Tuesday, January 29, 2013


(This post comes from John Joseph.)

You may be familiar with The Serenity Prayer. It's been used by recovering people for decades as they sought sobriety. Tens of thousands, if not many more, have gained some measure of peace as this prayer helped refocus their thoughts.

Pray it now and then I want to share a few thoughts about it.:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change,
the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen. 

First, let’s consider the word acceptance. Almost innocuous at first glance, the word is easily dismissed. It seems somewhat weak, banal, and could be taken as a sour grapes or a who-really-cares kind of attitude in the face of horrible abuse in our past.

True acceptance of what we’ve endured as sexual-abuse survivors requires almost Herculean effort on our part. Acceptance isn’t for the faint of heart. Acceptance means we can look our abuse square in the eyes and really own it for what it was.

To come to terms with the reality that our innocence was stripped from us demands the bulk and brawn of an Olympian. Acceptance isn’t the weak resignation of a victim but the brave choice of an overcomer who decides they will be a victim no more.

The courage to change the things that we can in our present life is as rigorous a demand as accepting the reality of our past. Change is one of the most difficult things we face because change equals letting go of the familiar behavior that bring us comfort.

In my case, that ranges from self-pity to acting out in destructive ways. Change equals pain and no one wants to experience pain. To change destructive patterns means launching out into the untested waters of living in new ways and of letting go of the things we’ve trusted.

The truth is that those “comfortable” attitudes or behaviors haven’t brought us anything but destruction. To keep doing what we’ve done will only bring us the results we already have. When our current behavior brings intolerable results, we're ready to change.

And then there’s wisdom. Wisdom is the ability to use the knowledge we have to achieve the results we desire.

Wisdom is choosing the celery over the cinnamon bun. It’s deciding to take a walk instead of a nap. It’s making an effort to forgive instead of allowing an old wound to fester. Wisdom enables us to heal from the past we’ve accepted and to make the powerful changes that we need in the present.

Serenity is the sweet effect of acceptance, courage, and wisdom.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Irrational Comparison

(This post comes from John Joseph.)

Many men never graduate from the eighth grade. That's usually the year competition begins in earnest between boys, especially in the locker room. We're discovering our bodies in new ways; puberty is raging, and the comparisons of everything from push-ups to penises set the hierarchy in the schoolyard.

I was never going to be the alpha male, of course, and bore the brunt of ridicule for being smaller, uncoordinated, un-athletic, and downright sissy. Eighth grade was hell.

The unfortunate thing for me as a survivor of childhood sexual trauma is that my abusers were like the bigger boys at school. I couldn't measure up to them in any way.

That sick comparison has stuck with me throughout life and has made me miserable. I've constantly compared myself to other men and always come up wanting. My comparisons aren't ever accurate, but the result is always the same: I can never be as good, as strong, as muscular, as sexy, or as secure as any other man I encounter. They always win.

The only way I’ve found to counteract such an irrational comparison is to recognize that, at its root, it's nothing but envy. I want to be as big, strong, muscular, successful, and handsome as they are.

Forgetting the fact that I just may be similar to them in many ways, envy blinds me to my good qualities I may have, and causes unwanted anxiety and depression.

My body works just fine, no matter how big or small it is. To want what someone else has is a sin against myself and even my own body. To recover means to be thankful for who I am and for what I have, even if I still can’t do many push-ups.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Paper Parachutes

(This post comes from John Joseph.)

Addictions are like paper parachutes. We assume the plane we’re on is going down. We snatch the nearest thing and jump only to find that the parachute is made of newspaper. As it shreds into thousands of pieces we fall faster and faster, hurtling to the ground at warp speed.

Once again, something we thought would save us accelerated our destruction. The crazy thing is that the plane probably wasn’t going down, but was having only minor problems. Had we not reacted in hysteria we would have landed safely.

As a sex-abuse survivor, I’ve jumped needlessly thousands of times. My paper parachutes have been forays into drug and alcohol abuse, sex addiction, hyper-spirituality, affairs, and even suicidal ideations. I’ve hit the ground so hard at times that it is a miracle I’ve survived and been able to maintain the relationships around me.

I've discovered about my recovering self is that I must resist. Panic is my enemy, not my friend. The bizarre tendency I have to turn minor upsets into major catastrophes must be tamed.

