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.

"You Shouldn't Feel . . ."

In conversation with my friend Beth, I mentioned that even though I knew the molestation in childhood wasn't my fault, I still felt shame and guilt over my abuse as if I had failed in some way. "I keep thinking that only if I—"

"You shouldn't feel that way," Beth said.

Before I could respond, she listed my achievements (as if I didn't know them) and told me how much she admired me for the way I had dealt with my painful childhood.

"But still—"

"You don't deserve to feel that way."

Beth was trying to encourage me and I appreciated her concern; however, nothing she said was helpful. She tried to persuade me with logic and tell me how unreasonable it was to feel as I did.

I knew that, but I also knew that emotions don't listen to logic.

Beth could have told me a thousand times not to feel as I did because of what someone did to me. I would have agreed, but nothing would have changed.

What I also hear from well-meaning friends when I speak of my painful feelings is, "Just get over it!"

Easy words, but meaningless and powerless.

Do they think I want to hold on to my painful emotions? Do they believe I want to wallow in self-judgment?

One time when I spoke about the lingering feelings of shame, my late friend Steve Grubman-Black, also a survivor of sexual abuse, said, "Be kind to yourself. Accept those feelings because they're real. When you're able to feel compassion for that innocent child you were, those negative feelings will begin to dissipate."

Steve was right, even though it took at least three more years for me to become aware of the change.

These days whenever I feel a negative, condemning emotion, I remind myself that I can't argue myself out of feeling as I do. But here's something I tell myself: "I accept myself the way I am."

I also remind myself that emotions don't listen to logic.

* * * * *

A note from Cec's assistant: A big thanks to those of you who have responded to our request for influencers for Cec's upcoming book, More than Surviving. Some of you have asked what's involved in being an influencer. It's basically just helping get the word out about the book to people you think might have an interest. That could be through social media, blogging, writing reviews, word of mouth, or any other way. If you are interested, please send Cec an email with your contact info at
cec.murp@comcast.net. The publisher will send you a free copy of the book when it's due to be released.

"We Didn't Know"

"We didn't know," the civilians said when asked about the gas chambers after World War II.

"We didn't know," neighbors say when they learn that the man across the street had molested a boy.

"We didn't know," parents say when their adult children talk about their past sexual abuse.

When I began to deal with my abuse, I told my three older sisters. They said the same thing.

I don't think they were lying. I think they couldn't accept the enormity of the revelation. If they had known, perhaps they wouldn't have been able to face the personal guilt for doing nothing.

What about abused kids' point of view when they hear those responses? One of the witnesses against Jerry Sandusky said he never told anyone. Asked why, he repeated an answer that rang true to me and to many others, "Who would believe a kid?"

When the perpetrator is a prominent person in the community, leads a scout troop, teaches Sunday school, or runs a charitable organization for kids, who wants to hear such stories?

The answer: No one wants to hear such stories.

Perhaps the question should be, Who needs to hear such stories?

When asked that way, the answer is obvious. Parents and religious and civic leaders need to hear. But too often they don't.

Sandusky's wife said she never heard the boy screaming in the basement. Apparently, she also didn't know when their adopted son said Sandusky molested him repeatedly for several years.

When will they believe us?

When will the cries of bruised and raped boys be heard?

Until they are, the survivor on the witness stand has spoken for all of us who were abused in the past. He speaks for those who are or will be molested.

"Who would believe a kid?"

* * * * *

A note from Cec's assistant: Cec's publisher (Kregel Publishing) plans to release his newest book, More than Surviving, in March, and they've asked us to provide a list of influencers. An influencer is someone who is familiar with Cec and his work and would be willing to help get the word out about his book through reviews, social media, blogs, and/or other ways. If you're interested in being an influencer for More than Surviving, email Cec at cec.murp@comcast.net to let him know, and make sure to provide your contact info. The publisher will send you a copy of the book when it's available. Thank you!

Why Am I Still Not Healed?

"Why haven't I worked through all these issues? Why am I still not healed?" Most of us survivors ask ourselves that question many times. "I've been on this journey for five years. When does it end?" Those are the questions we ask on our worst days.

On our better days, we examine our lives and remember where we started. In those self-reflective times, we admit we've come a long way. A friend said to me, "In those depressing times when you tell yourself that you ought to be farther down the road, you're probably more healthy than you know."

Maybe he was correct, but it doesn't stop us from asking the question. Why not? Why not?

For myself, I can say this. I keep discovering the insidious consequences of my sexual abuse. It's a good thing I didn't recognize all the effects in the beginning, or it would most likely have overwhelmed and immobilized me. In my darkest moments, it seems as if the healing takes place one day at a time, or perhaps even slower—one small step a year.

I've jokingly said, "If I'd known in the beginning that this would be such a hard, painful journey, I probably wouldn't have started."

In my early days of grappling with the issue, I felt that way because the feelings were too intense and too brutal. But now I add, "I'm glad I struggled and fought. It's been worth re-experiencing the pain. I've learned more about myself. I've not only accepted who I am but I honestly like the person inside me."

Here's something I say to myself regularly: I am not quite healed; I am a healing-in-progress.

* * * * *

A note from Cec's assistant: Cec's publisher (Kregel Publishing) plans to release his newest book, More than Surviving, in March, and they've asked us to provide a list of influencers. An influencer is someone who is familiar with Cec and his work and would be willing to help get the word out about his book through reviews, social media, blogs, and/or other ways. If you're interested in being an influencer for More than Surviving, email Cec at cec.murp@comcast.net to let him know, and make sure to provide your contact info. The publisher will send you a copy of the book when it's available. Thank you!

Self-loathing

(This post comes from a reader named John Joseph.)

One effect of my early childhood sexual abuse has been self-loathing. For the longest time I didn’t understand that was what I was dealing with. I thought I was just so messed up that I didn’t deserve the air I was breathing. I constantly compared myself to others, especially men, and I never measured up. The problem with that perspective is that it kept me from being the best me that I could be.

Self-loathing is an emotional habit rooted in envy. As a child my body was never as big as the men who abused me. They were taller, stronger, and their genitalia were bigger. I could never measure up. I can see clearly now that my lifetime of irrational comparisons was founded in those moments of abuse in which I was weaker and the abusers stronger. It wasn’t a fair fight. I was a child.

My continuum of self-loathing ran from a minor comparison of hair or height to athleticism or financial status. At best, it caused an irritation. At worst, it caused deep anxiety and self-destructive behavior such as addiction or depression. A few times I was so distressed by not being like someone else that I despaired and could have taken my life.

The cure for self-loathing I have found, is to recognize that envy hurts me. I am learning to celebrate myself—my body, and my lot in life. What I have is what I have. Comparing myself to others causes me to devalue myself. As I grow in recovery my goal is to love and appreciate who I am and to resist falling into the abyss of self-loathing.

Lasting Effects

The impact of sexual abuse can be devastating and it is long lasting. Because you were a child, and you were victimized by someone—and most of the time it was someone you trusted.

The first thing you need to know is this: The sexual abuse was not your fault. You may even be told that you did something wrong, but that person lied. You were a victim; you were an innocent child.

Most of the adult survivors with whom I've talked told me that they grew up feeling something was wrong with them. They believed they caused the abuse and blamed themselves.

You may have tried to talk about the molestation and no one listened. Until recent years, too many adults refused to acknowledge that such things occurred. If that happened to you, you have probably felt inadequate, embarrassed, isolated, guilty, shameful, and powerless. Then you probably reacted by suppressing this as a shameful secret.

