Just Die

I couldn’t help but notice Bill Keller’s article recently criticizing a female cancer patient for documenting her ‘fight’ for life in her popular personal blog.  It addresses a difficult question.  When faced with mortality, do we fight the disease or do we accept it?  Yet, the survivor-advocate part of me immediately connected with the subtle message Keller was selling in his piece.  Just die.  Just be quiet about it and deal with it.  Have some dignity.  Be. A. Man.

It’s difficult to judge any person’s path to death.  I wouldn’t do it.  It’s not appropriate.  In a world where society is perpetually offering unsolicited and uneducated opinions how could one be taken seriously on something so intensely personal as one’s end?

What we do know is that male-dominated forms of cancer receive very little funding compared to female-dominated cancers, such as breast.  Much like male victims of trauma are a blip on the radar compared to much better funded and much more publicized scourge of domestic violence against women.

Why do you think men get the shaft in attention?  Is it our ‘quiet dignity?’  Our ability to be a man and suffer?  Women ask for help.  They talk about their troubles.  They expose their vulnerabilities, no matter how ugly and undignified, and they receive a response.  Support.  A sense of community.  Solace.  Relief.  All of the things men need too.

The science is in.  All of the good that comes with sharing your trauma extends lives, leads to lower blood pressure, anxiety levels, lower rates of depression and suicide, you name it.

But it’s not a man’s way.  It doesn’t support the propaganda beaten into us since we were boys.

When I had the opportunity to take part in Oprah’s two-part special on male child abuse, it was no surprise that it took a strong women to bring all of us men together.  It was a gift to us men.  She was willing to do what us men wouldn’t do for ourselves.  It was messy.  We confronted this life-altering trauma that we have harbored our entire lives.  All the men who attended just couldn’t live with it.  Being a man just didn’t cut it for us.  And it shouldn’t for you.

Vulnerability is a type of courage that is foreign to men.  It goes against all we have been taught from childhood.  Yet, if we are to heal we must show it.  We must find others like us.  We must open our hearts or nothing will ever change.  We will never overcome our circumstances.  We will die in ‘quiet dignity.’   Though in cases of mortality and trauma, I’m not sure what is all that dignified by silence anyways.

The Holidays

Thanksgiving is the time for family.  Regardless of how we feel about holidays we are inundated with the holiday spirit.  It’s almost as if you don’t spend time with your family you are in the wrong.  Yet if you are survivor of abuse from family members or family friends, you have a difficult choice to make.

Your abuser may be a father, mother, brother, or sister and they may be at the family gathering.  Do you want to put yourself in that situation?  Will you even be able to enjoy it?  Even if your abuser isn’t present.  The presence of judgmental or defensive family members could make it a tense situation.  If your abuser is someone close to them, they may take the opportunity to defend your abuser.  They may attack your character.  They may reiterate how they don’t believe you.  They may blame you.

What is supposed to be a time for celebration with those we love the most can often be a tense ordeal filled with seething anger and resentment.  This is why survivors isolate during the holidays.  We aren’t getting together with family, even the one’s we want to see.  Thanksgiving and other holidays seem false to us.  Their promises feel hollow.  You turn on the television and you are hit with commercial after commercial reminding you of everything that the holidays aren’t in your life.  Even walking down the street and seeing all the houses with their holiday lights can be overwhelming.

The holiday season pushes many of us to deal with issues we aren’t ready for.

Getting together with family is compelling and when we choose not to we are judged and questioned.  We feel outcast.  But there’s something you should know.  There are millions of survivors out there just like you, feeling the same mixed emotions.  We just don’t talk about it.

I am a survivor of abuse and an advocate for others.  I have the same choices to make during this time of year and they never are easy.  I try to focus on who I really want to see.  I focus on who can support me emotionally.  The people that know my truth and accept it.

You do have a choice.  If it means sharing a turkey dinner with that one true friend who stood by you in tough times then you are truly lucky.  If you brave that get together knowing your abuser is there, no one should judge you and the choices you make.  If you end up alone on Thursday evening, don’t be so hard on yourself.

Surviving the holidays is about getting through to the other side.   Try your best.  You and your well-being matter most over any holiday.

If you know a friend or family member who has a difficult time and isolates, give them a call.  Your call may be the one that matters most.

