Just a bit of a rant

This work we do is not for the faint of heart.  There is support by like-minded groups and individuals but these are the people that understand the issue of child sexual abuse.  They have a frame of reference.  They’ve been abused as a child or have witnessed the devastation first-hand.  They know how complex the relationship between an abuser and child can be.  That it takes much more than teaching a child about good touch vs bad touch.  They understand that children are not responsible for thwarting the cunning ways of the pedophile.  These are the people who understand what happens if a child does not disclose or are not believed if they do.  They know how to react to disclosure.  They know how to watch out for the children in their community.  These are the people who refuse to turn their heads away from this ugly topic and acknowledge that it is a HUGE and COMPLEX issue that warrants the attention of every single adult.

Sadly – these people are not enough.   We keep preaching to the choir.

What we need is a way to get all the others…the silent ones, the ‘it doesn’t affect me’ ones, the ‘it can’t be that bad’ ones to pay attention……to learn the facts….and then to take action.

If only.  If only I could drag every person to a workshop to learn about child sexual abuse and how to prevent it.

If only.

What a difference it would make for the children in our world.

vffb

Your Story

There have been a surge of child sexual abuse stories coming forward over the past couple of years.  Speaking tours are being booked and books are being written by survivors and this is good – very good.  It’s important that these stories are told and that we not continue to allow the silence that has long surrounded this topic.

There is also a bit of a dilemma with this.  The stories that get the attention are the stories of celebrities and people with the means to hire marketing and PR agencies to promote them.  I will not take away from this – and I think it is amazing and wonderful and I am grateful for their presence…but here is the dilemma – they are not ‘everybody’.

Lately I have had a number of people come to me to tell their stories.  I am always honoured when people feel comfortable sharing, sometimes for the first time, what happened to them as a child who was sexually abused.  The problem is that they feel that they are not victorious as they are not ‘super successful’ as defined by society.  They have managed to overcome incredible challenges and move on to live lives full of purpose and meaning.  They contribute to society in many ways and yet they do not feel they do enough …or are enough.

It is VITAL that every survivor of child sexual abuse not feel that their story is diminished in any way.  Each story has merit and is worthy of being heard, acknowledged and honoured.

I invite you to share your stories with me.  Whether it’s one page or hundreds.  Send them to Cynthia@voicefound.ca.  With your permission, I will publish them here in a special series.  You can use your name or ask that it be published anonymously.  If all you want to share is a sentence – that is fine too.  Whatever will help you to feel that you have been heard.

I look forward to hearing from you and honouring your story.

Knowing Sadness

In many ways my life is better than ever.  I am creating something wonderful.  I’ve much to be grateful for and have so much love in my life.  Children, a handful of good friends and a wonderful family.  I’m doing a good job battling my cocaine addiction (over 20 years clean) and have faced the darkness of my past sexual abuse.  I’m listening to myself, trusting myself, learning to love myself.   I am more confident in my abilities to care for myself and know that from today onward  I can see some of my wildest dreams come true.   So why the sadness?

I was beating myself up over feeling it.  I was denying it and pushing it down.  Trying to run from it and hide from it.  I’d almost convinced myself that it was not there…that it was not real.  How wrong I was.

Sadness is acceptable.  I am entitled to feel and express it.  In my quiet moments, when no one else is around, I allow myself to cry.  The tears quickly turn into sobs that come from a place so deep that sometimes I wonder if I will ever stop.  I hurt.  I am hurting so badly from the pain of loss…of broken promises….of abandonment.

I am so grateful to know…to really KNOW…that this is temporary.  That I need to grieve the loss as a part of my journey.  I am grateful for the knowledge and experience that has shown me time and again that these moments of sadness are to be acknowledged and allowed.  I know that I am going to be okay.

Unfortunately there are many who do NOT know this.  Their sadness feels like it will never leave them.  It overwhelms and permeates every moment of every day.  These are the people who fall into depression and sometimes never recover.  I ask that you look around and take a moment to really see the people in your life.  Be still with them and listen to the silence.  Lend a hand, an ear, a shoulder.  Just connect.  I’ve lost three family members to suicide.   I wish I’d known then what I know now.

I’m living now

Age 5-7 – sexually abused by a trusted neighbour over a period of about two years.

Age 8 –  I suffer my first major panic attack.  I have no idea what the f**k it is that is happening other than it feels horrible and I am sure that I am going to die.  Bedtime scares the crap out of me…I am convinced that I will forget how to breath.