For example, I was once involved with a men's group. One member, Greg, said that when he was seven, he wanted to tell his mother that his own father was sexually abusing him. One night at dinner, he said, "Daddy has been pulling down my pants and doing bad things to me."

"Eat your dinner," his mother said.

His two siblings said nothing; Dad continued to eat. That was the last time Greg opened his mouth about his abuse until he was thirty-one years old. That's when he joined a group of survivors of male sexual assault.

Research now affirms the link between the abuse and the effects. Each of us needs to be able to admit that the long-term effects are powerful and include poor self-esteem, difficulty trusting others, anxiety, feelings of isolation, self-injury and self-mutilation, eating disorders, sleep problems, depression, self-destructive tendencies, sexual maladjustment, and substance abuse.

Moving Beyond the Abuse

"It's the past. Forget it and move on," my youngest brother, Chuck, said to me. We had both been sexually assaulted by the same person. He didn't admit being sexually molested, but he didn't deny it either. On the few occasions when I tried to talk to him about it, his answer was, (1) "You can't undo the past," (2) "We don't have to think about those things," or (3) "That stuff happened back then." His words implied that we need only to forget the past, leave it behind, and it's gone.

If only it were that simple.

Chuck died after years of trying to cure his pain through alcohol. I don't know if the pain he tried to medicate was the abuse, but I suspect it was. On rare occasions when he was drunk, he made oblique references to "that mess in childhood."

Outwardly, Chuck wanted to get past the sexual molestation and get on with his life. So why didn't he "move on" with his life?

I had a second brother named Mel, also an alcoholic. He was married five times and died of cirrhosis at age 48. Unlike Chuck, Mel wouldn't talk about our childhood. "There's nothing back there to talk about," was the most he ever said.

I write about my two brothers because both of them seemed determined to get past the abuse of childhood by forgetting, denying, or ignoring. That approach doesn't work.

We don't forget—not really. We don't forget because childhood abuse affects our lives and shapes our attitudes about people and relationships. Some guys want to hurry and get over it, but it's not something to get over and to move on.

Abuse happened to us. Until we accept it and face what it has done to our lives, we don't really move forward. We only live unhealed lives.

“I Was an Object”

Even as an adult, I looked back on old Mr. Lee (my second perpetrator) as a grandfatherly figure. (All my grandparents were dead by the time I was five years old.) I even dedicated one of my early books to his memory.

He didn’t love me. To him, I was an object. I was there, and he used my body (and my soul) for his powerful lusts.

For me to say I was only a thing was tough for me. I thought I was special (often he said I was). They were lies.

When I told a friend how hard it was to use that word, he suggested I think of myself as a commodity. He used the word to mean an article of trade.

He said, “You were like something he bought by carefully grooming you. It wasn’t because you were special; it was because you were vulnerable and available.”

I hated to hear those words, but they were correct. They helped set me free.

I was a useful object to him;
I am a lovable human being to God.

A Wife's Perspective

During the past four months, I’ve received several emails from wives of male survivors of sexual assault. Two of them found me through this blog, the others from reading one of my two books about sexual abuse.

This came from one of those wives, who gave me permission to share as much of her email as I chose. After the first three paragraphs below, she went into details about her husband’s childhood and his adult struggles.

None of what she writes would surprise regular readers of this blog. And yet each email is a story of pain, struggles, and (sometimes) happy endings.

My reason for sharing this portion is to point out once again that we survivors aren’t the only victims.

§

My husband is a victim of childhood sexual abuse from his father, older brother, and father’s friends, starting around the age of 6.

We have been married for 26 years, and I am just realizing through reading your book “When a Man You Love was Abused”, that I am also a victim of his abuse. This has only just become a realization to me, that I am also a victim.

I stumbled across a Focus on the Family podcast that you were on, addressing this issue. I was actually looking for a resource on healing from sexual sins in our marriage, when your podcast came up. I was in shock when I read the title of the show, “Helping Your Husband Overcome Childhood Sexual Abuse”. I did not know that such topics existed, or even books on the subject. Even though the subject matter is so hard to listen to, it was so helpful to hear two men [Gary Roe and Cec] share their struggles and their stories, and practical ways that a wife can help her husband! Up until now, I have only seen myself as the victim and not my husband. I have not realized the depth of how wounded my husband is until I read your book. All through our marriage I have focused on how I have been the victim from my husband’s actions, not realizing that they were a manifestation of his struggle. Up until now, I have not been able to see past my hurts, to be able to help him. I can now look back and see the effects in our marriage from his abuse.

Setting Boundaries

As kids many of us had no boundaries. We were there for others to take advantage of. We didn’t know to refuse. Our lack of boundaries often made us vulnerable to predators.

One result of my lack of boundaries is that I became a rescuer, although it would be years before I acknowledged that. I reached out to other hurting people, trying to help them.

Consider my professions. I started as a public school teacher and asked for the lowest achievers in the sixth-grade class I taught. For 14 years I was a pastor and part-time chaplain. Being a professional writer may not seem to fit that role, but I’ve recently completed writing my third book for survivors. I’m also a professional ghostwriter—I help other people tell their stories.

As I’ve become aware of my need to rescue, I’ve also seen other areas of my life, such as not having the skill to say no without a lengthy apology.

That’s been changing the last three years. I’m learning to set boundaries for myself. In this blog, I frequently refer to self-talk. Many times I write simple, direct, and positive statements, put them on 3x5 file cards, and repeat them several times a day, often for months.

These two I’ve said since March of 2015:
  • Appropriately I say no.
  • I maintain wise, prudent, and practical boundaries.
Because I value who I am;
I can set boundaries for me.

No Self-judging Allowed

On a hand-painted sign I saw those words in a friend’s den. “I think I understand the words,” I said, “but is there a story here?”

“Yes!” Alan Jennings said. “I made up that sign for what I hoped would be an opportunity to tell people about my abuse.” The sign had been up almost two years and only a handful of visitors had asked about it.

“It began in a group therapy session,” he said. Alan was condemning himself for allowing an older boy to sodomize him. Before he sought help, he talked about allowing the horrible things done to him.

Another member of the group interrupted him. “Don’t you have any compassion for that little boy? He did what he had to do to survive.”

When Alan started to protest, others in the group also urged him to be kind to the abused child.

“I had been in and out of therapy for addictions,” he said, “but I realized I hadn’t been kind to my little boy.”

“You survived because of him,” one man said. “You may have done things you’re ashamed of now, but that hurt, despised little boy kept you alive.”

For quite a while we talked before Alan said, “I put up that sign to remind me and to help me to be kind and understanding to my younger self.

“Every night, even now I stare at my reflection in the mirror and think of the eight-year-old boy and say to him, ‘Thank you for helping me survive.’”

He smiled, “I no longer have to say no self-judging allowed. Now I leave the sign up in the den, hoping it will help others.”

The Other Survivor

My wife was also a survivor—a survivor of my abusive childhood. She suffered because she loved me and stayed with me while I worked through my pain.

For a long time, I didn’t realize how my childhood had affected her. I was too busy working on Cec.

As one example, when she was deeply hurt, I froze inside. Today I’d say I numbed out as many survivors do during intense emotional moments. I didn’t understand what was happening to me, and my abuse kept me from giving her the comfort I wanted to show her.

