Friday, March 30, 2012

Easy Answers

"Your blog is full of crap." That was the subject line of an email from someone who called himself J A. He used a number of obscene words (and I was familiar with them). About the third paragraph, he wrote, "Your blog makes it sound so easy. Just do certain things and you're home free."

The only defense I can offer is that he read words that I didn't put in my blog. Thus I wrote an email with the following information to state my position:

* It's not easy to overcome childhood sexual abuse. It will probably take years.

* You have to accept the fresh pain of facing your old pain before you experience any level of healing.

* You have to be strong and determined to persevere if you want to overcome the effects of abuse.

* You'll probably never be completely healed—but you can get close.

* There are no easy solutions and there is never one answer that applies to everyone. Each of us has to find our own path to healing.

* Our abuse was personal and individual; our healing is personal and individual.

J A didn't respond to my email. I'm sorry J A didn't grasp what this blog has been saying from the beginning.

There are no easy solutions, 
but there is hope for those who are courageous.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

He Thought He Was Gay

Brian told me about his abuse as a child and said, "For years I thought I was a homosexual." Because he seemed to be a rather well-adjusted heterosexual, I asked, "Any idea what made you feel that way?"

Without hesitation he said, "Because I enjoyed it. From the first time I had an erection and it felt good." When he was a little older, he ejaculated. "If it was that awful, why did I enjoy it? I thought I was gay."

Until he was in his early twenties and after Brian "tried sex with a man once," he spoke of enjoying it and hating it at the same time. He didn't try it again and found it revolting to think about.

"Am I gay or not?" he asked himself.

Shortly after that, Brian visited a group that focused on male survivors of sexual abuse. "The penis responds to stimulation," the leader says. "That feels good, and that's absolutely natural to get aroused. But it doesn't mean you're gay. It means you have responded in a normal, natural way."

That was the day Brian started to say, "I'm a healthy, heterosexual male." It was also the beginning of a new life for him.

Friday, March 23, 2012

More Emotional Confusion (Part 2 of 2)

It's not easy for most of us to turn against someone we love and whom we thought loved us. Too often the abuser was someone within our family or our circle of relationships.

How is it possible to forget that relative or religious leader? Such people will continue to be part of our lives. Even if we avoid the perpetrator, others will speak of him. If the abuse isn't known, they'll likely speak well of him and wonder why we don't like that person. "He was always so nice to you," someone will say. "He really loved and admired you," another might say. We don't know how to respond and mistakenly feel it's too late to say anything.

Our perpetrator is rarely some stranger who assaults us. Most of the time it's a person for whom we retain good memories. The old man who assaulted me had always treated me warmly and kindly. He lured me into his room by giving me snacks. (And only in retrospect could I use the word lured.)

One of my friends told of his confused feelings. "What did I have to gain if I told on my stepfather?" By telling about the sexual assault, he not only felt he would lose his stepfather but the whole family. "And so I never did."

By speaking up, too often the victims get punished. They're not believed, or they feel they're blamed for "ruining" the family.

We're the victims of the abuse, 
and sometimes we're also victims of the ruined family.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Emotional Confusion (Part 1 of 2)

When a close relative abuses us, many of us experience emotional confusion. We love our aggressor—whether it's a parent, a sibling, or a brother-in-law. That person showed us attention and seemingly gave us the interest and affection we didn't receive from the rest of the family.

And yet we also hate that person. We detest him because he used our body for his own gratification, he violated the trust we put in him, and he destroyed our innocence.

As a result, we became confused and are unable to sort our contradictory feelings. How can we love someone we hate? How can we hate someone we love?

We deal with it in several ways, and the most common (in my opinion) is that we blame ourselves for the abuse. We don't know how to feel about our perpetrator so we turn on ourselves.

Here's part of my story. An old man rented a room from us, abused my sister and me, and my sister told. Dad beat him and threw him and his possessions out of the house. I was perhaps seven years old.

A few weeks later I was on a different street and saw my perpetrator sitting on a porch and yelled a greeting. He got up, turned his back on me, and went inside the house.

I wondered what I had done wrong. I didn't understand then what he had done to me and I felt some affection. And yet, because Dad threw him out of the house, I realized he had done something bad.

That's emotional confusion.

Friday, March 16, 2012

"I Hate My Body"

When someone makes a statement like that, the words disturb me. It's not natural to hate our bodies. Even if we're too fat, too short, or too anything, we still like our bodies. If we take care of them, they serve us well.

I read a report recently by a therapist who specialized in helping survivors of male sexual abuse. He said that slightly more than one-third of his patients reported that they had seriously considered suicide. Several of them had made at least one serious attempt. Aside from the mental anguish, some of them spoke about detesting their bodies.

The lengthy article went on to say that when questioned they said they couldn't live with the memories of their molestation. "The only way to get rid of the memories was to get rid of the body." That's the essence of several men's words.

They still bore the emotional scars, and suicide seemed to be the only way to free themselves.

