How Should A Survivor Behave? New Vid Blog!

Some recent discussions have brought to light about what it means to be a survivor.  How should survivors behave?  What is the role of the advocate in helping survivors heal?  What things should we take into account when speaking to other survivors?  Leave comments and questions when you have them.

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Not In Our Community

It’s always a measure of a real community when they hear about news of abuse.  How will they respond when they learn their community may not be as safe as they thought?  Will they react defensively then eventually begin the real discussion?  Or will they never have that real discussion?  Ideal communities consist of well-intentioned individuals who advocate their way of life and will address safety issues directly and productively.  But we know that not all communities are ideal, so we must work with what we have.

As a public speaker I am never truly surprised with the mixed reaction I sometimes receive in the communities I have spoken in throughout the years.  Whether it be at a church.  Or a college.  Or a corporation.  There are always some who wonder “why are you here, speaking to us about abuse?  This doesn’t happen in my backyard.”

Yet it does.

If abuse didn’t occur in your community I would be doing something else.  I would be rock climbing.  If I had my choice I could retire early and rock climb for the rest of my life.  But I work in abuse for two reasons:  I am a male survivor of childhood abuse and because IT’S HAPPENING in your community.  When abuse, and all attempts to hide it’s presence, in our communities ceases to exist, then I will happily retire and move on to a happier profession.  Until then, you can guess where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing.

The tendency of the ‘not in our community’ types is to attack the messenger.  To scrutinize their every word.  To attempt to break them down and discredit them and all they say.  WSO has been under scrutiny more than a few times.  We come to expect it.  This is the defensive reaction.  Yet, it’s our hope that the real discussion takes place at some point.  Maybe not when I come to your town to talk about abuse.  Maybe later that day.  Maybe a week later.  Maybe a year.

But at some point if we can get you talking about abuse in your community then we are happy.

Growing up as a boy, nobody talked about abuse in my community.  Actually that’s wrong.  No parents or adults talked about abuse in my community.  My childhood best friend was one of the few souls who told me that he was abused.  He was 16 years old at the time.  Oh, and my classmate and his little brother who lived next door told me of their sexual abuse.  They were 10 and 6 years old respectively at the time.  Also, my other friend who was beaten bloody when he was 5.  He was 15 years old when he told me.

Adults don’t want to talk about abuse.  Kids do.  But they are too scared.  They don’t have a safe person to tell.  They don’t have a safe place to go to tell it.  For those children who haven’t been touched by the scourge of abuse you, as an adult, are doing a grave disservice to them by pretending it doesn’t happen in all communities, all societies, all cultures, and among all religious faiths.

For all intents and purposes, my family was what one would consider a model family, with model parents, in a model community of people who cared for their children.  That model community was a complete illusion.

As an adult, I went back there, to that model community.  I spoke with many of my old friends from model families.  I told them that I survived abuse.  It was only then that I learned of their abuse.  At the hands of their fathers, mothers, uncles, neighbors, and teachers.  Admissions from the most shocking places and from so many who I never would have suspected.  We were all harboring that secret, and our community wasn’t talking.

As a speaker, I rarely set foot in a venue filled completely with ‘not in our community’ types.  Usually there is one survivor in the audience.  Often in our Q&A sessions we will get skeptics who don’t believe in our message, who don’t believe in our statistics, who can’t stand our presence because talking about abuse in their community is felt as an indictment on them.  Then a friend of there’s stands up and announces that they are a member of this community and they were abused.  All it takes is one to quiet a room.  One courageous soul.

So if you believe that abuse doesn’t happen or is too overblown or too minuscule to really matter in your community, invite me to come speak.  I have a feeling you may be in for a surprise.

Chris de Serres

christopher @ womenspeakoutnow.com

The Day I Became An Advocate

A number of years ago I was asked by a college to speak about my personal experience with abuse. This was the first time I ever spoke about what had happened to me in a public forum. I remember the weeks leading up to the speech I felt a mixture of dread, anxiety, shame, and empowerment. It was then that I got a taste of what it really meant to be an advocate. I was preparing to advocate for the little boy that represented who I was, and am still today.

On the day, I had every intention of talking about myself. I took the podium and began to speak. But what came out wasn’t about me. It was about my best friend. You see, my life was filled with people who were looking to take advantage of me. As a child and survivor of abuse, I wasn’t very good at sticking up for myself. I was routinely pushed, prodded, and pummeled by the bigger kids in school. I think in my heart that they knew something was different about me. I was just another easy mark.

That all changed one day when a kid came by my house and introduced himself. His name was Eddie. He was only a year older than me, but he was a kid in a man’s body. We became fast friends. I soon realized that this kid, who I proudly called best friend, had a huge heart.

Eddie had a reputation as a a troublemaker, but he was simply misunderstood. I noticed the more I hung out with him the less I was bullied. Somehow my best friend Eddie also became my best advocate. From the day that I met him to the day that he took his own life he was always trying to protect me. Most of the time I didn’t even know he was.

I think he knew I was a survivor even though I never told him. I remember the day he came to my house and told me his dark secret. His mother had physically beaten him from as long as he could remember. It was then that I knew why he would go out of his way to help a little defenseless kid like me. I was the first person he told. I never knew if he told anyone else.

