Friday, November 30, 2012

Redeeming the Pain

(This post comes from John Joseph.)

A Zen aphorism says, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” I’m not Buddhist and I can’t vouch for the ultimate truth of the aphorism. People die from horrible diseases like cancer or AIDS. People lose loved ones or endure separation and divorce. Our entire society feels the pain of financial crises, violence, terrorism, and corruption. And those of us who have been sexually abused have suffered emotional torment for years, even decades, all the while trying to find a way to stop the misery we feel.

While many religions throughout the ages have sought to solve the problem of pain, it’s still with us. Affliction is the lot of the human race no matter how we try to explain it, conquer it, or ignore it.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I’ve tried to explain my exploitation, but there’s no reasonable explanation. I’ve tried to conquer the hurt, but the hurt never surrenders. I’ve even tried to ignore the awful memories I own, but they resurface in my mind at the worst times and in the worst ways. The only way I find to deal with the wounds of my abuse is to make them work for me, to redeem them in some meaningful way.

To redeem something so dreadfully unthinkable as child abuse is a tall order. The snatching away of childhood innocence by being lured into unspeakable sex acts with an adult seems beyond our capacity to turn into anything redeemable.

There are two options here. I can let the overwhelming effects of abuse kill me or I can choose to let the scars teach me how to be a better person.

When I take a few moments each day to recognize that my abusers no longer have any power over me, I redeem the abuse a little more. When I realize that I am no longer a helpless child victimized by someone older and stronger, I take back the power I lost to them. When I recognize the irrational nature of my fear and anxiety, I rob the memories of their hold on me. When I look myself in the mirror and reclaim my dignity, I take a bold step to end my suffering.

Maybe the Zen aphorism is right, after all.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

15 Seconds

(This post comes from Eric Wagenmaker.)

I grew up in a small town and live here still today. About twice a year, I inadvertently see my perpetrator. Whether it’s at the mall, a community event, or seeing him in his car at a stoplight, I see him.

Because of my abuse, I have learned how to wear masks. If people are with me they can't tell that my blood was boiling or that everything inside of me had gone numb. When I see him, for about 15 seconds or so, I am brought back to the high school locker room where my abuser abducted me.

Once the 15 seconds are over and my emotions are normal, I'm reminded of how far I have come.

I've experienced substantial healing in the last year and a half since I first shared about my abuse publicly for the first time. I've been able to share my story freely with person after person. Each time I share, a new layer peels back and the more freedom I experience.

Every time I see my perpetrator it allows me another opportunity to forgive him. That is truly where the healing started for me. I pray for the day I can see him and my emotions won't miss a beat.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Perspective (Part 2 of 2)

(This post comes from Dann Youle.)

While writing about the perspective that I now have of my abuse, the thought occurred to me that stories of how my perspective has changed would be helpful. I want to share one that is the most powerful to me.

On October 28, 2000, my friend Mark and I drove to my abuser’s grave in Wisconsin. I remember it feeling like there was something exciting but terrifying that would happen that day. We arrived at the cemetery and found it was much how I remembered it, yet strange and different at the same time.

After we searched for about 30 minutes, I saw it. Walking up to the grave I was visibly shaking, and more scared than I remembered being in my life. With Mark giving me my space, but also keeping watch, tears flowed as I said what I needed to say, released forgiveness, and, as I sat there, the change started happening.

As I spoke forgiveness toward my abuser, healing flowed. I felt pity for him. I realized he had probably not known he could heal. His generation wouldn't talk about something like this, especially not in a redemptive way. I realized he may have been abused himself. He was probably unable to forgive himself.

Yet from the moment I remembered he abused me, I wanted to get to the point where I could forgive him and myself. My abuser gave me a gift that day, in spite of all the pain he brought to my life and perhaps to the lives of others. He allowed me to see that I could make peace. Peace with him, peace with God, peace with myself, and peace with life.

I could and did walk forward from that day, October 28, 2000, knowing that life is a gift. Each day I can truly live and I don’t have to allow something horrific that someone did to me and over which I had no control. Now I have control over this moment, this day, or all the stuff that makes up my life.

That’s a perspective change that I couldn't have learned any other way.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Perspective (Part 1 of 2)

(This post comes from Dann Youle.)

I felt my sexual abuse caused pain that had no resolution. It seemed like the more I tried to get rid of the pain, the more my heart ached. I felt once again like that "little boy lost." Each time it was if I were feeling it for the first time. That continued to be the way I felt each time I was aware of it; it’s the way I still feel when I remember.

Something changed over time, though, and that’s been my perspective on the pain.

For the past 13 years, I’ve been aware that I was abused after my conscious mind had buried it for almost 30 years. I didn’t have a very good perspective on the pain or know what to do with it. Being a person who very much believes that God can use anything in our lives to make us stronger, I still found that this anything didn’t seem to have much use in mine or anyone else’s life.

It seemed to be this monster that would rear its big, ugly head from time to time. I don’t know when the change took place, but I remember the first time I realized my perspective was changing.

I work for an organization that takes care of people at the end of life, and I do direct patient care. If anyone talks about pain, these people have it: physical, emotional, and spiritual. I wondered what was different about the way patients dealt with their multi-faceted pain. Once I started on my journey of discovery, I realized that those who had made their peace with whomever or whatever they needed to, their pain lessened. There was much more acceptance of what they were facing. However, those who hadn’t made their peace were generally bitter, and had a much harder time accepting the reality of their situation.

