Navigating the Mental Maze of Sexual Abuse

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a work in progress entitled, “Who I am Today: Navigating the Mental Maze of Sexual Abuse,” Chapter 3.

Donna Messerly-Brownby Donna M. Brown

The mental maze suffered by victims of sexual abuse is extremely complex (a gross understatement, I know). If you are a victim of sexual abuse, your maze is unique. You created it. It is ultimately up to you to solve it; however, you don’t have to solve it alone. This journey will be whatever you decide it will be. Some paths will be dark and lead to eminent danger. Others will be bright and will lead you to self-enlightenment and joy. You have probably already explored many paths. You know which paths are which. You may not know how to find positive alternatives to those ugly roads littered with quick sand and mines. Whether you are at the beginning of your maze or trapped somewhere in the middle, if you gather the right tools to help you through you will have a much better chance of escaping.

Matthew 7:13-14

13 Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and
broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.

14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Sexual abuse, also referred to as sexual violence, can trigger a complicated series of mental, emotional, psychological and physical reactions. There is also a wide variety of lingering external complications that can result from sexual abuse. Family members, friends, teachers, co-workers, and peers often react to subtle and blatant changes in an individual once the abuse has occurred (whether the violation is a terrifying one-time experience with a complete stranger, or a lifetime of perpetual abuse by a perpetrator the victim knows and maybe even loves). Unfortunately, some of those changes do not occur until a victim fully realizes the impact of his or her abuse. It can literally take decades for an individual to face the trauma. Some people never do.

A Word About Mazes

Why do I call this a mind maze? Many years after my abuse ended, it occurred to me that I was regularly stumbling into mental blocks and walls steadfastly built by my protective brain as a result of my personal experience. Once I accepted that my perceptions really were skewed, and that I often engaged in what I now know to be “wrong thinking,” I found myself retracing my steps to determine how I got lost in such a complicated maze of lies, truths, anger, loss, resentment, faith, hope, survival, and fear. I asked myself the following:

  1. How did I get here from there?
  2. How can I identify and follow the right path to get to where I need to be?
  3. Where do I need to be anyway? Where do I want to be?

wiseGEEK Online offers clear answers to common questions and gives this definition of a maze:

“A maze is a complex structure with a series of interconnecting pathways . . . It is viewed as a puzzle that must be solved, and the solver must work his or her way from the entrance to an exit, or another location. Getting through a maze can be difficult, leading to the use of the word as a slang term for a complex process.”

The practice of building mazes and solving them is centuries old. Mazes have played a role in developing spiritual insight. Some cultures have actually used mazes as a form of torture (go figure, huh?). Sometimes mazes are entertaining for the brain; and, mazes have been used for physical sport and recreation.

Regardless of how or why a maze was created, who do you think has the best chance of solving the mind-boggling puzzle? That’s right, it’s the creator. Whether you realize it or not, you have created your own mind maze. You are the most likely person to solve it because you and you only possess the map to find your way through it and the keys to unlock its secret doors.

If you were taken to a dense forest and dropped against your will into a maze of massive walls, unbreakable blocks, physical threats and mental tricks, you would no-doubt struggle desperately to find your way alone, particularly if you had no tools to help you. In such a situation you could suffer in silence and spend long, dark days searching for a way out. You might even find a comfortable corner within the maze and simply decide to stay where you know you are temporarily safe in the dark and quiet of walls that trap you, but protect you. Are you getting the metaphor here? If you are trapped in such a maze and don’t even know it, you might never look for an exit and be content to live a life of misery and isolation.

Ah, but, what if you were to shout out for help? What if others trapped in the maze followed the sound of your voice and found you? If you were in the company of others who had been scanning the layout of the maze much longer than you had, you very well might gain from their experiences. Everyone’s mind maze is different, but in the case of victims of sexual abuse they are often very similar.

In my new book I am going to share some a-maze-ing secrets that will help you find your way through the dark paths your brain created as a result of sexual abuse. Mazes symbolize the twisted paths of life and fate.

