Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dispatch From Grant County -- Rerun blog from May 2010

Mary Ann said,  “It’s not that people don’t care.  They do care, but the issue is so intimidating.  They don’t know what to do, so they don’t do anything.”
Mary Ann is the Executive Director of Heart of Grant County, the local agency that supports for survivors of domestic violence in Grant County, Oregon.  Since the county has fewer than 8,000 residents in an area twice the size of Delaware, Heart of Grant County also advocates for survivors of other forms of abuse.
Mary Ann went on, inspired for her passion for supporting victims.
“”When the Aryan Nations wanted to set up a headquarters in Grant County, people joined a coalition to stop hate crimes and came out and marched and rallied against the Aryan Nations.  Hate crimes are a good cause to rally against, but violence against women and children is a much bigger problem in Grant County than hate crimes. Unfortunately it is really challenging to rally people to come out and march against violence against women and children.”
I know what Mary Ann’s is talking about.  Been there, experienced that, done that. When I was six years old I told my mother about the two teenaged boys who touched me in an inappropriate way.
My mother said, “That’s where babies come from,” but she didn’t do anything.
Much of my life I struggled with depression, low self esteem, relationship issues, problems with touch.....
What if my mother had done something to support me instead?
I’ve experienced the same reluctance to do anything  about clergy abuse from fellow Catholics, but I am also guilty of not knowing what to do, and, consequently, doing nothing.   Not only did it take me a while for me to support survivors of clergy abuse after an abusive priest was removed from my parish, but to my shame, I also failed to report a potential incident of domestic abuse that I witnessed a few years ago.
I shared my story with Mary Ann when we chatted on the phone a few weeks ago.  I had called Mary Ann to interest her in supporting my Walk Across Oregon to Stop Abuse and Heal the Wounds.  We started Walking Across Oregon in 2008, specifically to address the issue of child sex abuse, but in Winston, Oregon, we ended up witnessing domestic abuse.  Our support van parked across the road from a house on a rural road, and, as we paused to refresh ourselves by drinking water and eating snacks, we noticed that there was a man standing on the front porch of that house across.  The man held a beer in his left hand while he was shouted and gestured at a woman.  She circled the house as though she was looking for a way into the house, but she never entered.
We watched this interaction unfold for more than thirty minutes, debating on what we should do.  Although we were all profoundly disturbed by what we saw, we ended up doing nothing.   We ended up walking away, and while we were walking away, the man continued to stand on the porch and shout and gesture at the woman, who continued to circle around the house.  Later, when I recounted the incident to domestic violence advocates, they told me that we should have called the police.  Oh well, live and learn.  
It is hard to know what to do.  Sometimes abuse doesn’t rise to the level of criminal conduct at a time and in a way that social workers can conclusively document as abuse.  Sometimes, victims of violence and abuse are struggling with their own relationship and self esteem issues and don’t welcome outside interference.  Sometimes the perpetrator of the abuse is a well-respected man in the community, and people can’t believe he is an abuser.  Sometimes the perpetrator is a woman, and some people can’t believe that the women are capable of abuse.
But there are consequences for not reporting abuse.  We know those consequences in the Catholic Church – scandal that has reached the papacy and shows no sign of going away.
But our whole society is impacted by the consequences caused by all the forms of abuse.  A few years ago I was posting a flyer for the screening of a film on clergy sex abuse that I hosted.  I decided to give a flyer to a man selling Street Roots, a newspaper written and sold locally in Portland, Oregon, by people struggling to overcome homelessness.  The man confided to me that he was chronically sexually abused as a child in nearly every foster home in which he lived.
