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 Wore an Invisible Sign."

(This post from Cecil Murphey first appeared at 1in6.org.)

Lee Willis, a courageous survivor, told a sad tale of being abused by his father and later by day-care workers. They were only the first. Until he was 16, he was molested many times.

He wrote this (and I have his permission to quote it): "Once we're abused, it seems that we wear the mark for other perps to see." His comments make it clear that something happens when we're abused—something that preying individuals sense, even if family members or friends don't.

I gained insight on that recently while I was working on Stolen: The True Story of a Sex Trafficking Survivor, a book with Katariina Rosenblatt on human trafficking. Kat escaped from traffickers three times and now works with federal authorities to help other girls and boys, who are victimized as she was.

In relating the account of her first traffickers, Kat had been molested by her father and sexually abused by older children. She was recruited by a woman named Mary who befriended her.
Looking back, I now know she chose me even before she talked to me. I'm sure she spotted the longing in my eyes and the loneliness that I projected out of my hurts and agony. As I would learn later, when we're chosen, they watch us before they target us. They especially seek the lonely and abused children who display their vulnerability by the way they walk, their clothes, general demeanor, or the helplessness in their eyes. They sense their lack of family support or their susceptibility. Only later could I see that my own identity was fragile and distorted. Then I would realize she had chosen me because she knew I was defenseless and lonely.
So, yes, Lee, we were marked—and vigilant perps watched us and they knew. But as we heal, those markings disappear. They're replaced by our inner peace, self-assurance, and the knowledge that we're no longer "just survivors." We are overcoming the pain of our childhood. And most of all, we finally like ourselves.



Why Now?

(This post from Cec Murphey first appeared at 1in6.org.)

Recently, I read an in-progress master's thesis on male sexual abuse. The writer's research said that most men don't deal with their abuse until they're middle-aged—late 30s to early 50s. She provided no rationale, only the figures. Maybe that's well-known in therapeutic practice, but it was new to me.

Although a few children are able to ask for help while young, some of us (and perhaps that word should be many) aren't ready until we're hitting our middle years. I was one of those.

Men like me "forgot" about our experiences. That is, the trauma was so severe we couldn't face it and lived in denial until the truth resurfaced. The descriptive term is Post Trauma Stress Disorder (PTSD).

"But why did it surface now?" I asked myself that question many times during the first year of my struggle with the molestation. The easiest thing to say is that it happened when I was able to cope with the pain. I was secure enough as a person—that is, I liked myself well enough—that I was willing to risk the shame and embarrassment.

One day, without ever seeing a therapist or being in any encounter groups, the memories started to flow. I cried—the first real crying since I was 11 years old. The intense agony disrupted my work habits and my sleep for weeks. My wife and my best friend comforted me. Their love and kindness enabled me to move ahead.

But the question still haunted me: Why now? I've concluded that my unconscious, inner wisdom kept the information hidden from me. I had focused on my education, career, marriage, and fatherhood. By the time I was ready, our third and last child had left home.

I still can't give a definitive answer on the timing except that I know I was ready. Because I had dealt with the major traumas of living, I had grown comfortable with myself. And realizing the certainty of my wife's love and commitment helped me know that I could face anything and she would be with me.

Every man needs someone to trust—implicitly—whether it's a spouse, a friend, or a therapist. He needs that safety to divulge and know he'll be heard and not rejected.

Maybe that is the answer: Once we're ready, we can face our pain—even if we feel at times that we can't suffer any more.

Afterward

If we continue to move forward in our healing, eventually we reach a place we never would have expected. We can look back and give thanks for our life. It's not that we're glad we were sexually assaulted. But we realize that as terrible as our childhood trauma was, we're actually better people for having gone through the pain.

First, of course, we have to go through the pain—through the shame, guilt, anger, despair, and a myriad of negative emotions. They are parts of our healing journey and as one wise man said, "The only way out of the pain is through the pain."

Second, if we continue to move forward, we learn to forgive our perpetrators. And as we've said on this blog many times, we do it for ourselves. We do it so we can continue to go forward. And for many of us survivors, forgiving may be the most difficult and painful step for us to take.

Third, we finally are able to examine our lives and rejoice in being who we are. I'll tell it as I perceived it. One day I was able to say to God, "Thank you for all I've gone through." I could say that because I had learned important lessons. I was able to feel compassion and tenderness toward others.

How could I possibly have understood what others go through and reach out to them if I hadn't been abused?

That's why I call this blog entry "afterward." It doesn't mean I'm fully healed, but it means I'm maturing and growing in kindness, sympathy, and mercy. I can identify with other survivors and reach out to them in their pain.

And so can you.

Afterward.

If you're not at afterward, may you reach it soon.

Others need you.

Another Layer

Recently, a reader of this blog wrote that every time he felt he was healed, he pulled back another layer. There seemed always to be more. And he was right.

All through my school years, I'd heard people talk about peeling an onion. I never liked that illustration because I thought, when you finish peeling, there's nothing left.

In the book Gary Roe and I wrote, Not Quite Healed, I used the symbol of the artichoke to explain the ongoing awareness. We pull off the tiny leaves and when they're all gone, the heart is what's left.

To me, there seems always to be another leaf to pluck, but as we continue, we begin to see the heart of the artichoke. In our struggles, most of us accept that we won't be perfect. But we can be—and will be—healthy.

Here's a thought that's helped me. Yes, there seems always to be another leaf. But those leafs aren't indiscriminate or random. We see a new leaf when we're ready to face it.

