Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Stranger in His Own Body

"I felt cut off from my own body and from my sexuality," one man said. He added, "Something inside was stolen from me."

It was a sad story and one I had heard before. The sexual abuse had stopped years earlier; the psychological assault continued. His perpetrator still held on to his mind.

Some boys unconsciously learn to "leave their bodies" while the molestation takes place. That's their escape and the way they survive. The problem is that they don’t fully return to their bodies. It's as if the abuse didn't happen to them, but only to their body. That may sound like some form of schizophrenic separation—a split within the personality.

I understand that because of the repeated physical abuse from my father. When he beat me (and he did it regularly), in an unexplainable way, I was able to move outside myself and experience no pain.

Not being hurt by the beatings enabled me to survive childhood, but it did more. Not feeling pain numbed all my emotions into adulthood.

I had to learn to feel again. Each morning I prayed, "God, help me feel my feelings." It took months, probably two years, before I felt true pain and enjoyed honest pleasure.

Friday, February 24, 2012

"How Long Will It Take?"

An old joke says a man went to a therapist, and after being diagnosed, the new patient asked, "How long will it take?"

"Come in once a week and it will probably take about a year."

"But if I come in twice a week, can I do it in six months?"

The joke is that it's not the number of times in the therapist's office, but the inner work the man does for himself. And the issues of life can't be rushed.

After I publically stated that healing is a process, one man came to me and said, "That was exactly what I needed to hear. I kept asking my therapist how long it would take, and he avoided giving me an answer. Now I understand."

It's not the length of time in therapy, as a member of a support group, or doing individual work. It's the quality—the extent—of grasping and internalizing the insight.

Twenty years ago, when I first began to work on my own abuse, I was part of a small group. "John" had been in therapy for 15 years before we met. I moved away after four years. And many of the things John said in our final meeting were almost the same words he had spoken four years earlier.

It's not the length of time, but the quality of the work that counts.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Healing Is a Process

At a seminar in El Paso, I said, "Healing is not an event; healing is a process."

One man said, "I needed to hear those words." At age 43, memories of abuse by a church deacon began to surface. He had gone to a therapist for nearly three months. The question he had planned to ask me before the seminar was, "Why am I still not healed?"

Without knowing his question, I gave him the answer when I spoke to the entire group—something most survivors could have done. We'd like to believe that we have a moment—a special insight—and we're free forever.

I wish it worked like that.

We need the experience of enlightenment, awareness, or what we refer to as the aha moment. That's where we begin. Once we face the reality of our abuse, we start down a path of healing. Notice I used the word start.

None of us knows where the journey ends.

Friday, February 17, 2012

"I Kept My Secret"

"I kept my secret about being molested," Alvin said after a Celebrate Recovery meeting. "I never told anyone." He went on to say that he kept telling himself if he ignored what happened he'd get better.

"But I never forgot."

I'm convinced as Alvin was (finally) that the more the abuse is hidden or denied the more it makes itself felt in different ways. Alvin confessed that he had never had a satisfactory relationship with a woman. After three divorces, he was ready to seek help.

"I'm dating a woman now and she knows about my abuse." He talked about the help he had received from a survivors' group. Alvin doesn't know where this relationship will go, but he does know he's thrown off constraints and fear.

Getting help means just that: help. It's not curing or setting free.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Non-suicidal Self-injury

(This post is from Tom Scales of VoiceToday.org. It was published on their blog in a slightly different form.)

Many survivors of childhood sexual abuse are brainwashed to believe that they can't make good decisions for themselves. I was one of those children. During the period of abuse, the predator subtly and deceitfully convinces the victims they're responsible and complicit in the behavior. Even though the victims are children, they're brainwashed to believe that the acts were consensual. As a result, the victims assume responsibility and guilt that become serious problems in the healing process.

If they're complicit in the evil, their sense of self is severely damaged. On some level, they see themselves saturated in deceit and lies. Over time, they build up rage and self-hatred that turns into self-destructive behavior.

I had never heard the term non-suicidal self-injury until I started to understand my past and my behavior.

One of the most difficult steps in healing for me was to separate my behavior and my responsibilities from those of the predator. I had to remind myself that I had been a child with the emotional and mental capabilities of a child.

I finally understood that I had no power, no control, and no method of escape. To heal, I had to become truly free of the control and influence of the predators.