I didn’t know when I was angry and couldn’t “feel” that emotion. More than once Shirley cried and I didn’t understand what I had said or done.

For me, the good news is that healing began, and Shirley was there from the beginning. One evening, I pulled her close and apologized. “Until recently I didn’t understand that you have been victimized by what was done to me.”

I’m glad I was able to see that and apologize. That didn’t change the fact of her being a survivor of my childhood molestation and pain, but I was able to affirm my love and appreciation.

“But You Act So Normal”

I’ve heard that statement in two different ways. The first came from someone with whom I shared my pain. “You’re pretty well put together.”

I’m not sure what people mean when they say such things. I certainly hope he thought I behaved like a normal person. If I’m emotionally “pretty well put together” it’s because I’ve worked hard to get there.

Another person once said, “I never would have suspected that you had been abused. You’re so normal.”

Frankly, that’s just another dumb thing someone says, probably without thinking. Possibly they’re trying to compliment me and their intent is to say, “You have come a long way.” Or “You’ve triumphed over such a painful childhood and I admire you.”

Maybe that’s what they meant. But it comes across as implying they assume anyone who was abused would remain an emotional cripple.

Regardless, when I hear such things I say to myself, He means well and doesn’t realize how stupid his words sound. I want to give those people the benefit of assuming they meant well.

I can do that now. But a decade ago, such statements hurt. In those days, such words minimized my journey as if to say, “You’re normal so it must not have been too bad.”

It’s so much easier to say, “I’m sorry for what you endured.”

Then I believe they “heard” my pain.

“It Could Have Been Worse”

That statement, “It could have been worse,” angered me. I heard it only once from a relative. Even though she probably didn’t mean it that way, the words were dismissive and minimized the damage the abuse had done. I said nothing.

If I were to hear it today, I’d like to say, “And how much more would it have taken for you to consider it worse?” I’d explain the emotional damage the molestation caused me throughout my life. What did she think would have been worse? If my perp had killed me? Made me a sex slave? (I wouldn’t say it, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to.)

Most likely I sound defensive here, and she thought her words were encouraging me.

Because of the abusive behavior of others, my childhood was miserable and one time I was suicidal. I felt worthless, unloved, and wanted. I could add other symptoms, but the question remains: how much worse did it need to have been?

I heard the statement again recently from a man who was trying to share his pain in a small-group setting. And the leader, shockingly, spoke those words.

After the meeting, the survivor asked me, “Should I go back to that group?”

He has to answer that for himself, but if the leader was as insensitive as the words appear in writing, I wouldn’t go back.

None of us survivors need patronizing words that diminish our pain or make us feel as if we’re self-pitying.

Our abuse was bad enough to make us struggle with it all through the rest of our lives.

Isn’t that bad enough?

Lessons I Had to Learn

About a year after Shirley and I married, I was passed over for a job and I knew I was better qualified than the person they hired.

A day after receiving the news, my mother-in-law, Cornelia Brackett, listened to my moaning for a few minutes. Then she said, “It was probably good for you.”

“Good for me?”

Then Mom Brackett said, “I used to worry about you because you’re bright and you catch on to things quickly.”

“And you worried?”

“Yes, because you looked down on others who weren’t as capable as you are.”

Her words didn’t comfort me, even though I knew what she was trying to get through to me. I was in my early 50s when I came to terms with my sexual and physical assaults in childhood. By then I was reaching out to hurting men and trying to encourage and comfort them. And one day I heard Mom Brackett’s voice inside my head.

Finally, I understood. Learning to face my own childhood suffering has done great things for me. I’m far from perfect, but I know God has given me a caring, sympathetic heart. I can extend a loving hand or a warm heart because I know how it feels to hurt.

“God Didn’t Care”

I’ve heard men say, “God didn’t care.” They usually go on to insist that a loving God would have protected them.

“I was an altar boy and loved Father Michael.”

“I never missed his Sunday school class.”

“He seemed like God himself by smiling, listening to me, and expressing sympathy.”

The stories start differently, but they all ask the where-were-you-God question. I understand the confusion of someone who’s trying to relate to a God who says he loves us.

We seem to think that if we love God nothing bad happens to us.

This morning, however, I was reading the story of Joseph in the Bible. Why didn’t God protect him from being sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape, and thrown in prison? Didn’t he love Joseph?

David, designated by God to be Israel’s king, spent years running from the attempts on his life by King Saul.

The only answer I’ve ever had and which has brought me comfort was from the mouth of Joseph himself.

He became the number two ruler in Egypt. Later, when famine struck the entire Middle East, Joseph spared the lives of his family. In the final chapter of Genesis, the ten older brothers, fearing that Joseph will take revenge on them, say, “We are your slaves” (Genesis 50:18).

He tells them, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (verse 20).

That’s my answer: God doesn’t promise to protect us from hardships, pain, and evil. He does promise to be with us while we’re going through our tribulations.

I’ve been a serious Christian since I was 21 or 22. I hate the abusive childhood I endured. But now I know there was a divine purpose. God was with me. And God has taken away all that abuse, healed me, and is teaching me to be more compassionate for others.

I didn’t see God in my young life, 
but he was with me the whole time.

“You’re Not Alone” (Part 2 of 2)


We battle alone, but we also need to know others are there to support us. We can ask the questions, and others can make suggestions, but it’s still a personalized, individual battle that only we can fight for ourselves.

Others can help by their presence and caring. A common biblical story inspired me when I was going through a dark period. In the book of Exodus, chapter 17, the Israelites are fighting their first battle with the Amalekites, led by Joshua. The leader, Moses, stands on a mountain with his hands raised as a symbol of victory. Joshua’s troops are winning.

Moses’ arms grow tired and he starts to lower them. When he drops his arms, the Amalekites prevail. Two men, Aaron and Hur, make Moses sit on a boulder and they get on either side of him and hold up his arms. And that continues until they thoroughly defeat their enemy.

Holding up our tired arms makes a powerful image for me. We get frustrated, confused, and feel lost. One of my problems was that as memories came back, my deep resistance was to say, “That’s only your imagination. That’s not true.” But when I told the two people who held my arms, they helped me accept the truthfulness of my flashbacks and memories.

When I doubted that I’d ever get healthy, they assured me that I would. They held up my weak, weary, and discouraged hands until my biggest battles were over. We all need those caring people who are there to lift up our arms.

Who is holding up your arms?

“You’re Not Alone” (Part 1 of 2)


I read those words often: “You’re not alone.” Sometimes I find them comforting because it implies that the speaker/writer is reaching out for us. And knowing that we’re not alone can be immensely helpful on our journey.

And yet we are alone—a reality we have to face.

We must do the inner work ourselves; we have to feel the pain, the doubts, and the self-accusations. No one in the world knows exactly what we go through.

We are alone because the battle is within—a place others can’t go.

Think of it this way. We were victimized in isolation. Our perpetrators sought us out, groomed us, separated us from others, and then molested us. Healing means going back into the place of segregation from others. Our problems started there; our victories arise from there.

This isn’t to rule out the help of others—and we do need others. But the battle is ours alone.

We are alone because the battle is within.

The Best Words


My healing journey was slow and painful (or so it seems to me) and part of that may be because I live in a culture that expects miracle makeovers. I worked at my healing. I read everything I could find on the topic. I attended conferences where they had breakout groups to deal with sexual issues. I connected on the Internet with men all over the country and a few overseas. I joined a small group of men—I was the only admitted survivor—and the other five men affirmed me and loved me.

