,

Suicide – Reach Out

It’s the eve of World Suicide Prevention Day 2015. I’ve lost three family members to suicide – one of whom had been sexually abused as a child – so I know how horrible it feels to loose a loved one by suicide. I want people to know that they are not alone. That there are people who understand and who will help you and that YES – you just need to hold on..one more moment…

I myself have sat perched on the edge, ready to end the nothingness that takes over when the feelings I have are too much to handle. The depth of sadness, shame, unrelenting panic attacks and complete hopelessness weigh me down to the point where I no longer feel. That complete absence of feeling is just as horrible as the days filled with pain. That moment of nothingness finds it’s way back to fear. Fear that I have gone to that place. Again. And again. And again. It seduces me.

I’m one of the lucky ones. There’s always been just the smallest flicker of a spark deep inside that’s kept me from succumbing to the darkness that I’ve sometimes craved. Perhaps some of it is having experienced first-hand the utter devastation of those left behind that has kept me hanging on. Hang on…one moment, one step, another moment…until the light shines again. Which it does. It always does. It ALWAYS does.

I know how it feels to think you are the only person who feels this way. I know how lonely that place is. I know how it feels to be misunderstood – to be shunned and bullied because you are ‘different’. I know how it feels to have embarrassing and false lies spread. I know how it feels to have to ‘act’ your way through a day…a week…a month… To go to work and have to use every ounce of strength to appear ‘normal’…to go to your car at lunchtime and sit there crying your eyes out – pounding on the seat, screaming into loud music…anything to get the ‘frantic’ out. I know what it’s like to feel dead inside. To do just about anything to FEEL something and then to numb yourself again because the feelings are just to painful.

It is this intimate knowledge that compels me to do this work. When children are sexually abused and do not get help, or do not tell, or tell and are not believed – the possibility of suicide is a very real consequence of that abuse. (Childhood sexual abuse is a strong predictor of suicide in adolescence according to this study published in May 2013.)

September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. Let’s each of us consider what we can do to help our fellow (wo)man to feel healthy, whole and accepted. Let’s consider how we might be able to protect children from sexual abuse and save them from the devastating consequences. Let’s consider how we react to another’s sadness or change in behaviour in the workplace. Will we stand by and judge without trying to understand what may be the cause? Or will we act with compassion? Will we lend a helping hand or will we assume they have the help they need? Is someone you know mourning the loss of a loved one to suicide? Honour the person who has died. They are more – so much more – than the manner in which they died.

Canada’s theme this year is ‘Preventing Suicide: Reaching Out and Saving Lives’. We encourage you to take some time and look at the Mental Health Commission of Canada website and learn more about the issue of suicide including a toolkit for those who are have lost a loved one to suicide.

You are NOT alone.

If you are in crisis – PLEASE call the nearest Distress/Crisis Centre. If you are in an emergency situation call 911.

Post written by Cynthia Bland, Founder of Voice Found.

,

Conspiracy of Hope

It’s often said that certain people come into your life for a reason. Sometimes you’re not sure why you’re so drawn to them, but you are, and you are forever grateful that you’ve met. For me, Suzanne Sagmeister is one such person.

October 8. 2011

October 8. 2011

5 years ago I started seeing photographs of people that were taking my breath away. Often these were engagement or wedding photos that were taken by professionals alike to kate Craig Brown Photography. The capture of personalities, the edgy and unique setting, the moods – really just everything about these photos spoke to me. When my eldest son announced he was getting married, I knew what my wedding gift would be. I contacted my future daughter-in-law, asked her to look at Suzanne’s work and on October 8, 2011 the wedding day was beautifully captured by Suzanne. Suzanne had taken beautiful photos of my son and daughter-in-law. He looked so handsome and my daughter-in-law looked gorgeous in her Winnie Couture dress, you can find a dress like hers on their website – Www.winniecouture.com/stores/wedding-dresses-charlotte-nc/. Getting a good photographer is so important for any wedding, you need to remember the whole day! Looking back on wedding pictures when you’re older is an amazing feeling, and keeping them as a keepsake is such a good idea.

