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.

"I Did It Again."

"I failed." Such a confession has to be painful. "I did it again, even though I knew better." I read or hear similar statements regularly.

I don't want anyone to fall back into unhealthy or abusive relationships. But they happen. It means that person failed this time—but isn't a lifetime failure.

My friend *Patrick has gone back to gay experiences three times in the decade I've known him. After each regression he swears, "It won't ever happen again."

Each time I hope not and I pray for him every day. I've been able to say truthfully, "I'm your friend and I care about you very much. I don't want it to happen again, but if it does, I won't turn my back on you."

Years before I dealt with my sexual assault, I did some work with leaders of Alcoholics Anonymous. One remark stayed with me. "Some people fail to stay sober and they have to return to AA several times before they finally attain an ongoing sobriety."

If you're reading this, please, please don't go back to those unhealthy ways.

But if you do, we understand. Many have temporarily fallen back.

"I've failed again. My second time," *Al said to a group of us. "But even finding sexual fulfillment was brief and I hated myself for doing it."

Spontaneously, we all hugged Al. One man whispered, "I know how it feels. Welcome back."

Failure is awful. Painful.

But life is filled with opportunities to start again.

What's the Problem Here?

Sexual assault involves sex. Many of us faced physical beatings or verbal abuse; some of us endured all three.

But when we talk about sexual assault, a significant element comes into focus. We physically responded to the molestation.

"It felt good," *Hal told me before he dropped his head and the tears flowed. "It should have felt terrible, but I liked it."

He had yet to realize, as many of us have accepted, that his penis functions the way God created it to work. Whenever anyone stimulates our sex organs, we respond.

As children, we were helpless and trusting. I particularly remember Mr. Lee, the pedophile who assaulted me. He whispered, "You're a special kid. I love you . . ." Those were tender words no one in my family had ever used. No one else held me, kissed my cheeks, or stroked my hair. Of course his abuse felt good, and he knew exactly how to entice me to come back when he wanted me.

That happened when I was a child, and I didn't understand my response was normal for a lonely, unloved kid.

A major step for many of us is to be able to say, "Yes, it felt good, but it was still rape and I was a victim."

To admit the stimulation felt good doesn't make you less a man; it does make you fully human.

Therapy?

Although words like therapy and counseling are part of our culture, for some of us survivors, they're intimidating terms. In the early days of my healing, I didn't go for any kind of therapy. "I don't want to have to pay someone to listen to me," I said.

"Therapy feels clinical. Impersonal." I recall saying that once. "Why should I trust a therapist? It's only a business."

As I realized years later, it was a defensive attitude. For me, it meant I still wasn't able to be fully open.

Three years into my healing, I joined a one-year group of male survivors of childhood sexual assault, sponsored by the state of Georgia, and run by two therapists. By then, I didn't really need counseling, although I found the group helpful.

My response these days is that not everyone needs therapy, if you have someone you trust, whom you know won't divulge your story. Maybe that will work.

And there are bad therapists, especially the kind that seem to rivet their attention on all the lurid details. Or they give stock answers to questions and you feel they're responding by rote.

There are also good therapists who have been trained to hear what you're not saying and to sense your turmoil. They don't get sidetracked by your defensive strategies.

And why not a professional as well as friends and family members who care? We've been deeply wounded and we need all the help we can get.

Be open to those who can make things easier. It may be difficult—especially in the beginning—but remember: You've stored up years of secret suffering.

Isn't now the time to open up?

Seeking One Trusting Relationship

"I want one person—just one person—I can trust and rely on." I wonder how many times I've heard men say those words. It's not a bad desire; it's just not enough.

We need others, but no relationship provides everything. A number of men refer to their wives as their best friend. That bothers me because it usually means that their spouses must carry all their emotional baggage, and they become everything the man requires.

No one—not a single person—fulfills every shortfall. It's a terrible burden to lay on someone and to expect them to be that perfect individual—the flawless, infallible one.

A healthier way is to build several relationships. Seek for those worthy-of-trust individuals. Be to them what you want them to offer you.

For example, I have one friend who is a marvelous listener. He rarely offers advice, but it's obvious to me that he's there for me.

Another friend lovingly tells me the things I don't want to know about myself. That is, when I open up to him, he often intuits meaning behind my words and actions. When he points them out, I'm able to see different parts of myself—what I call my shadow or backside. I'm grateful for him.

A third friend is easy to talk to and it's just as easy for me to listen to what he says.

All three are important—and there are a few others—because each provides something I need.

But not one of them provides everything.