We wish you a healthy and supportive Thanksgiving!

 

Steubenville Night Lights

The town of Steubenville was portrayed as one that was hungry for football.  A town that adored and protected their young high school athletes.  Even covered up youthly transgressions.  All to keep their best on the field every Sunday.  Many times it was mentioned how Steubenville was the real Friday Night Lights. 

A funny thing happened along the way.  The media itself participated in the adoration.  More and more was mentioned of the tragic effect that the rape these rapists committed on a unconscious teenage girl would have on their poor lives.  We heard about the estranged father of one of the rapists, who reportedly told his son “I love you” for the first time in his life.  We got to watch one of the rapists break down in court.  Candy and Poppy provided us with all the context we needed for this horrible decision that had befallen the rapists.  They were only kids right?  They had their whole lives ahead of them.  The emphasis over and over again was how “alcohol-filled” the party was. 

More and more the rape and the poor victim receded from view, except in the insinuations of responsibility on her part.  For drinking too much.  For going to a party without any of her friends.  What did she expect would happen?

This is the hypocrisy of a media that would hold Steubenville guilty of football idolatry and commit the same crime in their very reporting of the event.

Guns or Mental Health…

This is really a time for our country to think.  When so many children and adults are murdered so easily, in such a sacred place, it can spark alot of emotion. 

There will be a conversation on gun control.  We don’t know who will lead it, but the sense is that we need reasonable assurances of safety, and we haven’t had it yet.  But I don’t want to focus on guns today because I don’t want to miss the mark.

The mark is mental health.  A tragedy like this has created an opportunity to put in place functional gun regulations.  It’s an opportunity that many of us have been waiting for for some time.  Yet, I had to ask myself which is more important here.  A national debate on guns or a national debate on mental health?  Which is a symptom and which is a root cause of massacres like this?  Which will have a lasting effect on violence in America?

Like it or not, we do have to choose where the energy from a tragedy like this goes.  As much as some don’t like it pointed out, the idea that stricter gun regulations won’t stop violence of this sort has some merit.  How could it if we don’t adequately address mental illness in America?  Mental health is an overwhelming issue and the solutions are not so easily identified.  The gun issue is relatively straightforward once you get past the rhetoric.  That’s why we don’t want to talk about mental health.  It’s not easy.

Restructuring how we deal with our mentally ill is going to be a huge undertaking.  Make no mistake, it’s going to take alot more resources than gun regulation.  Yet all of our energy is spent on the gun aspect. 

Soon the urgency of Connecticut will die down.  The will of the American people will wane.  We will turn our attention back to Kim Kardashian and Honey Boo Boo.  This is the nature of us.  Just think of Gabby Giffords and Auroro, Colorado.  They seem like a distant memory already. 

As impassioned as many of us are about guns on our streets, we have to tack into the wind.  We have to change this debate now, or we will have lost the key moment to change.  Take a moment and ask yourself what is most important here.  

We need a national debate on mental health in this country now.  For whenever a root cause has been dealt with it affects all of it’s branches in the process.

Sugar Ray Leonard Survives

I was watching the video of his presentation at Penn State this past week.  It makes you think of alot of different things.  I thought of the timing of the abuse.  It happened around the time that he was training for the Olympics.  He was a powerful man, a powerful boxer.  As any former Olympian could tell you, training for and getting through the rigors of the trials requires a supreme mental and physical effort.  It requires toughness.  You have to overcome the best amateur athletes in your sport.  Sugar Ray did just that.  He got his gold medal.

In that journey he lost something much more precious than medals and accolades.  He was betrayed by those he trusted the most.  There are few trusts more sacred than that of a student and mentor.  It is especially sacred to the student because the student is exposing all the vulnerabilities to this one person.  For men, there are few opportunities to exhibit our vulnerable side to another man.  Sports is one such ‘socially accepted’ avenue. 

When you take away that sacred avenue it permanently alters our ability to function in the world.  We can’t get that back.  We can build something new, but it will never be what it was.

Ray Leonard, the fighter, was abused sexually.  Not Ray Leonard, the child.  This is the crucial part for society to absorb.  Male abuse has nothing to do with our ability to defend ourselves.  It has to do with trust because when you trust someone you will do anything for them. 

