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.

Incest?

"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.

"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.

Slowly.

But even slow progress is still progress.

"I Did It Again."

"I failed." Such a confession has to be painful. "I did it again, even though I knew better." I read or hear similar statements regularly.

I don't want anyone to fall back into unhealthy or abusive relationships. But they happen. It means that person failed this time—but isn't a lifetime failure.

My friend *Patrick has gone back to gay experiences three times in the decade I've known him. After each regression he swears, "It won't ever happen again."

Each time I hope not and I pray for him every day. I've been able to say truthfully, "I'm your friend and I care about you very much. I don't want it to happen again, but if it does, I won't turn my back on you."

Years before I dealt with my sexual assault, I did some work with leaders of Alcoholics Anonymous. One remark stayed with me. "Some people fail to stay sober and they have to return to AA several times before they finally attain an ongoing sobriety."

If you're reading this, please, please don't go back to those unhealthy ways.

But if you do, we understand. Many have temporarily fallen back.

"I've failed again. My second time," *Al said to a group of us. "But even finding sexual fulfillment was brief and I hated myself for doing it."

Spontaneously, we all hugged Al. One man whispered, "I know how it feels. Welcome back."

Failure is awful. Painful.

But life is filled with opportunities to start again.

What's the Problem Here?

Sexual assault involves sex. Many of us faced physical beatings or verbal abuse; some of us endured all three.

But when we talk about sexual assault, a significant element comes into focus. We physically responded to the molestation.

"It felt good," *Hal told me before he dropped his head and the tears flowed. "It should have felt terrible, but I liked it."

He had yet to realize, as many of us have accepted, that his penis functions the way God created it to work. Whenever anyone stimulates our sex organs, we respond.

As children, we were helpless and trusting. I particularly remember Mr. Lee, the pedophile who assaulted me. He whispered, "You're a special kid. I love you . . ." Those were tender words no one in my family had ever used. No one else held me, kissed my cheeks, or stroked my hair. Of course his abuse felt good, and he knew exactly how to entice me to come back when he wanted me.

That happened when I was a child, and I didn't understand my response was normal for a lonely, unloved kid.

A major step for many of us is to be able to say, "Yes, it felt good, but it was still rape and I was a victim."

To admit the stimulation felt good doesn't make you less a man; it does make you fully human.

Therapy?

Although words like therapy and counseling are part of our culture, for some of us survivors, they're intimidating terms. In the early days of my healing, I didn't go for any kind of therapy. "I don't want to have to pay someone to listen to me," I said.

"Therapy feels clinical. Impersonal." I recall saying that once. "Why should I trust a therapist? It's only a business."

As I realized years later, it was a defensive attitude. For me, it meant I still wasn't able to be fully open.

Three years into my healing, I joined a one-year group of male survivors of childhood sexual assault, sponsored by the state of Georgia, and run by two therapists. By then, I didn't really need counseling, although I found the group helpful.

My response these days is that not everyone needs therapy, if you have someone you trust, whom you know won't divulge your story. Maybe that will work.

And there are bad therapists, especially the kind that seem to rivet their attention on all the lurid details. Or they give stock answers to questions and you feel they're responding by rote.

There are also good therapists who have been trained to hear what you're not saying and to sense your turmoil. They don't get sidetracked by your defensive strategies.

And why not a professional as well as friends and family members who care? We've been deeply wounded and we need all the help we can get.

Be open to those who can make things easier. It may be difficult—especially in the beginning—but remember: You've stored up years of secret suffering.

Isn't now the time to open up?

Seeking One Trusting Relationship

"I want one person—just one person—I can trust and rely on." I wonder how many times I've heard men say those words. It's not a bad desire; it's just not enough.

We need others, but no relationship provides everything. A number of men refer to their wives as their best friend. That bothers me because it usually means that their spouses must carry all their emotional baggage, and they become everything the man requires.

No one—not a single person—fulfills every shortfall. It's a terrible burden to lay on someone and to expect them to be that perfect individual—the flawless, infallible one.

A healthier way is to build several relationships. Seek for those worthy-of-trust individuals. Be to them what you want them to offer you.

For example, I have one friend who is a marvelous listener. He rarely offers advice, but it's obvious to me that he's there for me.

Another friend lovingly tells me the things I don't want to know about myself. That is, when I open up to him, he often intuits meaning behind my words and actions. When he points them out, I'm able to see different parts of myself—what I call my shadow or backside. I'm grateful for him.

A third friend is easy to talk to and it's just as easy for me to listen to what he says.

All three are important—and there are a few others—because each provides something I need.

But not one of them provides everything.

Hiding the Pain (Part 2 of 2)

Why do we hide the story of our abuse and the pain? You and I can probably think of many reasons. But the reasons aren't as important as the causes such as shame, fear of not being believed, or not trusting ourselves.

The more we can expose the darkness of our souls to the light, the more readily we heal. Many times I've heard, "You're only as healed as your worst secret." From that, I've inferred that those issues when deeply held and unrevealable thwart our pain. And we expend energy to keep them undisclosed.

Or we isolate ourselves from others. Four months ago, I was in close contact with *Joey, and we were quite open with each other. Then Joey stopped answering emails, texts, or phone calls. About three weeks ago, Joey emailed and asked if we could have lunch. (Men don't seem to know how to talk unless it's around a meal, coffee, or liquor.)

We met and Joey apologized. "I was going through a really bad time."

"You were hiding." Those words blurted out before I realized what I had said. But I also knew they were true.

At first he rationalized by giving me a variety of explanations. I listened and said nothing. Finally, he said, "No . . . you're right. I was hiding because I was ashamed."

"I understand," I said. I've been there.

And so have many of you.

We don't blab to just anyone, but we need to find those who will listen, care, and enable us to stop hiding. And until we find safe people, we'll still keep hiding.