Van Buren Youth Camp Presentation

I had a trip down memory lane returning to the youth camp I went to during the summer when I was 12, 13, and 14. The first year no one knew my secret, the second year it was haunting me like crazy and I opened up to my cabin counselor since my parents just found out what had happened, and the third year I was at a point in my life where it was the beginning of many years ahead where I buried the pain from anyone seeing however this year at camp I shared with a new friend I made in my cabin and little did I know by sharing my story I was opening a door in her life to finding her own voice and not feel so alone. She was a survivor herself of sexual abuse and little did I know back then I was helping her all because I used the voice that was silenced. Ten years later she shared that with me when I recently got in contact with her. It touched me hearing that when I least expected it I was helping someone at fourteen by sharing my story. That same voice that has taken me across the country for nearly five years encouraging others to find their voice was helping someone during a time in my life when I thought I was all alone. Little did I know the girl in the bunk across from me carried a similar scar in her life.

I returned Monday at 4pm to Van Buren Youth Camp. It had been ten years since the last time I was there and boy have I been on quiet the journey since I left camp ten years ago. I walked around camp taking it all back in with my cousin Danny who came with me. He attended the camp himself and went on to become a cabin counselor and on staff. The executive director and I walked around and discussed where would be the best place for me to speak. We thought about the stage but then we came to a place at camp called “Thought” it is a place campers go every evening and reflect on their day, life, and whatever is on their mind. I always remember it as a very peaceful place one that I did a lot of reflecting on the secret I carried, the horror that haunted me, and the wondering if this horror will still be haunting me ten, twenty, thirty years from now.

As I stood there ten years later looking down at all the wood logs and looking out at the lake I cannot help but smile. Never would I have imagined when I left ten years ago the next time I’d be coming back I’d be sharing something ten years earlier I was so ashamed of and could talk to barely anyone about.

We decided to do something that is never done in “thought” and that is having everyone face not towards the lake but turned around and have me stand on the other end. Change things up and I thought it would be a perfect intro. I began speaking to the 14-18 year old training camp counselors at leadership camp that they might have noticed they are facing a direction they have never sat before while in Thought. I have come today from Chicago to talk with you about a topic that most of you have never heard anyone talk about yet it affects so many lives.

I direct my speech to the audience I am speaking to. It is never the same speech it all depends on the audience and since I was talking to campers I decided to focus it on my three years at camp experience sharing with them that I began coming to camp in July 1997 but that I would take them back a year earlier to 1996 when my innocence was stolen, trust taken, and life changed by someone in my own family.
I shared how my first year at camp was the greatest escape from the horror that awaited at home. I did not have to worry about my aunt calling me to see if I could come watch my cousins. I was away from it all and for a week I knew I was away from the reach of evil and it was one of the most amazing weeks.

Like most times when I speak I read from my diary or book and I decided since I was at camp to read the diary entry about camp. The campers loved it and many laughed how I shared that when the lights go out at night and were all suppose to go to bed the real party begins and many get in trouble and are told to go to bed. The campers and staff laughed as I read this to them.

I shared with them my second year at camp just months after my silence was broken and the nightmares that followed me to camp and how the abuse may have ended but the memories followed me. I shared how my cabin counselor took me out on my second night outside the cabin and asked me what was going on. I shared with her how I could not sleep the nightmares were keeping me up and eventually told her the secret I was so ashamed to talk about. I pointed out to the campers that the way my cabin counselor responded in a way I hope you will all walk away after hearing me speak and be able to respond if a camper comes to you and discloses sexual abuse and the proper way to handle it, react. and respond. I felt I gave them good education and understading of sexual abuse and how often it occurs.

I shared with them that while they might not cross paths as a camp counselor with a camper that will disclose sexual abuse at some point in their life this conversation will come flooding back to them when someone does disclose their secret and I hope they will allow their voice to be heard. I also pointed out that their are people in this room that have walked in my shoes and I hope they take away the message that they having nothing to be ashamed of and hopefully have found their voice and broke their silence.

Sitting in the audience was also my mother, my Aunt Kathy, and my cousin Danny who was my great assistant taking pictures and video taping my speech. I usually do all my traveling alone and looking at a bunch of people I am meeting for the first time so it is nice to see familiar faces in the audience however I cannot help but see that expression on my mother’s face listening to me share the horror I lived in and now how much it still affects her inside then again as I stood their I also knew how proud she was to see her grown daughter that once could never speak to her about this and had tried for so many years to get me to talk about it standing before an audience of youth and encouraging them to talk about it and become aware of the silent epidemic of sexual abuse.

