Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Shame, My Old Friend

(By Jason Rovenstine)

I never realized I kept a secret until a pretty girl in the university cafeteria helped me see it.

She sat across the table from me, her lunchtime friends nearby. A subtle smile and twinkle in her eye told me it wasn’t an accident she chose to sit by me. I was flattered and hopeful.

It was lovely. Before long her foot slid under the table to touch mine and her smile let me know it was intentional. Sounds dreamy, doesn’t it?

But I kicked her. Hard.

She fled in tears leaving an untouched plate of food and friends looking at me in disgust.

That's when I realized I had a secret.

My secret started in the second grade. A high-school babysitter discovered I loved the attention she lavished on me. At bedtime she asked me to do things with her that didn’t feel right—but I loved the attention and since I was a compliant and sensitive child, I only mildly objected.

My mother was perplexed to find me hiding in the garage the next morning and asked what I was doing. I couldn’t answer because the babysitter told me I would be spanked if I admitted what I had done.

The shame of that secret gnawed at me through the years. I carried it diligently, like a pennant pilgrim through grade school. It was there with me as I struggled through math. It tripped me the day I gave my book report. Shame was a faithful friend at junior high church retreat when the speaker told the story of Potiphar's wife and praised Joseph’s ability to run.

Shame was the silent, constant partner that saw my late bloomer changes in high school. Shame was the salty nauseous taste in my mouth the day the basketball coach gave me a chance off the bench—and I messed up. I wasn't able to connect such experiences back to the second grade, I just knew that shame was a familiar part of who I was.

After eighteen years of bearing the burden of that secret, I shared my secret with my parents through tears and bitter self-loathing. And as any loving parents would do, they wept with me, embraced me, and released me from the guilt.

Fast forward to today. I’m happily married to a woman who knows the value of complete acceptance and openness in our relationship. I have four children who bring me great delight. I have a healthy self-awareness and gratitude to the Creator for the blessings of life.

Maybe you're like I was and you still carry a secret. The funny thing about secrets is that they only hold power over your life if they remain hidden and unspoken. Once you share a secret, the healing process can begin.

Friday, June 18, 2010

I Was Abused Twice

(By Joe Rossman)

It happened to me twice. The first time, I was five years old. My family and I went to visit with my grandparents. Dad was the fourth of nine children–five girls and four boys. The only one who still lived with my grandparents was my father's youngest brother. He was 23 years old and a slow learner.

My grandfather was a hardworking dairy farmer in a rural southern Georgia town. I was fascinated by the dairy farm and often went to the milking barn and the bottling plant to watch the machinery.

On one visit, on a Sunday afternoon after church, I went down to the bottling plant to watch the machinery and to get a bottle of chocolate milk. My uncle, the only one there, was working in the plant.

He called me into a little hallway that led to the back side of the bottling plant and, to my surprise, unzipped his trousers and exposed his penis. I didn't know what to say. Then he asked me to touch it. My family had always taught me to respect my elders and to do what they say. But I knew something was wrong. I was afraid.

My uncle said for me not to be afraid and began to stroke his penis. Again, he asked me to touch it and so I did, but I felt really bad about it. That was all that happened. He told me not to tell anyone what we had done and then he zipped up his pants and went back to work.

Going home that evening, we were all talking about what we had done that day. When I told my dad about what my uncle had done, I could tell he was upset. He told me that I should never do that again and that if my uncle ever tried to do anything like that again, I should tell him. I am pretty sure my dad talked to my uncle because he never tried that again. I didn't feel too bad about that encounter because nothing really bad happened.

It was the second experience that has given me the most problems. This took place when I was about 15. My family was active in the church and Dad was a deacon. A friend of the family, who was single, was one of the other deacons. He was also a radio personality and interested in electronics.

He told Dad that he would be glad to give me a tour of the radio station if I would come by. I was really excited and went by the next day. We spent several hours together. Nothing out of the ordinary happened. I liked the man and I went back the next day. The radio station was located on the second floor of a local hotel and could be reached by an outside fire escape. As we were walking up the stairs with him leading the way, we came to a landing on the stairs and suddenly he reached back and gently squeezed my genitals through my trousers.

I was shocked, but not frightened. Later, the same thing happened again, and from that, he took advantage of my naïveté to begin a homosexual relationship that lasted for several years. It wasn't that I was homosexual, but rather that I admired the man for his role as a radio personality and because he was teaching me electronic theory. I don't think I actually realized what had taken place for a number of years. And I couldn't understand what could be so wrong because my parents seemed to approve of my relationship with the man.

He was an active member of our church and everyone seemed to respect him. It is hard for me to believe that people didn't know what was happening, but apparently they either didn't know or were afraid to say anything.

When I was 23 years old, after much soul searching and internal struggle, I broke off the relationship. I don't know how many other young men became involved with him, but I am sure there were several. Yet throughout it all, he kept the respect of the community and finally was ordained by the Southwest Georgia Presbytery as a Presbyterian minister. Today he is 84 years of age. I haven't seen him for more than 40 years now, but the memory of the struggles and uncertainty I endured because of his predatory action still lived with me.