Last year I discovered that Suzanne had started Conspiracy of Hope – a grassroots photographic movement to create conversation about suicide, inspire hope and save lives. I was drawn to the organization for so many reason – many of which she did not know about when she was in Ottawa to shoot my son’s wedding. She did not know there were survivors in attendance – people whose lives had been forever changed by the loss of loved ones to suicide. I believe she knew about the work I was doing with Voice Found but it was not a conversation we had during the course of wedding festivities. And we certainly never spoke about my personal struggles and the fact that child sexual abuse is a significant risk factor for suicidal behaviour.

Suzanne is now preparing to embark on a cross Canada tour to photograph survivors of suicide for a book to be titled ‘Life After Dark’. Called ‘Architects of Hope’, these survivors are people who have lost a loved one to suicide or have survived an attempt. When I learned of this project, I knew I needed to help in whatever way I could. After all, it is by talking and sharing that we can best help save lives. People need to know they are not alone and that suicide – like child sex abuse – is largely preventable.

My contribution to this project is serving as the Ambassador for Ontario. As such I am looking for people in the Thunder Bay and Ottawa areas who are interested in sharing their stories as ‘Architects of Hope’. If you are interested in participating, please contact me cynthia at voicefound.ca. Dates for ThunderBay are around June 23rd/24th and in Ottawa June 27th/28th.

Suzanne is a beautiful person embarking on a powerful journey. I know why we met – and I am forever grateful that we did. Down to earth, sincere, super creative and beautiful inside and out – I know you will love her as much as I do!

Contact me today if you would like to be a part of this book. Your story WILL save a life. Your courage will inspire others. Your pain will have purpose.

Take ACTION!

We can’t ‘wish’ child sexual abuse away. It’s up to each of us to DO something.

We’ve been delivering Stewards of Children, child sex abuse prevention training for over 5 years.
Why?
Quite simply, because it works.

In the fall of 2013 an updated curriculum was released and Voice Found was honoured to assist in ensuring that Canadian resources were referenced in the manual. (Oh – and the manual has Canadian spelling too! Nary an ‘eh’ to be seen but certainly words like neighbour are spelled correctly – no more neighbor). In addition, our facilitators are trained to provide Canadian context when delivering the program and we ensure that attendees receive a reference sheet specific to the city or town where the training is taking place.

Here are some of the key ways that Stewards of Children is the most comprehensive child sex abuse prevention training available:

  • Scientifically proven to change child protective behaviours, including multi-year studies.
  • The new curriculum was designed to be flexible to meet time constraints. Depending on the audience, we can deliver 2, 2.5 or 3 hour classes while ensuring that key concepts are understood.
  • FREE supplimental, online training modules available to you once you take the training. These include:
      1) Child Sexual Abuse and the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children
      2) Bystanders Protecting Children From Boundary Violations and Sexual Abuse
      3) Healthy Touch for Children and Youth
      4) Talking with Children about Safety from Sexual Abuse
  • Almost ONE MILLION people around the world have taken the training and committed to being ‘Stewards of Children’. When you take the training, you become a part of a community that is truly making a difference.
  • Hundreds of youth-serving organizations across Canada have hosted training for their staff, volunteers and members of the community to help reduce the risk of abuse to children in their care.
  • The training features real stories by real people. It’s effective, compelling and leaves you with a sense of hope and purpose.
So, what are YOU waiting for? Wishing it away won’t work.

Register for next public training here

Contact us today to arrange for a workshop.

Let’s Talk.

Bell Canada’s ‘Let’s Talk’ day has done much to break the silence around mental illness. Over the past few years there has been a LOT more talking about PTSD, suicide, depression, anxiety, panic and mood disorders. It used to be that mental health was shrouded in secrecy. It was not discussed. Yes, we still have a LONG way to go to overcome a lot of the stigma, but we have made great strides in the past few years, including the introduction of numerous herbal medications that can really help people to cope with the symptoms. For example, you can take a look at bud express now and find out about the products available to order online.