Nearly three years later, my wife and I were with another couple and Shirley said, “I don’t know Cec anymore. He used to be predictable, but he’s changed so much. It’s like having a different husband.” She held my hand, smiled at me, and said, “And I love the new man even more.”

Those were the most affirming words I heard during my healing journey. The woman with whom I lived every day saw and affirmed the difference.

She asserted what I had begun to feel.

We all need the outside witness—someone else to notice and appreciate the change. When that happens, we’re able to move farther and faster down the healing path.

Stealing Second Base

I don’t remember the first time I heard or read this truism: you can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.

The impact of those words is that the healing journey is risky. Any healthy survivor will echo those words. Once we open the door to our painful childhood, we never know what’s going to come out.

For example, I hadn’t cried since I was 11 years old; I started my healing journey 40 years later. Then I cried—almost every day for weeks. I’d see something about mistreatment on TV and the tears would flow. Or read a scene in a book.

More than the tears, I began seeing things about myself I didn’t like—things others could see but had previously hidden from me. It hurt for me to face them and say to myself, “Yes, that’s true.”

Hard. Risky. The safer, easier path is denial. I had lived in that community too long.

The acute responses to my self-knowledge (i.e., the intense pain) lasted months. But I prevailed. I can only thank God, my wife, and my best friend because they were there when I needed them. Even so, it was my pain, my traumatic past. And as one wise survivor said to me, “The only way out is through. You’ll never be free of the pain until you re-experience it.”

Today I’m healthier. I love being who I am—something that didn’t seem possible 10 years earlier. I took my foot off first base. I risked being hurt, humiliated, and misunderstood, and I just kept going.

So can you.

Move your foot off first base. Take the risk.

“I Emotionally Abuse My Wife”

A lengthy email came from a man who had gotten in touch with his abuse in his early 50s. He confessed to emotionally abusing his wife. “How can I stop doing that?”

I don’t know the answer, but I offered him a suggestion: start by being compassionate to yourself.

Whatever is in our hearts comes out in our actions. Long ago I realized that the people who criticize and speak harshly of others are really letting us peak inside themselves. The way we treat others reflects the way we treat ourselves.

I suggested the emotionally wounded do what I did when I realized some of the terrible effects of sexual, emotional, and physical assault: I admitted I couldn’t be truly kind to others until I was genuinely compassionate toward Cec. That meant loving and accepting myself.

I wrote several statements on three-by-five file cards and repeated them several times a day.

Here are examples:
  • I am loveable.
  • I am worthwhile.
  • God created me lovable.
  • I like who I am and accept who I am.
  • I lovingly embrace every part of myself.
Weeks passed before the truth of those new messages slowly sank in. Today I can say those words with a smile on my face. I truly like Cec.

The residual effect has been that as I’ve become more accepting of myself it shows up by my being more compassionate and less judgmental of others.

Collateral Damage

The term collateral damage began as a military term to refer to damage done to civilians or unintended targets in warfare. Today, most of us understand it means the undesired consequences of horrific events. For survivors, it’s the harm done to those within our circle, especially family members.

In my own journey, I can think of nothing more difficult for me than speaking to my family of origin about the abuse during my childhood and then informing my own children. The first was more difficult because I assumed they, like me, lived with denial. To my surprise, my three older sisters either said, “I knew” or “I suspected.”

My own children, again to my surprise, handled it well. The thing about which I’m grateful is that I never took my molestation to the next generation—that is, did to them what was done to me.

I’m grateful I caused no collateral damage for my children.

The Worst Abuse

The worst abuse to any boy can be stated in one word: incest. My online dictionary defines incest as the crime of sexual acts with a parent, child, sibling, or grandparent. I’ve never heard of any culture that affirms incest.

Family members, especially parents and grandparents, are those we naturally trust. We turn to them for love, understanding, and comfort. And if they violate our trust, they confuse us and do irreparable damage to our souls.

Every authority I’ve read says that incest has more far-reaching negative consequences than any other because it occurs within the family system. It’s particularly true when the perpetrator is a parent, because the child grows up trapped in a twisted primary relationship.

Long before I faced my own incestuous abuse, another writer named Mark* told me that when he was a teen his mother raped him. Nearly 40 years later, we met at a conference last year and renewed our relationship.

Mark has now been married four times. His present marriage is rocky, but he’s determined to hold it together. He’s also aware of what his mother did to him. He tried to get closure and peace a few months before she died, but she denied any wrongdoing.

“My head knows all the reasons and explanations for my problems,” Mark said, “but I can’t get my emotions to adapt.” Because of his mother’s actions, Mark has never been able to sustain a relationship with a woman. He and his present wife are getting counseling, but he says, “I can’t open up to her. No matter how hard I try, the trust just isn’t there.” And then he admits, “It’s not because she’s done or said anything. It’s just hard for me to trust any woman.”

“Or impossible,” I said.

He started to disagree, closed his mouth, and stared into space for a minute or so. “Yes, that’s right.”

This is again a plea with incest survivors to get help—a friend, a minister, a therapist. It is possible to overcome the devastating effects of incest.

I know.

You’re Responsible

In an adult Sunday school, I’ve been teaching a series on our bodies are God’s holy temples. (The Bible calls them that.) What surprised me was most class members remained passive about their physical health.

If you have a headache, take an aspirin. Aleve keeps it away for 12 hours. Restless leg syndrome? There’s a pill for that. Heartburn after eating spicy food? TV screens show several over-the-counter liquids and pills to remove the discomfort.

I noticed the TV ads for prescription medications. Many of them end with these words, “Ask your doctor for . . .”

I’m not against medicine or doctors. But I’m against being passive about our physical health.

I am responsible for my health. I have the right—the duty—the responsibility to take care of myself. Too often the sick passively put themselves into the hands of a professional and look for pills or surgery to take away their symptoms.

Instead of immediately seeking a professional, why not start by asking yourself: What is going on inside me that makes me ill? For example, instead of taking Tums or Nexium for acid indigestion, why not avoid spicy foods? It’s often that simple.

My reason for stressing responsibility is simple. If we truly want healing and to rise above our abuse, we have to work hard at it. Too many men give up and medicate themselves with frenzied activities or anti-depressants, or seek the therapist who can set them free.

As an illustration, I’m a professional writer and have taught in more than 200 writers conferences. One of the benefits to conferees is that they are able to set up appointments to talk with the professionals on staff.

Rarely have I gone to a conference without at least one writer showing me a manuscript that’s been rejected countless times. Instead of trying to figure out what they’re doing wrong, they keep seeking. One woman said, “I know that one day I’ll find exactly the right editor, and I’ll sell this book.”

It works like that with healing from our traumatic childhoods. I am responsible.

I am responsible for my own healing from abuse.

Being Ignored

As a child I was beaten by my father, sexually assaulted by a female relative, and verbally abused by both parents. The worst part of my childhood, or so it seems to me now, was being ignored.

Mel was two years younger and died from alcohol abuse at age 48, but he was clearly my parents’ favorite child and we other 6 siblings knew and accepted it. Mel did no wrong. Ever. When he got into trouble—with regularity—they didn’t punish or rebuke him.

