Follow The Bubbles

I remember scuba diving many years ago.  It was late in the afternoon.  My air tank was low.  We hit a patch of dark, murky water.  I don’t now when it started, but I rapidly lost all visual sense of where I was.  I felt like everything was closing in.  My heart started racing.  I began breathing so hard that I felt like I was choking.  I couldn’t tell up from down.  I wanted to surface but I wasn’t sure which way the surface was.

This past year reminded me of that sensation.  Losing touch with the feeling of normal.  We elevated the misogynist over a supremely capable female hand.  I have no desire to list everything this man has said and done against women.  My stomach starts to hurt just thinking about it.  There is no reaction left in me.  Only determination to show how I feel.  To let our voices rise over the obnoxious early morning tweets.

We march tomorrow.  The reasons are self-evident.  We are not doing this from our bubble. There is no case to be made for marching against everything this man stands for.  We’ve spent enough time documenting every despicable tweet and every attack on normal citizens from the comfort of his powerful, cowardly perch.

He craves our attention, only when it’s to massage his insecure, easily wounded ego.  There is no pivot.  There never was going to be one.  Donald Trump will remain Donald Trump.  He’s made his message very loudly and very clearly.  He lined his Cabinet with Goldman Sach’s executives and rich partisans who want to dismantle the institutions they have been assigned to lead.

We should have marched long ago.  Now we march out of disbelief that this is happening.  We are swimming in murky water, losing orientation.  Not knowing up from down.  Trump is losing us in his new normal but we can never accept that.

After my panic subsided, I began to look around me.  The water was still murky.  I still felt lost.  Then I saw the bubbles leaving my regulator.  They gently flowed in the direction I needed to go.

A march is like a stream of bubbles, awakening us out of our panic.  Reminding us to find our center.  To move in the direction of life before it is too late.  When I found the waters edge I burst upward, pulled the regulator from my mouth, and breathed fresh air again.  The breathe of life.  So taken for granted until you realize you needed it more than anything.

The time for panic and reaction is over.  Now we march to protect our sense of respect and dignity.  We march for women, but more importantly we march because this is our country and even Presidents need to reminded from whom they exist to serve.

 

What We Deserve

I have had the great privilege to have heard the recounting of trauma survivors from all manner of experience. Some of us had those one or two crucial friends in our lives that kept us from the brink. Some of us had no one. Even now, I can see those survivors clear in my mind, scattered throughout the world. Some know no life outside of the one of abuse. Some found a path out. There are even those poor souls who are entering the cycle of abuse, torture, and confusion. Today all of this is happening. We can’t see it, we can’t do anything at this moment to prevent it, but it all happens in one day, then the next, then the next.

Some say abuse will always occur. It will always propagate itself in the survivors the predators leave in their wake. There will always be predators, there will always be victims. Some may survive. Some may not.

A long time ago, I had a different life than this one. I was so young and took the basic things of life for granted. I use to enjoy running into open fields. This child had fiery red hair, a big smile on his face, usually with a little drool running down one side of my mouth. He loved to run fast. He talked in this manic rhythm. He was too engaged in living that he didn’t have enough time to stop to tie the laces of his shoes.

His rules in life were simple. He had one mother and one father. They loved him with all their heart. He loved and adored them as only a child could. Without condition, without hesitation. Fully. He trusted his parents absolutely.

Whatever they gave him was exactly what he deserved.

The childhood ended long ago. Swiftly and without notice, the child faded into a wall, becoming a confused, haunted creature. He didn’t have the words in his mind to speak to others, to articulate what had changed in him. He had no one.

Many things have changed in my life. I am very lucky to have found the love and support of a beautiful woman. I am a man who goes to therapy and doesn’t feel like it makes me any less capable as a person. I seek help readily when I need it. It wasn’t always this way.

I think about my childhood, I think of how shattered I became, of the intense fear of not knowing what will be done of me next. I think of it all, and the sun still rose the next day.

The sun always rose, and that was one of my few certainties. It’s not the only thing I am certain of now. I am certain that you and I are the same. We come from different places, different generations, different ethnicities, but here we are now because some things ring true in all of our ears. We feel the same effects of abuse, we ridicule and abuse ourselves, we stay in bed till 5pm the next day, we are drug users, we are alone, we go through multiple relationships, we have HIV, we put piercings in our face, we even wear suits. We hide, we shout out loud to anyone who cares to listen.

I can see myself in an auditorium, with my wife and all of you someday. It would be like the colors of the rainbow. The colors of love and unity, and here is where it begins.

To our men. To those who are survivors, to those who are supportive and sympathetic. We aren’t supposed to talk about abuse. We are supposed to get over it. Men who are abused travel a hard road in this society. We are the victims and we are the predators. We are taught to be silent BECAUSE we are men. It isn’t our function in society to be victims, to be incapable, to be vulnerable. Yet we are.

Our power comes from being the very thing society tells us we should not be. We can continue to be silent, but instinctively we know that this does not work for us. It never truly has. Because we know how it feels to be alone, and we know that every day there are children like us. We see them in the mall, on the street. We see the boys, the girls, the adults who have been abused and raped. We don’t see what happens behind closed doors, but we don’t need to.

