Child abuse survivors, public perception and the persistence of the Force

Deep down in my soul, I know I am a Jedi. I look for the balance of the light and dark within. One of the hardest things I had to endure when I was seeking out other survivors of abuse was the ridicule I faced from adults within the community where I was abused. In small towns (both in population and in mentality) places such as ‘the church’ are centres of activity, pillars of the community, beacons for gathering. The clergy who are involved become woven within the community as well – they are the leaders of morality and are extended families for their congregations. After all, if Brother X is known for his amazing community work and leading the semi-annual bake sales with success, how could you say anything bad about him?

Victims are faced with the challenge of gathering courage to stand up and be heard. This means that they have to not only recount the horrors of what happened over and over, they also become the focus of the hatred of the community for “bringing up such nonsense”, etc, etc.

It was years ago that I had to go back to Hopeless and face one of my abusers in discovery. This is where both legal parties and their clients get together and discuss the case and go over details. This was the first time I say Brother X since I had been abused. He was by far the worst abuser to me, attempting anal penetration with me when I was only 9 years old, but because I was screaming too loud and the pain was so intense, he became frustrated with me, punching me in the back of my head before I was left to clean up the bloody mess from his attempts. He made his journey back from Florida to Hopeless for the discovery and had been hosted for many dinners by the catholic community – letters to the editor in the local paper about Brother X boasted him as a sort of “hero” and that it was so terrible that someone like me could put such an old frail man through such a terrible ordeal. Many of the followers of the church denounced me as some kind of monster – big, strong, and successful at my career – while brother X was frail, old, and a kind old man. I mean, I must have been a monster, right? Why should I dare speak out about the abuse that happened so long ago – it seems I had not really suffered too much or really at all. So, look at me now…….

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….I am over six feet tall, I have had some success within my career both academically and professionally. I like to think I am caring and respectful of others. And I carry on with the inner wounds from my abuse to this day. You can’t see that in any picture or tax return. I do not fit the stereotype of an abuse survivor. My own lawyer suggested that my case would be better if I was a drug addict, or an abusive male – but I was possibly “too well put together” for court. And this is the image of the man taking Brother X to task for his crimes against him.

That picture is my shell – it’s my external signifier to the world at large. The community did not think for one moment of the victim of the abuse – it was not me as pictured above – it was this person……

kindergarten pic This is who was abused – this child here. Not the stunt performer, fight director, martial artist, but this kid. A kid. Frail, weak, willing to learn and ever trusting of authority. This is the child whom I am endeared to fight for. Since the abuse happened and since my time served at that hell of a school, my focus has been healing – and every day I take my scars with me. You can’t see them from the outside. You can’t sense them in a picture. I still have wounds. I still have my “moments” where it’s hard for me to get up and face the day. I still wake up and a part of me wants to blame myself for what happened to me. I have my good and bad days. I still sometimes try and compensate for my lack of belief of me through eating a chocolate bar for some kind of immediate gratification. I am still struggling with what happened –

Some say I should forget – that I should move on. Others wonder what the hell I am on about with my story. That was so long ago. It’s not. It’s fresh every day. What happened to me has shaped my outlook on society and on community. I am very much a loner. I am afraid at times of people. I am shy. People that know me know that I am not out much at parties – I shy away from them – cutting myself off. The adult part of me attempting to continue to protect the child inside – after all those years. I may look put together on the outside – but lawyers, zealots, and the community at large needs to look beyond the superficial. I have been able to adjust, to cope and to develop as a human. I have not given up – my story is my way of sharing with all of you how I managed to heal, to carry on despite the odds. I am lucky in that I had the love and support of my family. My abuse happened outside my home. Every day I have to remind the child within that it’s ok, and that I will never let anything happen to him again. All I can do is find a way to let that little boy play without fear and without shame.

I am a Jedi unto myself. My cause is to protect and to give voice to those who have been silenced. As an adult I have really no fear about what I am doing, about sharing my story – it’s a way of having justice. But honestly, that child….

kindergarten pic…this child…..is terrified. This is why I am doing this – to give him strength – to take away his worries – to give him a safe place to play and to be heard. This is why I write. The force is strong within him. I know that. I can feel that. He is a survivor. He is my inner padawan. He is me.

