HOPE AND HEALING
When a Man You Love Was Abused
By Cec Murphey
(An excerpt from When a Man You Love Was Abused, Chapter Two: A Personal Journey)
I am a male survivor of childhood sexual assault. I want to tell my story so you’ll know why this book is important to me.
And it’s not just my story. For several years, my wife suffered because neither of us understood the implications of my abuse. I want to tell about my healing, but I also want to point out Shirley’s loving support during the recovery. I couldn’t have gone through the healing process without her at my side. She supported me even though she didn’t at first know about my experience or understand why I behaved as I did.
In some ways I’m one of the lucky male survivors. I “forgot” what happened to me. As I would later realize, that was a form of denial but it became my method of survival. For forty years the pain of abuse lay deeply buried in my subconscious mind. Despite the repression — which is what forgetting is — I grew up living with the effects of the molestation even though I no longer remembered my abuse. That is, until a series of emotional disruptions brought them to the surface.
I want to explain that my memories didn’t begin to surface through the intervention of a therapist. An area of controversy today called false memory syndrome suggests that many who claim childhood abuse have so-called memories inadvertently planted by therapists (see chapter 8). Even though David Morgan, my best friend, is a therapist and has been with me from the beginning of my healing, he carefully avoided any intervention or suggestion of assault. In addition, one of my brothers and two of my sisters later corroborated many of my childhood memories.
Those abusive experiences left their marks on my life. Like thousands
of other victims of molestation — male and female — I struggled over many issues. Perhaps the most significant one is that of trust.
It’s strange how this issue of trust works. Either we tend to trust no one or we go the other way and trust everyone. I vacillated between the two extremes and rarely lived in the middle. When I felt a connection with anyone — and those connections were usually healthy — I was naive and accepting. No matter what the person told me, I believed it. Worse, I think I idealized the person. For me, that was especially true with older males. Looking back, I’m sure I sought a loving father figure in older men. None of them ever made any kind of sexual advances, but none of them lived up to my expectations either.
Other times I met people who tried to reach out to me, but I pushed them away. I couldn’t trust them. I don’t know if there was some acute warning bell or if it was part of the result of abuse.
Beyond the issue of trust, there are other issues with which we survivors struggle. Three troubled me most of my adult life:
• Fear of abandonment
• A sense of loneliness and aloneness
• Feeling different from everyone else—and translating the word different to mean bad
I became a serious Christian in my early twenties. Months after my conversion, I met Shirley, and we later married. We had five or six problem-free years before a single event changed our marriage. I had been gone for nearly two weeks. When I came home, Shirley lay in bed, and I thought she was asleep. I climbed in beside her, and in the dark, she turned over and touched me.
Feelings of anger and revulsion spread through me. I’d never before had those feelings in our marriage. I didn’t understand what was going on inside me. I couldn’t respond to her, and I didn’t understand the reason. I pushed her arm away and mumbled something about being exhausted.
She rolled over, and although she tried to cover up her tears, I heard the soft sobs. Her pain made me feel worse. Why had I done such a cruel thing? Why had I pushed her away?
I lay awake a long time trying to figure it out. What’s wrong with me? I asked myself repeatedly. No matter how much I prayed, I couldn’t understand my angry reaction.
Over the next several years, occasionally I had similar reactions. Looking back, I realize that when she initiated any affection that I hadn’t anticipated, especially in the dark, I froze. Each time it happened, I felt guilty and silently begged God to show me what was wrong with me. Slowly my seemingly irrational feelings decreased, and life seemed to resume a loving normalcy.
The next event happened during a long run. I’d been a runner for at least a decade and usually did six or seven miles a day. That morning in the early fall, I decided to do a twelve-mile run, the longest I had ever done. About the tenth mile, sadness came over me—a deep, depressive melancholy. The tears began to flow and I couldn’t figure out why. I was sobbing so hard that I had to walk the last half mile.
The painful past had finally broken through. I remembered. The images were vague and unclear, but a memory nonetheless: The old man undressed me and fondled me. I also remembered the female relative who assaulted me.
I didn’t want to believe such memories. Some days I convinced myself that I had conjured up terrible thoughts about innocent adults. Most of the time, however, I knew. It wasn’t my imagination, and it had happened. If that was so, why hadn’t I remembered it before? Why now?
After that, crying became almost a daily routine. I usually ran for about an hour very early in the mornings. On many of those runs, tears would stream down my face before I finished. A few mornings I sat on the curb in the dark and cried until I was able to get up and run again.
