11/18/2015 03:56 EST | Updated 11/18/2016 05:12 EST

Finding Your Way Back From Sexual Violence

Alexander Chernyakov via Getty Images

I'm going to tell you a story today, and sadly it is a story that plays out time and time again, not only in this community, but also across the country and around the world. In order for me to tell you this story, I'm going to ask you to imagine that each of you is holding a plain white envelope in your hand, and inside this envelope you will find three photographs -- simple snapshots taken at three various points throughout a lifetime.

As you hold each picture in your hand, you will make assumptions. You will attempt to make sense out of what you see before you, but I ask one thing, and only one thing of you -- reserve that opinion until you have seen each of the pictures... until you have the whole story.

I'd like you to reach into that envelope and take out that first photo. It's a picture of me taken almost 19 years ago. It's a picture taken early one morning after my wife has left to drop our son off at the daycare on her way to work. It's a picture of me sitting on the edge of our bed, my head in my hands, and my heart nowhere to be seen. I am absolutely lost, and feel so achingly alone. There is only one thought going through my mind -- should I leave a note, and if I do, what should I say?

Ten minutes later I rode the escalator down into the bowels of the subway, everything felt like I was in a dream -- walking underwater. Standing on the edge of the platform, I could feel the breeze of the still unseen train pushing its way through the tunnel. As I leaned forward, I felt nothing. I was nothing.

The next thing I remember is looking up at a group of people looking down at me as I lay on the subway platform. I shouldn't be here today -- but I am.

So, what was I doing sitting on the edge of the bed that morning before standing on the edge of that subway platform?

I don't believe I was born a drug addict, or an alcoholic, but I certainly became one. The shitty thing about being an addict is that it literally takes a lifetime to realize you can never get enough of something that almost works.

There was a time when the drugs and the alcohol worked magic for me. They allowed me to numb out everything inside me, and everyone around me. They kept me safe. The kept me insulated... but eventually, they only kept me sick. My alcoholism had descended to such a point, that it had become the rocket fuel of my depression.

Before I knew it, I was under so much medication not only could I not feel my body, but I couldn't feel anything. I walked around in a lithium fog, and I escaped deeper and deeper into my alcoholism -- except now, it no longer gave me any reprieve from the ache that I couldn't quiet inside.

Forget everything you thought you knew about addiction and depression, and instead... I ask that you again reach into that envelope and take out the second photograph. You can see by the discoloration and worn edges that this is a photograph taken quite some time ago.

It's a picture of me at the age of 12. Again, you will see that I am sitting on the edge of a bed late one afternoon, but this time on the floor by my feet are the clothes I have ripped off my body. They lay on the floor soiled and covered with mud. But what you can't see is how soiled I feel inside.

I have just come home to an empty house. I have just come home from a deserted ravine not far from this house. I have just willed myself to stand up from the muddy ground in that musty, dark ravine. I have just had my life forever changed in that ravine. I have just been violently raped by two older boys in that ravine.

I sat on that bed trying to make sense of the senseless... trying to find my way back to myself, but all the familiar landmarks were gone, erased. What is a child supposed to do with such adult emotions? How is a child supposed to sleep at night knowing that his world has been forever shifted, a part of him forever lost?

I need you to take another deep breath, but this time, I want you to hold onto that breath a lit bit longer, and I want you to keep that image in your mind of that little boy sitting on the edge of that bed, all alone in that empty house. And as you are holding that image in your mind, I want you to think about this same story touching the lives of 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys on your street, and in your city, and all across the country.

Now, reach into the envelope and take out the final photograph. It's a photo taken of me one month ago, and this time, you'll notice that I'm not alone in the picture. Standing, with her arms wrapped around me is Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.


In the hours leading up to this photo I had run 84.4 km through the cold, dark streets of Toronto, and now I had another 42.2 km left to go. I decided to run the Toronto Waterfront Marathon three times, that's 126.6 km, to raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual violence in our communities and to demonstrate the incredible resilience each of us has deep inside, waiting for us until we need it most.

The Premier and I were also running to raise awareness of the government's #ItsNeverOkay campaign. It is a campaign that reminds us that each of us has a role to play in standing up and speaking out against sexual violence and harassment wherever and whenever we see it.

Now that you have all three photographs in front of you, I want you to see the 'real' me -- a man who has been running his entire life, a man who has travelled so far, only to come back to himself. My name is Jean-Paul, and I am a survivor of sexual violence, but I am so much more than that. I am a husband. I am a father. I am a writer. I am an elite athlete. I am an advocate for survivors all around the world.

I am here to tell you that YOU can make a difference. If you see something, SAY something. If you feel something, BE something. Be that person who reaches out and holds onto someone who is lost, someone who is suffering.

We've all travelled through adversity and it's inevitable that more lies ahead of us. And if you are struggling, try to remember that as a pearl is borne of time and irritation, so too is the beauty we all have waiting to be brought forth into this world.