Friday, August 30, 2013

Connecting Thoughts and Emotions

This is an edited comment written by Jack Stoskopf on Facebook. He is the co-founder of ISUVOA (Incest Survivors United Voice of America).

* * * * * * * * * *

For us sexually abused males, to be in touch with our thoughts and emotions is difficult. Many of us survived by disconnecting our minds and emotions from the acts of being used sexually. To this day, I struggle to connect my thoughts and emotions.

Many of us question our masculinity and our sexuality. Our ability to sustain relationships is often shaky. Although we see our weaknesses and vulnerability, most women see the man they have grown to love as strong and powerful.

The problem lies within the men themselves. Some will never open up and tell their stories. A woman may be in love with a man for years and yet he never reveals his inmost secrets.

When we do tell, after intense struggles, our thoughts come rushing like a flood. We worry about the stereotypes and myths of the sexually abused male. We risk being judged. We feel dirty, ashamed, and guilty. It takes a tremendous amount of trust for us to open up—even to the women we love. Many of us experience so much anxiety just thinking about revealing our secret.

When a man opens up, he needs women who listen and remain at his side. She needs to encourage him to speak in an atmosphere of quiet trust. That may occur very slowly over time and it requires great patience. I heard it said that if a man starts to cry, don’t stop him.

Be sensitive and compassionate. I also encourage you to read about the effects of men's sexual abuse. Some of the effects include sexual dysfunction, performance anxiety in the bedroom, acting out sexually, addiction, depression, anger, and irritability. The list is long and many times we men haven't made the connection to understand why we behave the way we do.

I believe in the power of love that a woman can have for a man. I have seen it in my life and trust me I wasn't so lovable. So if you're a woman, never give up on us.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Healing is Tough, but Worth It

(By Gary Roe)

Healing is tough, but worth it.

My daughter recently broke both her arms, one of them very badly. The pain was terrible and she nearly passed out several times. After the doctors assessed the damage, they did surgery. The recovery process was slow, difficult, and painful.

Can you imagine what would’ve happened if we had refused surgery and chosen to ignore that fact that she had two broken arms? Ridiculous, right?

Yet we often minimize the pain and damage of what I call our soul injuries. The abuse perpetrated on us was far worse than two broken arms. The damage was internal and extensive. In order to heal, we’re going to need some soul surgery. The recovery and healing process will be hard, lengthy, and at times painful.

But as we stay with it and remain committed to healing, we’ll find ourselves slowly improving. We’ll be less burdened and live with greater freedom and purpose. And one day we’ll look back and say, “Yes, it was so worth it.”

So stay with it, my friend. Make your healing a priority. It’ll be worth it.

My soul injuries need my attention,
so I choose to make healing a priority.

(This post was adapted from Not Quite Healed, written by Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe.)

Friday, August 23, 2013

Damaged but Protected

(By Gary Roe)

When people find out I was sexually abused as a child, they are shocked. “I’m so sorry that happened to you. Children should be protected,” they often say.

“I was protected,” I respond.

Yes, I was severely abused by people close to me, but I also strongly believe that God protected me. The damage has been severe, but it could have been so much worse.

For example, my desire from childhood has been to make a difference by helping hurting people. I have always been in a helping profession. I believe that was God, turning evil around and into something positive.

My heart and soul were damaged, but not destroyed. In some sense, I was protected against the full onslaught of evil. And now God is working in me to bring more healing, not just to myself but to others as well.

It’s interesting that the more available I am to God to be used in the lives of others, the more healing seems to come my way. Over time, I am able to see even more of God’s protection in my life, and my heart begins to relax a little more.

We were damaged, but not destroyed. Now God wants to bring healing and let us experience his goodness. If I can open up and heal, you can to. We’re in this together.

I was damaged, but not destroyed.

I can heal and experience God’s wonderful goodness.

(This post was adapted from Not Quite Healed, written by Cecil Murphey and Gary Roe.)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Getting Unstuck

(By John Joseph*)

Plateaus, deserts, valleys—whatever you call them—they’re no fun. The fact that we seem to be bogged down in our efforts to recover from childhood sexual abuse is discouraging, at best, and at worst, leads us to setbacks.

We become restless, listless, and even sleepless. Depression or anxiety begins to creep in and affect everything else in our lives—relationships, work, and recreation. People begin to notice and even wonder why we’re no fun anymore.

We're stuck.

What can we do to get unstuck? What will pull us up out of the mud and put us back on the road to recovery? What will help us re-center and tap into the joy of being alive?

