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!

 

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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.

I Came Forward…On Oprah.

 

She turned to the teleprompter, looked out into the sea of men in the audience.  Each of us held a large childhood picture in our arms.  “It’s hard to see all of your pictures,” she told us as she wiped the tears from her eyes.

Then taping began…

For the next three hours I grieved amongst a group of 200 men who were all survivors of child abuse.  Some at the hands of strangers, most by adults we knew and trusted.  Most of the men here today, and Oprah, were abused by more than one adult.  Some were abused by other children, and some went on to be abused into adulthood.

Many of our abusers lived complete lives, free from incarceration.  Free from having to answer for their horrific acts.   They live in your communities.

When I wasn’t crying I was trying to stay present, in this moment.  But I often did what I do whenever my trauma approaches.  I disassociate.  I felt myself watching the studio of men from a safe distance even as I was sitting in the middle of it.

Oprah began the discussion with Tyler Perry, a film producer who recently disclosed his personal history of abuse.  I could see this audience of 200 men collectively unhinge itself.  I saw men all around me crying and exhibiting incredibly pained expressions of grief.  I felt like I was at a funeral for a close friend.  I saw old men crying inconsolably, just like the little boys who died in their hearts.

There was a man sitting across from me.  His face was bunched up so tightly and he hunched over again and again sobbing.  All I wanted to do was walk across this studio and give this boy some reassurance.

I looked down at the picture sitting on my lap, then turned it face down.  It was too painful to see that boy’s false smile.  Like a pulse, the words of Tyler Perry kept slicing through my heart.  “I felt like I died as a child.”

If Oprah would have allowed us to hold up a picture of any child I wouldn’t have held up my own.  I’m still alive.  I can look into the eyes of my baby daughter.  I have a beautiful and supportive wife waiting for me at home.  No, I would have held up a picture of my best friend Eddie.  When he died, the police report indicated that he hung himself with a bed sheet.  They said he “suffered from depression” or that “drug use contributed” to his death.  The newspaper never says “he died from child abuse.”

Eddie had a beautiful daughter of his own.  She was just a child when he passed.  Now we are both the caretakers of his memory.  I will never have the priviledge of having his quick wit and infectious laughter fill up my soul with life.  We were once just two abused kids, just trying to make it through.  Now he is gone and I am here.

The studio was filled with lights and cameras.  The film crews shuffled around, doing many things all at the same time.  Oprah was the calming presence in the middle of it.  She looked us in the eye and in her eyes I could see an underlying message to all of us men.  Just stay with me a little longer.

I struggled to keep my eyes open.  The exhaustion was so great my body was shutting down.

Twin brothers, about my age, got up from the front row and joined Oprah in the center.  They began to disclose the story of their abuse.  Molested by priests for 13 years.  I felt this anger and rage fill my body, every hair rising up.  I looked around at the other men in the audience and saw a reflection of outrage.  These boys told their mother, but they weren’t believed.  So the abuse continued.

I looked up, from time to time, at the cameras around me.  One camera stood directly at me for the entire taping.  I wondered if my face would be broadcast.  I wondered about all the people in my life who didn’t know.  Imagine the shock if you just turned the channel on the Oprah Show one day and saw your son, brother, nephew, friend, or uncle sitting in that audience.  Would you mourn for him?  Would you wonder who his abuser was?  Would you believe him?  Would you reach out to him and offer support?  What if you were his abuser?

Towards the end Oprah opened it up to questions.  My body became a tangle of pins and needles.  I had something to say.  We all had something to say.  I saw a man in his 50’s stand up to speak and wondered how many decades he had waited to finally say something here.  There would never be a moment like this again for any of us.

We filmed two shows that day and were only barely scratching the surface of all that went on.  I think Oprah saw this so she let us speak.  The Q&A session was never aired.  I’m not sure that it mattered.

Before I knew it I was in a bus heading to the airport.  There were so many guys I wanted to say goodbye to but never got the chance.  But I had nothing left to muster.  So I buried my head into a pillow on the flight back.

From flying to Chicago, filming two episodes of The Oprah Show, and flying back to Seattle, it had all happened in less than 48 hours.  Even now, i’m still recovering from that short and great impact on my life.

One thing I realized is that when we hold secrets we hold back a piece of ourselves.  We deprive our friends, family, and spouses from the true joy in our hearts.  They can never know our stories unless we tell it.  So many men and women went to their graves having never told anyone.

So I think of all the people in the past who weren’t given the opportunity to grieve.  I think of my abuser.

I am not sure what happened to him.  I don’t think he will ever tell us.  I know what he took away from me.  There were men his age in that audience.  These men were born from a generation even further entrenched in the silence.  Their presence brought me hope.

I do believe that men who tell are the exception, not the rule.  That is what made this Oprah special a very unique experience.  We have always been told that boys don’t cry.  Yet they always do.

These men stood together, in front of millions, despite our society.

These men stood with a powerful female advocate.

I am not sure of the long term impact of these shows, but what I do know is the extraordinary effect the show had on the lives of the men.  We are telling our family and friends for the first time.  We are confronting our abusers.  We have started campaigns to combat abuse.  We are going into therapy.  We are telling our stories.

200 of Oprah’s Men.  I am proud to call myself one of them.  They say that one motivated soul can affect change on an entire society.  Imagine what 200 can do.  Imagine if we all finally woke up and began to really talk for the first time.