It is through our pain that we see that our function in society, as men, has changed.

I have seen the response from our women crusaders, and I see that they are only waiting for us men to stand up, to let ourselves be seen, to stand with them. Many men have, and many more will.

We will put a voice to our pain. Men were not made to be silent. We are survivors. It isn’t all we are, but it is why we are here today.

If we do this now, then little boys and girls will be able to run in open fields without fear. Their rules in life will remain simple.

What they, and we, receive will truly be what we deserve.

____
Reprinted from Issue #1, 2007 WSO Minizine – All rights reserved 2007

More than just a photograph

Chris and myself are doing a 30-day challenge that focuses on letting go of material items in effort to free ourselves from clutter, whether it be physical or emotional. Today brought up some emotions for me that I felt were worth expanding on.

One of my items today is very personal. Years ago, I was at a trauma conference and came across a photographer whose work affected me greatly. She took photographs of the female form and cross-processed them with other images. One in particular was of a woman’s naked body covered in flames. I was immediately drawn to it, and purchased it from her. Through conversation, I learned that the woman in the picture was the photographer herself.  Her self-portraits were a way of reclaiming her body after years spent in an abusive relationship. When she was finally able to leave her abuser, she burned the mattress that he’d raped her on and photographed it. The two photos together were a way to express her pain and release it; to literally burn it away. It’s a compelling image with an even more powerful message.

When I met this woman I was very early in my own recovery, traveling around the country and in the thick of trauma work. I would surround myself with visual reminders that I was not alone, that my pain could not be silenced. I felt like I needed people to see it, to talk about it, to acknowledge it’s existence, my existence.

Today, while I was searching for my items to purge, I came across the photograph in a pile of old pictures and commemorative plaques of the past. It made me both sad and grateful. It’s still a beautiful picture, it stills has meaning. I realize now that I no longer need it in my life as a reminder of how far I have come, or my experience passed. I don’t relate to it in the same way, and I feel that by letting it go, I’m taking one more step towards healing.

Maybe by letting it go, someone else will find it and walk a similar path. Which to me, makes gifting it….invaluable.

photo(90)

Scouts Honor

“A SCOUT OBEYS ORDERS of his patrol-leader, or scout master without question…”

Look at the map and what you see is pandemic.  It is an LA Times-generated map of every Boy Scout troop connected with sexual abuse allegations.  It is needed to make sense of the outbreak.

The Boy Scouts recently released their ‘perversion files’, boxes containing over 1,200 files documenting decades of abuse-related offenses.

“…even if he gets an order he does not like, he must do as soldiers and sailors do, he must carry it out all the same because it is his duty…”

A friend of mine has two sons in boy scouts.  Their troop is on the list.  My brother was active in a troop in Southern California.  It made the list.

As we pour over the newly released documents, we see some common patterns.  Offenders expelled from one troop and rejoining others.  Also, indications that case files were destroyed.  Evidence of coverups.  Cases tucked away from as far back as 1965.  We have seen this behavior.  Penn State.  The Catholic Church.

“…and after he has done it he can come and state any reasons against it: but he must carry out the order at once. That is discipline.”

This is not ‘lack of institutional control’.  This is a culture that supported and protected predators.  Time and again protecting our children is weighed against the reputation of an organization and you know whose going to lose the battle.

I wonder where all those kids are now.  Did they survive?  Their innocence gone.

The Boy Scouts now tell us they have it under control.  They have special trainings for the children and adults.  They have contingencies in place.  They are not the same organization as in the past.  They changed the culture.  Scouts honor.

“A SCOUT IS LOYAL…”

Boy Scout files from Seattle law firm dating back to the ’40’s

Trust

One of the hardest things to cultivate once it’s been lost in a child is trust.  Most child abuse occurs from a parent or trusted adult.  Our frame of reference for how we deal with the world, and all those in it, is from mom and dad.  A profound betrayal for a child is in knowing that those that we trusted the most, on an implicit and instinctive level, turned their back on us.

For those who work with trying to recover that trust again in children the task is monumental.  It will be the hardest thing children and adults will ever have to do.  Yet, what predators look for are kids who have been abused.  They show tell-tell signs and are especially vulnerable to multiple abuse throughout their lives.  This difficulty in assessing safety and healthy personal boundaries can stay with a victim for the rest of her life.

This is what makes early intervention crucial.  But you can’t intervene unless you recognize the problem quickly and act on it.  So advocates have multiple layers to address to create meaningful change in our communities.

None of this can happen without adults.  Early intervention of adults means younger adults, who are ready and willing to embrace new ways of doing things.  This is what makes getting the message on college campuses crucial.  The energy and ability of young adults to make educated decisions and to act on a massive level is necessary.  Our college kids hold the potential tipping point  for dramatic reforms.

However, It all goes back to trust.  Can we rebuild a child’s trust?  Do we see and understand this issue?  Are we willing to provide the resources necessary to act early and emphatically?

