Friday, September 27, 2013

Facing Monsters

(This blog post comes from Mark Cooper.)

A friend recently commented that he sees me as one of the bravest people he knows because of the things I have faced and am learning to face as I heal. Of course, I do not see myself that way. But it did encourage me and helped to give me the following word picture.

A little child / facing monsters / Afraid and small / knowing he can't run / because he's held / by walls that surround
Years pass / A man grows / and hides the child within / believing he's free / and leaving behind / walls that surround
But the day dawns / that monsters reappear / Forcing to the surface / the childlike heart / which once again / sees walls that surround 
Fear rises / freeing the child / finally to stand / eyes on his Father / seeing through / walls that no longer surround

All who are willing to face the painful reality of past abuse are the brave ones—becoming children again, facing the monsters again, and finding the courage to see that the walls no longer imprison.

God has never repented of choosing me; therefore I am beginning to repent of limiting who God has chosen me to be.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Moving Beyond the Abuse

(An encore post by Cecil Murphey)

"It's the past. Forget it and move on," my youngest brother, Chuck, said to me. We had both been sexually assaulted by the same person. He didn't admit being sexually molested, but he didn't deny it either. On the few occasions when I tried to talk to him about it, his answer was, (1) "You can't undo the past," (2) "We don't have to think about those things," or (3) "That stuff happened back then." His words implied that we need only to forget the past, leave it behind, and it's gone.

If only it were that simple.

Chuck died after years of trying to cure his pain through alcohol. I don't know if the pain he tried to medicate was the abuse, but I suspect it was. On rare occasions when he was drunk, he made oblique references to "that mess in childhood."

Outwardly, Chuck wanted to get past the sexual molestation and get on with his life. So why didn't he "move on" with his life?

I had a second brother named Mel, also an alcoholic. He was married five times and died of cirrhosis at age 48. Unlike Chuck, Mel wouldn't talk about our childhood. "There's nothing back there to talk about," was the most he ever said.

I write about my two brothers because both of them seemed determined to get past the abuse of childhood by forgetting, denying, or ignoring. That approach doesn't work.

We don't forget—not really. We don't forget because childhood abuse affects our lives and shapes our attitudes about people and relationships. Some guys want to hurry and get over it, but it's not something to get over and to move on.

Abuse happened to us. Until we accept it and face what it has done to our lives, we don't really move forward. We only live unhealed lives.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Coded Words

(By Cecil Murphey)

I've lost count of the number of wives who've contacted me about their husbands' intense struggle over his childhood sexual abuse.

Here's one email (and I changed the name):

Just before we married, Jim said, "I was molested when I was six." That was all—no details and nothing about his response, or even who did it. It seemed unimportant, like saying he received only a "C" in eighth-grade math. Now, after 18 years of marriage, he's struggling with his abuse and he's become a man I don't know. He's in pain and I can't seem to help him. When I said something, he angrily reminded me that he had told me about the abuse.

Jim used the code words: "I was molested." I write code because he could have intended many different meanings. One is that he was testing her. He gave her a safe sentence and she didn't respond negatively. In fact, she apparently made no comment because she didn't hear it as a cry of pain, but only as a statement about his childhood. The code words protected him from having to say more and risk her disapproval of him.

Second, he might have been exploring and for the first time, mentioned his abuse. By receiving no positive feedback, he didn't feel secure about pursuing it.

Third, he might not have been prepared to face his trauma. If he had been ready, his words would surely have hinted at or expressed his inner battles. The fact that he waited 18 years would make me inclined to accept that reason.

When a man is ready to deal with the anguish of his abuse, he's usually ready to talk. When Jim spoke in code words and she didn't get his message, that may have said to him that she didn't really care, didn't want to know, or that it wasn't safe for him to say more.

If he intentionally used code words, he might have been thinking, If you got the hidden message you'll know what's inside me.

One survivor told me, "I guess I expected my wife to read my mind. When I mentioned it a few days after we married, she acted as if it were no big deal, so that's how I treated it." He went on to say that he pushed away the pain as long as he could.

I'm not blaming the wives, partners, friends, or parents for not understanding. Code words hide the reality. They also say that the person isn't ready for full disclosure. And for those who feel guilty for not having been a super sleuth, please remind yourself that you did not know. He didn't speak clearly enough for you to perceive his meaning.

There are two significant things you can do for him, whether after 18 or 38 years together: First, remind him that you love him and that hasn't changed.

Second, listen—uncritically. You're involved but it's his problem. Let your face and your reaction be the mirror he needs to see compassion for himself.

(This blog post first appeared at

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Raw Hope

(By John Joseph*)

Recovering from childhood sexual trauma requires a lot of courage and raw hope. Not only are we strapped with the excruciating memories of the abuse, we have to endure the stigma and misunderstanding of people around us should they learn of it. On top of all that is the Herculean effort to overcome the crippling side effects of addiction and emotional dysfunction. Recovery isn’t for sissies.

