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Being There For Our Children After Sexual Abuse

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I'm turning 50 in a few weeks, and for the first time in my life, I find myself reflecting more on how far I've come rather than on projecting what the future may have in store. I'm reminded of a poem by the Mumbai-based poet and writer Sanober Khan, and I can't help but be deeply moved by her beautiful, yet utterly haunting words.

"The splendid thing
about falling apart
silently...
is that
you can start over
as many times
as you like."

I am fortunate to have reached a level of success both personally and professionally, yet surprisingly, the one thing which has had the most significant impact on the trajectory my life has taken has little to do with something I did, and everything to do with something that happened to me.

I am the survivor of both childhood sexual abuse and a violent rape. And sadly, that in of itself is an all too common occurrence here in Canada. In fact, one in three girls and one in six boys are survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The statistics truly are sobering and frightening, but it is not until we look at the lives and faces behind those numbers, that we begin to see the ripple effect that childhood trauma has within a family and across a community. Even more alarming is the aftershock of that trauma that continues to reverberate throughout a survivor's lifetime.

If childhood trauma teaches us anything, it most certainly attests to the sheer resiliency of children. When I speak of resiliency, I'm not limiting my definition to an inner strength or fortitude to withstand trauma, but instead to a broader scope of resilience that encompasses a variety of coping mechanisms that I and other children draw on to 'make sense of the senseless', and to find the will to carry on in the midst of unimaginable confusion, violence, and turmoil.

But herein lies the problem -- those same self-protecting coping mechanism essential to weathering childhood trauma gradually morph into self-destructive behaviours that derail many survivors as they enter adolescence and adulthood. For instance in my own case, my ability to distance myself and disassociate protected me as a child; however, in later years, led to chronic drug and alcohol addiction, not to mention a long line of fractured relationships.

Please don't get wrong... by no means do I intend for this to be some sad tale of woe or years lost. In fact, I've come to believe that when we begin to process our trauma with the help of a therapist or psychiatrist, we open ourselves up to interpreting this trauma as somewhat of a 'gift' we never asked for, yet a gift nonetheless.

That being said, looking back on my childhood through the eyes of wisdom and years, I think the most heart wrenching part of it all is how invisible I felt as a child and how easy it was for my mind to so subtly transform pain into shame. How does a child even begin to process such adult emotions? Not much has changed for kids like me in the past 35 years, but there are a few sparks of hope seen in the action of advocates working tirelessly to engage the broader public in an uncomfortable dialogue we as community have been so reluctant to address.

The thing about childhood trauma is that if it is left untreated, undiagnosed, it continues to metastasize over a lifetime. I can only imagine the trajectory my life would have taken had there been both intervention and access to a treatment program like that offered at the Be Brave Ranch, located east of Edmonton, Alberta. Children admitted to the program are given free access to long term treatment for child sexual abuse, and receive over 200 hours of therapy offered both on site and off over the course of a year.

Still in its clinical trial phase working in conjunction with researchers from the University of Alberta, the Be Brave Ranch has demonstrated that children attending the program show significant improvements in symptoms of depression, self-esteem, healthy peer interactions, and to a lesser degree improvements in anxiety and PTSD.

Whenever I give a talk about my experience living as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I always say, "I am thankful for the life I have been given, but I wouldn't wish that life on any other child."

If you'd like to find out more about the Be Brave Ranch and the amazing impact their program is having on so many young lives, please visit: http://bebraveranch.littlewarriors.ca/

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