Then he added, “I haven’t told the guys down at the shelter about that.”
I walked down the street to the Park Blocks, and offered a flyer to still another man selling Street Roots.  He, too, told me that he was a survivor of chronic childhood sex abuse.  Certainly many homeless people are on the streets for reasons other than child sex abuse, but I’ve gotten in the habit of asking, and I have found that around 50 percent of the homeless people I spoke with were victims of some form of child abuse mixed in with the war veterans and others who appeared to have biologically based mental challenges.
So victims of abuse and emotional trauma suffer depression, anxiety, low self esteem, problems with trust, boundaries, relationships, jobs, drugs alcohol, and housing.
And it gets worse….
In November 2009, at least five Oregon women were killed by ex-husbands or boyfriends who preferred to kill the woman in their life rather than give up control of her.  In December 2009, a 15-year-old girl named Jeanette Maples was tortured to death by her mother.  Her case had been reported numerous times to the Department of Human Services, but caseworkers had concluded that she was old enough to advocate for herself.  But like many victims of abuse and violence, she was too cowed by those who abused her to tell the truth to authorities.  In another chilling case that made the Portland Oregonian newspaper a couple weeks ago, a five year old girl living in Portland suburb died after repeated beatings by her father’s girlfriend.  Investigators said they found it hard to believe that no one around the girls observed the violence perpetrated on her, but there are no records of any reports made to authorities.
Why should we care?  
Because all the forms of abuse are related to each other.  If children are being abused by a father, it is likely that the mother is also being abused by the father too.  Mary Ann told me if the children aren’t victims of violence, but the mother is, the children still frequently suffer from undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from all the violence they are witnessing.  Moreover, as child victims often grow up, they often have such poor self-esteem, that they are vulnerable to even more abuse as an adult such as date rape and domestic violence.  The cycle of abuse goes on and on..
Why should we care?
Because the cycle of abuse won’t stop until we become brave enough to talk about it, report it and support the traumatized survivors.  Supporting survivors is another important issue, because it is much harder to heal alone and unsupported.
If you want to raise consciousness about abuse in the larger community, if you want to support survivors of abuse on the path to healing, then join us for the Walk Across Oregon.  We will be walking through John Day on August 4th with employees and supporters of Heart of Grant County.
Click here to see a preliminary itinerary.  A more detailed and specific itinerary will become available later on.
We will probably begin our day by eating at the Outpost Trading Company at 8:30 AM.  The Outpost is located at 201 West Main Street, John Day, Oregon.  We will cir-cum navigate John Day, and hopefully end up cooling off and refreshing ourselves at Dairy Queen at 106 South Canyon Boulevard around Noon.
This is not a march or rally.  We hope to enjoy ourselves and visit the Kam Wah Chung museum and park and maybe some shops or stores that strike our fancy.  We are child friendly.  My children are coming and would really appreciate it if your children come too.  Children aren’t happy unless they are having fun, so we plan on having fun.  We also discovered that survivors needed a chance to check us out before they came forward.  Trust and safety are enormous issues for survivors of abuse, so when we take time to have fun, survivors have a chance to think about sharing their story with us.  Moreover, getting out and having fun are healing.
If the town of John Day is too public for you, then join us on August 5, on a hike at the Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds.  We hope to begin the Islands in Time trail at 10 AM in the Blue Basin.  We are taking it easy because of the August heat.  Next we will visit the Flood of Fire Trail and the Story in Stone Trail.  We hope to be at the Thomas Condon Visitor’s Center at 1 PM.
Oregon is beautiful!  Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Personal Awareness by January Palmer