Grade 4 and the end of 5 years of abuse

Her name was Mrs. Reed. She was my grade 4 teacher at the school in the town I call Hopeless. The school I attended from kindergarten through grade 4 was called The Blessed Virgin of the Bleeding Heart Elementary – well, that is the name I have now given the school. It was a private Catholic institution comprised of children from wealthy Catholic families, poor families, aboriginal children, and kids like myself – whose parents were trying to give them a better education.

Of course (as you can read in my very first blog post from 2011) I ended up being abused through my early education. Recently I stumbled across a picture I had torn and thrown away as a child. My mother had rescued it from the garbage and tucked it away. This picture (below) was the last photo I would have of myself from that school. We had been making our own bean bag frogs in class, and this picture signifies the fruits of our labour. It was shortly after this photo that my mother rescued me from that school. You see, in order to maintain discipline in her class, Mrs. Reed used a fowl mouth and her trusty electric tea kettle. All too early I learned that if you were late, or the last on in class, you may succumb to her mastery of the kettle cord whip. Now this cord was not like a modern teak kettle cord. The prong was not a small plastc or rubberized bit. This kettle cord was made of bakelite. It was hard, solid and very big. We would have to line up to enter and leave class, and if you were slow enough to be the last one in the door, then you were at her peril. Very quickly the faster, leaner boys would rush inside, leaving the slower fatter children to be at the end. I was the shortest and the fattest child. According to Mrs. Reed, I was a disgrace to God and to the school, and as such she took no mercy in striking my abomination of a body with her cord. We wore long pants and long sleeved shirts in school (for the most part), so the marks from her endeavours went unnoticed for a long time. I learned to live with the welts on my arms, legs, back, stomach – everywhere her improvised whip could strike. She took great pride in her prowess – and she was above us all, administering punishment for being slow. My mother eventually discovered my welts and immediately removed me from that school. Because she was not a priest, I was confident that my family would not be harmed by God and that I could tell on her. It would be many years before I would come forward about the abuse by priests – and even then, as an adult, a small part of me worried that my confession would lead to destruction of my family – after all, I was an abomination and a disgrace to God. My abusers had been able to keep me silent as a child, but now as an adult it is my directive to spread the word of abuse, abusers and healing in hopes to bring about a world where abuse towards children are only read about as a part of history and not as acts performed in secrecy as soul crushing murder. My motto is my creed – maxima debetur puero reverentia – We owe the greatest respect to the child. May the Force be with you.

grade 4 frogsblur

Reflections on a town called Hopeless….

In my personal story of abuse I have given a new name to the town where I grew up and where the abuse occurred. I call it Hopeless. Hopeless, at least to me, is a fitting name for this place. The winters there are harsh and the summers hot. At least they used to be – before the effects of global warming changed weather patterns all over.

My father was a trapper, a soldier, a pilot, a welder – pretty much in that order. He made my playhouse for me – by hand and without the use of power saws or nails. He built me my own playhouse – a real log cabin. I loved watching him build it – Skinning the logs himself, building the door – he didn’t bother to use instructions, or buy a kit – he was a man who could use his head and his hands. Many years later the cabin still stands – I took this in April of this year….

trapper john

This cabin became my refuge – my safe place – inside it was my version of the Millennium Falcon. It was just some blue shag carpet and two chairs – but it was mine. Inside that cabin I became who I wanted to be – escaping into my mind with the aid of the Star War films this little cabin became the cockpit of the Falcon, numerous X-Wings, the command centre on Hoth, and at times even the bridge of Star Destroyers. Sometimes I invited a friend in – but more often than not this was my place – my scared space. Inside this little cabin is where my healing really began.

