What Gives a Person the Will to Live? ©

A Personal Response

I believe that the will to live is a conscious decision to deal with past pain through any cathartics necessary, to feel the pain and do it anyway. I believe the beacon of my existence has been the unconditional love that others have extended to me as I struggled.

There came a time when I was two and one-half years clean and sober when I could no longer hold back the tears and the rage. I believed I had no place to go with the rage but turn it back on myself. I finally reached out, letting others know what was going on inside me.

With the help of an understanding support system, a therapist, other survivors of sexual abuse, a women's treatment center in Vancouver, a series of strong women and a few gentle men I have been able to process my issues. Part of my process was to go deep inside to the place that frightened child had cowered, full of fear, agony, horror, pain. I finally felt the spectrum of emotions.

I went to the police with the information, accusations, memories, emotions, and waited while the police investigated. I waited for two years while the Crown Counsel (D/A) made a decision on whether there were grounds for laying charges and enough of a case to proceed to trail. During October 1995, my step-father was brought to the preliminary hearing on two counts of having sex with a “female under the age of 14 who was not his wife.”

These proceedings had caused much pain in my family of origin. One sister believed herself incapable of testifying. Brenda, my sister, left me a letter of apology and love. I read the letter and processed the feelings: abandonment, hurt, sad, empathy and acceptance. I called her and thanked her for her honesty, reassuring her that I understood her decision and accepted. My youngest sister, Dianne, struggled with the ethics of testifying against our father. Her desire for justice won along with a wish to support me in my healing journey.

There was a period of approximately three weeks where I was busy with my life. I realized that I had not heard from my sister, Brenda, so I called her. My sister was operating under the false assumption that I was angry at her and wanted nothing to do with her. I reassured her. My sister came over within one-half hour and we spent the evening speaking of our love for one another.

This mission was mine and from the beginning I had been prepared to face it with only the help of the God of my understanding. I came to a clear understanding that this process of speaking my truth was a concept that frightened me. To speak my truth aloud to a judge, jury and possibly a courtroom of strangers, terrified me. The thought of speaking the details of all the agonizing, painful abuse, horrified me.

On October 27, 1995 I took the stand and testified for two hours. I spoke aloud of the attacks on my body which began when I was eight years old. I spoke of the pain, the blood, the semen, the lubricants, the darkness, the words he spoke to me, the positions he forced my body into, the physical reactions to the traumas, the emotional impact, my need for safety, the reasons I had remained silent for so long. I spoke of the various ways I had attempted to deal with this issue during the years since the abuse had ended. I spoke of my self-abuse through the use of alcohol, drugs, sex, abusive men, food, exercise, sleeping, not sleeping, bulimia. I spoke of suicide attempts with pills, an attempt with a 3006 at the age of twenty-one and ongoing thoughts of suicide. I spoke of my self-hatred to the point of self-mutilation with a razor to my face while under the influence of non-prescription street drugs and three stays in psychiatric wards. I spoke, was heard and believed. The judge found that there was enough evidence to take these charges before a supreme court judge and jury April 15, 1996.

I recall many feelings. Elation, as I spontaneously did one of those "Rocky" victory dances in the hall of the courthouse. I cried, laughed, kissed my sisters and felt compassion for my youngest sister. I was full of gratitude for the love and support of all those I had encountered during my walk.

The extremely slender child; frail, frightened, horrified, disgusted, angry, terrified of the retribution that would surely come for telling anyone of her abuse was in control. For three days I took refuge in a friends apartment. I hid, slept uneasily, was coached to eat, held as I cowered under a blanket. I was reminded to bathe, to quench a thirst I was unaware of. I cried, rocked my body to comfort myself and finally moved on with my life. I had spoken and there had been no retribution.

I was truly amazed at others admiration for my focus, my ability to remember, to articulate all the memories, feelings, surroundings and details of my abuse. Others saw only the mask I had presented in that courtroom. Others cannot see what I feel.

