Séan McCann: A Journey of Healing as a Survivor of Sexual Abuse

Recent Order of Canada recipient Séan McCann is perhaps best known for singing and playing energetic rock melodies inspired by traditional Newfoundland folk songs in the band, Great Big Sea. Between 1996 to 2015, the band played on big stages in Canada and around the world as they collected a long list of awards and accolades.

On August 27th, Séan was gracious enough to perform and speak at the social-distanced/virtual campfire event we held to celebrate the launch of the Strength Found program. He took the stage to perform some of his original songs, tell his story and impart words of wisdom for survivors and supporters alike.

Even though he’s found tremendous success with his former bandmates and solo projects, it is perhaps Séan’s ability to overcome adversity and inspire others that deserve the greatest praise. At the event, attendees learned that behind all the bright lights and success, he was fighting demons that no one, not even those closest to him, could’ve imagined he had.

A Secret Can Kill You

A proud Newfoundlander, Séan was born into a close-knit family of devout Catholics. He went to church every Sunday with his family, did well in school and played hockey. His life up until that point was a happy and ordinary one, but that changed when a new priest arrived in his parish when he was 15.

This priest was different from all the other priest’s everyone was used to – he was a charismatic young man who knew how to captivate his audience with this gift of oration. It didn’t take long for his popularity to rise and as a result, attendance at mass increased.

The priest quickly befriended Sean and his family. Within just a few months, he was joining the family for dinners and even had his own key to their house.

After about a year, the priest invited Séan to join him in Rome on a pilgrimage to meet the pope. It’s not hard to imagine how incredibly exciting this opportunity was for Séan and his family.

While the priest did indeed introduce Séan to the pope in Rome, he also immediately introduced him to alcohol and cigarettes. It was on that trip that the priest began to sexually abuse Séan.

Sadly, victims are often abused by those they trust, admire and love. About 90% of children who are victims of sexual abuse know their abuser.

“I didn’t know what to do or who to talk to. I shut it down and pretended it wasn’t happening and drank as much as I could. I decided the best way forward was to keep it a secret and bury it in drugs and alcohol. Which I did until it almost killed me after 35 years.”

For years he struggled to find a way to tell somebody what had happened to him until he opened up to his mother through a song written specifically for her.

Now I’m a singer

In search of a song

To do what is right

And write what was wrong

Out here in the open

There’s nowhere to hide

So strap yourself in

Let’s go for a ride

When I was 15 I met the pope

When I was 16 I met rum and coke

You were so disappointed

when i left him behind

To find me a faith

That wasn’t so blind

Hold me Mother, by Séan McCann

At another pivotal moment in his journey, when Séan faced the temptation to turn his back on sobriety, he picked up his faithful guitar instead of a bottle. It was at that moment, he wrote the song “Stronger”. He says that moment changed everything.

The Power of Peer Support Groups

One of the biggest challenges survivors of child sexual abuse face are feelings of loneliness and isolation. They often believe that they are alone in carrying the weight of all the pain and trauma which can cause a long list of other problems. Peer support groups provide can remedy some of that loneliness as everyone involved has gone through similar experiences.

At Strength Found, we’ve seen first-hand the strides survivors make when they participate in our free peer support programs, whether it’s one-on-one or in a group. While the journey toward healing isn’t easy, the emotional support, empowered feeling and coping skills survivors get out of peer support can transform their lives and allow them to live fully and with joy.

“I think there’s great power in peer support,” says Séan. “I’ve been doing work in mental health for the last 7 or 8 years and peer support is effective. Shared experience is everything. It will change lives, especially when it comes to sexual abuse and sex trafficking. While these evil acts committed against young people can happen in a brief period of time, the biggest issue is the impact that it has on the rest of a person’s life, the pain people carry for years. That’s why it’s important that we find our strength.”

There is also growing scientific and research-based evidence that supports our first-hand experience which you can explore below:

One of the things we focus on in our program is how to process and cope with anger in healthy ways. Understandably, survivors of sexual abuse feel angry – angry at their perpetrators, angry at those who won’t take action or don’t believe them, angry at the system that allows sexual abuse to run rampant.

“Someone wise once told me, anger is always our enemy. The enemy,” says Séan. “Anger never ever wants to help us or heal us. Anger only hurts. Not the people you’re angry with, but who it hurts most is you. Anger was what I carried with my secret. My two buddies – anger and my secret – in my heart, all my life. There is only one cure for anger. And that’s love.”

This is something that we try to embody here at Strength Found. It can take years to fully process and let go of anger, but love, especially from compassionate and understanding people, can make the world of difference.

Join the Program

We would be thrilled to have you join Strength Found and be a part of our community. To register, fill out this form. If you’re interested in one-on-one peer support and workshops, please contact Lucie at lucie@voicefound.ca for more information.

Alternatively, you can give us a call at (613) 763-5332 or 1 (866) 239-0558 (toll-free).

A final thanks to:

Saunders Farm for providing us with a great venue, bonfire and s’mores
iSiLive for the exceptional webcasting
Kichesippi Beer for the delicious craft sodas

We highly recommend Séan’s book ‘One Good Reason’. Co-written with his wife Andrea Arago, this is a deeply personal memoir of addiction and recovery, music and love.