I was allowing men who had been dead for years to continue to control my life. That's when I realized I needed to forgive all my predators, and do so without reservation. As long as I carried the anger, rage, and desire for vengeance toward them, those feelings ate at my soul and discolored my self-perceptions.

It took me time to understand that forgiveness didn't release them from accountability, but released me.

My inner change didn’t release them from the prospects of an excruciating final judgment and consequences; it removed from my hands the role of judge, jury, and executioner.

Forgiveness doesn’t relieve the perpetrators from their accountability, and it's not a license for more abuse. Forgiving must come from our hearts. Only then was I free to be me, and that me is now someone I respect and love.

Friday, February 10, 2012


(This post is from Tom Scales of VoiceToday.org. It was published on their blog in a slightly different form.)

What we call "triggers" remind me of my past. Something happens that throws me back to my painful abuse. It can be a voice, a smell, an event, a person, or a place that thrust me back to the sensations and world of sexual abuse. When that happened, my old companions of silence and isolation protect me once again.

The break from those devastating triggers came while listening to a TV interview of Frank Fitzpatrick, who was being interviewed about the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of Father James Porter.

In that moment it was if someone had flipped the switch and my eyes opened. Listening to that interview brought a torrent of ugly memories. At times overwhelming, they seemed never to stop, as the actions of one predator after another paraded themselves through my consciousness.

While the journey of healing never ends, that TV interview and the many steps and events that followed brought me out of my emotional cave. They enabled me to replace the impervious walls with appropriate physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries.

The process strengthened my faith and my self-esteem. It allowed me to have true friends and to experience joy. I was able to cast off the persistent depression that stayed with me throughout my life.

Transformation is possible for all survivors of childhood sexual abuse. For me, a TV interview was the start.

I'd like to be part of the starting experience for others.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


(This post is from Tom Scales of VoiceToday.org. It was published on their blog in a slightly different form.)

“Dear Lord I pray that today you will make me invisible.”

Growing up in a world of childhood sexual abuse, I was preoccupied with being so invisible that I never attracted attention. It was a challenging path. I wanted to fit in with others and be part of groups and teams; I wanted to have friends. Yet I wanted to keep my inner self hidden.

I dreaded it that others would find out. I feared that my distorted sense of right and wrong would surface in embarrassing ways.

I mentally wrote scripts for conversations to avoid the risks of vulnerability that openness and honesty could bring. I analyzed and planned everything I could.

Silence and isolation become my friends. They offered safety with no judgment. Over time, they helped me to build strong and impenetrable walls. As an adult I couldn't afford the vulnerability of youth because the stakes of job and family are higher. The longer I held the secret, the more powerfully I feared exposure. As a result, I sacrificed joy, friendship, intimacy, and other life-fulfilling pleasures to fortify those walls.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Milwaukee Scandal

Minutes ago I read about the latest scandal. The Catholic Diocese of Milwaukee may have to file for bankruptcy because 550 young men have filed claims of abuse against the clergy.

Most of the article was about money—paying the victims and draining the treasury. But I read nothing about the shattered, broken lives of those 550 men.

And only 550 individuals have made claims—which implies there are probably at least that many who don't have the courage to speak up.

I admire those 550 and how difficult it must have been for them to say, "I was molested." Male sexual abuse is probably the most under-reported crime in the world. Like women reporting rape two decades ago, the survivors often become victimized again through publicity and often charges of lying.

I still become a little numb when I read such terrible things. More ruined lives. More pain. And so little help. Payment of money may be the only way organizations know how to make amends. But there is no way to make amends.

Howling about the money is an easy way to avoid healing the victims. It's as if dollars can cure depression, shame, and self-hatred—all results of the abuse.

Those men need compassion. They need people to care. But most of all, they need people they can trust.

If you know a male survivor of sexual molestation, here are things you can do:

1. Say, "I'm sorry for what happened. I want to be your friend." You may have to prove your friendship. He's been betrayed by someone he trusted.

2. Say, "I promise you that I will not tell anyone anything you say without your permission." Keep that promise.

3. Validate his story. He may not be sure that you (or anyone) believes him. You help him most by listening and accepting what he says.

4. Empathize with him. Try to feel his anguish. If you can't, say honestly, "I don't understand what happened, but I care."

5. Don't focus on your feelings of anger, pain, or revulsion. This is his struggle.

6. Remind yourself that you can't heal him and you can't talk him out of it. You can support him while he works though his trauma.

7. Don't press him for details.

8. Suggest professional help. It's not for everyone, but it might be for him.