're going to be."

Our revenge is to turn into happy, peaceful, and loving men.

Guilt

"I feel so guilty," George said.

When I asked him for specifics, he could only mumble, "I don't know . . . it's just this nagging feeling." Finally he said, "If only I had . . ." and he mentioned several things he wished he'd done.

"That kind of thinking is more common than you know." I stared right at him as I added, "You were a kid; you didn't understand and couldn't reason the way you do today. You've had more than thirty years to live with that pain. Don't punish that little boy for being vulnerable."

Apparently shocked by my response, tears filled his eyes. "I—I never thought of it that way. I've been tough on myself because I didn't tell or fight him off—"

"And he's still abusing you today, isn't he? As long as you focus on what you didn't do, he'll keep hurting you."

He nodded.

"George, each time you feel guilty, say these words aloud to yourself: 'I am not guilty. I was a child.'"

Why Is It So Hard?

About six months after I first dealt with my sexual assault, I made progress, but the process seemed to go on and on. "Why is it so hard?" I asked Steven Grubmann, a fellow survivor.

"The deeper the wound, the slower the healing." Those aren't Steve's exact words, but I knew what he meant. We were naïve, innocent kids and they turned our world upside down.

If the violation had been only somebody beating us up on the playground that probably wouldn't change our entire life. But sexual assault permeates every part of us.

The question makes me think of a situation I encounter professionally. I'm a ghostwriter-collaborator and have made my living at this craft for thirty years. Perhaps twenty times a year someone wants help in learning to write a book, and comes to me.

I hardly know how to answer except to point out that the art or craft of writing takes time—years—of hard work and serious commitment. One reason most would-be writers fail is because they stop trying. They often pout, "Nobody will take first-time writers." "No one cares." The excuses pile up, and I heard all of them when I first started. But I persevered and it paid off.

Perseverance. Persistence. It's not a one-month rehab course.

The wound is deep. The healing is slow, but the result is worth it.

Where Do We Find Safe People?

That's difficult to answer because we were kids who trusted the wrong individuals. Some of us have grown up distrustful and fearful of being vulnerable again.

For must of us, safe people are available. We're afraid to approach them and focus on all the harsh, judgmental things they will say to us. And that might happen.

To heal means to encounter risks. Look at the people in your circle at work or church or wherever you're with others. Then trust your instincts. That's the only way I know how to say it. We were violated and victimized as children, and we may be afraid. Despite that, don't we sense those who deserve our trust? Those who care? Whom we can trust?

I believe that opening up to others is an absolute in healing, and I also point out that the first steps are the most difficult and painful. You know the people who listen—really listen when you talk. You also know they don't spread gossip or speak ill of others. Trust them.

Same-sex Attraction (SSA)

(This post comes from a reader named Ron.)

Am I always going to be like this? When I get around my Wednesday night group who are trying to help me, I feel like running away. I would just like to hide. That's the way I've been most of my life. I'm so lonely and long for male contact. I am afraid just to let the chips fall.

As I am writing this I'm listening to music and there is a song talking about running into the arms of Jesus. I would like to, but I feel he is going to reject me, find something wrong with me, and not really be my friend.

I am afraid of that because I feel I will fall back and have an affair. I've fought this feeling for years. To make things more complicated, I now suffer from emotional ED now. And I'm going to see a sex therapist.

From the day I got molested and learned to masturbate, sex has been a good thing for me because I didn't have many friends, and it was the one thing that made me feel good.

I am so lost and lonely even though I am still with my wife and I have three wonderful children. I have everything you can possibly want and yet still I'm still lonely.

I don't know how to have compassion toward myself and help this little boy who has grown up inside of me. I feel like I am living in a new world, and I am a little kid all by myself.

"I Need to Find Safe People"

That's how his email began, and it ended with, "Who are they? How do I find them?"

Those of us in the healing process from sexual assault use the term safe. By that we mean those people who accept us as we are and make no effort to change us or correct our behavior.

Another way to look at it is to say that they don't give us advice unless we ask for it. And even if we ask for it, safe people hesitate. Sometimes when people ask, they really mean, "Help me find a person who will do the hard work for me."

The safest people I've met are those who have known failure, rejection, pain, and other hardships life throws at us—but they haven't given up. They still believe that we can triumph over tragedy and abandonment.

Those people have done the hard work on themselves—that's why they're safe. They're usually wise enough to know that they can't provide shortcuts and methods to jump over the pain.