Although the answers may seem elusive, I believe there are a couple of very important things we can do to jump-start the recovery process and start to feel human again.

The first thing I do when I realize I’ve gotten stuck is to gift myself with grace. Grace isn’t an excuse for where I am, but a kind, human-to-human response that I would want to give to anyone else I knew who was stuck. Instead of beating myself up for messing up again, I take a moment to do some healing self-talk that says, “Okay—so we’re stuck a little here. No worries. Just think about it. What do we need to do to get things going?” I don’t know why I always talk to myself in the plural. It just feels good to think there’s more of me here than just "I."

Then I take a little while to journal and meditate, then I wait. Sometimes the very thing I need to get going again shows up in a book or online. Occasionally, it hits me in a conversation with a friend. At other times, I keep pushing into different things and I realize the wheels haven’t really come off the wagon. They’re turning again, even if slowly, and I find myself back up on the road to become the person I am intended to be.

(*John Joseph is a pseudonym of a pastor. He's a regular contributor to this blog.)

Friday, August 16, 2013

I Wanted to Die

(Note from Cec: Lee Willis is going through deep, deep pain—and is beginning to heal. I hope you'll sense his agony. And some of you may remember your own.)

* * * * * * * * * *

My life is so messed up and there is so much pain that I wonder what several years of therapy ever did for me. I’m very good about controlling the fight inside of me. I came from a sexually and physically abusive home. I vowed when I got older that I would never drink, smoke, hit, or yell at my family. Luckily I don’t have those feelings to lash out. However, inside of me rages a war, a battle of such with myself. I just want to fight.

I remember being an older teen vowing that the next time my dad would beat up on my older sister I would intervene. It didn’t take long before the screams began and he was dragging her screaming and crying down the hall in a rage. His face was bright red and purple. I ran up the stairs and got between them and stopped it. So the consequence for my disrespectful action was to be shunned by my family including my sister with the lecture from my mom and sister on how horrible I was to my father. I didn’t care. I did it and it was awesome.

I went to therapy for years and know all of the jargon and phrases. I cried all the tears I think there are. I should feel peace. I just want to fight some invisible creature out there, grab it by the throat, and beat it to death. Sounds crazy, I know. Addiction doesn’t work any more either. It’s just a waste of time and energy. All of this has ruined my life.

I think if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t have told anyone in my family. I became a social leper. I wish I could contact my family at times, but it’s no use. We all died once I opened my mouth. I thought I was helping by talking about it. I thought I could help others in my family. I don’t think just talking about it is a good idea. It doesn’t set you free, it just makes the pain and the shame worse.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Not Quite Healed

A note from Cec: 

Lee Willis emailed and gave me permission to reprint this. He also wrote, "In any future emails, please use my name.” It’s part of saying, “Look at me. I’m a real person and this really happened.” He said, “Thanks for helping me finally find a safe place. I’ve tried other internet sites and felt uncomfortable and abandoned them. This is safe. I’ll be back often.”

* * * * * * * * * *

I found the book Not Quite Healed. I haven’t finished reading it, but it has already helped a lot. I did therapy over the years, which helped, but I became burned out and stopped. I don’t regret stopping because I believe it was beginning to do more harm than good.

I started therapy after my mother died and I had some strong anger issues with her and my father who died years ago. My first therapist, whom I completely trusted, was cautious not to sway my way of thinking.

After several visits, he diagnosed me with severe PTSD, since I had most of the usual symptoms. I journaled privately and then read my journal in our sessions and talked about the entries.

One day I was reading my journal to him, and he stopped me. He told me to go back because he felt I skipped over something. I read the part about being a young boy at the day care and two men abusing me.

I threw my journal to the floor, buried my head in my hands and sobbed uncontrollably, wishing I would die. Throughout the next two years, I talked to my therapist about sexual and physical abuse in our home as well as the day care.

In an effort to help my sister, I tried to bring this up to her; however, she adamantly denied it, and turned the rest of my extended family against me.

My memories are vague. My therapist told me that I had traumatic amnesia. My therapist told me that I would not be making up stories about such abuse and he didn’t plant any ideas in my mind that would cause me to come up with specifics.

I have told my family and been shunned as a result, I feel considerable shame, wondering if my so-called recovered traumatic memories were nothing more than an overactive and exaggerated imagination.

I have continued to struggle with intimacy issues and addictions. I came to the conclusion recently that those things must be true and began to accept them.