I took questions at the end and there were quiet a few questions. I always find it interesting what people will ask. One question I seem to always get is Do you talk to your cousin anymore?

After I finished questions I began signing copies of my book and many students came up with postcards of my 2nd book that I handed out. They wanted me to sign those.
Many of the male campers came up to me one hugging me and thanking me for coming. I couldn’t help but notice as they were allowed to leave after hearing me speak a few students sat by themselves on the logs taking in what I said.

A few more minutes passed and I continued to sign books when I was approached by two girls. This situation happens every single time I speak. No matter where I go someone shares their story with me. Whether it is the first time breaking their silence or just feeling they found someone they can relate to. The girls asked if I could talk. I stopped signing and began walking with the girls and took them to an area up near the art cabin to have privacy because I had an idea what they were about to share.

For the next 25 minutes I listened to a fifteen year old share how she was raped at ten by the neighbor across the street who was 18. He was sent to jail for 2 yrs. and never allowed in the town she lives in again. If that didn’t break my heart it was learning that while her parents knew what happened and supported her they never got her any help. It was something she described as they never talked about after he went to jail. She described the nightmares that she has ever single night, and how she uses self-injury to deal with the constant memories she has. Something I am all too familiar with that I began around her age and stopped when I was 18 realizing I was only causing myself more pain, that it is unhealthy, and would not solve anything.

She then shared how she has never seen a therapist. I thought I heard her wrong and I asked her again if she ever saw any type of counselor or therapist when this all came out and she said she never did and her parents never brought her to anyone. I could see the pain in her eyes. She was seeking anything from me to help her escape the horrible memories and “Live for Today”

Shortly after talking with her for a few minutes her eyes filled with tears and I could see the agony on her face. I reached out and embraced her. Hugging her as she cried into my shoulder. I told her over and over she was safe now, that this man could not hurt her, and told her what a couragous step she just took by reaching out and sharing her experience with me. I told her that is a step in the right direction in healing. That holding it in will only continue to haunt you and I informed her that if she did not seek out counseling now that it will follow her into her twenties, thirties, etc. I reminded her she has nothing to be ashamed of and that this was not her choice to be hurt this way but that in order to heal she has to address that wound and allow that ten year old inside her that carries all this pain be heard. I told her it might be uncomfortable at first but once you are comfortable with who you are talking to you will start to feel better not carrying this alone. I told her to start journaling. I encouraged her to write a letter to the man that abused her and what she would say to him today and told her let out all your anger in this letter your feeling and then rip it up or burn it. Another way to release it.

She shared with me that she has gone to her mom about the nightmares and told her mom that she self-injures. Mom told her the nightmares will end and that she needed to stop cutting herself. She shared that she stopped for a time period but then started back up again and her mother told her that she was able to stop on her own before she should be able to stop again.

She was really confused why her mother couldn’t understand how much this was affecting her still. She described how her mom feels she should of moved on by now it has been five years. I explained to her that her mom might have a difficult time with what happened to her because as a mom you want to protect your kids. I told her that her mom may not know how to deal with what happened so she avoids talking about it. I tried explaining what may be going through her mom’s head and the guilt and blame of not being able to protect your daughter she may carry.

I told her that she has made serveral attempts to reach out for help through her mom and it seems to have not worked. I suggested school social worker/counselor and she informed me she talked to her middle school counselor once about it and it did not help. I told her that there has to be agencies in her surrounding areas that offer free counseling and that I would help connect her with someone. She told me she would really like to read my book but that she didn’t bring enough money in her account to purchase it.

At this point the camp staff had already back up the rest of my books and brought them to the camp store to sell the rest of the week. There were only a few copies left. I did still have my copy that is worn and has places marked in it or underlined from different places I have brought it with me and used it to mark my spot where I would read from when giving a presentation. I have brought this copy many places with me and realized at this moment it was the perfect time to give it to someone who needed it. I told her while it is not in the best shape and there are pages marked that she could have it free. She was so grateful and I left her a message inside where I signed and gave her my email contact to help her find a therapist when she returns home from camp.

I am keeping this girl in my prayers and hope you will do the same.

If you have not yet preordered your copy of “Living For Today” that comes out November 2nd you can do it now by clicking here.

And if you live in my area I hope you will show up to a local book signing I will be doing during this time throughout the Chicago land area. I plan to be at many places throughout the suburbs and the city of Chicago doing book signings when it is released.

It is nearly 1 am here and I need my sleep. So signing off.



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