The result for me was being ignored. I’ve tried to think of one rule my parents gave me such as when to go to bed, get up in the morning, what subjects to take in school, or restrictions about behavior or friends. None. I learned to make all those decisions on my own. As a boy I decided to be in bed at night by 9:00 and Mel sometimes stayed up until midnight (and was regularly “too sick” to go to school the next day).

The time I contemplated suicide (mentioned in my previous blog), I did think about being missed. I distinctly recall thinking, my mother would cry a little, but within days everyone would have forgotten me. I truly believed that.

Perhaps because I was the good boy—the one who didn’t get into trouble, who did well in school, and didn’t demand attention—it was easy to ignore me.

I didn’t ask for attention, probably because I didn’t think it would do any good. That reality helps me understand why I was such a prime target for a pedophile. Whenever anyone showed me attention or interest, they had me. I was a ready-to-be-victimized child.

That was a long time ago, but those memories aren’t gone. I don’t need to be the center of attention; but I do need to be cared about and loved.

Like any normal person.

I’m grateful for those special people in my life who expressed genuine love and affection for me. They (with God’s help) enabled me to be who I am today.

Defining Abuse (Part 2 of 2)

“A strong component of childhood sexual molestation becomes a systematic tearing down of boys and interferes with their development.” I don’t know where I read those words, but I copied them a few years ago. Another statement reads, “Abuse assaults the boy’s self-understanding and makes him feel unworthy of love and affection.”

Those two quotations nicely expressed my self-concept. I felt unworthy of love and affection. That’s such a terrible burden to impose on a young boy who’s trying to navigate the murky rivers of life.

Unworthy. I don’t know that I ever used that particular word, but that sums up my childhood. Unworthy of love. Unworthy of being accepted. Because I had no one to whom I could confide, it meant I had to face those struggles on my own. No wonder I always felt different and unlike other boys.

§

One thing we need to face is that we don’t “just get healed” or grow up healthy. It’s hard work. We survivors start at a distinct disadvantage unless we have a support system. We need other people and perhaps we know it—we just don’t know how to ask for or receive their help.

Looking back, I’m sure there were adults with whom I might have entrusted my secrets, but I didn’t know how to talk about my feeling different. Most of all, however, I honestly didn’t think anyone cared. That’s the damaged self-image.

When I was 12 or 13, my life hit such a low point I decided to commit suicide by jabbing myself repeatedly in the stomach with a knife. (I’d seen it done that way in a film). At the last minute, however, I couldn’t do it. I cursed myself for being a coward.

When our self-esteem is so skewed and twisted, we blame ourselves for everything, even when we’re unable to complete the most self-destructive urges.

Looking back, I can’t pick an Aha! moment when my life changed. For me, it was a gradual movement. I credit most of that growth to the love and patience of my wife, Shirley, who didn’t give up on me.

So it comes down to this. If you want healing from your childhood abuse, face one harsh reality: You can’t do it yourself. You can’t heal without the loving, accepting help of others.

Defining Abuse (Part 1 of 2)

It’s hard to give a specific definition to abuse because it shows itself in a myriad of ways. Even if it’s “only” sexual abuse, it’s also emotional abuse.

It took me a long time to grasp that obvious statement. When Mr. Lee, the old man, sexually seduced me, in my childish way I thought he loved me. He said he did. He told me often enough how sweet and special I was.

Mr. Lee also assaulted my older, slightly retarded sister, and she told. When I came home later that day, I learned that Dad had beaten the man up and tossed his belongings out of the house.

I didn’t understand it, but I didn’t know whom to tell. About two weeks later I was walking along Sixth Street (we lived on Second). I saw Mr. Lee sitting on a large porch with several older men. I waved and yelled at him.

He didn’t respond. I started up the walk to the house and he got up and hurried inside. I stood on the sidewalk confused and deeply hurt, feeling he had rejected me. And I thought he loved me.

That’s an example of the emotional toll of sexual abuse: I felt rejected, unloved, and unwanted. And it hurt more than the lack of affection from my own family. Mr. Lee had given me hope, and made me feel good. Special. That day, as he hurried out of my sight, I felt the emotional effect of his lies, deception, and pretense.

The physical act from our perpetrators is only the beginning. The scars are there for the rest of our lives.

An Act of Power?

When I read anything about rape these days, it all seems to say, “Rape is an act of power. Dominion over another.” Maybe that’s right, but I don’t agree that we boys were chosen so that a bigger person could have control over us.

For me, the perpetrators were blinded by their own needs. I call it an addiction, even though many would disagree. I see our exploitation as a result of a compulsive, overpowering urge.

A few perpetrators have said, “I couldn’t help it. I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway.” That sounds like an addiction to me.

For me, such admissions don’t fit with domination or control. It says to me that the victimizers were their own victims. Out of their own overwhelming lustful need, they seduced us boys.

I’m not excusing them; I’m trying to understand why they do such evil things. For me, that’s the only satisfactory solution. When they’re engaged in the sexual act, it has one purpose: to provide them with sexual gratification. And it works. They are satisfied—for the moment. And then the urges and the compulsion returned—following the pattern of an addiction.

I understand compulsion because I was a smoker for six years. Once I got hooked, I couldn’t stop. At times I was tormented and had to force myself not to think about cigarettes. Once I had that white stick in my mouth I was satisfied, although I detested the fact that I was addicted and realized that tobacco controlled my life patterns until I broke free.

During the past two decades, I’ve spoken with perhaps a dozen former perpetrators. None of them have ever spoken about power unless it was to say they felt powerless to stop.

The practical side of this is that it enables me to feel compassion for those who victimize. I remind myself that they didn’t seduce us to rack up trophies of conquest.

“I hated myself,” one former teacher told me. “I couldn’t stop even though I knew it was wrong—and I didn’t quit until a parent reported me.” He spent two years in prison and is today registered as a sexual offender.

Power? Really?

A Manly Self-image

What is a real man?

I assume every male survivor asks this question in some form. The answer comes largely from our personal enculturation. We Americans have applauded the strong, silent image of John Wayne, or the suave James Bond. These days theaters are filled with the exploits of those super-sized heroes from Marvel Comics.

All of us were exposed to stereotyped patterns of male images. Too often we assumed that true men were self-sufficient, the taciturn, no-nonsense individual who needed nothing. And then we can cry—but only at funerals of a parent or a spouse.

Despite all our images of the strong, resourceful male, this morning I thought about biblical heroes. Jesus’ first disciples heard him say, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God” (John 14:1). During that same time, he said he was leaving them his peace, “So don’t be troubled or afraid” (verse 27).

When Judas came with soldiers and betrayed Jesus, do you know what the 11 remaining disciples did? They ran away in fear of their lives. If you read the stories of Moses and Joshua in the Old Testament, they were both fearful men and God had to keep telling them he was with them.

And yet those men are our heroes—a serious disconnect from the images around us.

Here’s a little of what I wish my dad or a caring adult male would have said to me: “It’s all right to feel your emotions. You don’t have to be strong all the time. To fear, question, and doubt are human feelings that only real men know how to express.”

I didn’t hear those words and I doubt that most male survivors did, but the message is still true.

I claim my right to feel.
I claim my right not to be ashamed of any of my emotions.

It Was a Crime

When we were exploited as children, we were the victims of a crime. Our perpetrators broke the law. Most of us understand that when we read about people like Jerry Sandusky and pedophile priests. And yet, most of us rarely think that way when we look at our own lives.

They robbed us of childhood. They stole a precious part of our lives.