When I was a young girl, I was introduced to the topic via hushed tones. There was my paternal grandmother who was ‘not well’. It turns out she was schizophrenic. And then there was my father who had a ‘nervous breakdown’ and his brother, my uncle, who suffered from depression and ultimately took his life.

Sadly, I am intimately familiar with mental illness and the devastation of suicide having lost three family members to it. I know first hand how it feels to get that news and to wonder what more you might have seen, or done, that may have saved them. Weeks, months, years of wondering why…and knowing the answer but not being able to stop asking the question of yourself.

My own experience with mental illness continues to be a daily battle that is relatively well managed. Panic attacks started when I was 8. Depression is an unwelcome visitor. PTSD can hit at the most inopportune times and has wreaked havoc in a couple of professional settings. Suicidal thoughts have drifted through my consciousness with such intensity that they have almost seduced me into action.

I’ve had years where I was on so many pills to just get through the day that it is a wonder I got through the day.

When I disclosed my sexual abuse, I had already suffered from so many years of mental illness, addiction and self-hatred that I did not think it could possibly get any worse. I was certain that the disclosure of my abuse was the magic that would make me feel better. And certainly, people would want to talk about it and do something to help. After all- my frantic, messed-up life was finally making some sense. There was a reason for the suicidal thoughts…depression….panic…..substance abuse. I had finally made the connection – it was the trauma from my abuse that started when I was a 5 year old child.

I learned an unfortunate truth. Child sexual abuse, molestation and rape are such shame-filled concepts that society would prefer to keep them shrouded in secrecy. And yet it is the secrecy that allows the abuse to continue. The sexual predator is protected in this cloak of silence while children continue to be raped.
In addition, there seems to be a disconnect when an adult talks about the abuse they suffered as a child. Society sees the adult and not the child and compassion for that adult can be lacking. They see instead the addict, the prostituted, the homeless, the ‘troubled youth’, the mental illness….. and it makes them uncomfortable.

Want to see less suicide? Less depression? Fewer bullies? Less PTSD? Less strain on an already overtaxed mental health system?

Let’s keep talking

Let’s talk about childhood trauma. Let’s talk about compassion. Let’s talk about preventing abuse. Let’s talk about healing the inner child. Let’s talk about how we can support adult survivors. And please……

Let’s take ACTION

Post written by Cynthia Bland, Founder of Voice Found. You can read more about Cynthia’s story on Kickass Canadians.

,

Iqaluit March 2015

March 2015, Voice Found returns to Iqaluit to deliver Stewards of Children, child sex abuse prevention training. This training will be delivered in partnership with Embrace Life Council as part of their suicide prevention strategy. Along with this important training, we are looking to provide the community with ‘Words of Courage‘. This initiative features survivors of suicide, drug and alcohol addiction and sex abuse sharing stories to inspire and support others who are struggling. We want all Canadians to know that they are not alone and that child sex abuse runs rampant in every society, across all geographies and social/economic classes. Delivering education, engaging in dialogue and sharing stories help those who are struggling to know that there is help and hope.

We have funding for one person and are looking for your help so that we can bring two other facilitators and speakers with us.These are all volunteers and so money raised will go directly to travel, living expenses and printed material. Additional team members will allow us to meet with more people as we begin development of customized training that will address issues in the community related to human trafficking and the sexual abuse of children.

Donations can be made by clicking on this link.

About Embrace Life Council:
The Isaksimagit Inuusirmi Katujjiqatigiit Embrace Life Council (IIK) was established in January 2004 as a result of partnership efforts between the Government of Nunavut, Nunavut Tungavik Incorporated, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and many others. Efforts to create the Council began in 2003 with the recognition that there needed to be a coordinated initiative in addressing the high suicide rates in Nunavut.

embrace life
The symbols in the logo are meant to convey the concept of reaching out and finding your circle of support. The story behind the message is, “You are not alone; the circle of support is there for you. Reach out and find your circle of support: friends, family, co-workers and the spirituality that comes from within. Let the sun and the beat of the drum guide you to embrace life.”