Along my journey I learned to ask for what I needed, learned to accept, was mature enough to accept that sometimes I would not get what I asked for. I was finally able to appreciate, understand, accept that there was a strong-willed survivor who was learning to thrive. I began to comprehend many facets that make me, a strong, courageous, beautiful, proud, humble, loving, understanding, accepting, warrior, empathetic, brave, woman/child as I let go of all the secrets, anger, rage, hurt, pain and need to control.

During the morning of April 15, 1996 my mother testified as to the type of relationship she had with my father and the experience of living with him.

I took the stand at approximately eleven that morning and testified until the noon break. While I was testifying, I found that I was trying to stay focused and used my watch band as a stress reliever which I quickly broke, loosing concentration. During the break I went to a twelve-step meeting to center myself. I ate lunch and went back into that courtroom. I was advised at the end of that day that I would be taking the stand during the morning.

During the night of April 15, 1996 I found a sense of peace. I became aware that Brenda was awake and troubled. On the floor, between the beds of The Green Gables Hotel in Victoria, Brenda and I sat. We held each others hands. We hugged one another, spoke softly, wept, laughed, expressed our fears, love, admiration and acceptance of one another. I reassured her that we had survived the worst and were only going to speak of our memories of a time in our lives. Darkness is now a place of gentle love, acceptance, laughter, warmth, tears, admiration for another human being and myself.

I became aware that I was unable to make eye contact with any member of the jury after seeing some of the responses of horror, disgust, revulsion, nausea, disbelief, abhorrence, repulsion. The reactions of the court workers, including the judge were similar. The child within me struggled with the adult. I redoubled my reassurances to her that the jurors responses were directed at Daddy, not towards us. Finally we came together and I made eye contact with several members of the jury as I told my story.

My sisters came forward in support with their stories. When all of us were finally excused as witnesses the crown counsel left a message asking us to return to the courthouse. The defence attorney was going to recall our mother to refute our testimony. Individually we were asked if we were willing to stay and each in turn return to the stand I saw the simile of being a pawn in a chess game and voiced this thought. Crown Counsel (District Attorney to American readers) became defensive. I reassured him that I played chess and did not see this as an image that hurt but a reinforcement that each of us can have power. A pawn can be such a powerful block to check or checkmate.

Each of my sisters and I agreed to return to the courthouse ready to testify if called. When the defence attorney observed us waiting, he was forced to change his tactics and my father took the stand and denied every touching of his daughters "inappropriately". The jury was instructed the afternoon of the seventeenth and sequestered for the night.

For me there was a paradox of the verdict was both important and not important. When Crown Counsel called me to advice me that my father had been found guilty on both counts. I thanked him for his efforts and support.

I found myself on the roof of the garage quietly contemplating the view, feeling the sensation of the cool air and warm sunshine on my skin. I became aware of a strange sadness which surprised me. I wept. I bounced a small ball I found on the roof and have not seen since. I began to sing soft, gentle lullabies, moved to tunes by Simon and Garunkel's ("Bridge Over Troubled Water", "I am a Rock"), Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven", and Bette Midler's "The Rose".

In the beginning of this process, it was very important for me to put together all the pieces of the puzzle each of us held and revealed in our testimony. I found that after all chance of appeal as to the verdict had passed I did not wish to put anyone through any more pain. The jury had heard all the testimony and found my father guilty. Somewhere there was a common thread which made up the warp and weft of the fabric. I did not need to see the full design. I knew my own truth. This is enough for me. I have moved on with my life. Courage is the price exacted to obtain peace.

Update: April 01, 2007 - The convicted sex offender, Roland Frank Chaput died at Nanaimo Regional Hospital as a result of Lung Cancer. The last year of his life was spent in the home of his youngest biological daughter, her daughter and two grandchildren.

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"All strong souls first go to hell before they do the healing of the world they came here for. If we are lucky, we return to help those still trapped below."
- Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

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