Chris speaking about male survivorship at a college keynote.

I realized that it was impossible to tell my story without first telling his. So I told the audience about Eddie. I wanted them to know that he deserved an advocate in his life. He didn’t have one. He had been my strongest advocate and I was grateful on that day to be his. He gave me something so simple yet so needed. The feeling that I wasn’t alone in this world. The more I told the story, the more stories I received from other men. They didn’t have the power so they wanted me to speak for them.

There isn’t much incentive for men to speak out about their abuse. They have to deal with the ignorance of other men and women. Men are often the subject of ridicule, having our manhood and sexual orientation called into question. There are even people who don’t believe boys or men CAN be abused against their own will. Certainly not by a woman. These are only some of the reasons why we don’t see men speaking out about abuse.

There are even female advocates who believe that men should be excluded from the resources that are provided to women. Men shouldn’t be in groups designated for women. So it’s no surprise that our men are continuing to suffer in silence. It’s no surprise that our communities are not confronting change as a united front. The abuse will continue as long as we decide to fight it apart.

It was in that spirit that I started a non-profit organization with my wife Ophelia, a survivor herself, to ensure that all survivors of abuse, rape, and gender violence have a voice when they need it. We decided that the best way to achieve a true end to abuse is by including women and men together in this fight. We are mutually supportive, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or color.

Abuse occurs everywhere. So it’s going to take everybody to fight it. Women have been fighting it for so long. They have won many battles. Now is the time to empower our men to come forward and share their experiences. I sometimes wonder if Eddie’s life would have turned out differently if he had a strong male advocate in his life. For now, I am resolved to speak his truths and stand by strong women and men when I do it. Advocates simply speak out for those who can’t. Men. Women. Together.

Note: This article appears in the Self Help Packet for Jersey Care Leavers Association. For the full packet of great articles and resources go to http://www.jerseycareleavers.com/ and download the packet today.

My Sister Maggie

I had a dream last night. It was about my sister, Maggie. It’s been almost 9 years since my sister passed away but every now and then she comes to me in my dreams. Last night, she met up with me in a room filled with people and asked me to sing with her. I am a singer, though sadly, my sister never heard me sing.

In my dream, we sang together, a beautiful melody. She smiled and laughed with me, her face filled with happiness. I could feel her arms embracing me; I could hear her angelic voice harmonizing with mine. A dream so real, I could almost taste it. I was aglow until I awoke and realized she was gone and there would be no more singing.
To awake to the reality left me feeling empty and filled with sadness.

I wrote a song about my sister called “Maggie’s song.” It was my way of coming to terms with the immense loss of losing my sister. A sister I loved so much and knew so little about. Ours was a complicated relationship. Maggie and I shared the same father but different mothers. It was our father who abused both Maggie and myself as children and into adulthood. Though she seldom ever spoke about her experience, she did share it with me before she died. Her disclosure affirmed to me that I was not alone.

She lived a complicated life, filled with complex relationships and a continued cycle of violence. In many ways, she and I were very much alike and in many ways, very different. Those who have seen Chris and myself speak will know Maggie’s story, as I speak about her often. She has become a constant in my advocacy and holds an important place in my message to other survivors of abuse.

For many survivors of abuse there are questions that remain unanswered. Many of us are unable to speak with our abusers because they are out of our lives by design or by circumstance. For those whose abusers are still alive, there is often no conversation to be had, due to a complicated list of reasons. That list can be endless and so we go through life making sense as best we can of what happened to us and why.

When it comes to my sister Maggie, there is no answer good enough. I was tasked with going through Maggie’s things after she died. What I saw was a life of addiction and isolation. The newspaper read that she went to sleep one night and never woke up. That’s what the autopsy says and so that is what people admit. Though, most of you know that the nature of abuse is not as black and white. Far too many victims of abuse, including myself, will find themselves searching for reprieve through addiction. After years of this, Maggie lost the fight and with it her voice.

Many people have asked me why I continue to talk about an experience that brings up such upsetting emotions. My answer is always the same. I tell Maggie’s story because her life had meaning, more than I think she even realized. Through her story, others will know that they are not alone and that there can be life after abuse.

We must fight for each other and ourselves and never stop believing that change is possible. We must do the work and break free of our addictions, tell our stories and allow healing to take place. I believe that this is what Maggie would have wanted. I believe that she is up there looking down on me, joyous in knowing that people will learn from her life and that she will never be forgotten.

WSO Sponsors Male Survivor Conference!

We’re proud to announce our sponsorship of The 2010 Male Survivor Conference on March 18-21, 2010.  It will be held at John Jay College in New York City.  This conference brings together advocates, professionals, and survivors to share new knowledge in the area of male sexual trauma.

We hear the lineup of presenters this year is going to be quite engaging.  WSO plans to be a presenter in 2011!

If you are in the New York City area make sure to attend.  We need to support new research in helping male survivors in their recovery process.  This conference supports breaking the silence about abuse.  Our men need our help more than ever.

For more information:

http://www.malesurvivor.org/conference-2010.html

Chris & Ophelia

WSO