My Speech Monday 16th June, 2014
Many persons would ask me if I am never ashamed to speak about my life experiences, the things that broke me, those that made me strong, and the wrong and destructive decisions which I have made. They would ask if I am not fearful and ashamed to speak about private things which I have done or the places I have been, if I fear not the judgements of men which can be harsh and cruel?
My answers are always the same there was a time when shame was all I knew, when fear crippled me and judgements carried me to a place of being powerless, there was a time when society made me feel nasty, judged, sentenced, and ashamed.
Today if there is no shame in me why should I feel ashamed? What was meant to kill me has made me strong. And I speak for all those who are ashamed, I stand for all those who are told not to and I write for those who have a story to tell. I write my story to encourage others to tell their story. I write because I AM FREE!
Recently I was asked to speak and be a member on a panel discussion about mental healt:breaking the stigmas below is a copy of that speech. May someone after reading it gain strength to break their silence.
To The Honourable, the Chief Justice, Mr Justice Ivor Archie. Chief Justice of Trinidad and Tobago, Reverend. Father Clyde Harvey, Dr. Jonathan Vince, Dr. Hazel Othello, Professor Gerad Hutchinson, Mr Hanif E. A. Benjamin, Mr. Hal Greaves, Members of the Centre for Human Development Limited, the Psychiatry unit, Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of the West Indies. Specially invited guest Members of the Media Ladies and gentlemen all.
Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it politic? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular- but one must take it simply because it is right. - Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)
It is said that the mind controls the body, if an individual’s mind is unbalanced then chaos and confusion will be displayed in their behavioural patterns. Behaviors are not isolated, they affect families, communities, and societies. Positively or negatively.
"The family is often equated with sanctuary a place where individuals seek love, safety, security, and shelter. But the evidence shows that it is also a place that imperils lives, and breeds some of the most drastic forms of violence perpetrated against women and girls." And might I add men and boys.
Unfortunately, it is also the breeding place for mental illness. In my birth I had NO CHOICE. The mental distress which I experienced as a child was also not by choice, what was by choice, was the decision to ask for help and to seek help. As a former victim of child sexual, emotional and physical abuse breaking the silence was not easy, the silence which had me bound for years was painful and in some areas, still is.
Breaking the silence which tormented me and almost drove me mad was one of the hardest things I had to do. Looking back at many of my decisions when my abuse ended, I honestly have to say that I had some serious mental issues.
Mental Illness is a subject many run away from, yet it attaches itself to the victim of abuse and that victim is left to run free causing massive chaos and serious collateral damage to themselves and to others. Because of the stigmas which are associated to abuse and mental health issues these topics or rather social issues are not openly discussed, many who lead the charge in advocating for victims, change, and for primary prevention intervention are trodden under foot.
The powers that be either bleed them dry, make them bitter, push them to compromise or whips them into submission and subjection, if none of the above has an effect, then they have the unfortunate lot of standing alone. Among many in society, whenever the words mental health is used the first thing which comes to mind is MADNESS… ST. ANNS…. WARD 8….. WARD 1….
Persons will run to a medical doctor when they have some uncomfortable feeling or physical pain, and society sees this as the normal and right thing to do, and would encourage it. Whenever it comes to abuse, many in society says hush… they immediately place a gag order upon the victims of abuse and invisibly hold up the hand of the perpetrator.
The social issue of mental Health, families, and abuse is one which every person in a position of authority needs to take a serious look at as we move towards first world status, however, if the minds and mental state of the people which is the country’s greatest resource and capital, is not at a first world status then we will inevitably remain third world.
I applaud The Center for Human Development Limited and the collaborators of this event for taking up this scorned topic and bringing awareness while removing stigmas. I highly commend every member of this panel who accepted the invitation to have an open dialogue about mental health, I hope this event, is just the beginning and the dialogue has only just begun.
I stand here not to tell you about the many times I tried to kill myself, I stand here not to tell you about the few times I attempted cutting, I stand here not to tell you about the excruciating pain I felt that first night at age 6 when I was brutally raped.. Molestation is a word used to soften the impact on the ear and to give the legal system a word to identify the crime.
I stand here not to tell you about my 9 years of abuse from 6 to 15 years, nor the relationship problems which I had, nor the few times I had abortions because of fear of being a mother, I stand here today not to tell you about my lonely life of having many acquaintances but few friends and so much more.
I stand, here today not to be pitied, nor judged, I stand as a victor, and I stand as a voice, appealing to those in authority, to take a serious look at mental health and abuse as a national problem.
I stand here today as a voice, appealing to this esteemed panel to use your voice to bring about awareness and change, standing with organizations who are willing to stand as the bearers of information and prevention intervention strategies in regards to mental health and abuse.
I stand today as a voice of conscience, a voice for every victim of abuse, a voice for every person who died because of abuse, appealing to every one of you in the audience, who took the time to come out to this event to get information on mental health. My hope is, that the information you will get today, will be used in a proactive and positive manner to enhance lives.
A few days ago I wanted to throw in the towel, stop advocating, and just forget it all, as I ranted on my personal Facebook page, I received numerous private messages, email messages of concern and support, it was at that point, I realized how many lives, I have touched, I realized then, that I am a voice for many silent victims of abuse in this country, the region, and internationally.
I now close with two quotes one from Jonathan Bhagan who commented on my status by saying “Be not weary in well doing Sherna Alexander, even if you have not succeeded in changing the country, you have succeeded in changing individual lives, is that not sufficient reward for your labours? While the Naipaul’s have every reason to hate the backwardness of our society, it does not mean you should give up hope. Where would South Africa be if Mandela gave up in prison? Martin Luther king had endless death threats and he refused to give up….. Keep fighting the good fight Sherna we need you”
My second Quote: “All rivers run to the sea, days come and go, generations vanish, others are born, remembrance ceremonies follow one another – and hatred is still alive, and some of us, the remnant of the remnant, wonder with the poet Paul Celan: who will bear witness for the witness, who will remember what some of us tried to relate about a time of fear and darkness when so many, too many victims felt abandoned, forgotten, unworthy of compassion and solidarity? Who will answer questions whose answers the dead took with them? Who will feel qualified enough and strong enough, faithful enough to confront their fiery legacy? What was, and remains clear to some of us, here and elsewhere, is the knowledge that if we forget them, we too shall be forgotten. Is remembrance enough? What does one do with the memory of agony and suffering? Memory has its own language, its own texture, its own secret melody, its own archaeology and its own limitations: it too can be wounded, stolen and shamed; but it is up to us, to rescue it and save it from becoming cheap, banal, and sterile. To remember means to lend an ethical dimension to all endeavours and aspirations “Remembrance keeps people aware of every possibility; in essence, it keeps them safe from repeated threats. It is imperative that the past not be forgotten, for what is forgotten is repeated. For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”” Elille Wiesel