The lesson for me has been that sometimes I still let the pain of my abuse make me bitter. When that happens I can’t make peace with anyone. I’m miserable and everybody around me knows it. More often, however, I focus on trying to let it make me better.

When that happens, I’m more at peace and I can fully engage and enjoy life in ways that, even as an almost-50-year-old man, I have never experienced before. And that's definitely a better perspective.

Friday, November 16, 2012


(This post comes from "J".)

An addiction to pornography was one of the effects of my early childhood sexual abuse. The women in the pictures were fascinating, though I had no clue why they were unclothed. My brother would “show me” what the women did as we looked at the pictures. The natural result was a strong sexual confusion on my part. For years, I thought I was a woman.

I now live a heterosexual lifestyle and have been married for three decades. But through these years I have found myself struggling with this addiction. Of course, I felt the typical shame and self-loathing after indulging. The more I watched the more I want to do it.

I have come to understand many things about the roots of my addiction. The primary root is the yearning to feel needed. The abuse scarred me deeply and has manifested itself in me at times as an irrational compulsion for gay porn. This is what is called “acting out” for me. I acted out the early homosexual abuse through porn, compulsive masturbation, and a few gay encounters. 

 Acting out in any way is destructive emotionally and spiritually, but especially to my marriage and to my work. When I sense a temptation to indulge in porn, I try to remember that this feeling is strong, but irrational. The porn will never satisfy me in the deepest way and it can never heal what hurts the most—my broken heart.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Owning the Pain

(This post comes from "J".)

One of the things that has kept me in the pain of my abuse is not owning it. So much of my life was spent avoiding the pain of my childhood abuse that it didn't have a chance to be felt and ultimately healed.

No one wants to feel pain. We're wired to seek pleasure and to avoid pain. The truth about abuse, however, is that it can't be processed and healed without acknowledging it, feeling it, and processing it.

I didn’t know that I had been abused. I was grown when I was driven into counseling through addictive and compulsive sexual behavior. I was out of control and close to losing my marriage. I hadn’t acknowledged the depths of the pain of my childhood; the molesting at four years old; the odd encounters with older boys in my family; what I now understand as a rape when I was ten; and the fact that I was criminally abused by an older man and woman when I was 15 to 18 years old. It was like I was a magnet for abuse.

My pain flooded in when I came to understand that my hyper-sexualized appetites weren’t appetites for sex but an insatiable yearning for acceptance and healing. I'm thankful that the pain isn’t experienced and processed all at once.

I've experienced the pain in doses, some large and some small. There have been seasons of pain and reckoning with it. There have been good times and bad, but I'm continually amazed that owning the pain of it is the only way to process and get it out of the way.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Lies I’ve Believed

(This post comes from "J".)

Among the worst of the many lies I have believed about myself is that the abuse in my childhood was my fault. It's common among victims to believe they brought the abuse on themselves or caused it to happen. I've learned that the abuse was the sick choice of the abuser and not my doing.

I was about 16 before I understood that men had sex with women and not just with other men or boys. I knew that men liked to look at women, but the abuse was so pervasive in my life that I didn’t understand the basic physiology of the human body.

Gender confusion and identity struggles haunt me to this day. A therapist had to tell me I had been abused. It didn't occur to me that something was wrong with the people who touched me and used me.

The lie that I caused those broken people to have sexual contact with me has affected me throughout my life. The sexual confusion alone is devastating, but there are many more consequences that victims experience because of that distorted belief. Here are a few of mine:

* A sense of chronic failure; 
* The feeling that I have no control over my emotions or my body; 
* Problems making decisions;
* Compulsive behavior.

The best thing that has happened is gaining the understanding that I did not cause the abuse—not any of it. I participated at some level because I didn’t know that it was abuse or that I was being taken advantage of.

I was a child. I didn’t understand what was happening. It was not my fault.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Managing Our Triggers (Part 8 of 8)

(This post comes from Gary Roe.)

"How does my speaking up help others?"

We’ve talked about triggers and how they work; we’ve learned to trace our triggers back to their root using a 4-question process; we’re learning to manage our triggers rather than allowing them to control us.

We can use our growth to help other survivors. As we make ourselves known, we encourage other men to say, "Me, too."

We need to become sensitive to opportunities. We also need courage in the midst of a conversation to say, "I’m an abuse survivor, and I’ve learned . . ." "My childhood was terrible." "I come from an abusive past." "I was deeply damaged as a child." "I’m learning to overcome the abuse in my childhood."

Each time we speak, the abuse has less hold on us.

If I let others know I’m an abuse survivor, 
I might open the door for others to say, "Me too."

Friday, November 2, 2012

Managing Our Triggers (Part 7 of 8)

(This post comes from Gary Roe.)

"Can I help others manage their triggers?"

We can’t give away what we don’t have. As we manage our triggers by tracing them back to their origins, we can lead others through the process we’ve learned.

As we learn to manage, we need to help others. With 1 in 6 males (possibly 1 in 3) having been sexually abused before the age of 18, we won’t have to look very far. However, most of those survivors are locked in silence. Although unaware, they're still trapped in the abuse.

We need to give them the courage to open up, to let us know who they are. We speak to them. If we're courageous, we shatter their silence.

As we practice managing our triggers (going through the 4-question process), our courage increases. We sense victory and a new level of healing, and we help others by speaking up.

Speaking up is a powerful way I can fight against the evil of sexual abuse.