January is a survivor of child sex abuse. She joined us on the Walk with the Homeless and is joining us on the Walk Across Oregon to End Abuse and Heal the wounds in Garibaldi Oregon.  She will be volunteering with Compassionate Gathering. Look for her posts on our Facebook site , Twitter Account and here at the Garden of Roses blog.

January's parents were heroin addicts. Her father abused her repeatedly until she became a ward of the state of Oregon.  She was emancipated at age 18.

January says that when she was younger she created chaos around her because how she only knew how to survive in chaotic environments. However, for the last 8 years she has been working on spiritual healing with a counselor who offered her services for free.

January has a lot of positive energy, and we are grateful for her help.

The rest of this blog is a collection of poems and reflections by January as well as a quote that appealed to her.

                                                                                                      --Virginia Jones

Blessings of Suffering.

If allowed to, our suffering can become our greatest gift. To suffer is to peel back the layers of illusion. If given its rightful chance, suffering can open your heart and expand your capacity for compassion and understanding, in return unveiling the true value of human life.

Tramatic Aftermath

Compelled to use and self abuse
Subconciously controlled by these contrasting moods.
I need something to soothe this pain inflicted by you,
In order to forgive the events I cling to.
Can't distingush the line between what's your's and mine..
Trapped in time and unable to find a sense of peace in my fragmented mind.
This PTSD contained within me
Distorts my ability to see myself clearly.
I'd separate my flesh in strife to be free
From these internal scars that have branded me.

-janaury 11/10/07

This Sickness

These scars rip open to exude their poison,
this sickness, driven, to destroy my person.

This excessive force explodes with keen reason,
to manipulate your senses and free me from this prison.

This gift of rage you've given to me,
heeds warning for all who engage me mentally.

This sickness rises giving way to the hate
you've implanted in me through your psychotic state.

The venim I spew is the reflection of you,
in the everyday happenings that I cant break through.

The more I try to deny your presence,
The further I fall into this twisted sickness.

Your energy consumes every function of my being,
So that when I look at me, you are all that I am seeing.


You are me.
An aspect of my entirety.

Reflecting an inner portion of me,
Through your being, outwardly.

Judgement is insecurity
A statement of self hostility

To hide inside this impurity
Keeps us from true security.

started: 1/24/07
finished: 6/6/07

Compassion and Suffering

Compassion follows lawfully as we open to the experience of suffering. Simply to observe and to open allows us to hear what is natural, harmonious, and appropriate. Instead of closed minds and mechanical reactions, there is open space and inventiveness. There is the helping of living truth.

Between the event to which we feel no personal connection and a tragedy that breaks our hearts, there is a vast range of affliction. In this domain we make our choices: Shall I become involved or not? And if so, how deeply? How much human pain do we let in, and whose?
Because the suffering around us is endless, the choices seem limitless. And these choices are usually made in the midst of a mighty struggle between the head and the heart.

~Ram Dass

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Why I Am Walking With the Homeless

There are walks and races to cure breast cancer and diabetes and a Walk for Animals to raise money for the humane society. There are even walks to raise money for homeless shelters, but I don’t know of any walks to draw attention to the connection between abuse and homelessness. So I decided to create one.

I learned about this connection from Siggy, a man abused by the priest who baptized me Catholic. Siggy was a teenager when the priest chased him down and assaulted him repeatedly.

Siggy reported the abuse. No one believed him.

The lack of support and belief is almost as wounding as abuse is itself. Although he managed to earn a college degree, Siggy’s struggles with depression were too deep for him to maintain a job. Sadness would overcome him, and he’d walk off a job and lose it. When I knew him, Siggy survived by working odd jobs and, as he put it, by surfing the couches belonging to family and friends.

I met Siggy after he had come forward for the fifth time 20 odd years after the priest abused him. Finally he was believed. When Church leadership removed the priest from my parish here in Portland, Oregon, I was devastated. I loved my Church and felt attacked. I wanted to understand what happened. When the Church did not provide answers, I searched the internet for articles about clergy abuse. I read about Siggy and reached out to him for understanding. Interacting with Siggy was difficult. He oscillated between kindness and fury. I wanted to understand how to better support Siggy, so I started reading about child sex abuse and ended up exploring my own past as a child sex abuse survivor. I realized that my lifelong struggles with intimate touch and depression were probably caused by abuse. I embarked on a program of healing myself, on reaching out to support other survivors, and on raising consciousness about abuse in the community.

In 2007, I formed a group to support survivors of clergy abuse and to bring them together with other Catholics for mutual healing and understanding. We called the group Compassionate Gathering. Our first public program was to screen a documentary on clergy abuse, Hand of God, at the Hollywood Theater in Portland. To advertise the screening, I walked around downtown Portland posting flyers. As I walked, I encountered four men selling the Street Roots newspapers written by and advocating for the homeless. Remembering the lessons Siggy taught me, I offered my flyers to these men. Two of them revealed that they were child sex abuse survivors. One man had been sexually abused in many of the series of foster homes he shuffled through as a child. These two men lived long struggles with the symptoms of abuse -- depression, low self esteem, difficulties maintaining jobs and relationships, and drug and alcohol addiction. Both of these men were struggling to rebuild their lives. Both were receiving treatment for addictions. Both lived in shelters at night, and both sold Street Roots during the day in an effort to take a step towards employment.