I suffered from horrific panic attacks as well as serious depression for many, many years.  I saw many doctors and shrinks and they all treated the problems that I told them about.  No one cracked the case though.  All the many years  of talking to professionals and not one of them ever asked if I’d been sexually abused as a young child and I sure as hell wasn’t going to say anything.  I’d talk about the rape when I was 13, the abusive marriage, the self-destructive behaviours and addictions but what that man did to me when I was in kindergarten and grade one was a conversation I was NOT having.  No f**king way.

There was one psychiatrist who wanted to admit me to the hospital for an addiction recovery program but I declined.  After all, I had just left an abusive marriage, was not using, had a part time job and had two children to care for.  How on earth could I ever find the time to go for treatment?  How could I burden my mom with caring for my sons?  How would I ever be able to pay my rent without the income from my job?  It would just be so selfish of me.  I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  I would be fine.  (ya right…)

So the doctors diagnosed…labels were attached and treatments and medications administered.  There were mood, anxiety, personality, addiction and adjustment disorders.  Sometimes together and sometimes on their own.  I’d go for years without help and simply look after myself.  After all – I was coping.  I had a family to support and a career to manage.  Not one single person knew what was going on deep inside.  No one knew the root cause.

I was not living.  I was simply coping.

I am sharing this information with you because there is a HUGE cost to society when a child is sexually abused.  The children grow into adults with high rates of chronic depression, higher rates of suicide, substance abuse, higher incidences of rape, abusive relationships and all flavours of mental illness.  Many of us do not disclose.  We dismiss it.  We pretend and we fool ourselves into thinking we have dealt with it.  Until the day that we just can’t cope anymore and we ‘hit the wall’.  The secret gets spilled or we spill our guts in some form or another.  It’s never pretty.

When I finally disclosed – it was 42 years after the first instance.  FORTY-TWO YEARS of carrying so much shame and self-loathing.  Years of functioning but not living.  Years of numbing pain with cocaine and alcohol.  Years of hiding from the world but mostly from myself.

It’s scary for me sometimes.  I still get panic attacks.  I often have triggers that can throw me to places that I’d rather not revisit.  PTSD is part of my life.  Shame still threatens to cloud my view of myself and major depressive episodes visit me from time to time.  Thankfully, I now know that it is ok.  A panic attack WILL pass.  A trigger is not reality – it is my brain playing tricks.  Depressive episodes will often reveal something of great beauty.  And I have made a choice to do something with ‘all of this’.

Voice Found is how I choose to take action and do something to help prevent other children from having their innocence taken.  Voice Found is how I choose to take action to find support for adult survivors.

I’m living now.

She was 49 years old when she committed suicide.   Her husband and 16 year old son had gone to church and knowing she’d have a couple of hours alone, she took the pills.  She was found on the floor in the hallway just outside her bedroom door.  The doctors suspect that at in the last minutes of her life she may have tried to reach a phone and call for help.  There had been another attempt a few years before, but on this particular Sunday, she was successful.

 The first time she had attempted suicide, I sat down and talked to her about it.  I wanted to know how she felt.  What were those moments like when she had made the decision to end her life?  Was she frightened, sad, lonely…what went through her mind?  Her response to me was chilling.  She said she did not feel a thing.  Nothing.  And that was probably the scariest thing of all.  She told me that her doctor was helping somewhat but that she found mornings difficult.  She’d wake up at 5:00 am and had to keep herself busy.   Writing, reading, clipping newspaper articles about anything and everything that she thought would be of interest to someone.   Her own thoughts scared her.  She was surrounded by love, in a safe and comfortable home yet she did not know calm.   She could not escape the pain, the shame, the darkness that settled around her daily.

What was the root cause of her angst?  Why was this gifted pianist, intelligent, generous and beautiful woman so tormented? 

She had been sexually abused as a child. 

25 years ago today I got the phone call informing me of her death. 

25 years ago today, I lost my step-mother.

She is one of many reasons I started Voice Found.   She is one of 3 family members I have lost to suicide. 

Suicide and suicidal thoughts are one of the many consequences of childhood sexual abuse.  For more information or to donate funds to help us raise awareness and educate adults on how to prevent children from being sexually abused, visit www.voicefound.ca

Victims to Heroes

Tonight I told my story of childhood sexual abuse on a live internet radio show.  I discussed the consequences of the abuse and how it affected my life.  How my perpetrator completely altered the course of my life.   I breathed deeply after the 1.5 hour show.  Relieved that it was over and feeling like I had made a small positive difference….that somehow I helped even one other survivor to know they are not alone on their healing journey.

