Streams in the Desert

 

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I’ve always enjoyed living in a place where there are four distinct seasons in the year. I can feel the soothing warmth of the sun, today, as light shines through the windows in my office. My wife and I took our bicycles to a local repair shop this week for an annual Spring tune-up because we know that Winter has passed and that warmer days are just around the corner. The flowers of Springtime will soon blossom; and then, the Summer heat will return. Shorter and colder days in the coming Fall will prompt the leaves to change color again; and then, the leaves will be swept away by the brisk Winter winds.

Many people don’t experience four distinct seasons in the year in the same way that I do. Rainy seasons flood lush tropical forests with more water than I can even imagine. Deserts can be parched by the blazing sun for more than a year before a swiftly moving thunderstorm is quickly absorbed by the sand. I’ve heard that the Nile River runs deep and wide during rainy seasons, and that parts of the Nile River nearly disappear when the rains stop. And, on many levels, my journey toward health and wholeness has been one that moves through times of drought and lush abundance, too. Seasons of healing have never come in predictable patterns, and droughts often strike unexpectedly.

One of the things I’ve discovered is that survivors of childhood sexual abuse live their lives in constantly repeating “cycles.” I’ve lived through long periods of time that were filled with peace and tranquility, and I’ve seen those times end with a violent flashback. I’d traveled through times in my life when I was discouraged—even morbid—but, I’ve also seen better days slowly emerge and peace return. Times of peace and tranquility can end in an instant. The smell of Old Spice cologne can send me into a tailspin that rattles me to the core. But, I’ve learned that when I’m living my life in a parched desert, I must continue to hope for better days. Your stories of healing and wholeness fill my heart with a peace that gives me a reason to have hope.

Our journey of healing will be filled with many times when our lives blossom and bloom. But we will also have times when our lives seem dry—even parched. My journey toward healing is even lived-out in my life of faith. Sometimes God seems very close to me; but, God can seem distant and uncaring when I feel “dirty.” I’ve come to see—in the parched desert of my despair—that I’ll never understand why God allowed a man to hurt me in a way that has unalterably changed my life. But I’ve also learned—in the refreshing rains of Springtime—that God understands why I can’t forgive the man who sexually abused me when I was just a little boy. God’s willing to embrace me, just as I am, even though some people in the Church simply can’t. If I’ve learned anything at all, I’ve learned that the waters of God’s love continue to flow into my parched desert—even when some of the people, who know my story, try their best to turn the spigot off.

Seasons change. Times of peace and tranquility are followed by times of drought in a survivor’s life. And times that we spend in the midst of a parched desert will come to an end when the soothing rains of Springtime fall from the heavens. I’ve slowly come to see that God walks beside me and with me in every season—continually calling and inviting me to move from death toward life. And I hope, with all of my heart, that I can remember that the next time I catch a whiff of Old Spice cologne or have a flashback that sends me into a tailspin.

Chrys

 

 

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Be careful…!

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The cabinet in my bathroom contains a wide variety of medications.

I’ve learned that it’s important for me to take all of the pills when my doctor gives me an antibiotic—even though I often feel better after a few short days. I take a multi-vitamin at the start of each new day, and I take a small dose of aspirin to keep my blood running a bit thin. But there are other pills in my cabinet that are there for a different reason.

My doctor gave me some sleeping pills about six months ago and I’ve kept a few pills in reserve. The last time I had a backache, my doctor gave me a prescription for a muscle-relaxer that I can’t buy over-the-counter; and so, when my backache went away, I kept a few of the pills for later use. And I know I shouldn’t do that. I know it’s probably not in my best interest to “self-diagnose” my maladies and “self-prescribe” medications. But I do it. You probably do it, too. It’s good (at least in my opinion) to have a small “secret stash” of pain-killers, muscle-relaxers, and sleeping pills. You never know when you’ll need it.

But, I’m careful…. Sleeping-pills can’t cure my aching back. Muscle-relaxers don’t cure migraines. Pain-killers effectively mask symptoms, but they don’t often solve underlying problems. We need to take the right medication for the right reason, don’t we? In fact, if we take the wrong medication for the wrong reason, we can hurt, or even kill, ourselves. And that’s why I always go to “The Source of All Human Wisdom”—the Internet—before I swallow left-over pills in my bathroom cabinet. I want to use the “right” medications for the “right” reasons. Using a “good” medication in the wrong way can be disastrous!

And that’s a truth that pastors and people-of-faith need to remember, too.

