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The messages I learned to tell myself

When faced with the reality of what I lived through,

My dad said, “You must be mistaken.”

My mom said, “You did it. You’re the pedophile. The gays did this to you.”

A man in my mens’ group said, “I don’t believe a parent would bloody their own child.”

A man in my outdoor group said, “I want you to consider, are you perhaps gay because of what your dad did to you?”

A pastor said, “Gay people want to legalize pedophilia.”

A leader of a boys’ mentoring weekend invited me to share my story at their weekend. So I shared my story with a group of wide-eyed teenage boys. Immediately after, a boy came forward and shared his own story of surviving sexual abuse. Then, after the weekend, the leader told me, “You’re not safe. I wouldn’t trust you with my son.” Then he circulated a letter banning me from that organization. When asked for what reason, all he could say was ‘your body language is seductive.’

These are the messages I learned to tell myself.

After years of silently ‘supporting’ me, my best friend, who is also a trauma therapist, said, “I love you. I have a hunch that you weren’t sexually abused. I believe you’ve experienced significant trauma, but not sexual abuse.”

The ‘false memory foundation’ says ‘What could cause a person to believe sincerely in something that never happened?’

A guy I dated briefly: ‘Get over it.’ ‘You’re stuck in the past.’

Several years later, on Christmas, my dad sent me an email. ‘I believe in awesome. Here’s a picture of your baby nieces playing in our living room.’

In front of two strangers in a car, a life coach blurted out. ‘I had a revelation about you. That you are really sensitive and you need people to use extra finesse around you because your dad raped you.’

Later, he said, ‘What’s new? You’re always angry. Always playing the victim card. I will delete you from my contacts and send you love.’

Many people didn’t say anything at all.

Some people changed the subject.

Others silently left my life.

The first organization I went to for help, a feminist organization, had three female therapists ‘evaluate’ me from behind a two-way mirror. After one hour of watching me, they entered and pronounced that they were ‘pleased that you have not repeated what was done to you.’ And that was it.

My memories of the events of my childhood are like looking thru a long, narrow tunnel into a scene that is sometimes sweet but often harrowing. My body re-lives pain, but I have been curled up, eyes shut. I focus and breathe through it. Churning for years. Crying in the bath tub, sweating in the jungle, soaring together with other survivors, and gradually opening up again, to a new balance.

I carve out a silence within me, relaxing deeper past the cacophony of peoples’ judgements, to a still place, from which I can catch a glimpse of the real me. This innocent playful little boy. This tenacious, adventurous man I’ve become. Sometimes struggling to stay connected, sometimes hiding.

Imperfect. Human.

I am still returning to this work more than 30 years later. It does get better.

When I reach out, there have also been many positive responses to my story:

“I believe you.”

“You’re not alone, Mark!”

“You are perfect as you are.”

“I see your beautiful boy.”

“I support you. Go go gadget.”

“Your story is one of courage and hope. Thank you so much for sharing.”

“Wow. Your story is so moving and inspirational.”

“We’d like to feature your story on our website.” .. “radio show” … “journal.”

“You are truly an inspiration and a true warrior.”

“You changed my life.”

Parents that brought their kids to meet me. Kids that love and trust me.

Over time I have learned to trust my own body, and the healing process. To let go of those coping mechanisms of denial, doubt, shame and fear, as I open up to me and the world again. To recognize that people sometimes respond negatively to child abuse because we all have work to do. And to surround myself with people who support the process of transformation.

It frees me to release the shame by putting the difficult parts of my story out there. I no longer have to hide. I no longer have to repeat these messages to myself.

I no longer have to carry this burden that was never mine to begin with.

Child abuse is not my problem. It is our problem.

Healing is not my job. It is our job.

I invite you to consider how you are responding to abuse in your life?

Thanks again,


Last night I went to bed wondering, what am I thankful for? Sometimes I feel so stuck. For instance my gut has been swelling up, it hurts, my appetite low and I’m not eating well. Then I get skinny and I don’t have energy for what I love to do, like going on adventures with my buddies. I went to bed feeling frustrated that my friends are celebrating thanksgiving with a big feast, and sometimes it’s difficult for me to participate… Why am I on the outside?