That pause…that breath…was short lived

Almost immediately after the radio broadcast I learned that the  jury in the Jerry Sandusky case returned a guilty verdict.  You would think this news would have me jubilent and jumping for joy and yet I am not.  I find myself weeping.  My emotions are all over the place. Why?  Because there are no ‘winners’ really.  Sure, justice will be served.  Jerry Sandusky will serve the rest of his days behind bars but for the victims, there is no restitution that will give them back the childhood they deserved to live.

Let us never forget those men who came forward and bravely shared their stories.  They are to be applauded and supported as they begin to heal.  They have saved countless children by taking the witness stand and being made to live and relive the horrors of their abuse.

They are true heroes.

Hiding

I’ve been hiding.  In my youth I hid behind perfectionism and dance.   As I entered my teens, I hid behind sexual promiscuity, drugs, alcohol and fashion.  My twenties saw me hiding behind cocaine, expensive clothing and a certain ‘privileged’ lifestyle.  Mental illness provided me with pills.   Pills helped me hide from life.

In later years, I stopped using drugs and alcohol and instead I hid behind my work, my accomplishments, my sobriety and my children.

What was I hiding from?  I was hiding from the truth.  The pain.  The horrible shame.  I was hiding from the fact that I was sexually abused as a child.  I was ‘coping’.

I thought it would be okay to live a half of a life …that was until I decided one day that I did not want to live at all and so I sought help.  I finally told a therapist about the sexual abuse I had suffered as a child.  That act of disclosure led to more pain and trauma than I could have ever imagined.  The feelings of shame so overwhelmed me that I started hiding again.  This time I hid by eating.  My once lovely figure soon became buried under extra pounds of fat…and more fat.

The weight has caused me health issues.  It’s caused me to feel even more shameful.  It has been my comfort in such a bizarre way that I struggle to define or understand it.  I beat myself up daily for how gross I look and yet deep inside I tell myself to keep eating – keep hiding.  It’s ‘safer’.

This past week has been one of great sorrow for me as I began to accept that a full, free and happy life was never to be mine.  Too old, too fat, no job….pretty much reconciled to the fact that my health will continue to deteriorate and my days will be numbered.  I just felt ‘done’.

Then I got mad….really, really  angry.  I looked at my accomplishments through the years and DESPITE the drug addictions, mental illness, f**ked up lifestyle and insane (mis)adventures- I have managed to give so much good to the world.   I decided that if I keep hiding behind this weight and keep adding pounds then that bastard that sexually abused me…the one who took away a lot of my life’s potential – then gets to  take away the years I have left.  I will be damned if I am going to let that happen.

No more hiding.   Look out world.  I’m about to start living!

 

 

 

 

Put it aside

How many times have you had a well meaning friend or loved one tell you to just ‘put it aside for a while’, ‘forget about it’, ‘get over it’, ‘don’t live in the past’?   I suspect it has happened to you, as it has to me, more than once.  How do you feel when people say this to you?  Do you feel honored?  Heard?  Understood?  Does it make you think there is something even more wrong with you than what is wrong with you?  Do you get angry?  Do you cry?  Ya.  Pretty much all those things and more are my reactions.

Survivors of the trauma of childhood sexual abuse can not just ‘get over it’.  Yes.  We can heal and move forward but it takes time and hard work and money.  Yes, money.  Therapy is not cheap and it is what is needed if you are to really move from surviving to thriving. And sometimes the therapy is good and it helps and sometimes the fit is not right and you give up for a while.  The process of healing is long and painful.  The process of healing is also filled with moments of beauty and appreciation and gratitude.  And the people I know who are survivors are among the most generous and beautiful souls I have ever met.

I want people to understand that survivors NEED to do the hard and ugly work in order to get to a place where they can live the life that was taken from them by their perpetrators.  To just ‘put it aside’ is what many of us have done most of our lives. I personally HAD to put it aside and minimize it in order to raise my family, be gainfully employed and a productive member of society…to ‘fit in’.   Without dealing with it though, we live fragmented lives.  Pieces of us are scattered and we are never really ‘free’.  The ONLY way to the freedom and feelings of worth and wholeness is to face it – and deal with it.

The writing of this is reminding me, once again, how much is taken from a person when they are sexually abused as a child.  I want my LIFE.  I DESERVE to feel free and whole.  I will get there.  I AM getting there.  Please support me and honour my healing journey.

Volunteering with Voice Found – Facilitators Needed

Do you coach, teach, mentor, volunteer or care about children?   Are you saddened by the reports of childhood sexual abuse and feel compelled to DO something?  Looking for meaningful volunteer work?   Becoming a volunteer facilitator with Voice Found might be the opportunity you’ve been looking for to make a real difference in your community.