One technique I have used to curb panic is to breathe. As a passenger, my job is to keep breathing and not jump. I’m not the one flying this thing. The pilots know what they are doing (insert your Higher Power here).

Turbulence, even severe turbulence, doesn’t mean we’re crashing. It just means we’re traveling and making progress toward our destination. Mechanical problems and delays rarely result in the mangled and flaming tragedies we imagine and are normal to the process.

Recovering from childhood sexual trauma won’t happen without turbulence along the way. We'll face setbacks, delays, bad weather, and crying babies in the seat beside us. The secret to staying the course and moving from victim to victorious survivor is simple: Keep breathing and don’t jump.

Friday, January 18, 2013

"I'll Never Forgive You."

(This entry from Cec Murphey was originally posted on Mariska Hartigay's Joyful Heart Foundation site on 10/25/12.)

For several days, one sentence has continued to trouble me: "I'll never forgive you." Those words were spoken by the man identified only as Victim 4 at the Jerry Sandusky sentencing on October 9, 2012. His emotional cry says several things to me.

The most obvious is that he expresses the unhealed pain that comes from betrayal. At the trial itself, Victim 4 and other survivors referred to the gifts and personal attentiveness from Sandusky, who became their role model. Then came the molestation. Until then, Sandusky had probably been the most trusted man in their lives. His wooing them through seductive actions and evil motives caused an unrelenting pain that still remains.

Perhaps the words are also an unconscious cry to the perpetrator to admit what he did. If I faced someone and shouted those words, it would signify an unconscious or unspoken plea: "Please tell me you're sorry for how deeply you wounded me. Help me understand why you would hurt me." When the victimizer is someone we admire and love, the hurt becomes far more intense.

The words also speak of despair. What Victim 4 lost as a boy won't ever be restored, even if his perpetrator confesses. As a survivor of sexual molestation, I know how abuse damages us for life. We're emotionally shattered and we don't know how to trust others. We're suspicious of the motives when someone treats us kindly. We push away many good people because one bad person took advantage of our naïveté and youth.

Possibly the words are also a threat. It's as if to say, "You want absolution for your wrongdoing but you'll never, never get it from me." They seem like words to withhold forgiveness and that will punish the guilty.

Even worse, the words mean we carry the pain and refuse to offer compassion for the wrongdoer. I call myself a serious Christian and many of my peers would jump on Victim 4's words and insist, "You must forgive him."

If I could speak to Victim 4, I'd say, "Feel your pain. Don't release it until you're ready. If you move forward to find your own healing, the day will come when you'll shed your anger and freely offer your forgiveness (even if you never tell him).

I think of his statement as much like people who grieve after the death of a loved one—an awareness of the abuse is like death—the end of a powerful, emotional relationship.

"Number 4, grieve as long as you need to. Don't push yourself or allow anyone to nudge you toward letting go. When you're ready, you won't need prodding."

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"We Didn't Know."

(This entry from Cec Murphey was originally posted on Mariska Hartigay's Joyful Heart Foundation site on 7/5/12.)

"We didn't know," the civilians said when asked about the gas chambers after World War II.

"We didn't know," neighbors say when they learn that the man across the street had molested a boy.

"We didn't know," parents say when their adult children talk about their past sexual abuse.

When I began to deal with my abuse, I told my three older sisters. They said the same thing.

I don't think they were lying. I think they couldn't accept the enormity of the revelation. If they had known, perhaps they wouldn't have been able to face the personal guilt for doing nothing.

What about abused kids' point of view when they hear those responses? One of the witnesses against Jerry Sandusky said he never told anyone. Asked why, he repeated an answer that rang true to me and to many others, "Who would believe a kid?"

When the perpetrator is a prominent person in the community, leads a scout troop, teaches Sunday school, or runs a charitable organization for kids, who wants to hear such stories?

The answer: No one wants to hear such stories.

Perhaps the question should be, Who needs to hear such stories?

When asked that way, the answer is obvious. Parents, religious and civic leaders need to hear. But too often they don't.

Sandusky's wife said she never heard the boy screaming in the basement. Apparently, she also didn't know when their adopted son said Sandusky molested him repeatedly for several years.

When will they believe us?

When will the cries of bruised and raped boys be heard?

Until they are, the survivor on the witness stand has spoken for all of us who were abused in the past. He speaks for those who are or will be molested.

"Who would believe a kid?"