There’s no real way to count the kids we save.  To create a nice, glossy bar graph showing how we turned a child’s life around.  The statistics always seem to come later on.  In the death count and the police reports.  That’s what we pay attention to.  It’s a lost opportunity not to pay more attention to the end that counts.  The end that predicts the result.

A child’s trust often remains broken.  It is severed from that parent or trusted friend.  It continues in all of the broken relationships and get’s passed down to that child’s children.  The cumulative effect of abuse on this world IS the story of our collective dysfunction in all other aspects of our existence.

Abuse is a problem we don’t deal with effectively on a massive scale.  The solution won’t come from your government.  Not from a politician.  It won’t come from one person helping 60,000 children.  It comes from 60,000 people helping just one child.  Maybe two.  Maybe three.

When are we going to trust that we are the solution?  It’s simple and cliche and so deadly accurate.  But there’s a difference in retweeting a quote and in trying to live up to the spirit of the quote.  We believe in what we see being done, not in what is said.  As do children.  They will never trust your words because they understand the consequences of the words that were broken.

If you care about our future then you will save the trust once so freely given from a young child’s heart.  There is no one else but you.

Open Letter to Pete DeGraaf

An open letter sent today to Kansas State Representative Pete DeGraaf.  Why are we sending it?

—————————————————————————————————

Representative DeGraaf,

It’s disappointing to hear of an official representative of the people, which includes a large constituency of women, likening rape to the spare tire you carry in your car. It’s your contention that women should ‘plan ahead’ for rape. Did you know that 1 in 4 women have been at least sexually assaulted by the age of 16? So I wonder how teenage girls ‘plan ahead’ for rape. You represent the people of Kansas. To initiate an argument on a horrific issue which you clearly know so little about is a slap in the face of every victim and every citizen in your district. Even your fellow Republicans took exception to your ridiculous comparison, as do the millions who now know your true feelings on this issue.

Rape is not inevitable. Rape is an involuntary violation. You could be a champion to protect women. Yet you marginalize and dismiss the circumstances of the victims and indirectly all of the women in your district. As a husband of a survivor of rape I have to say I am disgusted to know a U.S. Representative carries such disregard in his heart for the precious women in our country.

Our organization exists to protect the victims. Our supporters in Kansas won’t easily forget what you said. You’ve given them a reason to fight for your opponent in your next election cycle. The right thing to do is to apologize and abandon this utterly abominable attack on pregnant survivors of rape.

You owe us an apology. Judging from the viral nature of your comments we suggest you act now. Remember your greater responsibility to the people. Remember that betrayal is never forgotten. In this age of representatives who speak first and educate themselves later I implore you to speak about issues in which you are knowledgeable. The harm you’ve done is now broadcast across the United States of America for a reason. It is disgusting and unacceptable for the common citizen, much less someone in your priviledged position. There are teenage girls in Kansas who are pregnant with the baby of their perpetrator hearing that they should have ‘planned ahead.’ By default what you are saying is it’s their fault. They didn’t cover their bases. This is your statement on the issue.

Our statement to you is simply that we have an overriding aversion to every day you now stay in office. You have marginalized the vulnerable and you should be ashamed of your actions. I urge you to ‘plan ahead’ for the next election term. It just may be your last.

Chris de Serres

(Wo)Men Speak Out

*Kansas Representative Pete DeGraaf can be reached at petedegraaf@att.net and pete.degraaf@house.ks.gov

Holidays and Suicide

I just wanted to mention something because I know if I think of it during the holidays then many other survivors probably do.  When Thanksgiving would come around, for too many years, I would think of suicide.  This stretch of time, from Thanksgiving all the way up to New Years, has always seemed so hard for me to get through. 

My life has changed quite a bit now.  I have more reasons to be living than at any time in my life.  My beautiful wife and daughter.  My friends, including all of you here who know personally why we think of suicide.  Even with all of that, my heart still pulls toward that feeling.

About ten years ago, I used to scramble alone to the top of mountains and, if there was a cliff, I would stand on the edge and think how little I had to live for.  I wondered who would really care if I fell here.  Sometimes I would climb down cliff faces to ledges.  I told myself that if I fell then I was just meant to.

So I scrambled to the top of Mt. Higgins.  It was known for having a high precipice at the summit.  When I got to the top, I was alone.  So I stood at the edge of the precipice and did the thing I always do.  Wonder if I mattered.  I think that was the closest I ever came to just choosing to fall.  I heard some low yelping behind me.  It was a dog.  My dog Scout.  It may sound weird but I think he sensed what was going on.  I had forgotten he was even there.  But I didn’t have the heart to leave him alone.  So we hiked back down together. 

Before we left, I took a picture of old Scout, at the edge of the precipice.  Ironically it’s one of my mothers favorite pictures.  She blew it up and put it prominently on the mantle of her fireplace.  Scout has long since passed away.  But every holiday, when I come home I look right at it.  It reminds me that no matter what there is always someone who loves me and will miss me if I leave.  It’s something all of us should remember.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Chris