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.

Fractures

(This is an encore post from John Joseph.)

In a recent session, my therapist and I discussed fractures in the psyche. Fractures often occur as coping mechanisms in children who are traumatized by abuse, violence, instability, or loss. A fracture is like splitting off part of the personality that “takes over” to help the child survive. Though not as extreme as multiple personality disorder or schizophrenia, those fractures and their functions are identifiable.

It didn’t take me long in that session to realize that my psyche is made up of the innocent little boy, the victim, the addict, and the self-actualized adult. Of course they're all me because I'm the sum of my experiences. I can chart the years in which one or the other has been the dominant expression of my personality. Until age four, I was the innocent little boy. Being abused at four moved me into the victim state that emerged into the addict from ten to eighteen years old. From age eighteen on, I've worked to become the self-actualized adult.

In that session, I came to understand that I still move in and out of the fractures, depending on my mood and circumstances. For instance, I was embarrassed in a business meeting the other day, and the victim side of me emerged.

I felt abused for several days afterward even though no real abuse occurred. If I’m not careful about recognizing when I've fallen into the victim mentality, it can drive me into the addict mode and my acting out behavior takes over. That progression helps me understand the years of compulsive sexual behavior I've suffered and gives me one more tool with which to overcome the effects of my abuse.

Same Sex Attraction

(This is an encore post from John Joseph.)

Aside from all arguments on either side over the origins and morality of homosexuality, one of the primary remnants of my abuse is a strong sexual attraction to men. I don’t consider myself gay and I don’t live that lifestyle. I am a husband and a father and I choose to live in a loving marriage with my wife of now thirty-two years. Still, this unwanted same-sex attraction (SSA) shows up in my life often and always in the form of compulsion.

I have come to understand a few things about SSA in my life. First, it is an irrational state of mind. I never decide to have an attraction to a guy and it is never a romantic thing for me. I don’t dream about getting flowers from a man or of being taken to exotic destinations for a getaway with him. For me, SSA is more about feeling insecure or rejected. It happens most often when I am dealing with stress or something uncomfortable in my circumstances.

SSA generally starts with a feeling of discomfort in my mind. It is like a pot on the stove with a lid on it. As the water inside heats up the steam needs an escape valve. If things inside me are heating up, the escape valve can be triggered when I visualize or see an attractive man. I immediately size him up and compare myself with him. If he seems to be bigger, stronger, more successful, or more “together” in his personality I can become attracted. Fantasy takes over and eventually I’m caught up in an irrational state of mind.

The end of this irrational fantasy can be a foray into gay pornography and masturbation, leaving me shamed and depleted. Obviously, SSA is an unhealthy response to life’s normal stresses for me. Part of my recovery work is to recognize that it is irrational and to learn how to interrupt the cycle as soon as I recognize it.

"I Am a Survivor" (Part 2 of 2)

Cheryll Snow's article appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness. With permission, I've excerpted part of it, which is a letter to an uncle who molested her.

* * * * *

It was such a random, uneventful day as I pushed my shopping cart across the parking lot of our local supermarket. I've battled with my weight for most of my life, and I was feeling especially "unpretty" that day because I had stepped on the scale that morning to find I had gained back ten of the thirty pounds I had lost over the past few months. My self-esteem plummeted, and I decided it wasn't worth the effort to do my hair or put on make-up before I left the house.

After loading my groceries into my car, I got into the driver's seat and turned the key. I caught sight of my reflection in the rearview mirror and I stopped dead. I pulled off my sunglasses and stared at the unkempt hair beneath my husband's old baseball cap. I looked down at the sweatpants that felt a little tighter today and the ratty gardening sneakers I had on, and I felt that familiar wave of shame start to wash over me.

Then. . . before I realized what I was doing, I looked back at myself in the mirror and said, "God thinks you're beautiful."

I cried like a baby all the way home because, for the first time in my life, I truly knew what it felt like to be unconditionally loved. . . .

I am no longer a victim. I am a survivor. And God thinks I'm beautiful.

"I Am a Survivor" (Part 1 of 2)

Cheryll Snow's article appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness. With permission, I've excerpted part of it, which is a letter to an uncle who molested her.

* * * * *

For many years I battled depression and anxiety. I tried various things to ease the pain, not knowing where all this emotional trauma was coming from. Then after recalling the abuse, enduring years of helpful but painful therapy, and seeking God's guidance . . . I can look back and say that most of my life has been . . . shame-based. And it's all because of you.

