Over the years, many other men said, "You're my best friend," and they sincerely meant it. But none of them was my best friend. That's not to blame them, but to admit I didn't know how to open up and trust another man.
Several men included me in their inner circle; I wish I could have included them in mine.
I wanted to open up, but I couldn't. My trust had been stolen as a child, and for me to expose my inner feelings was to suffer the abuse again. It seemed safer to lock up my past.
I had my inner circle—which consisted only of myself. For a long time, I couldn't even open up to my wife, and yet she was the most loving and trusting soul I knew.
My first break came through a friend named Martin. He told me that at age 15, his drunken mother had seduced him. After he told me, I marveled that he trusted me with that deep, deep secret. Years later, he told me that I was the first person he'd told, and that it was the beginning of his healing.
Another man, Steven, assaulted by a teacher, cried as he talked of his trauma 40 years after the fact, but I sensed he experienced some healing just from the act of sharing.
Martin and Steven included me in their inner circle, even if they didn't use those words. They also opened the door for me by modeling trusting behavior.
When I haltingly told my wife about my childhood assault, I expected rejection and revulsion. Instead, Shirley said, "I'm sorry," and hugged me. That same day, I told David, who later became my best friend. Just by the way he listened, I knew he accepted my pain. He didn't try to fix me; he simple accepted me.
Shirley and David were the first members of my inner circle and because of them, I could invite others into it.
As I openly spoke of my pain, I was giving others permission to face their past and open up.