Maria Morey and Kathy Johnson have seen plenty of men spin rings in their support group.
For these survivors, who were sexually abused as children, a ring can become the ultimate tumbler of truth.
If you spin it long enough with your thumb and index finger, it can unlock the darkest of secrets, the ones that were buried next to a childhood.
And forgotten for years, if not longer.
Sometimes, spinning a ring helps a man think about the past. Other times, it helps a man talk through the tears.
Last week, Morey and Johnson observed the one-year anniversary of “Voices of Courage,” the Danbury-based support group they lead for adult male victims of sexual abuse.
It was a proud moment at the Women’s Center of Greater Danbury, which oversees the support group. But there were no noisemakers on West Street. There were no cakes wheeled in on carts.
Three hundred miles away in a Pennsylvania courthouse, jury selection was under way in the child sexual abuse case of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State football coach accused of abusing 10 boys over 15 years.
Opening arguments in the Sandusky trial are set to begin Monday, complete with the omnipresent TV cameras and the frenzy of microphones.
Rest assured, the inescapable news coverage will be everywhere in the coming weeks. And that’s a problem for a victim of child sexual abuse.
More than that, it’s a trigger for trauma that still burns like lava when these old memories become fresh again.
For the men who come to the Women’s Center to share their stories each week, there’s no such thing as a stale news cycle, only stories of child sexual abuse that never really go away.
“Dealing with child abuse is a lifetime process,” Johnson said. “We’ll have to see what happens over the next few weeks with the Penn State case.”
This is where the “Voices of Courage” support group gives local — and not so local — men the chance to heal at their own pace.
And with their own rings.
According to the American Psychological Association, one in four women and one in six men have been sexually abused as children.
Morey and Johnson believe the numbers are too conservative for men. They believe the abuse rate for men is just as high as it is for women.
This is why, starting last June, they opened their hearts — and opened a door — every Monday at 7 p.m. to the adult male victims of child sexual abuse.
“It’s a pretty daunting door to open,” Johnson said. “Sometimes, it takes a really long time for people to open it.”
It’s hard enough to sit in a circle and listen. But when it’s your story and your nightmare, the demons can be too much for one man.
And yet, no match for the whole group.
“At first, the guys weren’t sure which door to use at the Women’s Center,” Morey said. “They used to sit in their cars in the parking lot until 6:59:59.”
Recently, Morey and Johnson began experimenting with a combined group of the adult male survivors and the adult female survivors of child sex abuse.
The early returns are promising.
“The two groups are more alike than they are different,” Morey said. “They experience the same myths, the same lies and the same distortions. They had adults who didn’t protect them, and in some cases, preyed on them.”
A lifetime later, with the help of Morey and Johnson — and the help of each other — victims of child sex abuse find healing in a weekly circle of chairs.
Suddenly, spinning a ring is better than spinning any prize wheel. The victory becomes one part catharsis, one part epiphany.
“At 57, to be able to talk about issues deeply buried even from my conscious mind has lessened the burden of carrying it alone,” one member wrote in an email.
“Being in a group like this has helped me develop a much truer impression of why my life is where it is, and maybe as importantly, that my relational decisions at some level were always colored with the undercurrent of sexual abuse.
I am clearer, though still struggle with the serious issue of mental illness, though I do believe that the mental and emotional experiences go hand in hand, especially on a developing mind.”
The real breakthrough here is from West Street in Danbury, not opening arguments from a trial 300 miles away.
“It’s a trust-building process with these guys,” Morey said. “And God bless them, they trust us.”