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

Talking To Children About Their Bodies And Abuse

When it comes to talking to children about abuse, it’s safe to say that most parents have a hard time starting the conversation. I’ve received emails from people who aren’t sure how to introduce the topic of private parts in general, let alone the topic of abuse and what that looks like. Admittedly, talking to your child about their body is a delicate task. However, without open and honest dialogue and clear definitions, we can’t expect children to protect themselves if these conversations have never taken place.

When talking to children about their bodies, I think it’s really important for parents to outline what they want to cover and terms that they will use to talk about body parts. Personally, I feel that body parts should be termed, as they would be at the doctor’s office. Cutesy terms, or “comfortable names” can sometimes cause confusion in children, as well as embarrassment about their bodies. Children needs to know the technical terms for their parts and that there is nothing dirty or shameful about them. In creating a safe and honest starting point, communication can become easier and gives children the respect they deserve regarding their bodies.

I was taught that private parts are considered that which is covered by a bathing suit or undergarments. Picturing this and explaining it will allow a clear picture for children. Any area that is not visible is private and is “off limits” to anyone else. Children should have a clear understanding that they have the right to voice their opinions and ask questions when it comes to their body. People such as healthcare providers who may need to assist during medical visits and exams, but children should still be able to voice any concerns they may have, just as you or I would.

Role-play and other games can be a good way to create scenarios with children that allow them to ask questions and think about things they may say in circumstances where they are uncomfortable. Additionally, the use of dolls with removable clothing can be a good tool for parents and caregivers to talk about body parts and inappropriate touching.

You don’t have to go it alone. Feel free to use literature and sites already in place as aids for discussion. You know your children better than anyone. Some children respond better to dialogue and others are more visual learners. Figure out what works best for the both of you.

Remember to relax. Children are like sponges and will often react to your reactions. If you are nervous or uncomfortable, they will see that and find it more difficult to ask questions. Take your time and leave the topic open for discussion down the line. Casual check-ins can also be helpful as they allow for further discussion and more practice for you. You never know what additional topics may come up, simply because you created a safe place for them.

Lastly, talk to other parents and see if they are talking to their kids. You may find that you are not alone in your fears and anxiety surrounding the topic. By talking with others, you may learn other fun ways to talk to your kids or help others to do the same.

Remember, we are all responsible for creating a safe community. Thanks for doing your part.

Children Should Know

The overwhelming majority of children are abused by a family member or family friend.  More often than not the abuser is a parent, step-parent, or guardian.  I think that’s a reality we haven’t quite come to terms with.  I know we didn’t when I was growing up.

Probably the only education I ever received as a child about the danger of abuse was a  30 minute session in a 5th grade class once.   I remember that it was taught by my English teacher.  I could tell how uncomfortable and awkward she felt in front of the class, trying to talk about what to say if a stranger came up to us and asked us to follow ‘him’ down an alley.  I was taught to say no, but I wasn’t quite sure why I was saying no.  Just that it was important that I did say no.  There was no context, just that this fictitious ‘bad guy’ wasn’t to be followed.  I thought of some of the supervillains I read about in comic books.  On the off chance that Dr. Doom showed up on my afternoon walk home from school I knew what to say.

Education hasn’t improved much since that day in grade school.  We are still uncomfortably limping into inadequate conversations with our children about what to do, when, and who.  Except we are so leery about the ‘who’ part because the ‘who’ may be attending PTA meetings, may be more close to us than we would like to think.

Educating our children about how to speak up for themselves is not an always popular proposition to a parent.  Parents want obedient children, and it’s those same obedient children who are most vulnerable.  If there is anything that is most obvious in looking at the statistics it is that children aren’t using their voices.

There are arguments that children shouldn’t know about abuse.  They are too young to be exposed.  Yet we already know that millions of children are already being physically and sexually abused right now.  I guess the above philosophy has, in a sense, already written off those children as damaged goods.

Parents aren’t comfortable with the idea of their children telling them no, in any case.  That is precisely what education provides for them, the option to say no.  An option to defend themselves.  This rarely comes up consciously in my discussions with parents, but it always rears it’s ugly head in the periphery.  The argument against abuse education that never quite makes itself known.  This is why our parents should be educated as well.

Our expressed priority is to protect our children.  But there is a catch to this.  We don’t want to protect them from us.

So we still ask ourselves why our children are so vulnerable.  We wonder why there are millions of victims of abuse out there.  It’s because the children don’t know.  Organizations, like (Wo)Men Speak Out, exist to educate our men, women, boys, and girls about abuse.  Boys and girls are the most vulnerable demographic to the scourge of abuse.  Are they too young to know about abuse?  Millions learn one way or the other.  Sadly, it seems that, for most, the most harmful way is ruling out over the other.

This may make you wonder what your school is doing to educate their students.  You may even ask yourself what you are doing to educate your children.  It’s worth an inquiry.  Talk to your kids.  Check in with your school.  It’s worth a call.  It’s worth raising your hand at the PTA meeting and starting a discussion.

If you believe your children are ready to be given the tools that may save their life one day, then bring an organization in that knows how to talk to the kids.  Not the awkward English teacher I had way back when.

Abusers rarely look like Dr. Doom.  Yet, that may be all the protection we are providing our children.

DrDoom