Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"That Didn't Happen."

One of the hardest blows to our healing occurs when a family member says, "That didn't happen. He would never have done such a thing." Occasionally I receive emails from survivors who've been ostracized from their family for saying such terrible things "about your uncle Harold."

*Eldon had gone through more than two years of counseling, regularly attended Celebrate Recovery, and began to refer to his dysfunctional childhood on his blog. "Until you admit that those terrible things didn't happen, we want nothing more to do with you," his father said. "Unless you stop writing such terrible lies, you're not welcome in our home."

Four years have lapsed and he has no contact with his family of origin.

"Their words hurt," he said, "and I miss them. I still love them." They returned his letters, and because they had caller ID on their phone, refused to answer when he phoned them.

Eldon had a good job, married a co-worker, and they have a three-year-old son and an infant daughter. "No one in my family has ever seen them, and maybe they never will."

As sad as Eldon was in telling me, I admired his courage for not backing down. "It happened to me and I can't deny the truth."

I wonder how many Eldons have been cut off from their families for being truthful.

Even if it's only one, that's still too many.

Friday, March 27, 2015

"Get Over It."

I'd like to erase that sentence from human vocabulary. When someone says, "Get over it," the tone sounds condescending and lacks compassion. "Forget about it," they might say. "Let it go. It's the past." How little they know what they're saying.

If deciding to get beyond our pain was all it took, wouldn't we already have been freed?

I used to get angry at people who spoke that way, but one day I heard the words differently. They were speaking to me out of their discomfort. Their meaning was, "I can't handle this, so if you avoid this in my presence, I'll feel better."

That's why I say it lacks compassion. And sometimes our issue may also be theirs but they can't or won't face it. Being with us reminds them of their own unresolved pain, and that makes them uncomfortable.

My advice: When someone talks that way, it's my signal not to speak to them again about my childhood. They can't handle it.

One time I apologized to a person I thought would have understood and heard the get-over-it response. "I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."

That was the wrong approach; my apology made her even more uncomfortable. She denied discomfort. "I just don't want you to be in pain," she said. I think she was lying to herself.

We can't erase pain from our past; we can accept it and heal.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Holding On

My older daughter, Wandalyn, walked quite early, but she was also fearful. She put her weight on her own feet and, if I allowed her to hold both of my index fingers she tottered across the room.

One day I had an idea, and I held a clothespin in each hand. She took hold of the other end and we walked. That went on for a few days. One day she grabbed hold of the clothespins and we started to walk. I let go of my end and she kept on walking. Before she reached the other side of the room, she realized what I had done.

She dropped the clothespins and after that she toddled around the room on her own.

I tell this story because it works like that for some men in recovery. As long as they have someone to hold on to, they seem to do well. It might be a therapist, a pastor, a support group, or a friend they've been able to trust.

At some point, they have to walk without holding on to others. When that happens, it means they've overcome their shame and a sense of failure. Their self-worth soars.

We also call it maturity, because they can stand on their feet. It's not to say that they don't need others—we always need others—but maturity means we can walk by ourselves and walk beside those we trust.

But as long as we hold on by depending on someone else, we don't mature. We have to let go and give up the human crutches. We might fall a few times, but once we know the freedom and joy of walking without holding on to some safe support, life takes on a deeper meaning because our pain diminishes.

Friday, March 20, 2015

"I Need to Be Healed."

"I need to be healed," *Eric's email began. "I want to stay in the fight, but I'm tempted to turn back. I want to forget what happened, to ignore the problems, and lie to myself that everything will be all right if I turn my back on the healing process."

Eric went on to say he was worn out trying to overcome the struggles, the pain, and "my own shame and failures." He wrote to me because he said that the struggle doesn't end for him. "The shame eats at me from the inside, and I feel like a failure."

We emailed back and forth five or six times, and on one of them, he wrote, "This remains private. I can't tell anyone."

"That may be part of your problem," I replied. "You probably can't do this alone. If you had a tumor, wouldn't you consult a surgeon to cut it out?" I tried to point out how much all of us hurting survivors need to connect with others who have the same background.

The first time I spoke publicly to a group of six men, I told my story with many tears—but only after I heard theirs. For the first time, I knew I wasn't the only one. Certainly other boys had been molested and I knew that intellectually. I didn't realize their pain and struggles were like my own.

In my last exchange, I reminded Eric that he said, "I need to be healed," in his first email. "If you realize your need to be healed, please face it. Get help. Don't try to do it alone."

His last email to me said, "I need to be healed. I'm determined to do it alone." I never heard from Eric again. Twice I emailed to ask how he was doing. He never responded.

I share this downer account because not everyone recovers. Not every man has the courage to keep fighting through the threshold of pain. But to those of us who do, we know we did the right thing to keep on.

I wish every survivor would keep on. As one friend said, "I tried to pretend that everything would be all right if I just stopped struggling. But it doesn't go away. This is going to be a lifelong journey, isn't it?"

And yes, it is a lifelong journey.

And it's worth it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


This word bimodal fell into my vocabulary long after my healing started. The word refers to two different ways or models of coping. I mention this because it helped me make sense of some of my own behavior. It's like saying that hypersensitivity or overreacting can occur at the same time as numbing out.

I understood that when it came to the matter of trusting others. Sometimes I was skeptical of anyone who made any promises and acted as if they wanted me to trust them. At other times, I naively believed anyone—and was often taken advantage of.

For a long time I wondered what was wrong with me. Why I could be so skeptical about some people and yet such an easy prey to others. But once I caught onto the bimodal concept, it made sense to me.

It also reminded me that my victimization as a child skewered my life. My inconsistency was one way the molestation showed up.

