When a particular trauma becomes the largest thing in your life, what you need is a bigger life.
However, it’s tempting sometimes to cite traumatic experiences in your past as some sort of excuse for running away from your problems in the present.
There’s a spectacular non-profit that I’ve chosen to highlight today, and in a few paragraphs I’m going to introduce you to someone for whom I have a lot of respect. This man isn’t running away from ANYTHING.
I have re-posted his story in its entirety, and it’s worth reading to the end. What I want to stress here is that, regardless of what has been taken from you, there exists one thing that can never leave you. It is the last of human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
The non-profit is called “A Voice For The Innocent”. It’s a community of support for those affected by rape and sexual abuse. It is a safe, anonymous space for sharing stories and fostering strong relationships between people who have had similar experiences.
I’m going to let Jamie tell you his story, and the story of his organization, and then I’m going to wrap things up with a few thoughts of my own, as well as provide some links where you can learn more about how to get involved.
So, with no further rambling from me, here’s Jamie:
My name is Jamie Sivrais. I am a 32 year old male, and I am a sexual abuse victim. I don’t tell you this for pity. I don’t say this so that I can get some charity or attention for it. And I certainly don’t mention it so I can gain some sort of clout or admiration for having been through something like that. I mention it because it is crucial knowledge for this journey. In my late elementary/early middle school years, I was sexually abused by my father. It lasted around 3 years. It included the viewing of pornographic magazines and movies, personal and mutual masturbation, and eventually even turned into my father performing oral sex on me. Most people who know me on even a semi-personal level know this about me. But allow me to back up.
My mother and father were never married. When I was a very young child of 2 or 3 years of age, they lost touch. When I was around 7 or 8 years old, my grandma ran into my father at a convenience store. Imagine my surprise and excitement as a young boy who had often asked his mother the whereabouts of his father. The arrangements were made. I’d start going over to his place one weekend night a month. Over time, this turned into a weekend a month, and then the familiar arrangement that so many children of separated parents know – I stayed there every other weekend. Over the years of me starting going there, I got to know my stepmother and my siblings. I established real, meaningful, and lasting relationships with people whom I had no idea existed before being reintroduced to my father.
I remember when my father started working for the Cincinnati Enquirer. I’d go with him on to the job most nights that I was there. We’d wake up around 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, go stuff papers, and then go deliver them, returning home around 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning. This is when it all happened. While the rest of the house was asleep, 10 year old me was introduced to sex, pornography, and what would turn into a dirty secret that I didn’t know how to share with anyone.
There’s a certain give and take with parents and children. Everyone who had a steady parent learned how to say ‘no’ to them. I certainly remember crossing the line several times with my mom, because I knew how to push back. There’s a natural quest for kids to search for boundaries, and I remember very well telling my mom that I wasn’t ready to turn off the television. I wasn’t ready to put away the Nintendo. I didn’t want to come in and go to bed. Most of the time, we call this talking back, but I think it’s more than that. It’s a sign of comfort. I know that, because I never had that with my father. I never knew how to tell him ‘no’. If he said I wasn’t watching TV, that was that. I didn’t even know how to counter his rules…I certainly didn’t know how to say no to his abuse. And to be honest, I didn’t even realize I was suffering from sexual abuse. I didn’t think it was right or wrong…I just didn’t think about it objectively at all. It wasn’t until I worked up the courage to tell my mom what was happening and she said the words “sexual abuse” that I realized what had been happening for 3 years.
I’ve been through this. I have had my struggles along the way, but the fact of the matter is despite the horrific events I’ve been through, it’s not nearly as bad as many people have dealt and are currently dealing with right now. The difference between me and so many people is that I had an amazing best friend I knew I could always talk to. I always had a mom who was there for me and supportive of me more than any other parent’s I’ve ever witnessed. The most disgusting thing about everything to me is the thought that the people out there who are suffering what I suffered and worse have no one to talk to. I’ve shared my story with so many people who have in turn told me their story and then said that I was the first person they’ve ever told. I can’t imagine just walking around with these events playing over and over in my head…searching for any way out, but being repressed because I was too ashamed to tell. Too afraid to feel dirty. Too caring to get someone in trouble.
