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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My Name Is Project – Participate Now!

Chris de Serres talking about My Name Is Project and how to participate:

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

Tyler Perry Breaks The Silence

You may know Tyler Perry from many of the films he’s produced, directed, and starred in over the years. It seemed like every year I would see a new Tyler Perry movie coming out of the box office. I can’t say that I have seen any of them, though he is a clear success story being one of the highest paid men in Hollywood.

Tyler Perry - Survivor

What I did see on 60 Minutes recently was the startling admission that, like myself, he is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. The reason why this is shocking isn’t that he IS a survivor of abuse. The statistics show indeed how common abuse is in our culture, with 1 in 4 women being victims of abuse before the age of 16 and 1 in 6 men.

What is of note is that Tyler Perry is a high profile black man admitting that he was abused as a child. It’s the coming out that has always been hardest for us men. One of the basic virtures of early manhood is being able to successfully defend yourself from harm. For male victims it is this perceived failure that is sometimes the hardest thing to come to terms with.

Tyler is coming to terms with this specter that has hovered over his life for so long. He spoke of a friends mother who molested him as a child. She locked him in their house and only provided the key to leave if he ‘had sex’ with her. Tyler later shared additional details about living with a physically abusive father. After his admission, his father passed along the message to Tyler that “…If I had beat your ass one more time you probably would have been Barack Obama.”

You may be horrified by that comment. Yet, its so telling of how parents so often confuse discipline with outright abuse. Or maybe it’s just his fathers way of rationalizing the abuse and suffering he inflicted on his defenseless children.

These admissions from public figures are inspiring and courageous but to people who want to make real change in our society we can’t leave it at that. We have to explore the questions raised by the personal accounts from survivors of abuse.

I was always a big fan of the comedian Richard Pryor growing up. He would often compare men with women, and how black culture differed from white culture. He once mentioned quite fondly about the time his father gave him an especially violent physical beating because he came home after his curfew. The audience laughed. Pryor’s genius was in being able to make his misery funny. I have all of Pryors tapes. I think he’s the most gifted comedian, yet I never laughed at those jokes.  Pryor joked on how it taught him character and professed his admiration to his father for making him hard.

It made me wonder. How can any physical beating ever be a point of pride in any culture, any society? What extremes and rationalizations are parents willing to employ to make sure they have well behaved children?  What should our response be when this is too often the message we are sending in our society?

I may have not known about Tyler Perry’s admission if I had not known about his work with a new movie coming out called Precious. It’s about the struggle of a 16-year-old survivor of abuse. You don’t see too many films about abuse streaming out of the Hollywood lot. This is one of them. Go see it on November 6th.

And remember, there is courage in breaking the silence, but change only comes when we decide to respond to the brave stories of those like Tyler Perry.  How do you plan on responding?

Understanding Patterns Of Abuse

Often, we hear of men who molest young girls and women and receive too little jail time or often, no penalty at all for their crimes. Tonight, on television was a story of a mother who was the co-abuser to her daughter of seven years old. The reason for her decision, she wanted to “prove her love” to her husband. The ultimate sacrifice, in her mind would surely win over his commitment and perhaps allow some sense of normalcy to their lives. Normalcy stemmed from incest, an interesting and obviously distorted reasoning, an excuse to commitment the ultimate betrayal.

These stories are not new to me, having read hundreds of thousands of emails over the years depicting torturous and unbelievable acts of abuse. However, it always takes a moment longer for me to come to terms with mothers who turn on their own children, in order to gain the “love” of a man in their life. They themselves, abuse victims in the hell that is intimate partner violence. Part of me feels torn by the understanding that they face their own fear and pain and yet, I cannot condone the line that is crossed from victim to abuser. There were so many levels to this particular case, but what I was struck by was an issue that screams true for so many women; needing a man in order to feel validated, worthy, loved. Often, women (and men) who are survivors of abuse will do find themselves doing things and allowing things to be done without questioning the impact of their decision. There is a laundry list of reason why such things happen, but one very important factor is conditioning.

If you are told that you are useless and unworthy each and every day of your life, parts of you, if not all of you will begin to believe it. There is truth behind the saying “thoughts are things” in that what you believe you become. If you are a vulnerable child your choice and sense of reality outside of your caregivers is drastically reduced and the name and expectations placed upon you will be your burden until you are old enough or fortunate enough to learn otherwise. For all of us, I believe this means being our own teachers.

A few years ago, I found myself in a relationship with a man twenty years my elder. I didn’t realize at that time, that a large part of my connection to him was based on my relationship with my father. An odd and somewhat disconcerting realization. However, one that looking back and being a survivor of incest, makes a lot of sense to me now. To make a long story short, I allowed myself to stay in this relationship and undergo behavior that I now see as abusive on many levels.