10 Gifts I Can’t Live Without

“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

Luke 6:38

Donna Messerly-Brown

by Donna Messerly-Brown

There is something very empowering about surviving the unthinkable (over and over), then learning you really can laugh again — and that’s okay.  This year I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the gifts I’ve already received (and it’s not even Christmas yet). You know, they’re the kind you can’t take back (and wouldn’t even if you could). My favorite gifts fit perfectly because those who gave them to me know my size, my style, my potential and are in tune with my needs and desires.  Who says it’s better to give than to receive?  Today I’d like to tell you about 10 of my favorite gifts — gifts that I, frankly, could not live without.

1. The atonement. Every day for the past month I have pondered this gift from Heavenly Father and His beloved son.  I came to understand the power of the atonement (I mean really understand it) about five years ago.  I was struggling with forgiveness, forgiveness for myself and for some individuals who had hurt me.  I found blame for my experience laying right at my own feet.  I knew how important it was for me to forgive others and so I scooped up all of the responsibility and swallowed it down until I was so full of guilt and sorrow that I could not move.  I prayed for help.  It occurred to me suddenly that I no longer had to take the sins of the world upon myself because that was Christ’s job.  Was I presuming to be more powerful than Christ?  Would I really deny the glory of his gift by trying to take over his job?  Christ suffered for the sins of man so I didn’t have too.  I really loved unwrapping that gift.  Trust Jesus.

2. One last year with my father.  Everyone receives the gift of parents.  Some of us would occasionally like to return them for a nicer set (you know who you are).  The gift of my parents really was the gift that kept on giving.  It’s still giving today.  My father was a funny, sensitive caring man with a curiosity that could not be stifled.  He loved nature, animals, adventure and most importantly he love me!  My father made mistakes — who doesn’t?  But in the end he had the foresight to share his thoughts with me and candidly shared the life lessons he had learned.  About one year before my father succumbed to pancreatic cancer I moved to the valley in which he lived.  My home was about seven miles from his and for the first time in my life I got to explore my personal relationship with him.  I remember the first time he called me on the telephone that year.  The moment I heard his voice I was sure there was something wrong.  I was the one who called him.  He never called me.  Yet, that day our relationship had progressed.  He simply wanted to talk.  My youngest daughter spent hours at his house riding horses and teasing with Grandpa.  Oh how grateful I am that the Lord led me to my childhood home to spend quality time with Daddy.  The night before he left us Dad and I talked for a couple of hours about his pending departure.  We laughed and discussed and did our best to accept his fate.  I held his hand until the spirit left his body less than 48 hours later.  He knew I loved him and I knew he loved me.  What an amazing gift.

3. Time well spent with Mom.  About six months ago I helped move my mom from her home in Phoenix, Ariz. to my home in Utah under extremely difficult circumstances.  She had become ill and (I thought) frail.  We could not leave her alone any longer.  Mamma hated leaving her life and did not ask to exchange it for a life with me.  It was the only thing we could do.  Every day we meet in the hall and greet each other with a hug and a kiss.  Occasionally we dream of ripping each others’ throats out.  How lucky I am to have an opportunity to hear her life story, to ask her important questions, to tap her vast knowledge and to return a lifetime of favors by taking care of her for a change.

4. My children. I have four amazing children (all of them are lucky they lived to adulthood).  They are beautiful — that goes without saying.  The lessons I have learned from them are the true gifts I received when each one came into my life.  They are all strong, independent, passionate people who have taught me to be patient with myself and others.  From them I have learned humility.  I have developed survival skills that would make the battle front in a major war seem like a walk in the park.  I have experienced the deepest love imaginable and the deepest pain that helped shape the caverns of my heart.  Two of them have blessed me with perfect little grandchildren and the satisfaction of knowing my children come to know me better with every passing day.