Neither of these men came to the screening of Hand of God, but June Selis, a mother of two children abused by a family member came. She felt so alone. She wanted to be with someone, anyone, who who cared about child sex abuse. She inspired us to open up Compassionate Gathering to anyone wounded by any form of abuse. She inspired us another way too.

In September 2008, June asked for my help walking from Ashland to Portland. She wanted to raise awareness about abuse by getting the attention of as many people as possible. From my home in Portland, I contacted newspapers and television stations in the various towns June walked through to tell them about her, and I drove down to Southern and Central Oregon whenever I could to walk with her. We wore bright yellow t-shirts that proclaimed our issue and what we were doing: “Help Stop Child Sex Abuse” and “Walk Across Oregon”.

Homeless survivors of abuse kept appearing along the way. Was the dazed and confused teenaged boy we met by the railroad tracks in Eugene homeless? The middle aged man who approacehed him and gave him a pack of cigarettes did not appear to have innocent intent. My interaction with the boy was too brief. I’ll never know.

Then there was the tearful woman who approached us in Pioneer Square in Portland. She was a recovering heroin addict and child sex abuse survivor. She lost her apartment a few weeks later, and she and her boyfriend, another recovering heroin addict and child sex abuse survivor, chose to sleep under bridges because there are no shelters for couples without children. A few weeks later her cell phone went dead, and I never heard from her again.

In the summer of 2009, the June stepped back, but I continued walking across Oregon to end abuse and heal the wounds. As a single mother of two school aged children, I could not walk in September, nor could I walk every step of the way as June had done. So I walked through towns and on scenic trails from one side of Oregon to another with my children, friends, and, occasionally, staff and volunteers from other not-for-profits working on child abuse or domestic violence. We started walking in Joseph, Oregon, and paralleled the Columbia River, passing through Pendleton, Hermiston, The Dalles, Hood River, and Portland. We ended our walk along the mouth of the Columbia River near Astoria. In 2009, I also changed to color of our t-shirts from yellow to bright blue to please my children.

We encountered many homeless survivors that summer. Our most significant encounters took place at the end of our journey -- in Astoria -- where we were joined by group of people with the Clatsop County Women’s Resource Center. Their group included the residents of the Center’s shelter for victims of domestic violence which also doubled as a shelter for homeless families.

In addition to the shelter, the Center provides classes to help survivors of abuse and domestic violence learn relationship skills. They also provide healthy and fun activities for both children and adults staying in the shelter. Fortunately, the Center decided that walking with me counted as a healthy and fun activity. As we walked along the Columbia River, three shelter residents approached me, one by one, and shared stories of horrendous abuses that make my experiences seem trivial in comparison. One man had been “cared” for by a sexually abusive uncle. He came forward many times. Each time his uncle would pack up and move. Years passed before law enforcement caught up with the uncle. When he grew up, the man worked in construction for many years, but his painful past haunted him. He quieted his demons with drugs and alcohol and eventually his life fell apart. He lost his job and his home. By the time I met him, he was off drugs and alcohol and struggling to rebuild his life.

One note on the relationship and coping skills classes offered by the Clatsop County Women’s Resource Center Their classes are based on the Trauma Recovery and Empowerment Model. Many abuse survivors develop self destructive coping skills during their damaged childhoods. Learning healthy ways of coping and relating is vital to recovery. Compassionate Gathering also incorporates relationship and emotional healing skills into our program of support for survivors. Without changing what we do and how we think, we tend to repeat the cycle of abuse in our lives.

I wanted to raise awareness in the community about the connection between homelessness and abuse, so I incorporated a “Walk with the Homeless” into the Walk Across Oregon to End Abuse and Heal the Wounds.

My first “Walk with the Homeless” took place in the summer of 2010, late on an August afternoon. I walked alone without an itinerary or publicity. I began by the Steel Bridge over the Willamette River, walking through Waterfront Park to downtown Portland. I carried with me a large bag of leftover t-shirts from the 2008 and 2009 Walks. That summer day, people enjoyed the breeze coming off the Willamette, lying on blankets on the grass by the river. Some of these people were surrounded by piles of belongings. While I walked, I made eye contact and smiled at people. When people smiled back, I approached them to share my t-shirts and listen to their stories if they wanted to share them.