In contrast to this safe space is the ominous church where the atrocities committed against me were perpetuated. This picture was taken in April of this year – on the same day I took the one of my little cabin….

hopeless school

I am sure for many this is a happy place – a place of solemn reflection, a place to celebrate births, baptisms, marriages and a place to honor the dead. To me this was a place that murdered souls – a place where people could abuse and twist their power into evil deeds – a place where parents gave over their children willingly for spiritual and intellectual education without knowing what was exactly going on. It was my institution of incarceration, my anguish and my hell. I was so happy to be freed from this place. Since then I have had to spend most of my life yearning to be a kid – to have no fears, to be free to play. It is amazing how we take our basic liberties and experiences for granted. I am an adult now, yet I still wish those years of my abuse (from kindergarten to grade 4) were mine to be free to play. Instead those years were dedicated to me attempting to not be seen, to eat to excess to make my body undesirable. I blamed myself for many years after the abuse – I still have yet to keep many close friends – it is hard to trust when your childhood has been shattered through physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse. I had been told that God would destroy my family if I ever was to reveal what had happened. I was forced into silence and made to feel that I was the one responsible for the abuse. It was inside my little log cabin, the Trapper John, that I could reflect deeply on what had happened and find a way to cope – that way was Star Wars. It became my early therapy and I will always hold the original trilogy close to my heart. The Force is strong in me. May the Force be with you.

My correspondence from Justin Trudeau, Stephen Harper and Christy Clark….

Last month I sent out a letter to various government officials at the provincial and federal levels. The main body of the letter read as follows:

DEAR…..

I have been following the news about the reports of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and I felt it was important for me to address an issue that I believe was not covered by any of the reports. What happened to the abusers when the residential schools were disbanded in the late 1960’s? This question appears to be beyond the scope of the TRC.

I know what happened. The abusers – many of them priests and teachers of the residential schools – either returned to their home countries, or were dispersed to other private schools or parishes across North America. The problem of abuse did not end when the schools were disbanded, yet it appears that this issue is largely ignored in Canada.

I endured severe physical and sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests who were in charge of my education at a private Catholic school in British Columbia from 1973 through 1977. The instructors were shuffled around the continent to continue their terror attacks on children even after the residential schools had been closed some years before. Though I am not a residential school survivor, I am a survivor of abuse that still haunts me. I would like to see that there is some regard for all children who endured abuse at the hands of those who have hid behind their religion in order to destroy the countless small souls who were victims to these monsters.

I am enclosing copies of the court documents, research paper and playscript. ….. I have made it my intention to continue to speak out about child abuse in all forms. When I was completing my PhD I wrote a research paper on the effects of religious based child abuse on survivors and have just finished writing a play about the abuse I endured in hopes that it will help in breaking the silence for victims and families of abuse survivors. The subject matter is not light, but it is important to continue the dialogue of abuse and recovery for all people in Canada.

Should you have any questions or comments, I would be most appreciative.

Sincerely,

These letters (along with booklets containing my original court case documents, research paper, and recent version of my solo story) went out to approximately twenty different organizations and individuals across Canada. To date I have received three replies….one from the office of the Prime Minister, one from the office of Justin Trudeau, and one from Premier Christy Clark.

Harper’s and Trudeau’s letters are what you would expect from politicians. Harper’s was written by an assistant on behalf of the Prime Minister and it is short and succinct – I am thanked for sending in correspondance regarding “Indian Residential Schools (sic)….” and I am assured that they have sent on this information to the Honorable Bernard Valcourt – Minister of Aboriginal Affairs for “his consideration”. Trudeau’s assistant makes an even shorter reply that is more generic – again writing on behalf of Justin Trudeau, she acknowledges receipt of the letter and states that the “document” will be brought to the attention of an Ottawa policy team.

These are pretty much what you may expect from politicians on the verge of a looming election. However, The letter from Premier Christy Clark was written and signed by her directly (at least the letter is in the first person and signed by her). She thanks me for sending in my letter and background information and states that the abuse within the Catholic school system was “certainly a dark time in our history and remains very difficult to comprehend”. She further takes the liberty to commend me for the work I am undertaking to no longer supress my experiences and memories, and even quotes my play directly. Despite what people may want to say about our leaders, this letter seemed to be sent with a sense of compassion and an attempt at understanding the challenges victims continue to face.

Though this post may seem political in scope, I want to state that I am sharing the information of what I have received openly. I found it interesting that of the several letters I have sent out, only three contacts have replied. I am thankful for any response that is sent to me – but the BC Premier’s letter had more heart than the other two received. At some level, it is nice to see a letter from a politician that is not carefully crafted to make a safe political reply.