To admit that reality can be a source of freedom. It’s like saying, “You victimized me and left me this way.” (That doesn’t mean we must stay the victim, but that’s where many of us need to start the journey.)

A reader of this blog, Roger Rowe, wrote to me privately, admitting that wasn’t his real name, which is all right. Here is a slightly edited version of what he wrote:
I underwent therapy and couldn’t seem to make any progress. I felt guilty and filled with self-condemnation. After about the 10th session, my therapist said, “The TV news reported a home invasion and the intruder shot and killed five couples. If they hadn’t lived in that house, they would be alive today.” 
“That’s crazy,” I said. “They did nothing to—”
“So how does it feel to exonerate your abuser? You’ve taken the blame on yourself.”
That was the turning point for me. I was blaming the victim (myself) for what was done to me.

Are you still blaming the victim?

“But It Felt Good” (Part 2 of 2)

We survivors grew up in a convoluted world. Because we were vulnerable, needy kids, our abusers took advantage of us. As a result, we felt guilty over sexual stimulation. Frigidity is usually a female malady, but it applies to males as well (even though we use different terms). Some of them can’t achieve an erection and have other problems associated with normal intercourse.

We’re ashamed that our bodies “betrayed” us and some men never get free. Some become promiscuous, running from one sexual partner to the next. It’s as if they shout, “See, I’m all right and abuse didn’t affect me.”

We respond differently to the horrible experiences of childhood. The often-silent voices come from feeling ashamed of having erotic feelings.

“Of course it felt good!” I wish I could get that message across to every male who was raped. That’s why we have so much pain and guilt today—those selfish perpetrators destroyed the placidity of our childhood. They did the evil deed and we pay the consequences.

My abuse felt good, which is natural and normal. I accept that and I remind myself that I was a normal, needy kid whom someone exploited.

“But It Felt Good” (Part 1 of 2)

I don’t know how many men I’ve talked with who equated abuse with excitement. It felt good, and consequently, they questioned their own sexuality, whether they actually did something to make it happen.

To add to that, it may push them to wonder if they’re really gay. It’s as if they say, “If I was normal, it wouldn’t have felt good.” We need to admit that when we were sexually assaulted it felt good. Of course it did.

I still recall the old man running his hands around my body telling me how soft it felt, and I enjoyed this touch. All of us have skin hunger, and no one in my family ever touched me—or if so, I don’t remember.

Everything the old man did to me felt good. In retrospect, I felt shame for responding to a natural, normal act—the human touch.

An online article stated that three of four Americans suffer from skin hunger. I don’t know how they arrived at that statistic, but I accept it. Our perpetrators used that unfulfilled human need and we suffered because of it.

I was an innocent boy who needed loving touches;
my perpetrator exploited a basic human need.

Sexuality and Shame

Shame is one of the common elements of us who are survivors of childhood abuse. My definition of shame is that it’s a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong behavior or imagined bad behavior.

My definition means that regardless of who assaulted us, on some level we sensed it was wrong. Individuals older and larger took advantage of us, and we didn’t know any better. We were immature children and didn’t know what else to do, but we had some awareness—possibly while it was going on or later—even though our perpetrator certainly didn’t inform us.

Because of that, as adults we struggle with shame. We have no logical reason for those feelings. We were innocent and powerless. We forget that shame is an emotion and doesn’t obey rules of logic.

As an adult, I understand shame is part of our socialization process. Someone said, “No action is required; merely existing is enough.” We can’t change the feeling, but we can change our attitude toward the effect.

One day I realized, “I wasn’t a bad kid. Those who abused me were bad.” The shame didn’t disappear, but it troubles me less and less. After that, one of the things I said to myself daily for months was, “I wasn’t bad; something bad was done to me.”

How do you deal with your sense of shame?

The Exercise Factor (Part 4 of 4)

Along with moving the body, something else I’ve learned is to incorporate positive self-talk while I’m on the move. We chatter to ourselves all the time, and it’s impossible not to talk to ourselves. When I caught on to that years ago I realized I could improve my life by choosing to say positive things to myself and about myself.

My rules (which I learned from others) are simple.

1. State facts that are true.

2. Commit yourself to goals you can easily achieve.

For example, I started making two statements to myself:
  • I need to exercise.
  • I will exercise three times a week.
Both were positive and easily accomplished. At times I had to push myself to do three mornings a week. But once it became habitual, I increased it to five times. Over a period of weeks, I realized how much better I felt about Cec, and I was more energetic and creative in my work. And in those days I was running one mile. Before long I got up to six miles each day.

I kept telling myself the positive effects of those two things. I kept my goal simple and obtainable.

Perhaps I sound like a fanatic on this topic. I know only that I’ve reaped immense benefits, and exercise has played a major role on my healing journey.

Energy, Energy (Part 3 of 4)

I am and have always been a high-energy person, but even people like me have bad days—really bad days. Some mornings it takes immense effort for me to get out of bed and go for a run. Days with rain and freezing weather add another reason to turn over and sleep.

Then I remind myself that I’ll feel much better after running. And I always do. A few times I drag myself out there on the streets early in the morning and I start out wondering why I’m doing it. Even on those days, by the time I’m home and ready for a shower, I know why.

I feel better about myself. It’s that simple. I don’t have to fight negative self-talk or beat myself up emotionally. I realize how blessed I am and enjoy my life. That’s the reason for being able to develop the self-discipline of getting up every morning—and it’s worth the effort.

I kiddingly say to my friends, “I’ve saved $300,000 in therapists’ fees through exercise.”

I’m a self-starter and I realize that some people need others to keep pushing them forward. If that’s you, recruit a friend. Get one or two buddies to run or walk with you or whatever exercise you choose.

I’m a professional writer and work at home. Almost every morning I see others in my neighborhood exercising while I’m at work. One man and his wife jog (which I use to refer to a slower, more relaxed pace). A little later, two wives in their early 30s make the loop in front of my house, which is at the end of a cul-de-sac.

I live 1.3 miles from a high school and sometimes I run there and do a few laps on the track. For the past several weeks, a group of five women have been coming out. They yell at each other, laugh, and I can hear them halfway around the track. They’re having fun.

In an earlier blog I wrote, “Start small.” If there is any secret to an ongoing exercise, that’s it. Don’t set lofty goals of learning to run a 10k race in a week

In my next blog, I’ll give you one more tip on developing an exercise program to push away negativity and depression.




The Exercise Factor (Part 2 of 4)

Just to encourage people to exercise isn’t enough. I read an article early this year that said health spas get most of their new members during the holiday season. The article also pointed out that by February 9, most of them have stopped coming.

One reason people fail with exercise is that they try to make immense changes and then give up. My advice (and my own experience) says, “Start small. Decide on one thing that you can do faithfully. Then add something else.”

Next to my faith in a loving God and the positive support of others, I place physical exercise as my best form of therapy and healing. That’s because I know what it has done for me. The best way I know to express this is to use myself as an example.

I was born in 1933, so you can figure out my age. Certainly genetics play a role, but I’m healthy and exuberant with no physical problems and I take no medication. That’s not meant to brag, only to point out what physical exercise does for me.

In 1974, I had been hospitalized twice with ulcers, my blood pressure was in the high normal range, and I was about 30 pounds heavier. My doctor said having ulcers twice made me chronic and he would soon start treating me for my high blood pressure.

I left his office with a prayer in my heart and determination never to have to go back. (I never did.) I chose to take care of my body and I chose to run. It took me almost two weeks before I could run a whole mile without stopping for breath.

