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.

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.)

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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.)

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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 na├»ve, 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."