But most of all, those safe people are willing to be by your side while you re-experience the pain.

It's Real

One of the earliest blog entries came from Dann Youle, who kept struggling with whether his experience was real. I've thought of his words many times—and so have other survivors.

For the first two or three years on my healing journey, I wanted to believe they were false memories or exaggerations. I think that, in the beginning, if I could convince myself that the sexual rape hadn't taken place, I wouldn't have to endure such pain.

A Response to "Be Kind"

(This post comes from Roger.)

I discovered at some point in my recovery I was actually angry at my younger self for not resisting, not standing up to my dad and for just going along with what I knew was wrong for the sake of what I could get out of it. I had held that resentment for decades without realizing it. Every time I thought about my young or teen self I would get angry, resentful, and found myself irritable for reasons I could not quite grasp.

Then one day a counselor pointed out that every time I spoke about my youth I would sound harsh or resentful. I would make joking derogatory comments all the time. I was kind of shocked.

He helped me to see that my young self did what he could to survive. He was a boy. I was a man and I was judging him as a man and not seeing him as a kid who was clueless and did what he had to do to stay sane and get me to adulthood. Sure, I understood all of this now. I could see the mistakes, bad decisions and poor judgment from my perspective as an adult but back then I was just a kid. It was time I began to cut that kid some slack.

I am doing pretty good right now but I am here because my young self made some decisions no kid should ever have to make. I am here because my young self allowed things that no boy should ever have to allow. That boy had no one but himself to rely on and yes as an adult I would never allow such things in my life but I was not an adult back then with money, friends, and the power to leave and go be somewhere else. As a boy I was stuck where I was and knew nothing else.

That boy is my hero. I love that boy. When I think of that boy now I give him a mental hug and kiss and tell him it's ok we made it, we survived. I thank him for his ingenuity in keeping me together during and very not-together time in my life. I am proud of him and I tell him so.

There is a peace that has come to my past. I am whole now or more so than before because I stopped beating up emotionally on a small abused boy I knew a long time ago for something that was NOT HIS FAULT.

Be Kind

At the end of emails to good friends, I sometimes add these words: "Be kind to [name] today." Occasionally I'll add, "[Name] is someone I like very much and deserves the kindness."

Not everyone responds to that and I don't write it to hear from them. I write the words because I mean them. I also write them because I've had to say them to Cec many, many times.

When I've messed up, said or done the wrong thing, feel low, or lonely, that's when I have to decide to be kind to myself.

How do I show myself compassion?

My words go like this: I like Cec; he needs me to support him and he deserves all the love and respect I can give him.

Be kind to yourself. Say only positive, loving thoughts to yourself. If you find yourself bordering on negative and self-condemning words, here's what I do. "Cec, I'm sorry I felt that way. You don't deserve the harsh things I've said about you. I promise you that I'll be nicer."

Why? Why? Why?

In his book Heartbroken, my friend Gary Roe writes: "Why often has no answer; yet our wounded hearts must still ask the question."[1] His book isn't about sexual assault, but the quote is still powerful.

Almost all of us ask that question at some point. Reasons aren't what we truly want; we want comfort and we want to make sense of things. It's not logical that an adult would rape a child. But it happens, and we're the survivors who often can't figure it out.

Too often we blame ourselves with sentences that begin, "If only I had . . ." or "If only I hadn't . . ." We want to believe we live in a rational world with explanations for everything.

Sometimes there are no explanations, only facts.

I don't know the reason I was victimized; I do know I don’t want to live my life as a victim.

Instead I ask, "How do I continue to heal?" It's a much better question—and there are answers.

[1] Heartbroken: Healing from the Loss of a Spouse by Gary Roe (GR Healing Services, Wellborn, TX, 2015) p 72.

Pursuing Change

(This blog post comes from John Bixler.)

I have been aggressively pursuing CHANGE for the last 2 months. I've found the process to be brutal. Rather than becoming more at peace, I've become more tormented. I search out ways that I'm not good enough. More things to address. More work to do. I have no patience. My anxiety is sky high. My back is tight, my chest is tight, my airway feels restricted.

Yesterday I looked at myself in the mirror and said, "You are lovable just the way you are."

I did it again this morning. Looking directly into my own eyes and knowing what I am going through, seeing the pain and sadness behind my own eyes, was overwhelming.