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse present a wide-variety of classic symptoms. Adults (and even children) often turn to alcohol, drugs, smoking, sex and food in the search for solace. Survivors of childhood sexual abuse may have problems expressing their anger. They may have been divorced several times. They may even have a criminal history, or exhibit clear signs of a mental illness. And when those who have experienced childhood sexual abuse appear at the doors of the Church or find themselves sitting in a pew on a bright Sunday morning, they’re likely to be met by the whispers and the gossip of “good” folks. The Pharisees whispered about the sins and obvious faults that they saw in other people’s lives, even while Jesus was binding-up the wounds of the afflicted. Pharisees “stood at a distance” from those who were obviously “broken,” and busily filled their time with calling attention to their own righteousness and purity, even as Jesus offered God’s embrace and love to those who were living their lives on the margins of society.

God’s embrace is the good medicine that survivors of sexual abuse need to experience, but harshly delivered words of judgment have the power to kill souls. We need to carefully use the “right” medicine at the “right” time—to lift-up and encourage. We, also, need to remember that we can cause a lot of harm to people—people who have already been deeply hurt—when we deliver the “wrong” dose of the “wrong” medicine at the “wrong” time. And that’s, certainly, not what God wants us to do.

Perhaps, we all need to learn a little bit more about specific challenges that survivors of sexual abuse face on a daily basis, so that we don’t find ourselves blindly condemning the ongoing symptoms of sexual abuse and responding to behaviors that we don’t fully understand with a “righteous rage” that drives survivors of sexual abuse away from the Church, and away from the embrace and healing they need?

Chrys

What if I can’t forgive?

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I’ve decided to focus upon a very difficult topic, today, because I believe that there are many well-intentioned Christians—and many Christian pastors—who don’t realize how deeply they’re hurting other people.

I went to worship, last night, and I was reminded that I’m a sinner. I’ve hurt people, and I don’t always speak about others in helpful ways. I’ve walked past a homeless man, who sits outside the theater where I regularly attend concerts, without giving him any kind of help on many occasions. My heart is sometimes hard. I don’t always allow enough time to begin my day with prayer. I eat more food than I need and I carry some extra weight. I don’t always forgive other people when they hurt me.

I freely admit to these sins. I’ll openly admit that there are parts of my life that need to change. And I’m trying to live my life in a better way. But, there’s something else.

I’ve lived the biggest part of my life feeling that there’s something wrong with me. The twinkle in my young eyes was taken away by an evil man who still haunts me from the grave. The youthful smile on my boyish face was stripped away by a man who drugged me and killed my soul. Life can change in an instant! Deep and all-consuming blackness can fill the place where God once lived when you’ve been raped by the devil himself. My heart tells me that I have no worth. My inner-voice tells me that I can’t be loved. I crave a peace that I’ll never find, and I feel unworthy of God’s warm embrace.

There’s no way for me to go back and change the past. I feel a deep sense of death in my soul—even though I didn’t do anything to create the chaos that consumes me. I did not do anything wrong, and I need people to understand that. I didn’t commit a sin that I need to confess. Guilt and shame are different. Guilt drives me toward confession and amendment of life. Shame can only be healed by the promises of a God who embraces people whose souls have been killed by the devil. The Church needs to understand that difference.

I’ve decided to focus upon a very difficult topic, today, because I believe that there are many well-intentioned Christians—and many Christian pastors—who don’t realize how deeply they’re hurting other people. I can’t explain why I can’t forgive the evil man who raped me and killed my soul long before I ever had a chance to live. I can’t explain the sorrow that consumes me. I can’t explain the blackness that fills what’s left of my soul.

And that’s why it hurts me when you tell me that I need to forgive. That’s why every last remnant of my broken heart dies another horrible death when you tell me that I can only find peace by pushing the moment that defined who I am into the past and by forgiving the devil himself. You magnify my shame. You give me another reason to believe that God will never hold me. You take away my last hope for peace by telling me that I need to do something that I’m just not able to do.

Shame can only be healed by embrace.

Please stop telling me that I’ll only find peace when I learn to forgive the man who killed my soul. Try to understand me. Let me tell you about a deep pain that fills every waking moment of my life. And then, please talk to me about a God who embraces the lost and who holds the broken in His arms. If you truly want to help me, please tell me the story of a God who understands that I just can’t forgive the devil who destroyed me—and the story of a God who’s willing to embrace me anyways.

Chrys

Watch “Hey, College Students! Listen up!” on YouTube

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I decided to share a video that I created this afternoon with you. I hope that, as you listen to it, you will sense the passion that fills my heart when I think about young men who have experienced sexual abuse. I, also, hope that you will take a few moments to share this video with someone else.

We need to be engaging the issue of childhood sexual abuse more openly. My hope and prayer is that this video will find its way to a young man who’s been hurt and who will respond to it by seeking the kinds of help and support that he deserves.