Just to accept that bimodal response has helped me.

I may be inconsistent at times, but I recognize that is part of the healing journey. For a long time I didn't understand. Now that I do, I can make more progress.

Friday, March 13, 2015


It surprised me the first time I heard sexual assault linked with the idea of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and yet it fit. Until then I'd associated PTSD with military veterans who continued to relive their horrible ordeal. When I was a kid, the experts used the terms shell shock or combat stress.

My connection began when I read an article about PTSD and learned about their having flashbacks and recurring dreams. I said aloud, "That describes many of us survivors."

In my first year of healing, those flashbacks occurred several times a week. I felt as if the abuse were happening all over again. At other times, especially when I faced an extremely emotional situation, I numbed out, which was also listed among the symptoms.

One man who wrote me privately told me about his PTSD and said, "When the flashbacks occurred, I dealt with them by drinking them away. I called it recreational drinking, but I was self-medicating."

It's not just the symptoms, but how we react. For some men, the effect is debilitating. I was fortunate because I'm a fulltime, freelance writer. For three months after I started my healing, I didn't work much and I was able to stall on projects. Because the pain and the memories were so new and invasive, I told friends I was just taking off a little time for myself—it lasted three months.

I wasn't cured, but during those three months, an almost nightly recurring dream stopped. The flashbacks came less often with lower intensity.

I'm still not fully healed, but I'm getting closer all the time.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Rape Isn't about Sex

I've heard that statement for at least thirty years. They go on to say, "It's about control."

Maybe it is.

I am not a therapist; however, as a survivor of sexual assault, I think it's more about compulsion—the perpetrators' obsessive needs. Or if control is the word, perhaps it refers to perpetrators struggling and failing to control their driving compulsions. The successful assault of a child temporarily satisfies their irresistible impulse.

Control sounds to me more like a reasoned, determined act to subjugate someone to their wills. In the act of rape, perpetrators are in control, but I don't see that as the issue. They're fixated on themselves—the driving force that leads to (momentary) sexual release.

In 2005, I had a lengthy conversation with a former perpetrator. He likened his behavior to someone who was addicted to cocaine. "The more I resisted, the stronger the drive. My thoughts constantly focused on boys."

He went into some detail, but he also said, "After every encounter, I detested myself. I knew it was wrong—but I did it anyway."

I don't write this to minimize the pain and trauma inflicted on us survivors. I write this because I'm learning compassion toward perpetrators—beginning with those who molested me. I don't excuse what they do, but seeing their actions as a form of addictive behavior evokes sympathy. I've been able to forgive because they are also victims of their own compulsive desires.

Friday, March 6, 2015


"I never thought of it as incest."

At least six times, I've heard that statement from survivors. Their fathers, mothers, or older siblings were the perpetrators. They understood it fitted under the title of sexual abuse, but not incest.

"I finally accepted the word rape,” *Barry said two years ago over coffee, "but now I have to face the word incest. Somehow that makes it worse."

To him, the word was limited to a father-daughter sexual relationship. "My mother raped me," he said, "but it didn't hit me until I read the definition in a book about boys being molested. It said that incest refers to sexual activity between close relatives." He paused to wipe tears from his eyes. "How could she do that to me? How could she?"

Although he asked me the question, he didn't expect me to answer (as if I could). For Barry, the word incest was the ultimate evil in any family. "And I was a victim."

As we talked, it was obvious he wanted to make sense out of the situation. Finally he said, "She was lonely because Dad was gone a lot."

"You're excusing her," I said. "I suggest you focus on the crime she perpetrated instead of making excuses."

That shocked him, but then he nodded. "You're right. I have to remind myself that she did an evil, immoral, and illegal act."

Barry and I had coffee together about a month ago. One of the first sentences from him was, "My mother incested me."

Although I wasn't used to hearing the word as a verb, I understood. He had faced the reality of her sexual assault. "Now my struggle is to forgive her."

"Do you want to forgive her?" I asked, "Or is it something you feel you have to do?"

After a lengthy silence, Barry thanked me. "Thanks. My counselor urged me to forgive her—and I know I need to do that, but—"

"But not yet."

"Not yet," he said.

And I admired him for realizing he wasn't yet ready.

One day he will be ready. In his own time.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

"I Can Handle It Alone."

In 2004, I recorded a dream that occasionally troubles me. In my dream, I helped a man. He thanked me and said, "How may I help you?"

"I'm fine," I said and started to walk away.

“That’s your trouble," he said. "You’re all for helping, but you’re no good at receiving.”

I started to defend myself and four other people stood beside him, pointing at me. A woman said, “You don’t trust us enough to ask for our help, do you?”

I awakened and got the message. I determined that I would let others help me and I'd be more trusting.

A decade later, I haven't done much reaching out for help. Instead, I've said, "I can handle it."

The dream, however, reminds me that I'm still not able to trust others. I can blame my sexual assault in childhood, because that's where I lost the ability to trust. In my case, I'm still a sucker for people who know how to use the con-artist type language. And they've taken advantage of me, often causing me to lend them money, which they never repaid.

But the other kind of trust—the deeper level—I tend to guard and have been skeptical. As I've struggled over this, I figured out one thing. I don't open up to ask for help because I don't want to be rejected.

As a child, I could never depend on help from either of my parents. On the few occasions when I asked, I was rebuffed.

I grew up learning to depend only on myself. In my early twenties, I underwent a conversion to the Christian faith, and that helped.

Yet I still struggle. I don't want to hear that accusing voice, "You don’t trust us enough to ask for our help, do you?”

I'm learning.


But even slow progress is still progress.