I don't know if this is true but the therapist's conclusion was that the more frequently a boy was abused or the larger the number of abusers, the greater his tendency to take his own life.

If you're one of those individuals who feels there's no other way out, please get help. I was suicidal once, so I understand the feeling. At the last moment I couldn't go through it. I'm glad I didn't take my own life.

Get help. Please. And one day perhaps you'll also say, "I'm glad I didn't take my own life." And perhaps you can add, "I like my body."

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Knowing Our Bodies

For most of my adult life, I had no real body image. I looked in a mirror like everyone else, but I didn't "see" myself. Now that I can see how I look, I'm amazed and wonder why I couldn't do it before.


I'm sure that caused my distorted concept, but it now seems strange to write that. When I looked in the mirror I didn't see myself as fat, but I thought I was probably a little overweight. If you knew me, you'd realize how silly that sounds. My assistant, Twila, teases that I have zero body fat—exaggerated but close. I am thin, or sometimes people called me wiry. But I didn't know I was thin.

That's one of the strange things that happens to us survivors. Many of us carry around distorted perceptions of our bodies. And most of us know it affects our behavior and attitude.

After 20-plus years of dealing with abuse I've been able to look at myself and see what I look like. About a year ago I stared at myself in a mirror and thought, my legs are thin, aren’t they?

Right after Christmas I saw a picture of myself when I was about 30 years old, taken in Africa where we lived, and long before I faced my molestation. "I was thin!" I yelled out, hardly able to believe that I had always been on the slim-and-trim side.

As I stared at that picture I thought, if I couldn't see my body properly, how much of myself did I see incorrectly?

I can answer only that each day I see my true self a little more clearly. And even better, I like myself more than ever before. Or is it the other way around? Because I like myself better, I have a true picture of who I am.

Friday, March 9, 2012

"Please Touch Me" (Part 2 of 2)

Years ago I heard the term skin hunger and I added it to my working vocabulary. It says that we humans need to be held, cuddled, and touched. The need begins in infancy and is always part of human longing.

Some of us didn't get those embraces, and it feels as if we'll never be touched enough. I was one of those skin-hungry types, which is probably why the words skin hunger spoke to me. In my family of origin we didn't have much physical interaction. My dad was anything but warm; my mother wasn't good at embracing, but she liked to be hugged.

Many years passed before I understood why I enjoyed being hugged or having someone touch my shoulder or arm. My skin hunger was starved. I wanted anyone—everyone—to embrace me.

One time several of my male friends and I attended a conference called "Men and Masculinity." They asked us to hug the people around us. The man on my left grabbed me and held me. It wasn't a good hug. As an adult, it was the first time I had become aware of feeling that way about a human embrace.

He held me and pressed his body into mine. I said nothing. When we sat down, his leg rubbed against mine several times. By then, of course, I figured out what was happening. As soon as we were dismissed, I hurried away and avoided him for the weekend.

I still like being hugged and I still have skin hunger, although I'm no longer as needy as I was back then. One thing I've learned is the difference between good touch and bad touch.

Please touch me—if you can give me a good touch. 
I'll know when it's a good one.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"Don't Touch Me!" (Part 1 of 2)

About four years into my healing journey, I began to hear men speak about not wanting to be touched. I heard it the first time after I became a member of the Men's Gathering in Louisville, Kentucky.

We met on alternating Saturday mornings. To help newcomers feel comfortable, two or three of us stood in front of the building and welcomed them. Don hugged every man that came his way. I'm a hugger, but once in a while it didn't feel right for me to embrace someone I didn't know.

"Don't touch me!" one man yelled at Don and started to turn away. I stopped him and said, "It's all right. Not everyone here is a hugger."

"I hate being touched," he said, but he allowed me to escort him to our meeting room.

He was the first man I met who said those words aloud. I had encountered others who allowed themselves to be embraced but their bodies grew stiff. I assume physical touch—any kind of touch—thrusts them back into the painful memories of abuse.

I told Don (the hugger) and I've since told others, "Trust your guts. If you sense the other person is open to a hug, give it. But if you intuit resistance or you're unsure, don't touch."

The wrong touch can cause great damage.

Friday, March 2, 2012

I Serviced Her

"I was a good husband and we had a good sex life together," Hal said. "Why shouldn't we? I serviced her."

As we talked for several minutes, he confided that he received little personal enjoyment from the sexual intimacy with his wife. While I was trying to figure out what he meant, he connected "servicing her" with his abuse. "My role was to give my perp pleasure and he rewarded me with money or gifts."

Hal had permanently pushed aside his own sexual enjoyment. I use the word permanently because it was his major coping method in childhood. By focusing on taking care of his perpetrator, he "learned" that his own needs were insignificant.

I'm not a therapist, and I didn't try to heal him. I did say—and meant—these words, "You have a right to be as sexually fulfilled as your wife."

I don't know the outcome of Hal's story, but he told me he reads this blog. So, Hal (or anyone else), this is for you:

We were born to give pleasure; 
we were born to receive pleasure. 
You deserve both.