Updated: Mar 19, 2021
I am not what happens to me. I am what I choose to become.
Sexual abuse is unwanted sexual activity. Abusers might use force or threats, or simply take advantage of victims not able to give consent.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about one in six boys and one in four girls are sexually abused before the age of 18. Social workers and therapists I’ve spoken to believe the numbers are probably higher. Many victims choose to not say anything out of shame and fear.
When I was twelve years, I was sexually abused. I didn’t talk about it until I was 27 years old. I buried the incident so deeply out of shame and fear, and I didn’t begin to deal with it until the emotional turmoil began to resurface. I learned that emotions are like a “Jack in the box.” They can be suppressed for a long time, but they will eventually find their way out.
After this abuse, my life became consumed by fear. I felt unable to trust anyone and was afraid I’d never be able to be mentally or emotionally stable enough to pursue my calling. Like many abuse survivors, the pain of loss was so great that I suppressed it for many years and put on a happy veneer to avoid the pain that I felt.
After a number of emotional breakdowns, I knew it was time to come clean and stop lying about what I was going through. Everyone thought all was well with me because I had graduated with honors, gotten my CPA license, and was working for a reputable company. But I dealt with secret addictions and emotional and mental battles.
I experienced bouts of anger that led to disrespectful confrontations and misunderstandings. When I suppressed the anger, it caused depression. These issues kept me from having healthy relationships and were robbing me of the fullness of the calling that God had placed on my life. Fortunately, I had a great support system around me. They helped me find a competent counselor, so I could begin to deal with the pain of losing my innocence at such a young age.
There is no such thing as an unexpressed emotion. For me, emotion surfaced through paranoia, bouts of anger, and moments of depression. I remember watching an interview with the retired NBA player Keyon Dooling. I’m a NBA basketball fan, so I was familiar with his career. Dooling suddenly retired and later revealed that he had been sexually abused as a child, and he’d kept the information from his own wife. All of the memories from his past came to the surface following a random incident. Hearing his story gave me hope that I wasn’t weird or alone in what I was experiencing, emotionally and mentally. I have learned that many people hold on to secrets like this for years. Eventually, some work up the courage and break their silence.
I was fortunate to hear stories of these celebrities—Tyler Perry, Tom Arnold, Dax Shepard, Sugar Ray Leonard, Todd Bridges, Lewis Howes, and Pastor John Gray—describe their stories of sexual abuse. Their courage helped me find my own courage and enabled me to talk to someone safe and knowledgeable about what I experienced as a child. You never know who you might be helping by telling your story.
People not familiar with the topic of sexual abuse might ask, “What happened?” A better question is, “How has it affected you?” The details of an incident are less important than the impact.
I want to share an excerpt from a book The Color of Pain by Gregory Reid, someone who works with at-risk youth. Many people have given me the privilege of holding space with them and trusting me with their stories of sexual abuse; this is one of the best descriptions I’ve seen about what sexual abuse does to someone. Several pieces of this commentary resonate with me and so many others.
V. What Being Molested Cost Me[i]
The cost to a kid who gets molested is higher than most people know. It’s too easy to minimize the damage by saying, “It’s just one of those things,” or “Get over it.” Sexual violation is a violent thing, even when it’s not violent. It takes so much inside. After many years, I’ve taken notice of the losses (much of which has been healed and restored), and I want to tell you about it so you’ll know.
It cost me my childhood. Repeated molestation blocked my memories, and what I did remember was covered with a haze of physical illness, stalking fear, repeat nightmares, and deep loneliness.
It cost me my ability to trust. I resented authority and feared adults so much, I wouldn’t go anyplace like a public restroom or swimming pool locker room because I’d get sick from the fear of what might happen.
It cost me my ability to be spontaneous. I kept such rigid control over my emotions, my body, and my mind, that I couldn’t laugh, I couldn’t play, and being around kids could made me feel sullen, angry, depressed, alone, left out.