5. My friends. I know, I know, this is getting to be a little like a cliche; but it’s true. Without my lifelong friends I would be missing huge chunks of my personality.  The gift of friendship can last a lifetime.  My friends have given me laughter, perspective, joy and often times a good, swift kick in the proverbial butt when I needed it.  Come to think of it, that might have been the most beneficial of all the perks that come with the gift of friendship.

6. Auntie. I am grateful for all of my aunts and uncles.  I have known from birth there is a place on earth where I belong and it is evident when I am with extended family (some extended family, heh, heh).  One auntie in particular has been my mentor, surrogate mother and friend all of my life.  She has rescued me from sure self-destruction, welcomed me into her home always and has never hesitated to point me to a better road than the road I am on.  She accepts me for who I am and simply shakes her head with a grin when I insist “I know what I’m doing here.”  Our relationship is one of my most treasured prizes.  That gift can never be replaced.

7. Ceramic figurine. On my dresser even as I write is a beautiful little ceramic figurine — a girl with a blue dress and auburn pony tail.  I often put it away for fear the treasure will be taken from me.  I always bring it out again so I can admire it and remember the love that brought her to me.  My paternal grandmother was an artist.  She made the little figurine in her ceramic shop on Adams Ave. in Ogden.  My paternal grandmother and maternal grandmother were friends.  The little figurine was a gift from one to the other.  I am my maternal grandmother’s namesake and am drawn inexplicably to her (even in death).  I loved to visit both grandmothers, but probably would have lived with my maternal grandma given the choice.  I had been visiting Grandma Morgan for days and when it came time for me to leave, I was being rushed into the car and began crying uncontrollably.  Grandma disappeared for a moment and returned carrying the figurine.  She explained its origin to me and then pressed it into my tiny palm.  I remember it as clear as day, “There now, don’t you cry. Take this little girl to keep you company.”  I must have realized its significance even then. How in the world did it survive 45 years and countless moves and come to be standing on my dresser today?  It is a constant gift of my grandmothers’ love for and connection to me.  Even if it were gone, its meaning would live forever (and that is the real gift).

8. Communication.  I am blessed with the gift of communication, a wordsmith if you will.  Each of us has a talent and the responsibility to develop it.  It truly is a gift and mine has brought me endless joy, money, friends and so much more.

9. Chicken quilt.  Throughout her short adult life my sister dragged the pieces of a chicken wall hanging to home after home.  She loved that fabric and knew I had an affinity for chicken decor (yeah, go figure).  Her life was a whirlwind of artistic expression and she threatened every time I saw her to finish that wall hanging one day.  It bore a significance to her I could not understand.   In the end of May 2007 she presented the beautiful little wall hanging to me.  She lived in Northern California and had carried it with her on a visit to Utah.  She created a fabric inset and on it she wrote a precious note of her love for me.  Our relationship was volatile at best, but I’m sure now that was because of the intense love we shared for one another.  One week later, at the age of 46, she died.  She had said to me what she needed to say and that gift is a treasure I will hold forever.  Not long after her sudden and unexpected passing I was sobbing on my bed.  I felt her say, “Go get the chicken quilt and wrap it around you.  You’ll feel me there.”  I walked into the kitchen and pulled it off the wall.  I slept with it for days and she was right (she always was).  Thank you, Krissy,  for the chicken quilt.

10. My desk.  On Dec. 29, 2011 my little brother took his life.  He was a brilliant, albeit troubled, man full of life and energy.  His mind was an amazing machine.  Not long after he died his family gave me the gift of an exquisite antique desk.  All of my life I had wanted a desk, a place of my own to pore over, work and reflect.  It was not the actual possession, but the representative statement about a commitment to explore the mind that I sought.  Even as I write at this desk, I feel my brother and a deep appreciation for the gifts he has given me — far too many to mention here.  Suffice it to say I have made a mental, heartfelt connection between the desk and my brother who also died at the age of 46 — far too soon.  This beautiful desk embodies his brilliance for me.