So I said it. "You are lovable just the way you are." Something happened next. I talked to myself. After the planned affirmation, I suddenly blurted out, "Someday you are going to have to be comfortable with yourself. You know that, right?"

I didn't think it. I just said it.

I'm so busy chasing the wrong thing. I'm busy chasing change. I'm busy trying to be someone else. I'm busy trying to be better than everyone else.

I don't have to change.

I have to be me. Instead of making massive changes to myself, I only need to practice being me, to be comfortable being me.

Doing It Alone

"What helped you the most in your healing?" a radio host asked me.

"Two people listened when I told them," I said without reflecting. "They didn't condemn or belittle me."

As I said the words, I knew they were correct, and I stand by that statement. Here's how I see it. As long as we keep silent and try to fix ourselves, we get nowhere. There is no resolution.

But once we open up to at least one person who hears and affirms us, we're on the healing journey.

We can't do it alone.

For me, the most significant reason was my need for compassion and understanding. I didn't know how to love myself. My thoughts condemned me and showed me no mercy.

I had to receive tenderness and acceptance as a gift from someone else. In my case, it started with my wife and my best friend. I'm not sure if it matters to whom we speak as long as it's someone who will show us kindness and sympathy.

We can't do it alone. We need others. A therapist, pastor, or friend. They can give us what we can't give ourselves.






To Forgive Myself

(This blog post comes from Chris.)

I am a 43-year-old male and a survivor of sexual molestation by my older brother and another male at my foster home. My story must be told to help me heal.

It started at age 5. I remember that it felt good but wrong at the same time. This went on until I was about 14 years old. I was their plaything, and when it was happening to me I felt numb. When they were molesting me, I blocked everything out. I didn't want them to be upset with me.

I didn't tell my foster parents because I was scared of what they would think. In my teenage years, I was angry at the world. I had trouble finding a girlfriend and I had a hard time finding or keeping friends. For a time, I thought I was a homosexual but never really felt feelings toward men.

I got married at the age of 20 and had a daughter. I struggled with what my brother and that guy did to me when I was young. I hated them and I hated what they did to me. I became what I hated the most.

On March 15, 2009, I was sentenced to 5 to 10 years for molesting a female child. I felt like a monster, a pedophile. I didn't crave children, but my victim was very dear to me. I lost everything!

I believe God forgave me, but I couldn't forgive myself. I still have a hard time forgiving myself, for I know how much damage I've caused that little girl and her family and even my own family. I am slowly forgiving myself for the harm I've done.

I've been out of prison for six years. It may take the rest of my life to forgive myself. I have a great support team that helps me when I fall, and now that I have briefly told my story the healing can really begin.

A Response to "It Just Takes Time")

(This response to May 15th's blog post comes from Roger.)

I remember in 2007 when I first discovered a web site that dealt with survivors. I had become desperate to deal with the hurts that I was experiencing. I was on an emotional roller coaster and suddenly able to access the thoughts, struggles and victories of other victims was overwhelming. I knew my marriage was in trouble and I was a mess so I decided if getting into recovery for this would help then I needed to fast track it and heal right away. I threw myself into reading, writing, counseling, weekend retreats specifically for survivors and was emotionally overwhelmed. This did not help my marriage or my emotional stability. There were times I would become so angry and times I just would hide and cry my eyes out.

Someone later told me that you heal at your own pace. You heart knows what you can handle and you have to let it guide you. There are times you will climb and times you will plateau and that's ok. He was right. As I settled down and just began to absorb what I read, process the truths I would come across and let them become part of me, I began to heal. He was right, there is no fast track to healing. I did not get here overnight and I will not heal overnight. My marriage did end because my wife could not take the drama and did not want to deal with what had happened to me to make me this way. I understood and as bad as it hurt to give up 20 years of marriage to a woman I loved I let her go feeling she had suffered with me enough.

It has been a long bumpy journey but I am here now and in a much better place. I have begun to help others in their journey and perhaps that is what helps me the most now. Am I healed? I don't know but I do know I am more at peace with myself and content with my life than I have ever been and I guess that is a lot more than I expected.

We Were There

Many of us were groomed by our perpetrators by their showing interest in us and paying attention to us. They lured us by making us feel loved.

They deceived us.

Those who sexually assaulted us didn't see us with eyes of love and compassion. We weren't truly individuals to them. Despite their use of words like "You're special" or "I love you," they lied. We were targets for them to satisfy their lust or addiction.