This needs to stop. I wanted a place for people to go if they felt like the couldn’t tell friends of family. There still needed to be an outlet for stories. So I gathered some close friends, and we created A Voice For The Innocent. We are a community of support for people who are affected by rape and sex abuse. We have a site where people can anonymously tell their stories to a community of people who will understand and support them. We have a growing list of resources and are able to connect people with help in their area if needed. We do local events all throughout the year in order to take the conversation regarding sexual violence to places it may not be happening. This is why you might see us set up at a show, or at a parade, festival, or comic convention. We try and reach people where they are. And now, we have partnered with Warped Tour and will be on every date this coming summer to make our services available to the over half a million people who attend each year. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men are directly affected by sex abuse or rape. Apply that to the number of men and women you personally know. So many more people than we realize have a story they carry around. Hopefully now they also have another place they can tell it.
I don’t want to cheapen his story by calling him something cliche like a “hero” but if he’s not a hero, I don’t know who is. Jamie may not even consider himself a hero, but I sure as hell do, and I feel stronger just knowing that there are people out there like him who aren’t just letting these things happen without raising their voices to the perpetrators.
As mentioned above, I have some thoughts. Actually, a lot of thoughts. Here are just a few:
#1: Nobody has it all together
If you’re being abused, it’s so easy to think that no one else struggles; that no one else is fighting the same internal battle as you are; that everyone has it all together. Well let me shatter THAT illusion. It’s the plain truth that everyone is making this up as we go along. And we need each other’s help. The moment you realize that there is no real, lasting security anywhere, then you are free. But we can support each other and show some human solidarity along the way.
#2: Life is too huge for you to possibly hate it
This brings me back to what I said in the introduction. If negativity is the largest part of your life, then you need a bigger life.
Because of the structure of your brain, the number of possible thoughts that you can have is greater than the total number of molecules in the known universe.
Not only that, but 96% of the universe is something that physicists refer to as “dark matter” and “dark energy”, and they still have NO IDEA what that is! Hundreds of billions of galaxies and stars make up only 4% of our universe. Life is way bigger than anything someone else can do to you. You can be bigger too.
#3: Harder is just harder, that’s all
Is it “easy” to recover from sexual trauma and abuse? Absolutely not! Nothing that Jamie is doing could be called “easy” and yet he’s still out there doing it. Because it’s valuable. It’s necessary.
Sure, it’s hard. Harder than most anything that other people do all day. But harder is just harder. Harder will never come to mean “impossible”. We need people like Jamie to take the impossible and reduce it to simply “harder”.
#4: Denial of painful events in the past also give them power over you as well
Sadly, there are people who could be helped by organizations like A Voice For The Innocent, who will never reach out to them for help. They’re stuck in denial about what’s happened to them, and they’re not ready to accept the help that they need.
But understand this: when you actively suppress your personal history, you are giving up your personal power. Transmutation of that trauma into something meaningful is incredibly worthwhile, but you need to take the first step. And for those of us with no history of sexual abuse in our pasts, we need to make ourselves available to those who want to reach out to us for help. Then, we’ll be able to take back some of our power.
#5: No one has the right to do wrong, not even if wrong has been done to them
It would be so easy for someone like Jamie to take revenge on his father for what his father did to him. No doubt, that sort of violence happens all the time all over the world. But you’re not “them”. You can make free choices, and the choice to forgive, and to direct your energy and efforts into worthwhile and meaningful pursuits is what will make the difference in your life.
#6: Man does not simply exist, but also decides what he will become in the next moment
Viktor Frankl lived for 3 years in 4 different concentration camps in the second world war. Like Jamie, he’s a survivor. In his magnificent book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, he says, “A meaningful life can and should include all of your sufferings”.