Friday, January 11, 2013

"You Shouldn't Feel . . . "

(This entry from Cec Murphey was originally posted on Mariska Hartigay's Joyful Heart Foundation site on 5/10/12.)

In conversation with my friend Beth, I mentioned that even though I knew the molestation in childhood wasn't my fault, I still felt shame and guilt over my abuse as if I had failed in some way. "I keep thinking that only if I—" 

"You shouldn't feel that way," Beth said.

Before I could respond, she listed my achievements (as if I didn't know them) and told me how much she admired me for the way I had dealt with my painful childhood.

"But still—"

"You don't deserve to feel that way."

Beth was trying to encourage me and I appreciated her concern; however, nothing she said was helpful. She tried to persuade me with logic and tell me how unreasonable it was to feel as I did.

I knew that, but I also knew that emotions don't listen to logic.

Beth could have told me a thousand times not to feel as I did because of what someone did to me. I would have agreed, but nothing would have changed.

What I also hear from well-meaning friends when I speak of my painful feelings is, "Just get over it!"

Easy words, but meaningless and powerless.

Do they think I want to hold on to my painful emotions? Do they believe I want to wallow in self-judgment?

One time when I spoke about the lingering feelings of shame, my late friend, Steve Grubman-Black, also a survivor of sexual abuse, said, "Be kind to yourself. Accept those feelings because they're real. When you're able to feel compassion for that innocent child you were, those negative feelings will begin to dissipate."

Steve was right, even though it took at least three more years for me to become aware of the change.

These days whenever I feel a negative, condemning emotion, I remind myself that I can't argue myself out of feeling as I do. But here's something I tell myself, "I accept myself the way I am."

I also remind myself: Emotions don't listen to logic.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Why Am I Still Not Healed?

(This entry from Cec Murphey was originally posted on Mariska Hargitay's Joyful Heart Foundation site on 3/15/12.)

"Why haven't I worked through all these issues? Why am I still not healed?" Most of us survivors ask ourselves that question many times. "I've been on this journey for five years. When does it end?" Those are the questions we ask on our worst days.

On our better days, we examine our lives and remember where we started. In those self-reflective times, we admit we've come a long way. A friend said to me, "In those depressing times when you tell yourself that you ought to be farther down the road, you're probably more healthy than you know."

Maybe he was correct, but it doesn't stop us from asking the question. Why not? Why not?

For myself, I can say this. I keep discovering the insidious consequences of my sexual abuse. It's a good thing I didn't recognize all the effects in the beginning, or it would most likely have overwhelmed and immobilized me. In my darkest moments, it seems as if the healing takes place one day at a time, or perhaps even slower—one small step a year.

I've jokingly said, "If I'd known in the beginning that this would be such a hard, painful journey, I probably wouldn't have started."

In my early days of grappling with the issue, I felt that way because the feelings were too intense, and too brutal. But now I add, "I'm glad I struggled and fought. It's been worth re-experiencing the pain. I've learned more about myself. I've not only accepted who I am but I honestly like the person inside me." Here's something I say to myself regularly, I am not quite healed; I am a healing-in-progress.

Friday, January 4, 2013


(This post comes from John Joseph.)

In a recent session, my therapist and I discussed fractures in the psyche. Fractures often occur as coping mechanisms in children who are traumatized by abuse, violence, instability, or loss. A fracture is like splitting off part of the personality that “takes over” to help the child survive. Though not as extreme as multiple personality disorder or schizophrenia, those fractures and their functions are identifiable.

It didn’t take me long in that session to realize that my psyche is made up of the innocent little boy, the victim, the addict, and the self-actualized adult. Of course they're all me because I'm the sum of my experiences. I can chart the years in which one or the other has been the dominant expression of my personality. Until age four, I was the innocent little boy. Being abused at four moved me into the victim state that emerged into the addict from ten to eighteen-years old. From age eighteen on, I've worked to become the self-actualized adult.

In that session, I came to understand that I still move in and out of the fractures, depending on my mood and circumstances. For instance, I was embarrassed in a business meeting the other day, and the victim-side of me emerged.

I felt abused for several days afterward even though no real abuse occurred. If I’m not careful about recognizing when I've fallen into the victim mentality, it can drive me into the addict mode and my acting out behavior takes over. That progression helps me understand the years of compulsive sexual behavior I've suffered and gives me one more tool with which to overcome the effects of my abuse.