Listening is the most basic thing we can do to help others heal. None of us, including me, who has been trained to listen, listen enough. Everyone, including me, wants to give advice. For our own comfort, we want people to heal quickly, but everyone heals in their own time. Each person embarks on this journey themselves, but we can offer emotional support through deep, reflective listening. Deep, reflective listening entails not merely reflecting the facts on the surface of the speaker’s story, but reflecting their heart held feelings and beliefs. People find it easier to heal when others listen to them and treat them with respect. Deep, reflective listening is a relationship skill that my organization, Compassionate Gathering, teaches. Listening to the homeless is especially important because the homeless are among the most marginalized, least listened to groups of people in our country.

In downtown Portland, it is easy to find a homeless person to listen to. On my first Walk with the Homeless, I left Waterfront Park when I reached SW Yamhill and started walking up the street towards Pioneer Square. On the corner of 1st and Yamhill, I met a man who was grateful for my gift of a t-shirt. He told me that he survived with the help of Jesus and the Union Gospel Mission although he struggled to stay sober enough to meet the requirements of the Mission’s shelter.

I asked about his childhood. His father was a violent man who beat him nearly every day until he left home.

A few blocks later I met a man seated on the sidewalk holding a sign that declared his status as a homeless Vietnam vet. My heart is open, so I sat down beside him and offered him a t-shirt. As I listened to his story, a young man walked up and dropped some change into the homeless vet’s cup.

“I might be sitting beside you soon,” the young man said to the older man.

“Are you a veteran too?” I asked.

The young man faced me but backed up to the edge of the street.

“Yes,” he said.

“Which war?” I asked.

“The one that is doing nobody any good,” he replied as he walked away.

The young man was on edge, uncomfortable sharing his story, and yet his edginess was familiar to me. I’ve encountered that same edginess in survivors of abuse. Both survivors and veterans of combat suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD alters brain structure and chemistry, affecting how the brain processes emotions and memory. Some people recover from PTSD with therapy and time, but many never recover. The symptoms of PTSD include outbursts of anger, chronic depression, anxiety, trouble maintaining jobs and relationships, alcoholism and drug addiction -- all things that cause people not to be able to maintain jobs or homes to live in.

After chatting with the vets, I continued walking up Yamhill, pausing to give a shirt to a man supporting a domestic violence survivor. Then I rounded Pioneer Square and walked back towards Waterfront Park along the far side of the Pioneer Courthouse.

A group of fresh faced, young men in dark pants, white shirts, and ties stood on the sidewalk outside the courthouse. They were gathered around a table holding a placard advertising a website -- I thought a cynical thought about Mormon Elders abusing children and checked that thought with a humbling memory that we Catholics have the same problem in our own Church.

I looked beyond the group of Mormon missionaries and saw a girl seated on the sidewalk beside a dog, a can, and a sign begging for money. Beyond her sat a young couple with their own can and sign.

I sent a mental message to the Mormon missionaries, “Why don’t you proselytize among the poor and the forsaken, the way Jesus did?”

The Mormon missionaries did not get my message so I walked down the block and proselytized my own message -- End Abuse, Heal the Wounds.

The girl with the dog took a t-shirt and thanked me.

The young couple further down the block declined my offer of shirts, but the young woman said, “You’re doing good work.”

By that time, two hours had passed, and all but my smallest of t-shirts were gone.

“Time to go home; try again next year,” I thought.

Now it is next year. I plan to Walk with the Homeless on July 18, 2011. I will start in the Hollywood District, walk down Broadway and NE Multnomah to Lloyd Boulevard and cross the Steel Bridge to Waterfront Park and downtown Portland. I will be wearing a bright blue t-shirt that says “Walk Across Oregon” and “Stop Abuse, Heal the Wounds”.

I asked the people of Street Roots newspaper to join me. They are coming. Can you come too? Will you walk with me to listen to and be present with the homeless? Will you walk with me to share your story of abuse and survival so others may know that the homeless are not homeless for trivial reasons? Today, support is being cut in our country for people who are hurting and on the edge. We need to come together and take up the slack ourselves, support the wounded and vulnerable, and be the change we need in our community.