Ashamed as a child because no matter how hard I tried, I never felt good enough. Ashamed of my changing body during puberty, then later using my budding sexuality by acting out with boys, and beating myself up emotionally for years because of it. Even so, I still deal with issues concerning body image, intimacy, trust, inadequacy, and a profound fear of failure.

I give that shame back to you. It is not mine. It's yours.

The Lenses of Abuse

(This is an encore post from John Joseph.)

I had dinner with a friend the other night and started sharing the history of my abuse with him. His reaction was kind, but his words belied a simplistic view of my pain. “Just let it go,” he urged, over and over. I gently pushed back on his premise, trying to help him see that I am a person who carries deep pain and one who is doing all I can to process it with the help of my therapist, my friends, journaling, and spirituality. I’m not sure he ever “got it” though he finally stopped telling me to “get over it.”

This experience reminded me that I see life through the lenses of my abuse. I cannot completely explain why the pain is still so present in my daily life. I cannot totally tease out every reason that life seems so sexualized and that it taints all with an off-color hue of sadness. I cannot fully explain the lingering effects of violation, or the lies that still hover in my mind that I am “damaged goods.” I can’t explain why I still feel that the abuse was my fault and that no one would love me if they really knew me. I just know that these are the things I still feel deeply.

My recovery doesn’t seem to progress in a linear pattern. It doesn’t always seem to move from Point A to Point B. It zigs. It zags. I feel great one day then BAM! It hits me square between the eyes. I heard someone say in a recovery meeting, “While you’re trying to get better the devil is doing pushups.” Maybe there’s some truth to that. Whether you believe in a personal devil or not isn’t the point. Abuse and the residual effects of it are devils enough. 

 I hope to take these abuse-colored glasses off someday. Or, I hope to at least be able to adjust them enough to realize that there are some fantastic things in my life despite the abuse. I am healed more than I was a few years ago, so I know there is some progress. Maybe in a way these lenses help me to see the wounds in others and to know that the last thing I need to tell them is to just “let it go” or to “get over it.” Healing takes time.

Who You Ain't

(This is an encore post from John Joseph.)

An old saying goes, “Be who you is, because if you ain’t who you is, you is who you ain’t.” As funny as it sounds this axiom is packed with meaning for me. I’ve struggled deeply to know who I am as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and I’ve spent years being who I ain’t. My task as a survivor is to learn to live from the authentic center of my being. But where is it?

Finding the center of myself is no easy thing. The millions of messages flying all around me every day, the voices of the culture, news, fashion, and social media mixed with my base of emotional distress confuse me. Seeing the beautiful people on commercials doesn’t help me. Watching the Kardashians or Modern Family or reality shows doesn’t heal me. I’ve become convinced that the only way I’m going to find the real center of me is to work at it within a context of an authentic, grace-filled community.

Grace is a lot more than forgiving someone or saying a prayer before a meal. True grace is a structure that forgives, but it also provides a way to heal and to grow. It’s like having a friend who doesn’t just say that you should work out and lose weight. This friend actually shows up every other day at your house to walk or jog with you to help you get healthy. We all need friends like that.

I’ve realized that I need to live as who I am. If that’s to happen, I need a safe place to be who I am now in order to grow into the person I want to become. We all need a structure, a community of grace, to find the true center of ourselves and to learn to be who we is.

Laughter and Tears

(This is an encore post from John Joseph.)

There’s often a thin distinction for me between laughter and tears. Folk singer Joni Mitchell pined years ago that “laughin’ and crying/You know it’s the same release” (People’s Parties, from the album Court and Spark, 1974). I’ve thought about that lyric many times. I’ve remembered it especially in moments of laughter that seemed to strike something deep in me, some sad feeling that could just as easily have come out as tears as easily as laughter. Emotions are funny things sometimes.

As an abuse survivor I often experience confusion around my emotions. I question myself when I feel something deeply and I tend to censure myself. As a child I had to “stuff” my emotions down inside because they weren’t acceptable in our family system. We didn’t deal well with anger or with any topic that was “embarrassing”. In this way I learned that my feelings were suspect, at best, and unacceptable, at worst. I grew up distrusting my emotions and never knowing what to do with them.

As I have matured in my recovery I have come to see my emotions as a gift. I have them for a reason and they point me to greater realities in life as I come to understand them. Someone has said that, “emotions are terrific servants and terrible masters”. This is true for everyone, but how much more for those of us who have been violated to the point of rejecting our healthy feelings and who have been forced to bury them deep inside of our shattered hearts.