Randy Ellison spends a week at a camp for young boys that have experienced abuse.
A week ago, I received the most amazing gift. I was offered the chance to travel back in time, by participating in a week-long camp for young boys that have experienced abuse. The camp, sponsored by Sparks of Hope, was their first boys camp.* Ten boys had the opportunity to be unconditionally loved, understood, and had the pleasure of choosing their own activities and food. They were in a safe place and were encouraged and empowered to be themselves.
It’s one thing to look back to re-create our past as survivors in our healing process, it’s entirely different to see a parallel to your own life in real time! We were each matched with one “Little Buddy.” My guy is just starting his path of recovery. He hasn’t spent a lot of time examining broken trust or having been betrayed. He just knows someone he loves hurt him and then he had to go live with strangers and learn to call them mom and dad. And he makes it clear that he still loves his family and misses them.
“Caveman” (his camp name) and all the other boys LOVED being able to play all day long at games, swimming, fishing, obstacle courses, arts and horseback riding and even learning to cook. They only stopped to eat meals and s’mores and then fall into bed.
I saw a ten-year-olds’ thin shell of protection against the hurts and pain inflicted by others. Even the smallest slight brought out instant anger, to cover the hurt, which only served to isolate them with their pain. But what was so obvious was the underlying beauty and fragility.
I saw how vulnerable I must have been as a child. “Gosh, I just want to fit in and feel loved.” It drove home the truth that we all know, which is, “It is never the fault of the child.” Not possible. Not in any way, shape or form. This is such an important message. Validate a survivor’s reality. It is what we all need to begin to heal.
Another truth I found was that the sooner you start your recovery, the better. I lived a lifetime carrying my secret and finding ways to hide from it. These young boys have the opportunity to have what happened to them, strengthen them and to learn to thrive in life as a result of overcoming their trauma. I need to add that I firmly believe this is available to all of us no matter what age we start .
I witnessed first-hand the impact of making a human connection at a point of vulnerability in trauma recovery. That early detection and connection builds bridges instead of walls. Just being there and holding space with their pain was all it took.
It turned out my “Little Buddy” had lost his grandfather last year. The first words he said to me were that I reminded him of his grandfather. A day later he caught himself calling me grandpa by accident. When I chipped a tooth biting a lead weight onto his fishing line, he was instantly concerned that I not do that ever again, because he didn’t want me to get hurt. Yup, that’s right, he didn’t want ME to get hurt.
Two days later, when we were talking about all of my different names, I said, “grandpa,” and he says, “yeah, but only I get to call you that!” How beautiful are those human souls we so rarely get to touch. Well, he touched mine and I believe I touched his, and now my life is changed forever. I received more love and blessings in those few days than I ever thought possible.
I want to thank my friend and fellow survivor Lee Ann Mead and Sparks of Hope for making it possible to heal a few of the cracks in our world. Together we make the change.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Meade
*Sparks of Hope offers two girls camps and now two boys camps a year, one summer and one winter. They hope to begin expanding into states other than Oregon in the near future with the hope of someday being in all 50 states. Start small, dream big!
By Randy Ellison
Speaker, writer and author of the book Boys Don’t Tell: Ending the Silence of Abuse, Randy Ellison is a child-sexual-abuse, victim’s advocate and an activist promoting cultural change working with local, state and national organizations. He addresses abuse prevention and healing for survivors from a survivor’s perspective. Randy is a member of the Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force. He maintains his own website, http://boysdonttell.
Feature Photo: L’igmirien/Flickr