Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Defining Abuse (Part 1 of 2)

It’s hard to give a specific definition to abuse because it shows itself in a myriad of ways. Even if it’s “only” sexual abuse, it’s also emotional abuse.

It took me a long time to grasp that obvious statement. When Mr. Lee, the old man, sexually seduced me, in my childish way I thought he loved me. He said he did. He told me often enough how sweet and special I was.

Mr. Lee also assaulted my older, slightly retarded sister, and she told. When I came home later that day, I learned that Dad had beaten the man up and tossed his belongings out of the house.

I didn’t understand it, but I didn’t know whom to tell. About two weeks later I was walking along Sixth Street (we lived on Second). I saw Mr. Lee sitting on a large porch with several older men. I waved and yelled at him.

He didn’t respond. I started up the walk to the house and he got up and hurried inside. I stood on the sidewalk confused and deeply hurt, feeling he had rejected me. And I thought he loved me.

That’s an example of the emotional toll of sexual abuse: I felt rejected, unloved, and unwanted. And it hurt more than the lack of affection from my own family. Mr. Lee had given me hope, and made me feel good. Special. That day, as he hurried out of my sight, I felt the emotional effect of his lies, deception, and pretense.

The physical act from our perpetrators is only the beginning. The scars are there for the rest of our lives.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

An Act of Power?

When I read anything about rape these days, it all seems to say, “Rape is an act of power. Dominion over another.” Maybe that’s right, but I don’t agree that we boys were chosen so that a bigger person could have control over us.

For me, the perpetrators were blinded by their own needs. I call it an addiction, even though many would disagree. I see our exploitation as a result of a compulsive, overpowering urge.

A few perpetrators have said, “I couldn’t help it. I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway.” That sounds like an addiction to me.

For me, such admissions don’t fit with domination or control. It says to me that the victimizers were their own victims. Out of their own overwhelming lustful need, they seduced us boys.

I’m not excusing them; I’m trying to understand why they do such evil things. For me, that’s the only satisfactory solution. When they’re engaged in the sexual act, it has one purpose: to provide them with sexual gratification. And it works. They are satisfied—for the moment. And then the urges and the compulsion returned—following the pattern of an addiction.

I understand compulsion because I was a smoker for six years. Once I got hooked, I couldn’t stop. At times I was tormented and had to force myself not to think about cigarettes. Once I had that white stick in my mouth I was satisfied, although I detested the fact that I was addicted and realized that tobacco controlled my life patterns until I broke free.

During the past two decades, I’ve spoken with perhaps a dozen former perpetrators. None of them have ever spoken about power unless it was to say they felt powerless to stop.

The practical side of this is that it enables me to feel compassion for those who victimize. I remind myself that they didn’t seduce us to rack up trophies of conquest.

“I hated myself,” one former teacher told me. “I couldn’t stop even though I knew it was wrong—and I didn’t quit until a parent reported me.” He spent two years in prison and is today registered as a sexual offender.

Power? Really?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A Manly Self-image

What is a real man?

I assume every male survivor asks this question in some form. The answer comes largely from our personal enculturation. We Americans have applauded the strong, silent image of John Wayne, or the suave James Bond. These days theaters are filled with the exploits of those super-sized heroes from Marvel Comics.

All of us were exposed to stereotyped patterns of male images. Too often we assumed that true men were self-sufficient, the taciturn, no-nonsense individual who needed nothing. And then we can cry—but only at funerals of a parent or a spouse.

Despite all our images of the strong, resourceful male, this morning I thought about biblical heroes. Jesus’ first disciples heard him say, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God” (John 14:1). During that same time, he said he was leaving them his peace, “So don’t be troubled or afraid” (verse 27).

When Judas came with soldiers and betrayed Jesus, do you know what the 11 remaining disciples did? They ran away in fear of their lives. If you read the stories of Moses and Joshua in the Old Testament, they were both fearful men and God had to keep telling them he was with them.

And yet those men are our heroes—a serious disconnect from the images around us.

Here’s a little of what I wish my dad or a caring adult male would have said to me: “It’s all right to feel your emotions. You don’t have to be strong all the time. To fear, question, and doubt are human feelings that only real men know how to express.”

I didn’t hear those words and I doubt that most male survivors did, but the message is still true.

I claim my right to feel.
I claim my right not to be ashamed of any of my emotions.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

It Was a Crime

When we were exploited as children, we were the victims of a crime. Our perpetrators broke the law. Most of us understand that when we read about people like Jerry Sandusky and pedophile priests. And yet, most of us rarely think that way when we look at our own lives.

They robbed us of childhood. They stole a precious part of our lives.

To admit that reality can be a source of freedom. It’s like saying, “You victimized me and left me this way.” (That doesn’t mean we must stay the victim, but that’s where many of us need to start the journey.)

A reader of this blog, Roger Rowe, wrote to me privately, admitting that wasn’t his real name, which is all right. Here is a slightly edited version of what he wrote:
I underwent therapy and couldn’t seem to make any progress. I felt guilty and filled with self-condemnation. After about the 10th session, my therapist said, “The TV news reported a home invasion and the intruder shot and killed five couples. If they hadn’t lived in that house, they would be alive today.” 
“That’s crazy,” I said. “They did nothing to—”
“So how does it feel to exonerate your abuser? You’ve taken the blame on yourself.”
That was the turning point for me. I was blaming the victim (myself) for what was done to me.

Are you still blaming the victim?

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

“But It Felt Good” (Part 2 of 2)

We survivors grew up in a convoluted world. Because we were vulnerable, needy kids, our abusers took advantage of us. As a result, we felt guilty over sexual stimulation. Frigidity is usually a female malady, but it applies to males as well (even though we use different terms). Some of them can’t achieve an erection and have other problems associated with normal intercourse.

We’re ashamed that our bodies “betrayed” us and some men never get free. Some become promiscuous, running from one sexual partner to the next. It’s as if they shout, “See, I’m all right and abuse didn’t affect me.”

We respond differently to the horrible experiences of childhood. The often-silent voices come from feeling ashamed of having erotic feelings.

“Of course it felt good!” I wish I could get that message across to every male who was raped. That’s why we have so much pain and guilt today—those selfish perpetrators destroyed the placidity of our childhood. They did the evil deed and we pay the consequences.

My abuse felt good, which is natural and normal. I accept that and I remind myself that I was a normal, needy kid whom someone exploited.