Friday, August 29, 2014

Fears of Intimacy

(This post comes from a reader named Roger.)

Surviving sexual abuse left me confused about intimacy. I want it and need it, but it brings up so many negative things about physical touching and being pressured to surrender my body in ways I didn't understand and seems so closely related to what should normally happen when two people love each other.

What happens if I meet someone else with the same issues? What happens if I meet someone with normal feelings about this who becomes hurt and confused by my reactions?

This has been a painful struggle for my wife and me. She tends to interpret my reactions as negative toward her. That colors the rest of our interactions, making honest communication difficult at best, grossly misunderstood at worst. We both end up feeling rejected by the other.

It takes patience, understanding, and a desire to fight through the fears of rejection to learn how to approach each other lovingly. Those aren't traits my parents gave me. They are traits that I'm desperately trying to develop and, with God’s help, I may master someday.

My wife finds it difficult to understand that I love her and yet at times can appear inept at showing it. Lies and fears are chains forged long ago that take time and effort to replace with honesty, truth, and trust.

Why can’t I just get over it? Maybe because it's not a broken bone that needs healing; it's a broken soul. That healing may take some time. A wounded soul or a broken spirit can't be placed in a cast for six weeks and be good as new. It's complicated by the deep infection of a fallen nature, which only God can deal with.

As the serenity prayer goes, "God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference."

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My Sorrow Seems to Hang Around

(This poem comes from a reader named Joseph.)

I grow old outside;
but deep inside I’m still that five-year-old
who needs to crawl into Daddy’s arms
and know I’m safe and loved.

It’s not his fault.
He died before I was born.

After church, I see the boy run to his daddy
who stoops down to catch him in his arms
both laughing at the joy of being held.
Arms around Daddy’s neck,
the boy nuzzles his head on love’s shoulder.

Sorrow disintegrates me.

I lived abandoned in our house.

One day in the men’s room at the park,
a fatherly man reached for me
touched me
made me feel wanted.
I did not know I was abused, that he was perverse;
we briefly met each other’s twisted needs.

I searched for other father-substitutes,
found public men’s rooms where they waited,
accepted their minutes of pseudo-love,
then watched them hurry out when they were done with me

A starving child will eat from any garbage can.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Funeral of My Abuser

(This is an encore post from an anonymous reader.)

My eyes were red and swollen even before we arrived at the church. I had already been crying in the car, not so much for him, but for all that I knew had happened between us so many years before this day. My older brother was just one of four primary abusers in my childhood, but in many ways he was the most damaging to me. And now he was dead.

The swirling emotions I felt as I entered the church were toxic and overwhelming. Family members greeted me with saddened, concerned faces, yet no one seemed as broken as I was, including his widow and children. No one else seemed to be struggling to hold back scalding tears, even though I know that many were genuinely sad that a friend, son, husband, and father they loved was now gone. I had known a completely different person than they had.

Music played softly on the sound system. I tried to put on a nice smile and talk with family members and friends, but as I saw the black and white photographs of our childhood years scroll by on the screen in the front of the church I ran down the hall to hide in the kitchen as I sobbed uncontrollably.

Mercifully, the service was brief. I managed to stand and read his obituary and to sing The Lord’s Prayer at the end. I don’t know how I made it through, but I did. It was my “gift” to him, even though I don’t believe God’s will was done “on earth as it is in heaven” in our lives in any way. I don’t believe that big brothers were made to abuse their little brothers.

As the service ended, the tears sprang up again from deep inside. While others dabbed at the corners of their eyes, I sobbed again. My wife stood there and wept with me. She held onto me and whispered, “No one knows. No one knows. You’ve done the hard work. It’s over now.”

I shook a few hands, hugged a few necks, offered a few platitudes, and exited the building. My wife offered to drive, but I refused. A few moments later, as I was backing out of the parking space, the sobbing returned—even harder. We changed places and she drove us away from the church. I had said goodbye.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Why Did I Go Back?

(This post comes from a reader named Roger.)

I have shared with only two people that I did go back—long after I no longer needed to, and long after he was probably through with me. After the divorce from my first wife, I spent a holiday weekend with my parents. That first evening, dad told me I could have his bedroom and he would sleep in their camper/trailer.

Later, I turned out the light to go to sleep. Tired as I was, I found myself alert and lying once again in the dark, a 10-year-old kid in a 33-year-old body. Sometime after midnight, I heard familiar sounds outside my door. Without thinking, I pulled back the covers so he could see me.

Why would I do that? At that point in my life, I was well aware of what we were doing and how wrong it was. What did I want/need from him? It was just as unsatisfying as it was 23 years earlier, but now it was embarrassing, humiliating, and I ended up feeling like crap. Why did I feel the need to surrender access to me? Was it familiarity, guilt, a chance to rewrite history? Or maybe I thought it was a chance to talk about what we were doing.

Of course, the next day it was as if nothing had happened. He was my father and the pastor of my church all my life.