We each have a history, but our futures remain largely up to us. The last of the human freedoms is to choose your attitude in any given situation, to choose one’s own way. We can take what has happened to us, and decide what we will become. This is the greatest power available to us.
#7: Nature doesn’t create storms that never end
Have you heard of the “It Gets Better Project”? It’s mission is to communicate to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth around the world that it gets better, and to create and inspire the changes needed to make it better for them.
Well just like with their struggles for equality and freedom, nature doesn’t create storms that never end. Each storm passes, and we can pick up where we left off. Nothing is permanent, and everything changes. What your life looks like now doesn’t have to be what it looks like tomorrow.
#8: We are all the same people, just in different places
The sum total of human strength astonishes me sometimes. Another spectacular book is called “Shakespeare Saved My Life”, by Laura Bates. She worked personally with high-risk prison inmates and taught them to appreciate Shakespeare. I know, easy. Right? Yet another survivor I want to tell you about is a man named Larry Newton. He’s the subject of Laura’s book.
When they met, Larry had been in solitary for 10 years, serving a life sentence for a murder he committed at age 17. The history of abuse in his life is mind-numbing as well. At his trial, when his attorneys were trying to mitigate his guilt by describing his mother’s neglect, Larry sat crouched in the courtroom with his fingers in his ears. The first thing Larry ever stole was money out of his mother’s purse, which he used to buy a teddy bear. Obviously, things then got worse.
Larry’s struggles are Jamie’s struggles, and their struggles are Frankl’s as well. We are dealing with the same things, we are all moving in the same direction, and we’re more alike than we are different. Our reactions and responses are what separate us and define the courses of our lives.
#9: Listen attentively to your inner voice and be fiercely and unapologetically yourself
My closing thoughts come from the book, “Siddhartha”, by Herman Hesse. I will never let anyone else dictate to me what my own life is going to be about. Likewise, Jamie hasn’t let his father’s abuse define who he is. There is more to him than that. You can look outside for validation and support from others for your own ideas and hope that they are “acceptable”, but that is not the path to true freedom.
Most of the problems of the world are due to mankind’s inability to sit in a room alone, in silence, and think. Get comfortable with yourself, because you’re hopefully going to be together for a very long time. Look inward for validation and worthiness. Take a lesson from Erich Fromm and develop the courage to say “I am what I am.”
You can find more information about A Voice For The Innocent online at avfti.org. There, you can share a story, respond to stories, find resources, or just learn more about their organization. If someone is interested in being involved, they have a growing team of amazing volunteers from all over the country.
They do a huge variety or projects from writing, working events, research and more. They are very flexible with volunteers’ time commitments, and cater to the interests of the volunteer to help them contribute in a way that is fun, interesting, and fulfilling for them. To fill out a volunteer application, click the Get Involved link on their website.
Victims of rape and sexual abuse have a voice. We make sure people listen.
Stories have power. By externalizing your story, you are claiming ownership of your power to determine the course of your life. Your experience does NOT have to define who you are. You can’t change what happened to you, but you can control how you react. Sexual assault is about power. Its about an attacker’s attempt to assert their power over another human being. By taking ownership of your story, you are taking the first step in taking that power back from the person who tried to steal it from you. Tell your story.
People ask us all the time how they can get involved with our cause, and there are many ways we can use your help.
Make a donation today to A Voice For The Innocent. Don’t let the voices of victims fall on deaf ears.
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Matt Karamazov is a human rights activist, boxer, and writer who reads 200 books per year and throws 300 punches per minute. His website, Godlike Discipline, is dedicated to raising money for causes like Doctors Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch, among others. It’s also dedicated to helping people tackle their biggest willpower challenges. He also like death metal, and so, consequently doesn’t get many second dates. Here he is on a horse.