But the single most significant benefit was the positive effects on my psyche. Some days I felt lousy, and in the early days of my recovery I’d have to say close to helpless.

Then I went for a run—no matter how much effort it took to get my feet moving. By the time I came home, I felt good. We sometimes call it the runner’s high, or we can say the endorphins kick in. Perhaps it’s just as important to say that God made our bodies to move.

The more I move my body, the better I feel.
That’s excellent and inexpensive therapy.

Just Move It (Part 1 of 4)

As a survivor, I believe strongly in daily, physical exercise. Most experts on physical fitness suggest some form of aerobic or cardio exercise 3 times a week for about 30 minutes.

Dr. Kenneth Cooper introduced the term in the 1960s, and I’ve been an advocate of his approach since the mid-1970s. He uses the term to refer to exercises that demand the use of oxygen during the workout, such as running/jogging, swimming, cycling, and walking (fast-paced walking).

For survivors I suggest a different approach. Do it every day and as early in the day as possible. (I’m a morning person so that’s easier for me.) I chose running, although I now rotate it with fast-clipped walking. I used to be able to do 15-minute miles walking, but now it takes me 17 to 18 minutes a mile.

The purpose is to get that heart pumping. Not only does it improve our health as Cooper and others have advocated, it improves our mental health, reduces stress, and lowers depression. The experts claim (and so do I) that daily exercise increases our cognitive capacity.

My Merriam-Webster defines cognitive as conscious mental activities (such as thinking, understanding, learning, and remembering).

For those of us who were victimized as children, this is the easiest and least expensive form of therapy. My daily run doesn’t cure anything, but it improves my spiritual and physical outlook.

Skin Hunger (Part 2 of 2)

As I pointed out in a previous blog, all of us need to be touched and held. Others took advantage of our neediness and exploited it. We were innocent kids and eagerly accepted affection from anyone.

Regardless of how much help or therapy we receive, the skin hunger doesn’t go away. How do we handle it? If you have a spouse, that’s probably not a big issue. You touch each other, I assume with some regularity.

But what if you’re single? Or widowed as I am? Needs don’t disappear. Perhaps because I’ve long been one of those individuals who likes to hug and receive hugs, I’ve been more acutely aware of it.

About a year after my wife died, I noticed a row of gray-headed widows who filled up one pew at our church. I’m not sure what compelled me to do it, but I went up to the woman on the end and said, “I need a hug. Would you give me one?” She smiled and did it.

The woman next to her smiled and I said, “I’m open to one from you if you can spare it.” Within a couple of minutes, I had gone down the entire row. I felt good about it and it has become my weekly ritual.

A few weeks later I said to one of them, “Thank you for that hug. I don’t get touched all week.”

“Neither do I,” she said. “And I look forward to your hugs.” She was 91 years old.

Two more years later I’m still hugging them, but now all of us see it as mutually needed. Best of all, they’re safe hugs. We’re both responding to that need for a physical, human caress.

That practice has grown beyond the row of widows. I’m now the hugger in the church. A woman named Kay runs up to me every week. “I need my Cec hug!” And I’m delighted to provide that. Men get hugged too.

I’ve been careful about the people I embrace. If I’m unsure I ask, “May I hug you?” In two years, I’ve had only two people say no, and both times I’ve answered, “Okay, thank you” and moved on.

I focus on this because, as a survivor of childhood abuse, on that preconscious level I needed the skin contact, and getting older doesn’t destroy it. Each Sunday when I leave church I’ve been hugged at least 30 times and possibly even more. I know I feel better about life and certainly better about Cec.

I need hugs.
And in giving them, I also receive them.

Receiving Hugs (Part 1 of 2)

Women have hugged me most of my life, but I was in my 20s when I went to a church where a one-armed man named Benny hugged me. It felt uncomfortable. But over time I learned to receive hugs from men and enjoy them.

The important lesson was that I learned the difference between safe hugs and unsafe hugs. My first awareness of an unsafe embrace came at a men’s conference. The speaker told us to move around and hug at least five other men.

A man I didn’t know grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled me tightly against his body. It didn’t feel good, and I’m not sure how to describe the difference. I sense that most of us know when it happens. Maybe he held me a little too long and certainly too tightly.

Not feeling comfortable discussing it with other men at the conference, a few days later I chatted with three women at church. “Do you feel a difference in the kind of hugs you receive?” I asked.

Without hesitating, all three said they did. “I can tell if a man is trying to hit on me by the way he grabs me.” In essence, that’s the statement each of them made.

Like me, they were unable to define exactly how they knew, but they did.

That distinction helped me a great deal. A couple of years after that my wife and I moved from Atlanta to Louisville, Kentucky, for a four-year period. I joined a men’s group and became actively involved.

Occasionally I felt unsafe hugs and tried to avoid those men. One of them, Eric, invited me to have dinner with him, and I gave him an excuse. A few weeks later he asked me again, and I turned him down. He didn’t ask a third time.

About that time, I heard rumors about Eric being on the prowl for other men. I knew I had made the right decision.

I’m grateful that I sensed the difference. And I think most of us do.

How about you? Have you experienced both kind of hugs? If so, how do you explain the difference?




Where Trust Starts

When I felt safe, I was ready to face the pain of the past. But part of that sense of safety stayed at bay until I was able to trust myself—to believe I was worthwhile and trustworthy.

In several blog posts over the years I’ve written about trusting others, and that’s a big issue for most of us. I’ve discovered that trust issues start with ourselves. Until I sensed I was loved, truly loved, I felt worthless and driven to prove my value to myself.

Healing begins as an inside job. Once we’re able to accept ourselves and feel some level of self-compassion and know we’re worthwhile, we can accept the affirmations and care from others.

My wife and others were expressing their feelings of acceptance and affection for years, and yet, deep inside, I felt they were conditional: as long as I met their standards for my behavior, I was all right.

Trust does begin within, but knowing we’re loved by others sets up belief.

Now I know. I’m all right. I am a creation of God and loved by him.

Who I Am and What I Do

In the previous blog I mentioned I began to focus on my childhood only after I felt loved for being who I was.

As a pastor, I felt loved and accepted by most members, but I assumed it was conditional—based on my performance. It might have seemed a safe environment, and perhaps it was. But when I first faced my memories, I asked myself this question: If I didn’t do those good things for members of the congregation, would they still love me?

A few months after I left the ministry to write full time, I finally voiced that question to my wife, Shirley. She laughed. “That’s a distorted viewpoint. You are kind and caring. That’s part of who you are. You may not trust your motives, but people know who you are. You can’t hide yourself indefinitely.”

My big lesson from that was that I had been safe for a long time, but until I accepted that reality, insecurity and uncertainty troubled me.

Who I am and what I do.
That matters most.

Why the Memories and Flashbacks Now? (Part 3 of 3)

“How do I know the memories and flashbacks are real?” one man said. “I’ve always had a good imagination.”

My answer: You know the difference. The question isn’t “Are they real?” but “Can I accept them?” When the memories first started pouring into my heart and mind, like many others, I didn’t want to believe them as being authentic. But I knew.

No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t convince myself that I had made them up. I knew.

I didn’t have a lot of flashbacks—where childhood memories forced themselves into my head. What I had most were dreams—nightmares—and I awakened in a sweat and sometimes shaking. Those dreams were quite literal, as opposed to what I call the hamburger-and-onion type—the kind that troubles me over something I ate.