Chrys

Secondary Trauma

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Every survivor of sexual abuse is fighting a battle.

I’ve been honored, on several occasions, to join hands with other men who are fighting the same battle that I am. We talked with each other and shared our painful stories. We discussed the ways that the sexual abuse we endured changed the course of our lives, and we talked about how the trauma we experienced shapes our present relationships. I’ve discovered that I’m fighting the same battle that many people fight.

Trauma’s horrible. I have flashbacks and nightmares that often strike me at unexpected and inconvenient times. I find it nearly impossible to sit with my back toward a group of strangers, and that’s why my wife always lets me pick my seat first when we’re dining out. I don’t like to be touched and I need my space. Strangers who hug me can probably feel me flinch and grow as stiff as a board in their arms. But, I try my best to keep what’s going-on inside of me a secret. I have many thoughts and feelings that I never share.

I’ve also learned in my conversations with other men (and through my own experience) that many survivors of childhood sexual abuse experience a secondary form of trauma that often strikes many years later. Counseling can be very expensive—and many men who have been sexually assaulted as children (or as adults) need to spend many years in therapy. Most health insurance companies in the United States bury the upfront costs of counseling in their annual deductibles—stripping away the funds that the survivors of sexual abuse need to support themselves and their families. In a recent article entitled, “The Economic Burden of Child Maltreatment in the United States and Implications for Prevention,” the Center for Disease Control estimated that victims of childhood sexual abuse will forfeit more than $210,000 in the course of their lives—in lost wages, and in costs associated with medical care and counseling. Aliya Saied-Tessier wrote in an article entitled, “Estimating the Costs of Child Sexual Abuse in the UK,” (July 2014) that the human and emotional cost of a sexual assault approaches L104,000 per survivor.

All survivors of sexual abuse need advocates. We need people who are willing to break the silence and openly speak about the crimes committed against us. We need people to support organizations that are committed to the task of ending domestic and sexual violence—often striving to provide counseling services to survivors of sexual violence at no cost. We need advocates who can lobby for the kinds of insurance reform that would allow survivors of sexual abuse to step forward and receive the help they need—without suffering the secondary trauma of financial loss. We need advocates to lobby government leaders to establish a pool of funds that survivors of sexual violence can draw-upon as they continue to move toward health and wholeness.

Every survivor of sexual abuse is fighting an ongoing battle. Every survivor of sexual abuse needs advocates who are willing to break the silence, and who are willing to publically challenge insurance and governmental policies that continue to strip away funds that survivors of sexual abuse need to support themselves and their families.  Organizations that offer free counseling services to survivors of sexual abuse need people to step forward and support their mission. $210,000 is a lot of money for almost anybody; and, when that amount of money needs to be spent to address the ongoing effects of a sexual assault, it’s nothing less than secondary trauma.

Chrys

 

 

 

 

 

How you can help….

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It’s hard for men to talk about being sexually abused.

I was drugged and raped as a child, and the gut-wrenching agony of that life-altering event changed me in an instant.

I remember the darkness. I remember my inability to speak. How can a twelve-year-old find the courage and strength that’s needed to tell someone that he’s been raped? He doesn’t. The boy simply sits in thick darkness and does the best he can. That’s what I did for nearly 40 years.

I’ve been thinking about that thick darkness today, and I’ve been reflecting upon what I actually needed from people when I first began to tell my story. I know that you want to help, and I know that you want to believe that you’d respond to the words of a man who told you that he was raped as a child in a helpful way. And I want to help you to do that. So, here’s what I suggest:

1.    Realize that your presence is worth more than your advice. I was very lonely in the darkness that surrounded me after I was raped. My body needed to heal. I needed to make sense out of what had happened. I was ashamed. I felt dirty. I felt isolated and alone as the rest of the world moved forward without me.

My faith reminds me that it isn’t good for people to be alone. People who choose to speak with you about an experience of childhood sexual abuse aren’t looking for your advice. In fact, if you try too hard to say something helpful you’ll probably blow it. Relax. Don’t think that you need to say something to make it all better. Be present and simply listen. 

2.    Realize that the person who is talking with you is probably more uncomfortable than you are. It’s never been easy for me to talk with others about being raped. People feel uncomfortable talking about sex; and, when the topic of childhood sexual abuse is breeched, heads fall. I’ve seen eyes drop to the floor. I’ve seen awkward silence descend in a room. It’s not easy to talk about boys being raped by grown men because it makes people feel uncomfortable. And, guess what? It’s OK for you to tell me how you feel. It’s never going to be easy for people to talk about sexual assault. But, sometimes, simply naming the “elephant in the room” can break the tension. And then, we can continue to talk.