Thankfully, by God's grace, I married a fine Baptist woman, and though I didn't tell her about this relationship, I have to credit her with helping me get through some of the tough times.

My only regret at this time is that I didn't expose him for the pervert that he is. But one good thing did come out of it. I am convinced that homosexuality is a matter of choice and not genetics or some predisposition. I know, because I have been there. I think the man wanted to get me to be homosexual and I could have chosen that route. But I chose not to go in that direction.

I know that most homosexuals try to claim that they had no choice. But that is a lie. The man chose to be homosexual and he became a predator victimizing young innocent men like myself. Thank God I finally realized how I was being misused and abused and thank God He led me in the right direction.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Defending Our Abusers

The first time I ever heard an abuser defended was in a small group of men. All of us were survivors. One of them, who was quite handsome, said, "If I hadn't been so good looking, he wouldn't have done that to me."

The rest of us were quick to protest. His looks may have attracted the abuser, but the man wronged him. The abuser knew what he was doing.

"That's what he always told me," the survivor said.

I've heard survivors excuse the abuser because he was lonely or misunderstood. They'll say. "He just tried to prove he loved me." Another excuse is, "He was sexually abused when he was a child."

Regardless of the excuses made for them, they are only excuses. They wounded us. They destroyed the innocence of our childhood.

There is no excuse for anyone who sexually abused us. We were children, usually much younger than our perpetrators. The abuser hurt us. It's good to forgive them, but not because of such an excuse. We forgive because we've been healed and are able to move on with our lives.

Friday, June 11, 2010

I'm Angry

I met him at a writers' conference and he showed me a book he had written. The writing wasn't good but as I read it, I said, "Why are you so enraged? You seem to be against everything."

He said nothing at first, but the tightness of his jaw had already told me. "I'm angry a lot," he finally said.

"It shows in your writing."

We talked and finally the tears flowed. He told me about his childhood abuse. He wouldn't give me permission to use his name, but I've met other men like him. They tend to focus their anger in three different ways. The most obvious one is toward the person who abused them. They're angry at themselves—because they let it happen. A third target is the adults who didn't protect him from the predator.

I've met a few men who are just generally angry at the world. They don't focus on any of those three. Sometimes they live a long time in denial of the abuse or they sublimate it. It's as if the anger goes underground and comes to the surface in an area where it's safe to be mad.

Many of us male survivors know about anger. We haven't always known why we were angry, but we know the feeling. As healing takes place, the anger usually subsides—at least it did with me.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


My wife was seriously ill and I loved her very much. We had been involved in a serious car crash (my fault), and the doctor didn't expect her to survive. (Shirley lived, but that's another story.)

As I sat by her bedside in the hospital, I felt nothing. I was totally numb. What's wrong with me? I asked myself. This is the person I love most and I can't feel anything.

That wasn't the first time I had numbed out; it wasn't the last time. Over the years, I encountered extremely difficult situations and yet felt nothing. I was sure that something was defective in me.

To make it worse, I sometimes cried. But it was always about someone with whom I had no strong emotional ties. I didn't understand how I could be sad over small things and yet feel nothing about the hurt of those I loved most.

Here's how I finally understood what happened. While I was doing my usual pre-dawn run, a car made a U-turn in front of me and knocked me down. I had no pain, but three days later I sensed what I called "a little discomfort" in my left hip. It didn't hurt, but it was a nuisance.

At my wife's urging, I went to a chiropractor and he did a number of tests. He kept asking, "Does this hurt?" Nothing he did caused me to say yes.

"You have a very high tolerance for pain," he finally said.

On the phone a few days later, I related that incident to my younger brother Chuck. He laughed and said, "Don't you remember how Dad beat us and we didn't cry? We didn't feel it."

Just then the numbness made sense. Whenever powerful emotions overwhelmed me, I numbed out. Because I couldn't cope with the crushing impact, I had no feelings.

I've since learned to reclaim my emotions. To some it may sound strange, but I praise God because I feel sad when my wife hurts or one of my children has a serious problem. It's safe to feel and I'm not afraid of my emotions.

Friday, June 4, 2010

There Is Nothing Wrong with Us

"There is nothing wrong with us; something wrong was done to us."

I don't remember where I read those words, but they have stayed with me.

Like a lot of other men, I felt I was defective or flawed. I didn't think much about God because I thought God only liked good people, and I certainly didn't qualify. I felt ashamed; I felt worthless.

"There is nothing wrong with me; something wrong was done to me." That's how I say it now.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

We Are Survivors

About three years into my recovery, I became part of a year-long, state-sponsored group called Adult Male Survivors of Childhood Sexual Assault.

I learned invaluable lessons by participating in those every-Monday-evening sessions: I was with others who had the same issues of low self-esteem as I did. I felt camaraderie with other broken men. Connecting with them helped me to stand strong.

On the last day, the state-appointed therapist said to me, "You're a survivor. You didn't fail; an adult failed you."

I am a survivor.