Friday, November 29, 2013

A Third Post from Joseph

(This is the last of three posts from Joseph.)

Mother gave me dolls to play with, played house with me, and taught me how to sew. (Surely she knew better.) My stepfather psychologically abused us both—told me I would never amount to anything. (He lied: I taught school for 39 years; have published local history books; and am a well-known poet in my state. But I still felt less than a man.)

I wasn't allowed to play sports or join the Boy Scouts because the “other boys would be a bad influence on you.” I was allowed to go to one high school football game and that was in the ninth grade. I grew up knowing nothing about sports, cars, or guns.

I was never comfortable around men, but work and church put me around them, so I developed survival skills although remaining “dumb and stupid” about manly things.

Furthermore, I was warned against kissing girls—that could start a boy on the downward path to damnation. As an adolescent, when adult men enticed me, I saw it as kindness and I felt needed. When I discovered it was wrong, I felt that I couldn't ever be a real man.

Having a licensed Christian counselor and telling him everything—and I mean every shameful thing I have remembered—has been unlocking doors and I am progressing into freedom from the past.

God has put me in a church with godly men who like me and I am at ease around them. I may be old, but I’m not too old to learn and to enjoy the fellowship of men.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Second Post from Joseph

(This is the second of three posts from Joseph.)

I gave my counselor the following list at my session this week.

What I’ve Learned/Concluded about Myself

1. I didn’t deserve the childhood psychological abuse or the adolescent sexual abuse that happened to me.

2. I didn’t have a father who loved, nurtured, and protected me; but all the time, through the years, God, the truest Father, was loving, nurturing, and providentially protecting me.

3. Through the years, I avoided fellowship with men because I was afraid I would act unmanly and they would think I was a pervert. I realize that in doing that, I was avoiding the very men who could have affirmed my maleness.

4. It takes a real man to look past abuse and personal failures in the eye and with the help of a counselor gain assurance that you didn’t start the abuse. Next admit and accept the resulting sins and failures, but then turn around and face the future with your head up. I have; I am a man!

5. This year has been the best year of my life because God has brought a change in me. I know how Scrooge felt on Christmas morning!

6. I cannot use the past tense and say, “I am recovered,” but I can with confidence use the continuing present tense and say, “I am recovering.”

Friday, November 22, 2013

My Name Is Joseph #1

Whenever another man bares his soul and writes about the depths of his pain and his journey into healing, I'm deeply touched. The post that follows along with two others came from the same man.

Thank you, Joseph, for your willingness to open your heart to the rest of us.

Please note that Joseph speaks about the help of a trained counselor. Some of us took different paths toward healing, but we had someone there for us—not always a professional. We didn't do it alone.

* * * * *

My name is Joseph. After being a widower for 2 years, I made an appointment with a counselor.

Living alone in my house with a computer brought all kinds of old lusts and memories that called me to surf the net. I needed help. My secrets went back to when I was five years old and a boy a little bigger than I wanted to play cow, and he had me be the cow. I have a vague memory of his crawling onto my back.

The other secrets began the summer I turned 17. A same-sex event, but for the first time in my life I felt wanted. I never told anyone—not even my wife who loved me unconditionally and would have loved me no matter what I confessed to her. Instead, I built walls.

My wife died in Oct. 2010. In January 2013, I met with the counselor for the first time, determining beforehand that I would trust him and puke it all out. It has been a life-changing experience. I would still be in my prison of the past if I had not talked to a man about what happened to me.

If you think it will help, you’re welcomed to post it under the name Joseph.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What Does It Mean to Be a Man?

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

That's a frequent question from men who were sexually molested in childhood. "What does it mean to be a man—a real man?"

We have cultural attitudes and expectations within our own social communities about masculinity. But no matter how it's said, most of us survivors face uncertainty about our manhood. Many of us feel challenged and unsure about our masculinity. We say to ourselves, "If I were a real man, I would (or I wouldn't). . ."

For example, he was a victim of sexual abuse, so he can't be a real man, because true men are never victims. If he thinks of the word victim when he thinks of himself, he may struggle or be aware of something he says that will make others think he's not a real male.

If he cries, his friends may laugh at him, imply that's he's a sissy or behaves like a girl. Maybe he's not athletic or doesn't enjoy watching football. Or perhaps he's too thin or too fat—almost anything can cause him to struggle with deeper issues.

It's sad but too often it's a silent, inner battle he can't share with others. He feels that to talk freely opens him to further criticism.

Years ago my friend Charlie said he played with paper dolls. He was an only child and the dolls entertained him. One day he was with a friend and they saw two girls playing with paper dolls. "Only girls play with real dolls or paper dolls."

"After that," Charlie said, "I played only in my room and made sure no one else would find them." He later said that he started dating girls at age sixteen, and even though he liked girls, later married, and was never involved in any homosexual relationships, he still wonders if he's really a man.

"How do I know if I'm a real man?" he asked.

What would you say to Charlie or to any man like him? Please email me if you'd like to respond, and I'll post all the comments at one time.

Friday, November 15, 2013

"Who Am I?"

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

"I didn't know who I was," Mac said to me after I spoke to a Celebrate Recovery group. "Being molested messed with my brain," he said.

Mac didn't have a lot formal education but he said it well. Abuse affects all parts of our lives. I'm constantly amazed in my own life when I have a jarring realization of something I say or do that connects to my abuse.