I fell in love with this man, and allowed him to control me in order to gain his affection and approval, much like I did with my father. The difference here is that I was no longer the abused child of four years old, instead a grown woman making adult choices. The catch? On many levels, in the decisions that I made in that relationship (and others like it), my inner child, the one who learned what love was from her father, was still seeking love in the same way from men who could not give her what she needed. Self-worth, validation, self-respect, a true sense of self are all things that we must find in ourselves and that cannot be resolved by others.

I see myself as fortunate to have gotten out of that relationship before marriage or children. I can only imagine how much more complicated life would have been had my life changed even slightly to the left of where it is today. I see my mother and sister in my own experience, yet they were not as fortunate. My sister passed away several years ago and my mother spent thirty years with an abusive husband. I see the choices that they made. I try not to judge them and yet, sometimes I do, still.

I wish for all women and men to see their worth and never make choices that will endanger themselves or their children. We must break the cycle now before it is too late.

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

The Man Code

Okay I got hooked on The Bachelorette this season.  Reality shows are sort of like Lays potato chips with me.  You can’t just watch one and be done with it.  Without contaminating you too much into the universe of this show let’s just say they had a ‘reunion show’ last night.  The Bachelorette, Jillian, and most of her male suitors were who had been previously eliminated in the show, were there.

As bad and scripted as they sometimes are, reality shows often reveal surprising realities of how badly men and women can behave and treat each other.

This year in The Bachelorette, more than any other, there was a bit of a controversy.  You see one of the male suitors, Wes,  had an agenda.  He was a country singer who already had a girlfriend.  He got on the show under false pretenses in order to further his career.  Not something exactly new in the land of the reality show, but it wasn’t exactly what he did that struck me as curious.  Apparently throughout the show he would brag to the other men that he already had a girlfriend and how he was going to hit it big with all the TV exposure.

All these guys knew, and kept quiet about it.  They all were vying for Jillian’s love and affection, yet never said a word about Wes.  Even as Wes made it through each ensuing round nearly to the end of the show.  Until finally one guy spoke, only after being eliminated by Jillian.

During the reunion show there was this weird energy among all the men about this one whistleblower, Jake.  They all spoke in a roundabout manner, but I got the impression that Jake had broken some sort of code among men by telling Jillian she was being played by another man. I call him a whistleblower sadly because in the culture of men, that’s what he did.  He went against the convention.

Then the other guys began speaking up, but not condemning Wes’s actions on the show.  They began making excuses for his behavior.  One man even professed doubt that Wes was playing Jillian at all.  Mind you, this is after we all watched video clip after video clip of Wes saying he was there to promote his music and how much sex he was going to have with his girlfriend after the show.

Wes, of course, didn’t attend the reunion show to answer for his actions.  But he almost didn’t have to.  Other men were piling on the defense for him.

So why is this important to us in the abuse community?

Well, it brings to light something that has been going on for quite some time among men.  Men don’t hold other men responsible for alot of bad behavior.  Most often this is out of fear of losing our own social standing in the process. There is this consistent scrutiny among men regarding how manly our behavior is in the eyes of others.  We hold each other to this standard.  We even have our own internal censor which comes as a result of all our younger years trying to live up to the male ideal that all of our early male role models instilled in us.

So we’ll see a male friend trick, manipulate, harass, and maybe even hit a woman and let it pass.  We hold our identity so closely to that of our manhood that we will watch others do atrocious things rather than risk stepping in and being considered less of a man.

One male suitor actually spelled it out for us on the show.  He called it the man code, that most bogus construct we wield to keep each other from speaking out and being our genuine selves.

You really want to know why there aren’t alot of men speaking out about abuse?  Or even the millions of male survivors who won’t speak out about their own trauma?  It’s the man code.

We would rather die broken and wounded than violate the unlivable set of rules which have been passed down from father (and mother) to son for generations.  It’s the reason why men are often reluctant to seek medical attention, much less a therapist.  I always think of the bullrider mystique, when a rider gets bucked off of a bull and, despite broken ribs, fends off medical attention and walks out of the ring of his own accord.  We all clap for that don’t we?  It’s harkens to the code.  When I read of the genocide in WW2 Germany and Rwanda I see the man code all over it.  Some say the man code helps keeps society running smoothly even as we destroy ourselves from within because of it.

I have my own man code.  It’s rooted in men like Ghandi and in the marches of Martin Luther King Jr.  In between all the status quo you can see it sometimes, if just for a second, in the Jakes of the world.  Don’t blink because you may miss it.  My man code is sometimes difficult to execute, as a man, so I try to execute it instead as a human being.

I have learned that physical courage is the easiest kind of courage to embrace.  Moral courage?  That is the most difficult.  It requires true sacrifice.  It requires us men to act, despite society, in order to save society from itself.  From letting boys be boys as they hit, abuse,  and harrass others, each other, and themselves.

Moral courage is the man code.

To my brothers out there, if you see it on display, don’t destroy it.  Don’t try to judge it or censor it into submission.  Get behind it.  Remember there are alot of young boys and men who are watching us and learning how to behave like men should.  Feed them the kind of courage that changes minds, rather than the one that reinforces old destructive habits.