How to Escape Cycles of Abuse … as I Have

By Stephen Herreid Published on March 30, 2018

The Roman Catholic readings for Good Friday tell of the sufferings of Our Lord.

“But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.” — Isaiah 53:5

I comment regularly about sexual abuse, and about the grave evil of covering up or downplaying its harmfulness. Today, putting my hope in Christ’s heroic suffering for our redemption, I feel compelled to go further.

Sexual sin was thrust upon me when I was about nine years old. For about a year, an older boy groped me, and exposed himself to me. He gained pleasure from me, and introduced me to raw sexual pleasure.

My loss of dignity and innocence quickly took a horrific form during my childhood: After what was done to me, I acted out on another child.

The Loss of My Moral Agency

If one’s sins aren’t blameworthy, then neither are his good deeds praiseworthy.

As I grew into young adulthood, I came to better understand the sinfulness of what I had done and what had been done to me. But I remained profoundly broken.

My first attempts at romance were, of course, disasters. In the chaos of my young adulthood, I even experimented with homosexuality. I was defensive, manipulative, lustful, and felt perpetually victimized. Someone else — not I — tainted me with sexual perversity, I thought. I’m nothing other than a victim. I can’t be blamed. This was a lie, but I made myself believe it in order to distance myself from the horrible past.

If one’s sins aren’t blameworthy, then neither are his good deeds praiseworthy. I experienced what felt like a near-total loss of my moral agency, my identity as a child of God.

By the time I started writing professionally, I was desperate to assert myself, and to impose some moral order on the world. Almost immediately, I began squarely condemning sexual abuse. I had a special contempt for those who made excuses for it or attempted to cover it up at the expense of victims.

One of my earliest articles was an expose about an abusive priest and his enablers. In retrospect I may have even been a little too zealous in my condemnations of those involved in the coverup. I lost dozens of friends over it.

But to me it was worth it. I was recovering my moral agency, and putting it to full use against the kind of abuse that had taken the light out of my life.

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Called to Integrity

Nonetheless, I still found myself slipping in and out of a deep depression. At key moments, often when great opportunities presented themselves, I experienced a profound loss of nerve. I would drop the ball, disappoint my friends, and undermine my own work — for reasons I couldn’t explain.

I sought spiritual guidance from mentors. I spent long hours in prayer. I fasted. I meditated. After several months, I arrived at some conclusions. I choose to write this for two reasons.

First, for years I have felt unworthy of the work I do. Even before I grew into adulthood, I had lost my integrity. In part, I am writing this to reclaim my integrity.

Some of today’s promoters of sexual deviancy are capable of almost anything, even distorting my past and using it against me and — more importantly — the friends and colleagues with whom I work to defend the innocent.

Not if I speak first. By writing this, I intend to let the light in and to prevent the devil from prowling in the shadows of my house. In the end, we all must stand before God and our neighbors to give an account of ourselves. As for me, I want to be able to tell the Devil, You have nothing on me.

No matter how enmeshed you are in situations involving abuse, you can come forward and escape. You can be free.

Second, I’m writing to testify to right morality, and to the transformative strength of the grace of God.

I imagine many of my enemies feel some version of the depression I’ve experienced. It’s the feeling you get when you’re in a position to work boldly against the forces of darkness, but feel personally compromised by your own ties to a secret evil. Essentially, it’s a loss of integrity that leads to enslavement.

I have written forcefully against those who excuse or fail to expose abuse. As an act of goodwill toward them, I am “blowing the whistle” on the damage sexual sin has done in my own life.

To anyone whom I have written against: I want you to know that I view you as my equal before God. No matter how enmeshed you are in situations involving abuse, you can come forward and escape. You can be free. 

Is Redemption Possible?

Nothing unmans a person more than believing the lie that the Truth is not in his best interests. That lie is the essence of wickedness, and it imperils our sanity and our salvation. Christians should not wish it on anyone, not even the wicked.

The effects of this kind of evil can be devastating. But the effects of grace are even greater in the lives of those who repent and dedicate themselves to the good.

As the second Good Friday reading tells us,

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” — Hebrews 4:15-16

I and the two others involved in my childhood chain of abuse have been forgiven and have forgiven each other. I now leave myself at the mercy of God and His Church.

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