Words of Courage – Inaugural Event

Being a survivor of child sex abuse can be a very lonely, scary and misunderstood place. I remember when I first disclosed my abuse how frantic I felt. It was like a massive, ugly, horrible power was trying to consume me. I felt like I would never again get to a place of ‘okay’ let alone be anything near ‘thriving’. Mostly, I felt a need to talk and share. There was so much that I was learning including the fact that I was FAR from alone. The many fragmented pieces of myself were finally starting to come together as I learned the why of my addictions, my mental illness, my failed relationships, my failure to thrive, my shame and my desire to die. In my small recovery group, I met others who understood. I found my voice. Eventually, I shared it with a larger audience so that they too could learn. Still, I felt shame. Few really wanted to listen. Few understood how important it was for me to be heard. Few understood that I was still that little girl hurting so terribly. They saw a grown woman who really ‘should’ just ‘get over it’ and be ‘okay’. I dreamt of a time when survivors of child sex abuse could speak to others and share in meaningful dialogue. Not just the celebrity voice – but the every person voice.

The inaugural Voice Found, Words of Courage event was the realization of that dream come true. Three courageous survivors of child sex abuse shared the stage and engaged in thoughtful dialogue that surpassed even my wildest dreams. The audience was completely engaged and moved by what they heard. They heard insightful and honest conversation rather than a series of ‘sensationalized media stories’. Not a single person left that evening without an appreciation for the lasting devastation that child sex abuse has on survivors and those who surround them.

We learned about the different types of abuse and how it is rarely a stranger. We gained insight into the reasons children (and adults) don’t disclose. There were lessons on the impact abuse has on marriage and relationships and how families don’t always rally around the victim to help support them. There was discussion on mental health, suicide, substance abuse, anger and pain. Incredible, raw and unrelenting pain that does not magically disappear at the moment of disclosure. We heard about the ongoing impact and the significant work that goes into recovery.

There was magic in that room. We witnessed strength and saw what courage looks like. Every day people who don’t want anyone to feel sorry for them. In fact, just the opposite. They feel they have been given a gift in their recovery. The desire – the overarching theme – was for people to speak out. Engage in conversation. Talk with and about survivors of sex abuse just as you would talk about someone who survived a car crash or a debilitating disease. Help remove the stigma and silence that surrounds the issue of child sex abuse.

Sincere gratitude and thanks to Jean-Paul Bedard, Carrie Ann Kent and Matthew Sandusky for sharing their stories so selflessly. I understand it comes at a personal cost emotionally. I understand also that we do this because we know that we can not be silent. We must use our pain and our stories and our experience to help others. Whether a survivor, partner, friend, family member, colleague, neighbour or acquaintance of a survivor – we all have so much to learn and we can all do so much to help. Given the statistics, we all know someone.

Together we are stronger.
No longer silent.

Media Coverage of event

CBC news

Rogers Daytime Host Chat with Derick Fage

CBC Radio Interview with Matt Sandusky

thank you

No Longer Silent! Hear us ROAR!

May 23rd, 2014 is a day we will never forget! The first annual Elsie McGraw Memorial Walk was held in Saint
John, NB and by all accounts it was a resounding success.

Walking to support survivors of child sexual abuse.

Walking to support survivors of child sexual abuse.

The walk brought together survivors of child sexual abuse and supporters who refuse to be silent and live in shame. We made noise. A LOT of noise. A sea of red shirts marched through downtown wearing signs proclaiming ‘end the silence’, ‘you are not alone’, no shame, and stating ‘1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused’. There were some speeches, a live band and a great bbq to enjoy at the end of the walk. The event was attended by both males and females and included all ages. It was simply remarkable to see the support and solidarity. Compassion, laughter, pride and an overwhelming sense of community were present. It was amazing.

There is more to the story that what you can see in a picture and the back story demonstrates what happens when people make a choice to do something positive. The event was truly a community and grass-roots effort. No famous celebrities or major corporate sponsors. This was born of a desire to honour a woman in the community who had worked tirelessly to support survivors. Elsie McGraw also understood the need for education. She knew that educating adults in the community is one of the best ways to protect children and to respond appropriately to those who disclose. Elsie wanted Voice Found to come to Saint John to train facilitators in the community. Sadly, Elsie passed away before she could see this dream come true but her presence was felt that day. She would have been over the moon excited by the turnout at the walk – and the fact that we trained volunteer facilitators the next day.