Here's an example. I recently spoke with "Matt" about his abuse. He made me uncomfortable because he invaded my space—standing about six inches away from me—far too close.

In our conversation I put my hands on his shoulders as I took a step back, and said, "I'm uneasy when you stand so close." Before he could say anything, I added, "but I think it speaks about your need for intimacy."

Those words rushed out of my mouth without my consciously thinking of them. Tears filled Matt's eyes and he nodded slowly. "I know, but I can't help myself. I feel I have to move close to people and yet they move away from me."

I thought of buzz words like lack of boundaries and a number of things to help him, but instead, I heard myself say, "I'll bet you wished someone would hug you—a lot."

He nodded. "And when they do, I don't want to let go and that makes them not want to hug me again."

In that moment, I realized how many times I've wanted to be held, hugged, or even touched. It became clear to me that I had felt a similar need as Matt, but I reacted to it differently. When I hugged, I did it with great intensity (perhaps I still do). But the difference is that back then I tried to signal that I wanted the same intense embrace I gave them. Instead, I think I made them feel uncomfortable.

Like Mac, I continue to realize how much my being molested messed with my brain.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"What We Didn't Get"

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

I wrote an email to a hurting friend, who suffers from the effects of terrible things he's done to others. I'm sorry for his pain, but delighted he's facing himself. It takes courage to look at ourselves and admit that we committed acts we condemn in others. (In fact, condemning others for those very acts is often the way many try to cope with their issues.)

When I faced my childhood physical and sexual abuse, I learned an invaluable lesson. I don't know if I read it, someone told me, or if God whispered it to me, but here's the lesson: What we don't receive in childhood, we spend our lives seeking—usually on an unconscious level.

Like most people I focused on the symptoms—not doing things I knew were wrong. Years ago while visiting an AA meeting, I heard the term "dry alcoholic" and that sums it up for me. Dry alcoholics no longer drink but their behavior doesn't change.

I figured out that "unacceptable behavior" (a nice term to cover compulsive problems) is a painkiller. My dad and brothers killed their pain with beer. The most notorious gossip I've ever known died recently. Many times I've thought that carrying the latest news (true or not) gave her a sense of feeling significant, perhaps even important. The "medicine" each of them took for temporary relief usually worked temporarily.

Because of a loving God who worked in my life through my wife and my best friend, I was able to accept, struggle, and to have those needs fulfilled.

I was a lonely kid who felt different from those around him. When I was 18 months old, a dog attacked me and left terrible scars on my face. Plastic surgery took care of most of the visible scars, but the invisible ones remained for years.

The worst part of my childhood is that I never felt loved. As I ponder some of the things I did which made me feel guilty and ashamed, I now say to myself, "It was my way of searching for what I didn't receive as a child."

I'm probably no different from some of you, so I repeat the sentence that pushed me to face reality: What we don't receive in childhood, we spend our lives seeking—usually on an unconscious level.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Feeling Empathy

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

Two people abused me, both of whom were dead before I began to deal with my abuse. I wanted to forgive them, but it took me a couple of weeks of daily, intense prayer (it may take you only days or possibly years, because we're all different).

I don't know how God accounts for sins. The woman who abused me was a prominent Christian. I doubt that the old man ever went to church. But I prayed—fervently—that God would enable me to forgive them.

As my next step I thought of the prayer of Stephen, the first martyr of the church, who prayed, "Do not lay this sin to their charge." It took a lot of guts, commitment, and love for that man to pray that way for the people as they stoned him to death.

Eventually I was able to pray in the same way as Stephen did. I sincerely felt some of their pain and misery. That's not to overlook their awful acts, but it is to say, "God, their addiction imprisoned them. Surely they were tortured by their behavior. Forgive them for the terrible things they did."

Does such praying do anything for the perpetrators?

I don't know, but it did something good for me: I was free.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"Will It Ever End?"

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

I asked that question a few months into what we now call my recovery period. The pain was intense. In some ways I felt victimized a second time. "I had to go through that as a kid," I said to my wife. "Now that I understand what was going on, it hurts even worse."

Maybe it wasn't worse; maybe it only felt worse.

And the pain went on a long time. I didn't keep any record, but the most intense period was probably about two years. I had opened the door and I couldn't shut it. I knew I had to keep going.

I've long moved past the pain. The memories have begun to dull the way most memories do. That's one powerful reward for pushing forward. But there's more.

I have healthier relationships with my wife and my family. I understand friendship on a deeper level than ever. But most of all, I have a good life. I like being alive and I like who I am.

The journey has been worth it, even with the pain.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

"I Zoned Out"

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

I heard a man say, "I zoned out," and it's not a new term; I understood what he was trying to say. I would say that I went numb. He had emotionally detached himself is a simple explanation. He felt detached from his body or his conscious awareness.

Zoning out occurs during a traumatic event, such as molestation, and it's not that uncommon. He said, "It was like being a spectator and watching the abuse."

And it worked for him. "I survived childhood without being filled with anger."

But like many short-term methods that work, it has a drawback. As an adult, it ruins relationships. The man who talked to me had been in therapy for more than a year and could finally say, "I'm beginning to feel sadness and anger—two emotions I didn't understand when I was seven." He's now 41. It took him a long time to learn to feel.