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CHAI: Unraveling the Trauma of Childhood Abuse: Jason’s Story

CHAI-HeaderJasonBennerBy many standards, Jason Benner’s life was going well. The young father of two had a solid marriage. He was involved in his church and had achieved success in his career.

But aftereffects of the childhood trauma of sexual abuse—by teenage boys who were hired as babysitters for Jason during his early elementary years—were still evident more than three decades later, in ways big and small.

Jason points to years of struggle with explosive anger, episodes of crippling anxiety, and the draw of pornography, even after he came to Christ as a college student.

“As a new believer, I knew that I was a new creation—a whole new creature,” Jason recalls. “Believers, I thought, don’t struggle with those things.” But although he didn’t want to dwell on the past, he was never able to erase the damage inflicted on him as a child.

“When I got married, I thought that some of my struggles would go away—and I was growing in some ways—but in many other ways I still struggled. I was convinced I needed to deal with all this on my own. But the secrecy never let anything heal.

“It wasn’t that I denied that I’d been abused,” he added. “At least I had the courage to tell some people and say, ‘I was abused, and this should never happen to anyone.’ I told my wife when we were dating, and I talked to some leaders at my church. But I just came to feel like this was a thing people don’t talk about. It’s ugly, and it makes people uncomfortable, so I mostly stuffed it.”

As his own children grew near to the age he was when he had been abused, the anger, anxiety, and unreasonable fears became more pronounced. “I didn’t want to have my kids remember me as a dad who blew up because the noise they were making was bothering him, or as someone who was overanxious about everything. It was just eating me up.

“In many ways, the wheels were coming off the bus for me,” he said. Jason points to an experience during a business trip to China as a particularly difficult time.

Memories Resurface

“Walking around the streets from the office to the hotel where I was staying, I had to pass through one section that smelled like dank wood or cardboard—just a constant wet smell in the air—that was a mental trigger for me because I was abused in sheds that were wet and rotting. The smell sent me back; it was horrific. Even thinking about it now is hard. At that point things got a hundred times worse. A lot of feelings started coming back, vague impressions that I just didn’t want to deal with. But they were there.

“I did my best to stuff them, but they wouldn’t go away.”

It was about a year later, in a worship service at Wheaton Bible Church, that Jason heard Andrew Schmutzer, a professor at Moody Bible Institute, speaking as part of the Present Help in Present Trouble sermon series.

As Andrew spoke of his own experience of being sexually abused as a child, things clicked for Jason. He saw himself in much of what he heard that day.

One illustration Andrew shared really spoke to Jason.

“Andrew asked us, ‘Do you see this CD I’m holding? If I were to scratch this CD, you probably wouldn’t really see the scratch, but the CD would be damaged, and it wouldn’t play right. That is kind of like what happens with abuse. You have this distortion that happens in your life, and then you don’t see things right anymore. Your way of perceiving the world around you is altered, and how you relate is not the same. You get stuck when, you know, most people play on.’ That metaphor sank in with me.

“I still go back and listen to his sermon.” Jason adds.

“I realized, This is what’s been going on, and I could continue to stuff it for the rest of my life—do the whole macho-man thing of ‘We’ve got to be strong,’—or I could try to do something about it. After hearing Andrew speak, I knew I didn’t want to stuff it anymore.”

Jason Benner and his wife, Wende; daughter, Emmie; and son, Avery.

Jason Benner and his wife, Wende; daughter, Emmie; and son, Avery.

Finding Help and Hope

When Andrew announced that he and his wife, Ashley—a licensed professional counselor—were going to start groups for male and female abuse survivors, Jason was willing to go.

“I was terrified,” he says, “but I thought I needed to try.”

He went to the first meeting, and it wasn’t so bad. He mainly listened to Andrew speak. But going back for the second meeting, he says, was something else.

“Making myself go back was my hardest hurdle to overcome,” Jason said.

But once he committed to being part of the group, now called CHAI (Courageous Healing of Abuse and Isolation), he found a peace and a comfort that come from knowing there are other guys who understand what he’s going through and are going through the same things.

“We do a lot of calculations in our head of the cost of sharing versus keeping silent—doing the math and weighing the odds. But too often we figure it wrong and assume that we’ll just do our best to get through this life and then we’ll be okay,” Jason said.

“But knowing now the damage that I’ve done by trying to stuff it, I can’t imagine continuing that way. I didn’t want to destroy my life. I didn’t want to destroy my family, my relationships with friends, and with the guys I work with. I didn’t want to continue to have this explosive pattern and the anxiety and so many other issues. I can’t imagine going back to that.”

Jason describes CHAI as something like a veterans’ group. “I’ve never been in the military, and I don’t know what it’s like to be in a war. But I know what it’s like to be in this kind of war. I know what it’s like to be wounded in this way. And knowing other guys who can relate to that is very powerful.

“We’re all wounded, but I can’t imagine trying to make it on my own.” Jason adds.

Along with the support of the group, he’s gained other insights too. It was particularly meaningful to Jason when Andrew talked about how Christ’s clothing was also taken from Him, and how He was scarred—with scars that remain, even after the Resurrection.

“My scars will probably be with me until I’m in heaven,” Jason adds, “but I want to show my scars so other people can know there’s healing. That God can heal and that He loves the weary. Matthew 11:28 says, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’

“That rest is elusive sometimes, but it is there,” Jason said. “And acknowledging it takes away the power the abusers had over me. Breaking the silence, and the sense of camaraderie we have as a group give me hope and encouragement, knowing that I have brothers who have my back—even while the war is still waging—and that we’re holding each other up.”

Current statistics estimate

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One comment on “CHAI: Unraveling the Trauma of Childhood Abuse: Jason’s Story

  1. Jerry
    May 28, 2018

    Jason now hates God. I knew him in college and we recently got reacquainted on Facebook. He’s always had this “I’m right, your wrong” attitude. Well he finally took that same attitude toward God. I tried to help Jason, but he ended up blocking me.

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This entry was posted on September 9, 2013 by in Fall 2013 and tagged , , , , , , .

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