One of the most powerful programs we offer is the childhood sexual abuse prevention workshop called ‘Stewards of Children’.  This 3 hour workshop educates adults and youth-serving organizations how to recognize and prevent children from being sexually abused.    This program is delivered to individuals and organizations by volunteer facilitators and is proven to be effective in changing child protective behaviours. (program evaluation methods and results are here>  Evidence and Efficacy of Stewards of Children Prevention Training)

What is the role of the facilitator?

The role of the workshop facilitator is one that is both demanding and rewarding.   As an authorized facilitator, you are an advocate for keeping children safe from sexual abuse and are key to spreading the prevention message on behalf of Voice Found.  You become a valued member of the Voice Found team and can expect to be treated as such.

What skills are required?

Facilitators model the core principals of Stewards of Children in the community by talking openly about child sexual abuse and engaging adults in the discussion. It takes courage and commitment to increase people’s knowledge and to change attitudes about child sexual abuse. While teaching or training experience is not required, you must feel comfortable speaking and presenting. Good presentation, listening, and communication skills are all critically important in being an effective facilitator.

In addition, you should consider how talking about this issue regularly and openly in public will affect you personally. It is difficult to hear personal stories of abuse. You must be prepared to be immersed in the topic without it having a negative or traumatic effect on you. If you are a survivor of sexual abuse this is an especially important consideration.

How Do I Become a Facilitator?

To become an Authorized Facilitator, you must attend a Facilitator Workshop.  The cost of the workshop is $350 (subsidies MAY be available) and includes:

  • 7.5 hours of instruction,
  • Instruction on the philosophy and purpose of the Stewards of Children curriculum, mastery of the training curriculum, preparation for and promoting the program, and facilitator policies and procedures.
  • All training materials including a Facilitator Manual, a Stewards of Children workbook, DVD, and 7 Steps booklet.
  • It is highly recommended that prior to attending a Facilitator Workshop, you first participate in a Stewards of Children training session or complete the online version.

We are based in Ottawa, Canada and are planning a facilitator workshop for June 2nd. 2012. 

NOTE-  Volunteers must prepare and meet the following criteria

  • All applicants must be in possession of a current (sited and dated within six months) Volunteer Police Intervention Check which can be obtained through your local police department. Please ensure that the Vulnerable Sector box found on the back of your Police Intervention Check is checked off as yes prior to submitting your application form to your local police department.

There is a cost associated with obtaining a Police Intervention Check. To qualify for the reduced rate provided to volunteers applicants can obtain a letter from the volunteer coordinator via info@voicefound.ca

If you live outside the city limits please contact your local RCMP to obtain a background check. The Consent for Disclosure of Criminal Record Information. Check must also state the Vulnerable Sector check has been done.

  • Write a 100-500 word essay on why you want to volunteer for Voice Found or send us a short video
  • Provide us with a copy of your resume
  • Be 18 years of age or older

Want to become a facilitator?  Send a note to info (at) voicefound.ca and we will begin work on your application.

Consider joining us.  It is some of the most important work you will ever do.

 

 

 

From 1 to 10

I started Voice Found a number of years ago.  It’s been a dream and something I dabbled in as time would permit.  I really wanted to raise awareness- talk about a taboo subject and educate adults on prevention of childhood sexual abuse as well as offer hope to survivors.  Being a survivor myself – I struggled (and struggle) at times in my healing and I believe that sharing this with others helps them to know they are not alone.

So what’s with the ‘from 1 to 10’ title?

Well- Voice Found is no longer just ‘my dream’.  We are now a federally incorporated non profit with charitable status pending.  We are making a difference.  We have been training adults on how to prevent childhood sexual abuse through the Stewards of Children childhood sexual abuse prevention program.

Here’s where the 1 to 10 comes in.  I am the ONLY authorized facilitator for the prevention workshop.  We have over 150 adults who want to take the program in the next 6-8 weeks and that is the conservative number.  There are plans underway to train many, many more.  We also have a list 10 adults who want to be facilitators and we need to train them.  I hold a full time job and conduct workshops on weekends and evenings – or during vacation time.

Think of the reach that these 10 new facilitators would have.  They are from different regions of the province of Ontario.  If each of these train 10 people per month that’s 100 adults in YOUR community who know how to prevent the sexual abuse of children.  These adults are coaches, teachers, volunteers, parents, grandparents – organizations and individuals.

We need to pay for travel and expenses for a facilitator trainer to come to Ottawa from Charleston, NC to train these 10 facilitators.  The cost to train one facilitator is $350.00 which we want to subsidize as these are volunteer positions.

Please help us to grow and make a significant impact.   Our campaign ends in two days.  Every bit helps.  Click here to donate.

With gratitude,

Cynthia