3.    Please don’t ask me to give you more details than I want to share. I still feel a deep sense of “personal violation” when I think about my rape, and there are still parts of my story that I haven’t shared with other people. In fact, there are parts of my story that I will probably never share in detail. Please let me share what I’ve decided to share when I tell my story. Please, also, keep in mind that, if you press me for more details, you may even hurt me. It’s hard for me to tell my story to other people; and, every time I tell my story, I risk being re-traumatized. I may decide to tell you more of my story at a later time; but, please, don’t press me for more details than I want to share with you.

4.    Please offer to walk with me as far as you can. I know my journey toward healing is my own, and I’m not trying to force a sense of personal responsibility upon you when I decide to share my story. But, please don’t forget that the first steps I take toward healing will be very difficult. I might be telling you my story because I want you to accompany me when I go to see a doctor (if I’ve been recently raped), but I may not know how to ask you to do that. I probably don’t know about the people and helpful resources in my community that can offer the types of assistance that I need—and maybe you could help me find them. I don’t take very good care of myself when I fall apart, and I may need a little bit of help with a few basic chores around the house. Please remember that I don’t really know what I need—and I probably won’t ask you for help when I need it.

5.    Don’t forget to call—or text—or email—or send a card. The first three people who heard the story of my childhood rape disappeared. They’re not bad people. We’re all busy, and we all have commitments and responsibilities. Time moves quickly. Days turn into weeks. Weeks turn into months. Months turn into years.

I’m sharing a deeply personal part of my life when I share the story of my rape with you. I wonder what you think of me when I don’t hear from you after I’ve shared my story. The “silence” scares me. I’m already feeling very alone and vulnerable, and I’m afraid to lose you as my friend. I can’t help but wonder if you’re avoiding me because of what I’ve shared. I can’t help but wonder if I’ve shared too much with you. I’ll probably watch in silence as the distance between us grows—even if it’s only happening in my own imagination. One of the most important things you can do—after I tell you my story—is call, or text, or send me an email, or just drop a card in the mail. That tells me that we’re OK.

I hope these words have been helpful. I know that you want to help. I know you want to believe you’d respond to the words of a man who told you that he was raped as a child in a helpful way. And so, I’m offering these suggestions in an effort to empower you; so that, you’ll be more prepared to offer the kind of support your friend needs during one of the most difficult times in his life.

Chrys

 

 

 

The Man in the Box

 

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I’ve lived the biggest part of my life in a box.

My box is a place where I’m comfortable. I can relax and be myself when I’m in my box because I don’t need to pretend I’m something that I’m not. I can be deeply authentic. I can experience raw feelings and deep emotions. I sometimes break down and cry when I’m inside my box because, when I’m most authentic, I see that the man who drugged and raped me broke me into so many pieces that I’ll never be what I could have been. Faith reminds me that “it is not good for me to be alone,” but faith also reminds me that resurrection happens inside a box.

Shame is a horrible thing.

I’m sure you’ve heard the story of an “egg-man” who fell from a wall one day, and who was shattered into so many pieces that “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” couldn’t put him together again. The story of Humpty Dumpty reminds me that there are times in life when people are shattered into so many pieces that they can never return to what they once were. The man who rapes a boy leaves nothing but broken pieces behind him. The man who drugs and savagely rapes a little boy kills that young man’s soul. I know that death. The ever-present and always-haunting voice of shame tells me that there’s something wrong with me that can’t be fixed. The ever-present and always-haunting voice of shame tells me that my “secret” can’t be shared with other people—because, if I share my story, I’ll be rejected. My box is safe. My box is a place where I can authentically experience raw feelings and deep emotions. My box is a place where I can grieve my lost childhood. I need to grieve. I need to grieve about the many ways that my life could have unfolded differently as I look across a landscape covered with broken pieces that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t put back together.

My deepest hope is that resurrection is still possible and that resurrection is something that will happen inside of my box. I find picture-puzzles parabolic because they remind me that my box is filled with pieces that can be re-assembled into a beautiful picture—but it takes a lot of time. I’m slowly finding the courage to step outside of my box and to re-enter a world filled with people who need to hear my story. It’s not easy. I’m hoping that my short reflections can help people who have never experienced childhood sexual abuse to understand what it’s like to have something taken away from you that can’t be returned. But even more than that, I’m hoping that these reflections can help people to understand what it’s like to have somebody kill your soul so completely that you can’t even accept the embrace of God—because, when people realize that, they will be better prepared to offer their understanding and support when people, like me, step out of the box.