Ray Leonard, the fighter, had a child at home to protect.  He was struggling to pay the bills.  To make ends meet.  To “pay for diapers” as he put it.  He was vulnerable.

This notion that only children and women can be victims of sexual abuse is a lie.  It is perpetrated by a society that fears the vulnerability in men.  Finding that fragile nature within us is the only way to heal our wounds.  It allows us to be truly powerful. 

That Sugar Ray Leonard that took the stage is a strong man.  He told his truth.  Believe it.

Domestic Violence Awareness

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  This month is the time to remember all the victims who passed over because of acts of domestic violence.  They remind us why we are doing this.  It’s also time to remember all the women, men, and children currently living in fear that they will be physically violated at any moment.  How many are out there now experiencing this?

Think about how it feels to be in a scary place and not having the power to leave it.  Think of all those who escaped the violence, in our free democratic country and all the countries who are not so free.  When it comes to domestic violence, we know freedom is a relative term.  Know that countries protect and support abusers, both in public and in quiet.  Know that the silence of our representatives speaks volumes.

Moms and dads, look into the eyes of your children and remember that they are watching us always.  They see us when we speak out.  They see us when we choose to be quiet.  They also see acts of violence and are victimized every day, in every country.

The domestic violence awareness month is a time to remember.  It also is a time for action.  If you are capable of educating, supporting, and protecting victims of abuse then you must.  It’s a time to bear witness.  To seek out what is happening.  Not to shy away and pretend it doesn’t exist.  Statistically it is hard to be a person who has not been affected by abuse, either directly or indirectly.  So this month is for everyone.

Use this month.  Seek out local seminars and events.  Then use what you learn for the other 11 months of the year.  Honor the victims.  Embrace action.

What’s Going On

Does your local university publish a safety report?  Ours did this morning.  I took the time to review the statistics and was a bit shocked at some of the numbers. 

What we know is that the University of Washington has a rough student population of 42,000.  Over half consists of women.  Not to mention an additional 20,000 in staff and faculty.  The safety report releases campus crime statistics, such as incidents of “forcible sexual offenses”.  Their criteria for forcible sexual offenses includes “forcible rape.”  A now-familiar term which begs back to what is non-forcible rape exactly?  But I digress.

Other inclusions are sodomy, forcible fondling, and “sexual assault with an object.”  Does that mean “sexual assault without an object” is excluded?  This just so happens to be the most common form of sexual assault.  

So now for the numbers.  For the year 2011, there were 7 reported cases of “forcible sexual offense” on campus grounds and off campus residential housing areas. 

7.

For the previous year, 2010, there were also 7 reported cases.

A parent can look at a safety guide such as this and tell themselves, well this college is pretty safe.  I can send my child here and feel good that they are in good hands. 

Yet, for professionals in the field we know that this report is a huge problem.  Incidents of sexual assault and rape in a population of 42,000 are nowhere near 7. 

Perusing the document further you find programs like SafeCampus and Rape Aggression Defense, which all serve purposes.  Yet, they can’t make up for the primary weakness here.  Victims don’t come to the police, and if they do, what hurdles must be overcome for your assault to show up as a statistic on this report? 

A college campus should be an environment where a victim can feel safe enough to come forward.  If they don’t, on YOUR CAMPUS, then you’ve got to figure out why.  Don’t just present us with this number 7 and expect us to believe the problem is being addressed.  

If that 7 was 700 then I would think to myself, this is a place where victims feel safe and are able to report.  I would think that there is a real supportive community in place here.  That the campus police have been accepted and intergrated into the student consciousness.  That would be a SafeCampus. 

Yet, colleges administrators don’t want you to see the true numbers on abuse reflected in their safety reports because they NEED that student population of 42,000 to have only 7 reported cases.  The number has to stay small enough so that it’s not considered “newsworthy” to the media.  When you look at reports such as these, that is the ultimate intent.  Protect their reputation.  Protect the culture.  Assure future tuition-paying parents that this campus is worth their money, as-is. 

What we don’t need is the number of the tiny minority of victims who actually report abuse and surmount all of the red tape to be included in this report.  What we need is to know what’s going on.

If you want to know what’s going on, then continue looking.  The numbers just don’t add up here.

http://www.washington.edu/admin/police/campus_security_fire_guide.pdf