I hurt for a long time because of childhood sexual abuse. Now I want to provide a safe place for hurting men to connect with other survivors of sexual abuse. Talk to us. You don't have to use your real name to share your experiences or ask questions.

"Why Do You Keep This Blog Going?"

"You seem pretty well put together," one of my friends said, "so why do you keep your blog going? You don't need it, do you?"

"Because I want to offer hurting men the help I needed when I was in deep pain." Those words flew out of my mouth before I had time to think about the answer. They were right. After I reflected, I came up with other reasons.

This is my way to give back. My best friend, David, and my late wife, Shirley, were both available to me when I finally—at age 51—confronted my sexual and physical assault. Without them, I probably would have made it, but the road would have been bumpier and slower. Both of them embraced me (emotionally and physically) when I could only cry and words wouldn't come.

I can't be there in person for all survivors, but I can hold out my arms through my words. Many of you have responded and done the same thing. Which leads me to another reason: In the giving is also the receiving.

Here's how I arrived at that statement. At the church I attend, nine elderly widows sit in a single pew. I can't remember how I started, but each Sunday I walk up to the "sunshine row" and hug every one of them. "I love your hugs," one woman said on Sunday.

"And I need yours," I answered. "Here at church are often the only hugs I get that week."

I was the giver, but in the giving of myself to them, I was able to receive their expressions of compassion and affection.

I wish I'd thought of that when my friend asked me why I kept this blog going. I've finally put my response into two simple words.

I care.

Permission to Heal

(This is an encore post from John Joseph.)

Do you remember having to raise your hand in school to get permission to go to the restroom or sharpen your pencil? As children, we knew the rule and lived by it the best we could. As we’ve grown we’ve forgotten about it. We take a lot of our freedoms for granted because we rarely have to ask permission from anyone.

But what if there’s a part of me that is still raising its hand, asking for permission to heal?

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I’ve come to face a part of me that is still sitting in that small wooden desk. He’s squirming a bit and has his little hand in the air waiting for me to recognize him again.

He’s the wounded child, the neglected boy who got lost in the family system. Tears streak his face and fear is in his eyes. He wants badly to gain my permission to heal from the wounds inflicted upon him by older boys and men.

He needs my help. Will I see him? Will I notice the strain in his arm from waving his hand for so long?

Some dismiss the idea of an “inner child.” I know that I'm not separated from the little boy I was when the abuse occurred. I’m the same person.

The little boy was me. That little boy is me.

Sometimes I have to go back and sit with him to help him know I see him, that I recognize he's hurt, and give him permission to heal a little more.

Self-Affirmations

I was skeptical about positive self-talk, and I'm still not fully comfortable in some of the practices I read about. Some seem to imply they accomplish magical things just by repeating certain phrases.

Self-talk refers to the ongoing internal conversation within ourselves. We do it constantly, and it influences how we feel and behave. We talk to ourselves all day long and too often our self-talk is negative, focused on guilt about our past or anxiety about our future. Our thoughts inspire our actions. If we can redirect the way we think, we can change the actions we take.

Daily, I've repeated self-affirmations or positive self-talk, but only those that I believe are possible. They're what I consider reachable goals. Research shows that if we focus on those possibilities and keep reminding ourselves, eventually our behavior and attitude change.

As an experiment I began to say several times a day, "I accept my feelings; I feel my emotions." I started that because of my abusive childhood, when I became overwhelmed with good or bad news, I numbed out. I wanted to experience my feelings, so I began to say those two statements.

I can't remember when the transformation took place, but months later I realized that I was feeling and I no longer numbed out.

Here's another I repeated for a long, long time and now believe it without having to say it: I am lovable.

Try your statements. They might make drastic changes in your life.

Disconnecting

When I think of disconnect, it means there are people who admit to being abused, do nothing about it, and will say things like, "Yeah, it happened, but it didn’t affect me."

Three days before I wrote this, I received a phone call from a man who fit that description. He was crying because he said he'd finally figured out that what his mother did to him was sexual molestation. He treated his wife shamefully—not sexually assaulting—but humiliating and yelling at her, and occasionally striking in anger.

He told me that he hadn't made a connection until his wife finally said, "I've had enough. You're just like your mother!" (She referred to the brutal, angry behavior.)

"I felt like she had hit me with a jackhammer," the man said. He's 41 years old and it was the first time he had connected his unresolved childhood pain to his own abuse.

I understand. His mother sexually assaulted him; he physically beat his wife. But his irrational conduct came from his mother's actions. Because what he did to his wife wasn't the same as what was done to him, he made no connection.

We're changed by our abusive childhood, and it doesn't mean we copy what was done to us. We may never sexually assault another person, but the molestation changes in form. Until we resolve our many issues, we exhibit behavior that may seem to have no similarity to our past. But it often does.

Part of healing is to recognize that.

Alan's Story

(Alan has been reading the blog for a few weeks and decided to write to me. With his permission, I've forwarded his story.)

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I have been enjoying the blog posts and comments from the guys. It is very encouraging hearing the victories of these men and sobering knowing they also have struggles as well.

My story goes like this:

I was molested when I was only 4 years old by a male family member. At the time I was too young too know what it was and that it was wrong, but it affected my life tremendously. It wasn't until I was in my late teens that I remembered what happened to me. I struggled with same-sex attraction and couldn't understand why. I prayed and I had a flashback to my childhood when and how it happened.

I only recall it happening once but its effects lived on. From a little boy I was confused about my sexuality. I wanted to be a girl and dressed up in my grandmother's clothing. I was often teased and called all manner of names, e.g. sissy. It was a painful childhood for me. I felt rejected by my peers, family members, and men. I never felt I was manly enough. I still struggle with that. Right now I feel a sense of sadness but, at the same time, appreciate being able to share my experience. 

I was exposed to pornography at an early age, and it has been a struggle since then. I struggle with same-sex attraction, gay porn, masturbation, and other psychological effects from my abuse. I want to please God with my life and overcome my struggles, but I continue to fail.

I desire to get married and have children. I've tried seeking help from different individuals, but it continues to disappoint me. I pray that God sends someone that will truly understand my predicament and help me through it. The person I thought was going to help me started to but abandoned the process. That was hard for me. It's such a sensitive area.

I need someone to help me, but at the same time I'm tired of people disappointing me regarding this area of my life. 

Thanks, Cec, for your blog and being courageous enough to share your story and to all the guys who have shared theirs. I pray that God helps me to overcome this fully!


PTSD

(Joe W., one of our faithful readers, asked me to blog about post trauma stress. This is an encore, especially for Joe.)

* * * * *

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.

What IS Normal?

That question stunned me when I first heard it. But I've met several survivors who don't know what is normal. I usually turn it around and ask, "What is healthy?"

The big difference is that for many of us normal meant sexual assault on a regular basis that often went on for years. That fits the definition.

But was it healthy? I can't think of a time when I've changed the question and the other person didn't get it. "No, it wasn't," they've said.

"It messed up my life," someone wrote in an email recently with a stronger word than messed up. When anything happens routinely, it may be normal, but that doesn't mean it's healthy.

Immediately I think of the beatings from my dad. They happened every week, usually just before he went on a weekend drunk. Normal, but the pain was anything but healthy. I never told anyone because it was just one of those things that Dad did regularly in our home.

Part of our reaching for healing comes from realizing that just because something happened frequently in our childhood doesn't make it healthful or right. It means only that it happened.

And we were the ones who suffered.