I drfited off into sleep. I awoke on a train. Many people, busily going to work. On the train, a man approached me, a look of defeat in his eyes. I looked at him and said, “We have been here many times before. I go to sleep, I awaken. I forget my truth, I suffer, I remember.”

“I used to see myself as weak. At school, the kids would be playing on the playground, and I would sulk around the edges. I would try to make friends, or try to play sports, and for some reason people would walk away, and for some reason I couldn’t seem to make my body move in a coordinated way. I was really skinny. I was carrying this deep dark pain that I wouldn’t understand for many years.. I used to be so frozen in shame, I used to cry, what’s wrong with me? Why is this so hard?”

“Many years later I found a circle of men who were helping each other heal their wounds. I found men like me who were hurting. And I started to see. I started to tell of my family. How it hurt. Of how it was being a little boy, when my dad was always away at work, or watching TV, or building something in the garage, but never playing with me, never showing me stuff, teaching me, except when he was taking me to the basement at night, and raping me.”

“For years I saw myself as weak. But when I look into that pain and when I sit with myself, it changes. All that is trembling, sitting on the outside, stuck… it changes. I change. I sit inside myself, I change to strength and I change to purpose. And the unrest in my body, I see how it’s connected to the traumas I inherited… Sitting in time-out with myself, wondering why am I not like the other boys? Sitting with this difficulty doesn’t chain me… it frees me.”

At that moment, the stranger’s eyes and mine both filled with tears, as I shared from the heart and we rattled forward on the train.

You know?

An elder in my mens’ circle said to me, “You’ve been carrying around a big ball and chain, Mark. I look forward to the day when you have let it go.” He’s now passed on to the next world, bless his heart, but each day I face the trauma in myself, I become more connected, more strong, more compassionate, more a healing force and less a victim. I can go out into the world and play like a boy, and heal like a man. And then I come back, sometimes, holding my gut, hurting again. That’s the journey.

I’m thankful for it. Even though I may miss some thanksgiving dinners because my gut is sore. Even though I may have missed out on friendships and sports because I was holding my tummy, hiding from relationships, because my body hurt, because I was frozen from panic, from those moments in the basement as a little boy.

As I do the work, as I listen to my body, breathe, meditate, pray, work with plant medicines, heal in Nature, find a circle of caring people, tell my story, support survivors, I am put back together again. I am reassembled from the wounded person I was into someone greater. Every time the moon and the sun and the Earth turn around one other, every time I go from health to disease and back to health. I come back to myself.

And when I meet a stranger on a train, I can see the pain held in his eyes. And my heart can open up to you, and say this. It frees me. And it frees you too.

That’s why we do this healing work. That’s why we walk this difficult road, sometimes alone and in the thick night. That’s why I go to sleep, wondering, what am I thankful for? That’s why I awake in my dream, meeting a stranger on a train, to share my walk from defeat to transformation. Because it frees us.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Return to Service

Hello Everyone,

Made To Soar was born last year in the rain of early Vancouver winter… About this time last year, I was dreaming of going on the road and helping other survivors live their dreams. It has been a powerful year in which I was able to work with Alejandro, raise funds, and with your help, support him to rise and live his dreams.

We also produced a deep, gut wrenching and hopeful documentary short which you can view below.

Now it’s time to continue the project, to help the next survivor. Is it you?

One thing I learned is that this type of work requires connection and trust. I am inviting all of you to consider ‘Adding My Dream’ here on the website, so others can be inspired, and to share some of your story confidentially via the contact form.

I hope that Made to Soar has inspired you, and I will have the opportunity to meet more survivors and do some good work with you to live your dreams and raise awareness. If you feel called to be part of this project, please be in touch.

Thank You and Keep On Soaring,

Mark Riser

Big Thanks!

I am very happy to let you guys know that Alejandro, although really shaken by the process of creating the documentary, has come through some difficult work and recently acquired a camera to continue his photography work!

Thank you from my heart to all the supporters out there who have encouraged us and supported this work, and helped fund Alejandro to get a camera, especially to NL and my therapist Art who have been such solid supports for this work!

Alejandro, we all look forward to seeing you following your dream and sharing your beautiful photos with the world- seeing the beauty once again!

Mark Riser