Over the next few weeks, other childhood memories crowded into my consciousness. Those remembrances hurt, and each one brought about feelings of grief. I had never before experienced such inner pain. Even though engulfed by shame, embarrassment, guilt, and a sense of utter worthlessness, I decided I had to talk to someone. Haltingly, nervously, I told Shirley.
Once she got beyond the initial shock, she said exactly what I needed to hear. “I don’t understand this, but I’m with you.”
Of course she didn’t understand. How could she? I didn’t even understand myself.
A few days later, my friend David Morgan came over to my house. I told him as much as I remembered of my past. He held me, and my tears flowed again. I don’t recall anything he said, but I knew he was with me in spirit and would be at my side as I slew the dragons of my past.
The Effects of Unconditional Love
Because of the purpose of this book, I want to point out why I think my healing began when it did. Shirley had been the first person in my life who I felt loved me without reservation. I didn’t have to be good, act nice, or behave in a particular way to win her acceptance. I had grown up in a family where I was the good boy. I remained the good boy because I did the right things. If I had stopped performing, I was sure the family would hate me.
That probably wasn’t true, but that’s how I felt. Shirley made the difference simply because she loved me. Although it took me a number of years to trust that love, I know I couldn’t have faced my childhood assaults if she hadn’t been there to encourage me and to hold my hand.
David was the second person who I felt accepted me unconditionally. We had been friends for eight years before my memories began to return. When I tentatively opened up, he didn’t push for information or try to fix me. Although I can’t explain how, he enabled me to trust him and to share the fragmented memories.
From Shirley and then from David, I slowly began to trust others. I couldn’t have done it without that supportive love behind me.
Over the next three years, I shared my abusive childhood with a few others. One of them, Stephen, had led the small group at Oglethorpe. He lived several hundred miles away, but we regularly phoned, wrote, and later e-mailed. Five times, he and I met for a weekend just to talk about our childhoods and to open ourselves to further healing. During those early years, some events were so overpowering, I cried more than I talked. More than once I wished I were dead.
The Cost of Unconditional Love
At the time, I was so filled with my own pain I had no realization of Shirley’s pain. She hurt, and had been hurting for years. Whenever one of my odd acts of behavior occurred, she blamed herself for doing something wrong, even if she couldn’t figure out what it was. Both of us were victims of my childhood abuse.
Once I crept out of the morass, I realized three important facts. First, I was safe and no longer had to fear the terrors of childhood. Second, Shirley understood—as much as anyone who hasn’t had the same type of experience could understand. Third—and the most important—Shirley was the first person in my life who had loved me without demands or conditions. Because of her, I had finally found a safe place grounded in reality. When I wanted to deny that the abuse had really happened, she infused me with courage. When I wanted to quit striving for wholeness, Shirley affirmed me by little things, such as holding my hand or letting me see the tears in her own eyes. Shirley’s unconditional love enabled me to go through the stages from shame to anger to acceptance, and eventually to forgive my perpetrators, both long dead.
I’m thankful for David’s loving friendship, but Shirley was the person I lived with, and the one individual with the most power to hurt me. When I behaved in ways that were not particularly lovable, not once did she reproach me or lash out, and I’m thankful for that. The quality of
that love enabled me to accept God’s unconditional love. Because of my wife’s support, I slowly moved forward until I could say, “I know that God loves me, that I’m worthwhile, loved, and accepted by my heavenly Father.”
Through the years, Shirley suffered because of the effects of my abuse. Even now I sometimes feel sad because of the pain she had to go through, especially during those dark years when she had no idea why I behaved as I did. She silently accepted blame and wrestled with her own issues of self-esteem and failure. It was unfair, and I owe her so much for simply sticking with me, for being God’s instrument, and most of all for being the human link that joined my hand with that of a loving Father.
Do you need to speak with someone about your own childhood abuse? Call our CBN Prayer Counseling Center at 800-759-0700.
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Cec’s blog for male survivors: www.menshatteringthesilence.blogspot.com
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More from Cec Murphey on Shop CBN:
90 Minutes in Heaven
Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson story
When God Turned Off the Lights
When Someone You Love Has Cancer
Award-winning writer Cecil Murphey is the author or co-author of more than 100 books, including the New York Times bestseller 90 Minutes in Heaven (with Don Piper) and Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson story (with Dr. Ben Carson). His books have sold millions and have brought hope and encouragement to countless people around the world. For more information about Cecil Murphey, visit www.themanbehindthewords.com.
More from Cec Murphey at his website: themanbehindthewords.com
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