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.

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.