Hiding the Pain (Part 2 of 2)

Why do we hide the story of our abuse and the pain? You and I can probably think of many reasons. But the reasons aren't as important as the causes such as shame, fear of not being believed, or not trusting ourselves.

The more we can expose the darkness of our souls to the light, the more readily we heal. Many times I've heard, "You're only as healed as your worst secret." From that, I've inferred that those issues when deeply held and unrevealable thwart our pain. And we expend energy to keep them undisclosed.

Or we isolate ourselves from others. Four months ago, I was in close contact with *Joey, and we were quite open with each other. Then Joey stopped answering emails, texts, or phone calls. About three weeks ago, Joey emailed and asked if we could have lunch. (Men don't seem to know how to talk unless it's around a meal, coffee, or liquor.)

We met and Joey apologized. "I was going through a really bad time."

"You were hiding." Those words blurted out before I realized what I had said. But I also knew they were true.

At first he rationalized by giving me a variety of explanations. I listened and said nothing. Finally, he said, "No . . . you're right. I was hiding because I was ashamed."

"I understand," I said. I've been there.

And so have many of you.

We don't blab to just anyone, but we need to find those who will listen, care, and enable us to stop hiding. And until we find safe people, we'll still keep hiding.

A Response to Hiding the Pain

(This is a response from Roger to the last blog post. I thought it should be shared.)

There is so much of my childhood I cannot remember. I sometimes wonder if I want to remember it. I know there were lots of good times; at least I think there were. But I can't seem to recall much at all. To be honest I am afraid to remember because I really don't know what all was done to me and more to the point I don't want to remember what I may have done too.

Deep inside when I read posts like this there is a deep uncomfortable feeling in my chest that rolls around for a while till I can distract myself with other activities. My life is good right now, why would I want to submerge myself in something so terrible and so long ago? What good could come of that at this point in my life? I just don't know and not knowing I suspect is better than knowing and facing the pain.

For me, there is enough pain and things to work on right now. Why would I want to add anything else on my plate when it is already full? I am determined not to crack up like my dad and do something stupid. I just want to survive.

Hiding the Pain (Part 1 of 2)

We hide our pain in many ways. The obvious is by denying it and refusing to admit it. One time, early in my healing journey, I mentioned an abusive experience to a small group and said, "But I'm over it."

One of the men in the small group said, "You're not over it."

"But I am—"

"Your voice and your face show otherwise."

And he was correct. I was hiding the reality from myself. No one ever asked if I had been sexually molested and physically beaten. And that's not a blaming statement, but I had no memories of the sexual assault until I was 51 years old. One day, while running, the painful memories tumbled out and I couldn't stop them.

In retrospect, that experience of being confronted said I was ready to face my pain. It also told me that all those years I had hidden the pain deep, deep within.

Shortly after the memories returned, I had a dream. I was underwater and saw a huge cement structure. As I got closer, I saw it was encrusted with seaweed and rust and sealed with a padlock. I wondered what was inside. I pulled at the lock, it broke and a passageway opened up and I stared inside.

"I didn't know that was down here." Something between revulsion and fear grabbed me even though I don’t remember what I saw. Then I awakened. Later, I realized my dream was telling me that my pain had been hidden and sealed—and had been that way a long time.

Now the lock was broken and the past had been unlocked.

Then the pain began.

But so did the healing.

Safe Boundaries

Because of my chaotic childhood, boundaries didn't seem to exist in our family. If any adult wanted anything, we gave it (even though we might have done so out of resentment).

Others intruded on our privacy by asking us questions I now realize were inappropriate, and treated us as if we had no rights. It didn't occur to me to refuse to answer.

Years later, I learned something about establishing safe boundaries. The lesson is so simple I've hesitated to express it: I can't set safe boundaries without acknowledging my susceptibility. It seems obvious now but it didn't in the past.

The first time I remember closing my bedroom door, without fear of being yelled at, was shortly after I married. I started laughing, and my wife asked me why. I said, "Now no one can come inside."

When Shirley looked puzzled, I explained that in my home none of us dared close a door. That was the end of the conversation; however, years later, when I began to face my sexual assault, it hit me: I closed the bedroom door as the first awareness of my defenselessness. Inside that room I was safe.

In many ways, I began to face areas where I felt unsafe. I associated that word with vulnerability. My dictionary defines the word as being easily hurt or harmed as well as open to attack. And there's another factor. The word vulnerable comes from the Latin word for wound, vulnus.

After I mentioned the origin of the word, a friend commented, "So once you face the vulnus, you are able."

I thought that was a clever way to say it.

"I'm able to heal," I said, "because I'm learning to establish safe boundaries."

I'm still learning.