Instead of discouraging you, I hope it encourages you to say, "I'm progressing. Each time I discover a new leaf, it means I'm moving forward."

Isn't that good news?

A Note from John B.

(This private email came to me from John B. and he has given me permission to share it. Will some of you respond to John? --Cec) 

Yesterday was really tough for me. The final collapse of my marriage is so hard to face.

It's weird because I've been unhappy in the marriage for...well, probably ever. And I also blamed it on the way my wife treated me.

Now I suddenly realize that some, although not all, of the unhappiness came from me being dysfunctional. Walling myself off, turning away from her and to myself, not telling her what I really think, and feeling so negative about myself all the time.

Cec, I want to transition from looking at the way the abuse has hurt my life, and start looking at ways to make my life better. How do I go from here (Oh crap, I've endured so much unnecessary pain because of the way I emotionally respond to things which is rooted in my abuse) to there (I was sexually abused and it affects me sometimes, but I act in a functional manner as much as I possibly can)???

You've made this transition. I want to be where you are. Open. Comfortable. Happy.



My Body, My Mirror

Three times I tried to explain to my best friend my once-strange response to my body in the mirror. But he didn't get it. He'd say something like, "None of us really sees our body as it is." One time he said, "I look into the mirror and I still see my hair as black." (It's mostly gray now.)

"It's more than that," I said and finally gave up trying to explain. I had tried to make it clear to him that I had held a distorted view of my body. I'd read about women who were bulimic or anorexic, and that they looked into mirrors but didn't see their true shapes. It didn't occur to me that I was like that.

I never saw myself as obese, but I perceived my body as slightly on the heavy side. I'm what people refer to as wiry and occasionally someone calls me skinny. Those remarks puzzled me, because I wondered how they could talk that way. I didn't go on diets, but I did watch my weight and avoided putting on more pounds.

Then something happened, even though I can't remember the date. One morning I had showered and toweled off and looked into the mirror to comb my hair. I stared at my naked body.

"I'm thin," I said aloud. "I'm really thin."

For several minutes, I looked at myself, hardly able to believe the mirror. Then I roared in laughter. Now I knew. Now I understood when people said, "You need to put on a few pounds." Or "You're going to blow away if you get any thinner." I had always laughed and wondered what they meant.

That morning the distortion was gone. I stared at myself from any number of angles.

I can finally see my body as it is.

It seems strange that it took so long. I'd been on the healing journey for two decades. And every now and then I became aware of a new marker—evidence of healing from my childhood victimization.

That morning I felt ecstatic because the distortion was gone. And for the first time in my life, I stared at my reflection and said, "I like my body."

And it was true.

Undressing Others with My Eyes

(A troubled survivor sent this to me personally and has given me permission to use it on my blog. --Cec)

Today I was sitting in a restaurant and a family came in with a couple of good-looking young men, apparently their boys. I caught myself gazing at their faces and bodies and way checking them out. I realize I've done this most of my life with different males that I come into contact with other men. I've gotten good at doing in a way that doesn’t seem like I am doing it.

The reason I post about this now is that it hit me that I find it difficult to look at people particularly men in any other way, the way most people do. I suspect most people look at someone and see a face, expression, body language, and dress. If the occasion arises to greet them, they look at their face/eyes and judge whether they are nice or not in their response.

For most people that would be enough. But all my life it has been an intense inspection of their face, lips, eyes, nose shape, ears, hairstyle, build, as in chest, arms, abs, and hips. I think some have called it undressing them with my eyes.

People aren't just people to me and since I discovered my own body, I've been curious about what others may look like. That was the original motivation for my journey into the world of porn. I was curious as to what people, mostly guys, looked like naked. It never stopped at looking, that's another story.

I have seen young men/boys who seemed unaware of their bodies and of mine. Unless I drew their attention to that, it was just incidental to whatever we were engaged in at the time. It made me feel dirty and self-conscious and I could not understand why until now. Because I was sexualized at a young age it became a huge new secret focus, and no one around me escaped that intense pre-occupation I seem to have.

I've come to hate that about myself and I don’t know if I will ever get over objectifying people. If people knew what was going on in my head they'd probably be appalled and I'd be terribly ashamed. I guess it is the way I was "trained" to see people especially men because it seemed to be the way my father and others looked at me. I don’t really know so I am guessing here. I'm not the only one who does this. I guess as adults with knowledge of adult things it is common, but I don’t think a kid should grow up this pre-occupied with these things.

That's another layer that I need to peel off. And I need with this. I find myself doing it without even any forethought at all.

Childhood Sexual Abuse Is a Crime

Too often, the crime element in sexual assault gets overlooked, ignored, or pushed away. Too often, the victims feel they're guilty for seeking justice. And how many six-year-old boys will insist they were raped when adults tell them, "You have too active an imagination," or "Your cousin couldn't have done something terrible like that."

That throws a heavy burden on the survivors. As bad or possibly worse is when the victims keep silent, which allows the perpetrator to continue the assaults.

I never told anyone about my two perpetrators. Although I was too young to reason it out, my adult voice says, "It wouldn't have done any good."

As one of victims at the trial of Jerry Sandusky said, "Who would believe a kid?"

Or perhaps shame held me back. The old man who molested me hugged me and told me what a good kid I was. "You're special," he said, which were words I yearned to hear, and yet, deep inside I think I knew they were false.

Or maybe I didn't want the abuse to be real. I was so starved for attention and affection, I blamed myself.

What if I had spoken up? What if my parents had believed me? To speculate on that doesn't do any good and my perpetrators are both dead.

And I, the victim, paid for their crimes.