The first Living Bridges Project story is up today, To Be Brave. I have been thinking a lot about bravery these past few months. Whether it is the bravery to share your story of child sexual abuse (CSA); or the bravery of protecting sacred land and facing-off with police shooting water cannons at you in freezing weather; or the bravery of reaching out for help in-real-time amidst violence and abuse.
There is a line that I came across while reading a now-forgotten article that reads: “a quest is different for everyone,” she said, “but the courage is the same.” I think about this often and I have the incredible honor of getting to witness it in every story I record. Courage is an important piece of this work. The stigma, silence, shame and fear that surround child sexual abuse is deep and palpable. We need courage in this work; we need to be brave.
Because it is hard to talk about child sexual abuse. I don’t say that to turn people away from this work, but I say it to not turn away from the reality of this work. It is hard to talk about child sexual abuse. Not only the subject matter, but also the things and people that swirl around it. Most of us would rather pretend child sexual abuse away or blame it all on a handful of “bad eggs” or simply try and avoid it completely. This is not easy work and we need to consciously practice a kind of bravery and courage that is purposeful and sustainable. As Audre Lorde reminds us, “we can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired.”
To Be Brave is the story of a survivor who was able to respond to sexual assault as an adult because they were able to process their experience of CSA. In the audio, the storyteller talks about being brave and how other people’s bravery and vulnerability inspired their own. I was so moved by their story on many levels. The way that belonging is weaved throughout the story and the domino effect of courage and bravery in parts 1 and 2.
In many ways, the Living Bridges Project (LBP) is a way that I am being brave. Being an “out” survivor of CSA has not been a part of my political work for a long time. Not because it was a secret, but because it took me so long to come to terms with my own complicated experience of CSA within the medical industrial complex and then later by a community member. Over the last decade I have submerged myself in work to build transformative responses to child sexual abuse, but much of that work is (necessarily) confidential and largely not as visible or public. LBP is some of the first public political work I have done explicitly about child sexual abuse and I have had to summon steady courage again and again.
“A quest is different for everyone,” she said, “but the courage is the same.”
When I was recording To Be Brave, as with many of the stories that will be posted here, I cried with the storyteller as they shared. I sat afterwards alone in silence, listening to my heartbeat and swimming in thoughts and feelings. What makes it possible for us to say the things that are closest to our hearts, I wondered? What makes it possible to be brave when there is so much to fear and so much to lose? What allows people to act out of courage instead of fear?
To Be Brave is a story about courage. And hope. And vulnerability. And compassion. And care.
And I hope it will inspire others to be brave, too.