ROAR to end the silence!

ROAR to end the silence!

The other part of the story revolves around a young woman by the name of Jessie. Jessie is a survivor and has chosen to speak out and help others. And help she has! She launched Project Roar to raise awareness and funds that went towards getting us to Saint John to deliver the training. She also spoke to three groups of high school students that day…and then walked. Her energy and passion for making a positive difference was evident. She has adopted ‘Roar’ by Katy Perry as her theme song. ROAR is what she did and does…..and a whole lot of ROARs were heard that day!

Our thanks to the community for opening their hearts and minds and arms and welcoming us. Shout out to the Honorable Dorothy Shephard for her support and to the dedicated and passionate volunteers of Voice Found Saint John!

,

Consequences

A small team of students from the Interactive Multi-Media class at Algonquin College in Ottawa worked with us to develop a powerful video called ‘Consequences’.
We are so proud of the children who volunteered to appear in this video and their parents who understand the importance of this message.

Mental Health and Child Sexual Abuse- This is my truth

Bell Canada’s ‘Let’s Talk’ day has done much to break the silence around mental illness. Over the past few years there has been a LOT more talking about PTSD, suicide, depression, anxiety, panic and mood disorders. It used to be that mental health was shrouded in secrecy. It was not discussed. Yes, we still have a LONG way to go to overcome a lot of the stigma but we have made great strides in the past few years.

When I was a young girl, I was introduced to the topic via hushed tones. There was my paternal grandmother who was ‘not well’. It turns out she was schizophrenic. And then there was my father who had a ‘nervous breakdown’ and his brother, my uncle, who suffered from depression and ultimately committed suicide.

Sadly, I am intimately familiar with mental illness and the devastation of suicide having lost three family members to it. I know first hand how it feels to get that news and to wonder what more you might have seen, or done, that may have saved them. Weeks, months, years of wondering why…and knowing the answer but not being able to stop asking the question of yourself.

My own experience with mental illness continues to be a daily battle that is relatively well managed. Panic attacks started when I was 8. Depression is an unwelcome visitor. PTSD can hit at the most inopportune times and has wreaked havoc in a couple of professional settings. Suicidal thoughts have drifted through my consciousness with such intensity that they have almost seduced me into action.

I’ve had years where I was on so many pills to just get through the day that it is a wonder I got through the day.

When I disclosed my sexual abuse, I had already suffered from so many years of mental illness, addiction and self-hatred that I did not think it could possibly get any worse. I was certain that the disclosure of my abuse was the magic that would make me feel better. And certainly, people would want to talk about it and do something to help. After all- my crazy, messed-up life was finally making some sense. There was a reason for the suicidal thoughts…depression….panic…..substance abuse. I had finally made the connection – it was the trauma from my abuse as a 5 year old child that had been at the root of the many f**ked up things I experienced.

I learned an unfortunate truth. Child sexual abuse, molestation and rape are such shame-filled concepts that society would prefer to keep them shrouded in secrecy. And yet it is the secrecy that allows the abuse to continue. The sexual predator is protected in this cloak of silence while children continue to be raped.

Want to see less suicide? Less depression? Fewer bullies? Less PTSD? Less strain on an already overtaxed mental health system?

Let’s talk about the root cause.

Let’s talk about preventing child sexual abuse

You are a Gift

We are all precious gifts to the world. Together we learn and we teach.

“While it may be tempting to focus on how awful it is to be abused, it’s important to not lose sight of the reality that survivors are full human beings with many gifts and talents to offer the world. Some of the most sensitive, intuitive, deep, profound, creative, and hopeful people I’ve known are incest/child sexual abuse survivors. They were able to be that way by not losing touch with their humanity–their soulfulness–in the face of others’ inhumanity. We can all learn a great deal from survivors.”

Kali Munro, M.Ed.