If not for the hope of getting better we would all give up. Hope is the fuel that keeps us going and drags us out of the ditch when we’ve driven off the road. Maybe hope is like a wrecker service we can call on when we need it. Instead of just crying by the side of the road, or worse, camping out there indefinitely, we should keep hope on speed dial and use it as necessary.

One thing that gives me hope is remembering that I am better off today than I was when I started dealing with my abuse. I was in crisis then; I am not now. I had little knowledge of what to do with it then, but much more now. I had no ability to quell the flood of emotions that was like a tsunami of guilt, shame, and fear sweeping me off my feet and swallowing me up, but I’m learning how to swim a little better now. Hope, if nothing, is a day to day choice to believe things are getting better despite how I may feel.

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

Friday, September 13, 2013

Forgiving Me

(By John Joseph*)

One of the most difficult things I’ve faced in trying to recover from childhood sexual trauma is forgiving myself. It’s so easy to say that it wasn’t my fault, but it still feels like it was my fault. It still seems like I should have done something to resist my perpetrator—scream or cry out—but I didn’t. The most shameful part to me now is the fact that a lot of it was pleasurable to me. I craved the attention and found something oddly satisfying in the secrecy of it all.

I have learned that these feelings are common to abuse victims. There was pleasure in the attention. There was something I needed in the physical touch that I wasn’t getting in a healthy way in my family unit. I was so young that the moral implications of the perpetrator’s behavior with me were completely unknown. I simply couldn’t know that this behavior was wrong and would have such devastating effects later in my life.

One of those horrible effects is the pervasive sense of guilt over the abuse. There’s no changing that it happened, so my only hope is in forgiving the abuser and forgiving myself. Neither is easy, yet both are necessary if I’m going to recover from it. Somehow not only do I choose to release the perp from his unforgivable actions, but I have to forgive me, too.

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

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Erasing Negative Emotional Scripts

(By John Joseph*)

From infancy emotional scripts are being created in our minds. We learn without even knowing we’re learning that mother is safe and cares for us. We learn that significant others are available to meet our needs and that we can trust them, too. Unfortunately, we also learn negative emotional scripts when mother isn’t available and, worse, when she or someone else near to us is abusive. Those of us who’ve been sexually violated in childhood were infused with a commanding negative script (maybe many of them) that we carry into adulthood.

This damning script says you are scum. It says you are worth nothing more than a rag and you deserve to be used this way. It takes great faith and perseverance for anyone to overcome these pernicious inner messages that seem to come out of nowhere. Many of our relationships have suffered for these scripts. Certainly we’ve suffered from them inwardly even if we’ve had the willpower to act outwardly as if we were “just like” everyone else. But can a powerful mental script be broken or changed?

In my experience the answer is yes with some strong cautions. Through therapy, medication, and a loving network of people around me I am getting better, albeit slowly. The abusive flashbacks are less frequent and shorter. The triggers that would hurl me headlong into shame are losing their strength as I grow in my understanding that I have a lot more control over them than I ever knew before. I am growing more hopeful that the thoughts and deep emotions that have controlled me, these negative scripts, will eventually be completely erased.

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

Friday, September 6, 2013

Turning the Abuse Around

(By Gary Roe)

I’m inspired by the Old Testament story of Joseph. He came from a highly dysfunctional family. His father had two wives and was a deceiver who played favorites. Joseph’s brothers hated him and sold him into slavery. Over the next 13 years he was carried off to a foreign land, mistreated, falsely accused, imprisoned, and forgotten.

Through a series of miraculous events, Joseph the Hebrew slave became second-in-command of the powerful nation of Egypt. Several years later, a famine struck the region and when Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt for food, they find themselves face-to-face with their long-lost brother.

Joseph could have done whatever he wanted with them. His brothers were terrified and expected death, but Joseph embraced and welcomed them. He chose to forgive. "You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good," Joseph said (Genesis 50:19).

Joseph believed evil could be turned around and used for good. He chose to look at the positives instead of dwelling on his brothers’ rejection and abuse. He refused to be controlled by the past. He forgave his brothers, and in doing so freed himself.

That story tells me I can shed the abuse of the past. I know it happened, and I accept that. Now I’m trying to turn it around and use it for good, in my life and in the lives of those around me.

I can find ways to turn the abuse around
and use it for good.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

My Life is a War of Obstacles

(By Gary Roe)

Sometimes I get upset and ruffled because I expect life to be smooth. That’s ironic considering my life since childhood has been a painful war.

Sexual abuse has all kinds of horrific aftereffects. We live with the results of the abuse and our lives are anything but smooth.

What if life is really about overcoming difficulty and obstacles? Maybe part of it is designed to bring me to the end of my own strength so I can begin to trust and experience the freedom that comes from not having to be in control. Instead of exhausting myself running from the pain, I can choose to turn around and embrace it.

As I allow myself to feel the pain, I begin to accept what happened. I’m less controlled by my past and live with more freedom. I am less self-conscious and engage more naturally with others.

Healing is not smooth or easy. It can be upsetting and painful. But it is good. Very good.

Life is not smooth and neither is healing,
but both can be very good.