It cost me my sanity. Shortly after the initial abuses, I was in a complete emotional dead zone; and one night, as I sat alone in a chair, my mind filled with filth and blasphemy, and tears streamed down my face, because I loved God and I couldn’t stop this mental rape, and I just snapped after several days of this, and I started cursing and smoking and drinking, and I told God to give up on me because I was evil. I was eleven.
It cost me my education potential. I was a brilliant child. Being molested cost me my ability to think without confusion, trance outs, and frustration. I couldn’t concentrate. I could have been a straight-A Valedictorian. Instead, by the time I finished high school, I was taking four basic classes and barely passed.
It cost me my identity. Being molested created such sexual and emotional confusion that I was an old man before I was fifteen and still a boy at thirty. I felt numb and removed, like I was not there, just a piece of property for others to use and discard.
It cost me my adolescence. Being molested made me afraid of adults, men, women, crowds, public places, challenges, fights, and almost everything else—including being scared to death I was gay and scared of all my emotions, including anger and joy. I couldn’t date, I didn’t go to the prom, and alcohol was my only “friend.” Being a kid is screwed up and scary enough, but I carried enough guilt and fear to take down ten normal adults.
It cost me time. Being molested started me running, and I ran and kept going until I crashed in my late twenties, and then it cost me time in recovering, facing hard truth, and healing.
It cost me my family. Being molested crippled my heart enough to destroy any potential marriage or children. God has restored most of what was taken, and more. But you need to know, being molested is not a “get over it” thing. It’s an evil robber whose damage goes deep and keeps taking until we can face it and start to heal.
Gregory Reid knew there was life before the trauma and there would be life after the trauma, if he found the courage to heal. If you’ve been victimized in this way, you have wounds that need to be healed and lessons that need to be learned on how to heal. Don’t let what someone did to you rob you of your destiny. They say time heals all wounds—but in this case, if not dealt with properly or at all, the wound remains. It can make people bitter, caustic, and angry.
Are you a sexual abuse survivor? Here are a few things I recommend:
Break the silence. I know I have said before that we are as sick as the secrets we keep. So for some people, simply speaking to a safe person about their experience is all that is needed. Sexual abuse survivors often feel alone. For all survivors, I want you to know that you’re not alone. Chapter 33 includes information on how to evaluate SAFE people to talk to. See the resources below to find the next steps.
Consider the impact. Ask yourself the hard questions about how abuse affected you. What negative thinking styles and unhealthy habits or addictions have you adopted? Review chapter 34 on Survivor or Victim.
Get informed. Below you’ll find several resources that have been a benefit to many others and me. Please take the step. Recovery requires that you pick up the pieces of the past so that you can see yourself more completely and enjoy a freedom to make choices that are not determined by what happened to you.
Find support. Skillful, trusted therapists or support group members can make your journey to healing more successful.
Help someone else. I believe that, once you start to get healing from the pain of your past, your purpose will begin to reveal itself. You have the power to change someone else’s life by sharing what you’ve learned. Redeem your pain by turning it into a means of serving your community and the world. Don’t let it keep you from your calling; make it a stepping stone instead.
1) RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE, online.rainn.org y rainn.org/es) in partnership with more than 1,000 local sexual assault service providers across the country and operates the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help victims, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. Visit www.rainn.org.
2) The mission of 1in6 is to help men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences to live healthier, happier lives. They also serve family members, friends, and partners by providing information and support resources on the web and in the community. Visit www.1in6.org.
Courage to Heal by Laura Davis
Beyond Betrayal by Richard B. Gartner
Victims No Longer by Mike Lew
Uncaged Project by Sallie Culbreth M.A. and Anne Quinn
When A Man You Love Was Abused by Cecil Murphey
Not Quite Healed by Cecil Murphey
I Thought It Was Just Me by Brene Brown
Boys & Men Healing from Child Sexual Abuse
The Healing Years – A Documentary About Surviving Incest and Child Sexual Abuse
[i] Gregory Reid, “What Being Molested Cost Me,” Lighthouse Trails Research, 19 August 2013, http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=12947