5.05 – 5.10: “Many people don’t understand the human mind and the human body and what it’ll do to survive.”
31.03 – 31.17: “There is also so much more good out there but I think we sometimes can’t reach for that good because we’re afraid of showing our weakness and saying I’m struggling.”
32.01 – 32.05: “We want to run but we probably are going to have to crawl through a bit until we get there.”
40.45 – 40.57: “It’s not one weight, it’s many weights that we carry as survivors in different moments… Who do we trust, who can we talk to and the fear, that shame.”
43.15 – 43.40: “We try to run away from things and put our heads in the sand because if it’s not there, it’s not happening but it is, it is happening, and there are bad people in this beautiful world. This is a beautiful world, it is, but there are bad people and you have to be aware of the fact that if you see something like that happening, you have to do something, it’s your responsibility.”
53.45 – 53.54: “What are we going to leave behind? How do we make a difference? What better way to make a difference than to save a child from the darkness… to let them dream again?”
54.22 – 54.26: “We can, we are and we will make a change.”
Neil’s story (3.58)
Neil was 9 years old when he was sexually abused by his trusted neighbour. He had gone 3 doors down to meet his friend but he wasn’t home. When Neil was about to leave, his friend’s older brother asked him to follow him into the shed saying that he wanted to show him something. He raped him for the first time there and this continued for a year.
Neil had frozen and blocked this trauma till the age of 12, when, while reading a comic book, all the memories erupted and he told his parents. They went with the police to the neighbour’s house. The boy pleaded guilty but the police persuaded Neil and his parents not to press charges to save Neil from judgment and teasing.
This made Neil spiral down a path of alcohol abuse, treating himself badly and 3 suicide attempts. He visited treatment centers and counsellors but he wasn’t able to feel better. It was only in 2017 that he shared his story with the world. Till then, he had lived alone with this heavyweight.
Neil is not always understood when he talks about that year. People wonder how he could have buried the memory for 3 years, and they ask him why he went back if he didn’t like it. But they don’t understand the power and control the predator has over the victim. He had an out-of-body experience each time where he dissociated from the occurrences due to the trauma.
It’s not your fault (8.41)
While the official statistics say that 1 out of every 3 girls and 1 out of every 6 boys are sexually abused, Neil believes that the numbers may be much higher. The guilt, shame and stigma make people not want to talk about it. Neil used to think it was his fault that he didn’t fight back till he realized that he could not have overpowered that older boy.
Neil had been struggling due to the aftermath of the childhood trauma well into adulthood. When he read about hockey player Theoren ‘Theo’ Fleury’s childhood sexual abuse in the book Playing With Fire, Neil didn’t feel alone any longer. He was inspired by Theo’s story to get rid of the shame surrounding the experience and to realize that it was not his fault.
Getting help (15.25)
For years, Neil struggled with alcohol and his relationships with his wife and daughters were in turmoil. He finally gathered the courage to reach out to the Sexual Assault Center of Edmonton and in deciding to stop running away from the pain, he was able to improve his relationships. Even though the remnants of the trauma still exist, he is able to bounce back more easily now.
Him Too (18.15)
In 2017, when the #MeToo movement began, Neil felt angry that there was no one speaking about the abuse that males face. So he poured his story onto the computer and forwarded it to everyone he knew in the media. When CBC published his story, he finally got rid of his fear and understood that there was nothing to be ashamed of and that it really was not his fault.
Therapy as self-care (19.40)
Neil took cognitive therapy to take care of himself and accept that it was not his fault. He claims his “brain was twisted 180 degrees” after the incident and he had carried that low self-worth with him since. He was surprised by his success at work because he had believed that he was not good enough and took refuge in substance abuse.
The child that died (24.35)
Neil recalls loving the summers when he visited his cousins on a farm. Years later, his cousin told him that after the incident, he had become a zombie. Neil says that he died inside the day the incident took place and feels strongly about protecting other children from nightmares and having their innocence robbed. “I hope to be somebody that I needed when I was 9”, he states.
Talk therapy (30.49)
Neil notes that even though the sad reality is that many children face abuse, there are also many people who want to help. He urges people to make it okay for men to talk about their problems and to take away the shame in sharing because even though it is a difficult conversation to have, it is a step forward in the journey to healing.
Be Brave (33.15)
Neil was invited to visit the child sexual abuse treatment centre, Little Warriors’ Be Brave Ranch. He met a 14-year-old boy who reminded Neil of himself at that age. Neil tried to earn his trust and share his story with him to help him see that it was not his fault. He hopes that he has been able to inspire the children there with his own story of healing.
Someone to listen to you (36.26)
Leaha shares an incident from her time as the youth counsellor for the school district in 1991. A student had been sexually abused by her stepfather but was able to heal herself and even got married. She credits having someone to listen to her as the reason for her transformation. Leaha and her friend had supported this student throughout the whole journey.
Protect the children (39.02)
Neil recounts an incident at a barbecue when he met a single father with a 7-year-old son who told Neil that there was a man without children who wanted to spend time with his son. It was on that day that Neil shared his story for the first time with a stranger, warning him about the red flags. Neil urges us all to listen to our gut and be aware of such dangers.
Planned giving (46.16)
Greg explains that many charities that do not have government funding, like Little Warriors, suffered during COVID because they couldn’t hold fundraising events. Many high net-worth individuals and corporations can save tax by donating to such charities and helping them continue their good work.
Help the little warriors fight (48.19)
Neil recently became the Chair of the Resource Committee at Little Warriors and mentions that it costs CAD 25,000 per child to have them go through the treatment program at the Be Brave Ranch. Even though the organization wants to help all children, they have to put them on 3-year waitlists due to lack of funds.
He urges us to donate in any way we can so they can continue to provide a safe space for kids to heal. You can access the list of much-needed items here, and take a virtual tour of the Be Brave Ranch here. To discuss more ways in which you can help, email Laurie Szymanski, the CEO of Little Warriors.
“The child that died” ~ protecting vulnerable children, healing, little warriors ranch and planned giving with Leaha Mattinson, Greg Bird and male survivor of child sexual assault, Neil Armstrong.