In the dreams, I was a child again and I relived most of the tormenting, painful abuse.

Particularly, I remember the old man who rented a room from us. In the nightmares, he was ugly and I was afraid, but I went up to him anyway. When I was awake, I thought of him as having a kind face and he smiled often.

In my dreams I especially remembered his male-pattern baldness with no hair except on the sides of his face. Unless he went outside, he wore sleeveless undershirts and tufts of white, curly hair showed over the top of the shirt.

I mention the hair because he knelt down (or in some dreams he put me on his lap) and had me feel this hirsute chest. My dreams never went beyond that, but I knew—I knew it was real because I couldn’t face what followed.

Dream after dream came to me over a period of months. Each time I awakened abruptly, feeling frightened, and sometimes couldn’t go back to sleep.

Once I learned to accept the reality of those scenes, they went away. I don’t need them because I faced the pain and betrayal, and mourned the loss of my childhood.

Through the help of God and my friends, I’ve stayed on the healing path. I’m closer to the end of the recovery road. Until then, I have to say, “I’m not quite healed. But close.”

Why the Memories and Flashbacks Now? (Part 2 of 3)

My friend Ed Toms has said many times, “Your abusive memories don’t come back until you’re emotionally ready.”

For Ed, the breakthrough was the unfreezing of his emotions. “Once the emotions thawed, I cried for a long time—something I hadn’t done since I was about seven years old.”

I smiled remembering a similar experience in my own life.

“It wasn’t just the crying,” he said, “but it was downloading my serious emotions.” He focused on crying because he said kids learn, either by direct words or implication that boys don’t cry.

“Crying is a feminine activity—something for sissies. I heard that often enough.” The last time he cried his father told him to “suck it up and take it like a man.”

“That’s denial. It shuts off the emotional download,” he said with eyes that blinked with tears.

“The return of tears came the night I saw my newborn son. I hugged the infant and said, ‘I’ll always protect you.’ That opened me up, but several years passed before I learned to cry for myself.”

We’re all different and we don’t respond the same way. If you don’t feel safe, you won’t unlock your heart. And when you finally do open up and struggle through the flashbacks and memories, it’s hard to believe that’s part of the healing process. It’s something most of us have to go through to get past our pain.

When I first told my wife and my best friend, I didn’t know if they would laugh at me, sneer, or turn away in disgust. Both of them hugged me. That gave me the courage and the ability to continue to open up to others.

Why the Memories and Flashbacks Now? (Part 1 of 3)

A few years ago I read a fascinating master’s thesis about men who faced their childhood abuse in what we call middle age—late 30s to early 50s.

Why then? I don’t know all the reasons, but I’m among those middle-aged types. At age 51, the reality of my childhood broke through—and it was a painful time for me. For days I couldn’t get past flashbacks and vivid memories.

Why did it take me so long to face the ordeal and the pain of those early years? The most satisfying answer I’ve found is that it didn’t happen until I felt safe. I’d been married to a caring woman for nearly 30 years. Although I use the term safe, another way to express it is that I finally understood I was loved for who I was and not for what I said or did.

For most of those years, I had been an ordained minister and heavily involved in others’ lives. On some kind of unconscious level, I believed that if I behaved kindly and warmly, I’d be loved and accepted. That may be true, but it also meant I worked to earn that kind of acceptance.

When I finally grasped that I was loved for who I was without conditions or qualifications, I was ready to face my past.

How about you?

When did you face your abusive past?

Questions, Questions, Questions

I’ve been writing this blog for nearly six years. I’ve never asked any of you to send in questions. I may not have answers, but I’d like to know what troubles you.

If you have a question (or more than one) please email me at
cec.murp@comcast.net—my private email address. I’ll respond to them on the blog.


Did You Tell?

I’ve lost count of the number of radio and TV interviews I’ve done on the topic of sexual assault. In the majority of them, they ask me to tell my story. Almost as soon as I finish, the next question becomes, “Did you tell anyone?”

“No, I didn’t.” If they ask why, I usually say, “I didn’t think anyone would believe me.” That answer is only partially true. Probably more accurately the answer should be, “I felt no one cared enough to listen.”

Like a lot of abused kids, I felt alone, unloved, and unwanted. Who would I have told? Who would have listened?

I haven’t posed such questions on this blog, but if you didn’t tell, I’d like to hear your answer. Use your own name or write anonymously.

If you didn’t tell, do you know why?

Timing

“The earlier the abuse took place, the deeper and more traumatic the impact on the survivor.” I read that statement by an authority on childhood abuse. He never presented any evidence, but he did say that came out of his “30 years of practice.”

He also wrote something to the effect that the more deviant the perpetrator’s behavior, the greater the detriment to the survivor’s recovery. He seemed to believe that, as adults, they had deeper issues to work through.

He added something about the wider the age difference, the more negative the result.

That’s when I stopped reading, although I’m no expert who can disprove what he wrote. But what he ignored was the personality of the child.

We all heal differently, and his statements didn’t reflect that. Some boys are more sensitive than others; some survivors never seem to overcome the effects.

Immediately I think of John, a member of a small group of six men I joined during the initial year of my coming to terms with my abuse.

In one of our first meetings, John told us about his painful childhood of abuse, and it sounded much like mine, except his was a single perpetrator. He had been seeing a therapist for 20 years. He ended by saying, “I feel like a bag of shit.”

Our group met every Thursday for four years until I moved out of the city. On the last meeting, John made the same statement about himself.

I haven’t seen John since, but I wonder how he feels about himself today. My guess is that he’s probably at about the same level as he was back when he was part of the group.

Why was John unable to recover after more than two decades of therapy? I don’t know. I’m hesitant to say it was because his abuse took place so early. Or blame the length of it. I could say the same things about mine. John knew his abuser was at least 25 years older. The old man who assaulted me was at least 55 years older than I was and the woman was 35 years older.

Why have I been able to achieve almost-but-not-quite healed status and John seemed stuck? I don’t know.

I’m grateful for the friends and loved ones who have stood with me and helped me. I’m even more grateful to a benevolent and compassionate God.

Why me?

Why have I moved so far down that road?

I have no idea, but I’m filled with gratitude at the growth and progress.

Excusing

“She couldn’t help it,” I once said of my female perpetrator. “Her father made her his sexual partner after the death of his wife.”

For a long time, I used that as a way to excuse her. “She couldn’t help it. It was behavior she learned as a child.” That’s true, but it doesn’t pardon her for sexually assaulting me.

I excused the old man who molested me. “He was such a lonely man.”

More than just excusing the culprits in my life, by defending them (and I was defending), I didn’t face my anger.

But one day that changed. I went out for a late afternoon run by a small lake and (fortunately for me) no one else was around. For at least an hour I raged at the two now-dead people. I was angry at myself for defending their actions. After the venom poured out, I allowed myself to grieve over my stolen childhood.

I finished my run, sank on a bench, and cried for a long time. “I’ll learn to forgive you,” I said to both culprits, “but right now I want to feel my anger. You hurt me and made my childhood sad and lonely. I didn’t deserve what you did to me!”

It was almost dark by the time I left the park. I didn’t feel vindicated or happy. At the time I was worn out, but deep within was the sense that I had faced reality. I had pronounced them both guilty of murdering the innocence of my childhood.

When I no longer defend the guilty,
I can have compassion on the innocent.