How long would this go on?

Dad took that terrible dilemma out of my hands with his suicide years afterward. But I'm still left with the question of why I went back, and whether I would have continued.

Not many of us incest survivors have to face those questions and doubts, but I understand the terrible pull to accept that phone call, answer that text, or open the door to someone whom I know is going to hurt me.

Friday, August 15, 2014

"Why Did He Do That to Me?" (Part 7 of 7)

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

I can't explain or justify the behavior of those who abused us. I know two former perpetrators and the response I've received from both is that they acted out of an overwhelming need. I'd call it an addiction (many may disagree), but the urge was so compelling they felt powerless to resist.

If that's correct, they struggle with greater internal monsters than we do. Generally, perpetrators are victim-survivors of sexual abuse and carry the pain most of us have experienced. On top of that, they also become victimizers.

I believe our abusers are tormented by their actions. Even though they feel they can't help themselves and find excuses for what they did, they also know they did something terrible. They stole our childhood innocence and brought immeasurable pain into our lives. Consequently, I see them as people in even greater pain than the rest of us.

It took me years to feel that way, but now I've learned compassion toward myself but also toward the abusers. I had to move beyond my own pain before I could understand that those who hurt me were also living in agony.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"Why Didn't God Stop the Abuse?" (Part 6 of 7)

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

When we ask such questions, we imply that if God is good, nothing bad should happen to us—or at least nothing bad to the innocent. Life just doesn't work that way. I've been reading the Bible for more than 50 years and the promises of God are to be with us in our pain and not to shield us. For example, "Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me" (Psalm 23:4, New Living Translation).

I wish God had protected me during childhood. I hate the pain I've had to go through. Now—after dealing with my issues for years—I can look back and thank God for taking me through those terrible times. He didn't let me give up, and I'm healthier today. However, that's not all: I care about others in their pain because I can feel what they feel.

Too often we forget the purpose of our ordeals. We come out stronger and more sensitive to the needs of others. We can wrap our arms around the hurting because we know how it feels to be hurt.

I don't know why God didn't intervene.
I do know that I can intervene when others are in pain.

Friday, August 8, 2014

"Why Should I Forgive Those Who Hurt Me?" (Part 5 of 7)

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

This question comes up regularly, and I could give many answers, but here's one: I forgive because I want to move forward in my healing. That probably sounds like a selfish answer, and it is—but it's also a necessary one.

If I don't forgive, I hold on to my pain and won't let go. As long as I refuse to forgive, I will feel anger, rage, or some kind of negative emotion toward another. Holding on to those feelings holds me back.

I want to make it clear: This is not a demand to forgive. We forgive when we're ready. We are the only ones who can decide on the right time.

I want to forgive my perpetrators 
because I want to be free from my painful past.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

"Why Am I Not Healed By Now?" (Part 4 of 7)

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

After we've been treading up the painful winding path toward wholeness, we look ahead and see how far we have yet to go. It's like hiking up a mountain, and just as we reach the summit, we stare ahead and realize that to reach the destination means we have to keep going to another summit.

"There's always another mountain to climb," I groaned after about a year. Then I remembered the testimonies I used to hear from members of AA. After they told their stories of debauchery and agony, they went on to express the peace and joy they had experienced since their sobriety. Their presentations made it sound as if they had been totally healed.

They weren't healed. Some of them hold up their tokens to proclaim their sobriety. And many of them didn't go back to alcohol. None of them had everything figured out. The best members of AA would say to me that the journey was still one day at a time. The most victorious were able to say they were closer to a healthier life. None of them ever talked about arrival.

If you're agonizing over the journey yet ahead, perhaps you need to pause and look backward.

I can look at how far I've already come.
I can say, "I haven't arrived, but I'm on the way."

Friday, August 1, 2014

"Why Does It Hurt So Much?" (Part 3 of 7)

(an encore post by Cecil Murphey)

Early in my healing process, I asked that question repeatedly. I was hurting and I couldn't understand the reason for the intense pain. I wanted to face the reality of my traumatic childhood, learn from the experience, and move on with my life. But I didn't want the pain, or at least I wanted less of it.

My real question didn't involve why as much as it did how. "How do I get rid of the torment, the painful memories and re-experiencing my childhood trauma?" Like thousands of other survivors, I learned to say those now-clich├ęd words, "I had to feel the pain to move beyond the pain." As memories trickled back (some exploded), I faced each one. In private, I cried often in those early days; I raged and I yelled at my perpetrators.

In the midst of those rants and tears, I wanted relief. And it did help to vent, but it helped even more to talk to the two people who loved me enough to stay with me in my pain—my wife and my friend David.

What worked for me may not be the path for everyone. We have different temperaments and see life through our personal, unique experiences. If we want healing, each of us needs to find our own way.

I don't want to feel the pain; 
 I remind myself that it won't last. 
The more I heal, the less the pain lingers.