If we hadn't been available, they would have found some other vulnerable child. That last statement is crucial to our healing.

We were there. We were needy and they took advantage of us. We weren't special. In fact, the statistic I've read in several places is that pedophiles abuse up to 200 kids in their lifetime.

We were there. We were available.

Now we have to learn to forgive those who targeted us and stole our innocence.

It Just Takes Time

An old joke goes that a therapist told a man that he'd need to come back once a week for about a year. He said, "Could I come three times a week for four months?"

The joke, of course, is that the man didn't understand how inner healing works. He wanted to rush through the process; there is no rushing through. It takes time. And effort.

For us survivors, we want the healing now and we want to put it behind us. Why wouldn't we? Who wants to keep hurting? Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that our abuse took place long ago and the poison permeated every aspect of our lives. We heal, but slowly.

I'm still learning and growing. The good news is that the pain eventually lessens. And my life is far more joyful and contented than it's ever been.

It's worth taking the time.

The Good Gardener

(This encore post comes from John Joseph.)

An ancient story tells of a gardener who came across a tree that wasn't bearing fruit. He had two choices. He could cut the tree down and plant a new one in its place or do what he could to help the tree become fruitful.

He chose the latter, dug around the tree’s roots, fertilized it, watered it, and waited. After a time, the tree became lush with fruit and the gardener was satisfied with his labor.

When it comes to recovering from childhood sexual trauma, our souls are the tree and we are the gardener. Often our lives are fruitless because of the damage we’ve suffered. Like the tree, we stand in the garden of life with little to show for our existence. Just as trees were made to blossom and be fruitful, we're made to enjoy our own being and relationships with others. When we're barren, we experience frustration and often choose to cut ourselves down in one way or another.

There is a better way.

The gardener in the story did four important things. He dug around the roots, watered, fertilized, and waited. If we are to see growth and fruitfulness, we must be like the good gardener. We must choose to give the tree another chance.

Digging around the roots is hard work. It's the painful shoveling out of the old, diseased ways of thinking and behaving. Sometimes we have to dig deeply to replace the rocky dirt with fertile soil.

After we’ve dug, we water our souls with truth, beauty, and purity. We fertilize with knowledge and wisdom from many sources.

Then we wait.

Waiting is the hardest thing. Our penchant for immediate gratification often undermines our soul’s growth. But after we’ve done the work of digging, watering, and fertilizing, our part is to watch and wait, to let the soul blossom once again.

Serenity

(This encore post comes from John Joseph.)

You may be familiar with The Serenity Prayer. It's been used by recovering people for decades as they sought sobriety. Tens of thousands, if not many more, have gained some measure of peace as this prayer helped refocus their thoughts.

Pray it now and then I want to share a few thoughts about it.:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change,the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen. 

First, let’s consider the word acceptance. Almost innocuous at first glance, the word is easily dismissed. It seems somewhat weak, banal, and could be taken as a sour grapes or a who-really-cares kind of attitude in the face of horrible abuse in our past.

True acceptance of what we’ve endured as sexual-abuse survivors requires almost Herculean effort on our part. Acceptance isn’t for the faint of heart. Acceptance means we can look our abuse square in the eyes and really own it for what it was.

To come to terms with the reality that our innocence was stripped from us demands the bulk and brawn of an Olympian. Acceptance isn’t the weak resignation of a victim but the brave choice of an overcomer who decides they will be a victim no more.

The courage to change the things that we can in our present life is as rigorous a demand as accepting the reality of our past. Change is one of the most difficult things we face because change equals letting go of the familiar behavior that bring us comfort.

In my case, that ranges from self-pity to acting out in destructive ways. Change equals pain and no one wants to experience pain. To change destructive patterns means launching out into the untested waters of living in new ways and of letting go of the things we’ve trusted.

The truth is that those “comfortable” attitudes or behaviors haven’t brought us anything but destruction. To keep doing what we’ve done will only bring us the results we already have. When our current behavior brings intolerable results, we're ready to change.

And then there’s wisdom. Wisdom is the ability to use the knowledge we have to achieve the results we desire.

Wisdom is choosing the celery over the cinnamon bun. It’s deciding to take a walk instead of a nap. It’s making an effort to forgive instead of allowing an old wound to fester. Wisdom enables us to heal from the past we’ve accepted and to make the powerful changes that we need in the present.

Serenity is the sweet effect of acceptance, courage, and wisdom.