I still feel anger, but it seems to lessen when I own up to the abuse. In the back of my mind I wonder, “Suppose it wasn’t true. Then I have slandered people.”

I have found relief in your book and your blog. I feel at peace there.

We all have stories. It’s all about pain and shame and owning it, I think. I try not to dwell on it and push it out of my mind, but then the anger comes and the addictions worsen. I realize I can’t do this on my own.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Journal to the Center of the Soul

(By John Joseph*)

One of the simplest and most effective tools in my recovery has been soul journaling. There’s something powerful about the act of writing out the pain, the people, and the prayers (positively and negatively) that put them all in a better perspective. I don’t know if it’s the power of the words themselves or just the fact that I write them out of my head that brings some relief, but time and again I’ve experienced good things from journaling.

I’m not a write-in-the-journal-every-day kind of guy. I write when I feel like I need or want to. It’s sporadic, and weeks can go by in-between entries. Sometimes I write four or five pages; at other times, only a paragraph.

Recently, when I needed to do some journaling about my mother, I could write only one sentence: “Mom . . . upside down spells ‘wow.' ” Obviously I have some work to do on that relationship.

I think it’s important to write positive things as well as negative. It’s good to celebrate even the smallest victories in our recovery from abuse—a day with less depression or the realization that each day is a gift. It’s also possible to address the true self in our journals—that part of our soul that responds to nurturing through self-affirmation and blessing. There’s a lot of healing we can gift to ourselves through positive words.

Writing things out is an ancient prescription for soul health. Journaling, even sporadically, can be part of your journey to the center of who you really are.

(*John Joseph is a pseudonym of a pastor. He's a regular contributor to this blog.)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Shame, Guilt, and Self-Love

(By John Joseph*)

Shame is a universal experience. All of us can recall some moment of deep embarrassment, whether it's the feeling of not getting picked for the team (or being picked last); not getting the promotion we deserved; being caught doing something we shouldn’t do, such as lying or stealing; or something worse. These are the moments that, when recalled even years later, bring a blush to the face.

For most people, shame is a passing emotion. For many of us who’ve survived childhood sexual abuse, however, shame can become a constant state of inner existence. Feeling dirty, unwanted, unloved, and unneeded has left us with a ubiquitous sense that we are flawed internally—a rag to wipe up a mess and nothing more. That kind of shame is something far beyond simple guilt. It's chronic and untenable.

But what can we do about it?

The first thing that has helped me is to realize the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is a momentary, passing feeling that tells us we did something wrong. In that sense, guilt is a built-in guidance system that helps us to become better human beings. We do something wrong, guilt helps us to realize it; we ask forgiveness of the person wronged (even ourselves), and we move on. Guilt ends. But chronic shame is about who we are, not what we did. Guilt says, "I did wrong;" shame shouts, "I am wrong."

The second thing that has helped me recover from chronic shame is to recognize I have built too much of my identity around that feeling. I have become the shamed person I think I am. Instead of choosing healthy self-love I need to live, too often I’ve lived out the false script of shame that tells me I am a mistake, after all, and the world doesn’t need me.

Each day I must choose self-love over shame.

(*John Joseph is a pseudonym of a pastor. He's a regular contributor to this blog.)

Friday, August 2, 2013

Self-Pity and Sorrow

(By John Joseph*)

One of the best things I’ve learned in my recovery is the big difference between self-pity and sorrow. One is useful; the other isn’t. One can benefit the process of healing; the other exacerbates the problem. One is like poison and the other is more like necessary medicine—it might not taste good, but it brings health in the end. You already know which is which.

Self-pity is, of course, one of the worst indulgences a recovering person can entertain. It focuses all emotional resources on the self and its pain, abuses, maladies, and bad luck. Self-pity is the iconic “smiley face” always turned upside down. "Poor me," it says. "Nobody loves me. I’m a victim forever. Nothing good ever happens to me." Such repetitive inner messages never uplift the soul, but drive it deeper into despair.

Sorrow, on the other hand, is a necessary part of the healing process. We were victimized. We were unloved by someone, at least in the abusive moment. Abuse was something bad that happened in our past. But to focus solely on those unfortunate moments and to constantly indulge them is to empower them.

The abuse in my life was real. It did happen. But the moment I have right now doesn’t have to be wasted on feeling sorry for myself. I can, at least as an act of faith, decide that I will let sorrow over the things that happened take its proper time to lead me into productivity and acts of kindness for others.

(*John Joseph is a pseudonym of a pastor. He's a regular contributor to this blog.)