I could go on forever, you know, detailing the gifts of my life; but, I’ll stop here because now it’s your turn.  Why don’t you take a little time to ponder the perfect gifts you have received and those who bestowed them upon you.  Write them down and you will come to understand the true significance of those gifts in your life.

Out of the Darkness a Healing Experience

Donna Messerly-Brown

Donna M. Brown

On Nov. 20 I joined family and friends at the Out of the Darkness Walk in Hurricane, Utah. We participated in honor of three lost loved ones. Our team of 11 raised almost $1,500! The week prior to the event was painful due to memories and emotions that had been packed away and suddenly let out into the light. Walking on the amazing Highland Trail at Highland Park in Washington, Utah was a great release. We walked three miles among the beautiful red hills and brilliant desert valley surrounding the park in remembrance of those who have lost their lives to depression and mental illness.

I’m so very proud of the Solomon-Messerly-Glover team. I am grateful to those that supported our fundraising efforts. I pray we can get a walk going in Cedar City, Utah next year to create awareness, raise funds to assist with suicide prevention and create a gathering place for people suffering with grief due to suicide.

Self Help for Hecklers

Donna Messerly-Brownby Donna Messerly-Brown

Hey, remember Statler and Waldorf? Think “Muppets.” These two old codgers watched every Muppet Show from high up in the balcony. I call them “the hecklers.”

Statler and Waldorf heckled the entire cast in all but one show (Waldorf’s wife filled in for Statler once because he was purported to be sick). Together they trashed Fozzie Bear and the entire Muppet Family mercilessly. Worse yet, these glorified sock puppets laughed mercilessly at their own jokes.

Yeah. Sometimes it’s like that. Am I right?

Ever feel like Statler and Waldorf follow you around heckling everything you do? I am proud to say I have never actually seen either of these mean old men (outside of the Muppet Show – that would mean I was crazy). But I think of them each time a family member, community member or even a friend says:

“You can’t do that.”

“Why would you do that?”

“You’ll never pull that off.”

“Do you think you’re really up to that?”

“I told you, you should never have done that.”

Sometimes I imagine an entire theater of hecklers surrounding me and pointing out mistakes, booing at my plan of attack, or demanding my time and attention. I woke up this morning at 4:30 a.m.  hearing the hecklers in my head:

“Have you made the car payment? When are you going to make the car payment? You’d better make that car payment. You probably won’t make it.”

“Have you got enough hay? Those horses have got to eat you know.”

“There aren’t enough groceries in the house. You never have enough groceries. There’s nothing good here to eat.”

“You went to town? Why did you go to town? Why aren’t you working? You should get downstairs on that computer and work.”

“Why do you always work? Your family needs a little attention too.”

Today, I listened to them. You know, I really listened to those hecklers and for a little while they actually made me cry. I wanted to scream, “Stop, stop! Just stop that! I’m doing the best I can.” Then I wanted to say, “Look. I give up. I just give up. I can’t carry this whole world anymore.” Then, I listened some more. You know, those hecklers sounded just like me.

Put a Sock in It

Look, the fallout from any critical life situation can be grave. For me, a constant barrage of personal losses (the deaths of my sister, my friend, my father, my nephew, my brother, my mother’s health, my 22-year marriage and a job) were devastating. There is no question my flag has been flying at half mast for quite some time now. It’s not that I’m irresponsible, it’s just that my priorities have changed. I have finally learned what I should cling to and what I simply have to let go — not forever, just for now.

There are plenty of people to heckle us throughout our lives. The last person to belittle, berate, punish and persecute you should be you. So, if you’re beating your own head against a brick wall like those ornery sock puppets, put a sock in it. You have got to be your own best friend.

Negative self talk can be extremely damaging to you and eventually to those around you. The minute you begin a negative statement in your mind, stop and correct it. We sincerely do become our thoughts. If yours are negative, sad, mean and angry there is no question you will outwardly display those emotions eventually toward yourself and others. Purchase an inexpensive dry eraser and write a positive thought every single day about your charming personality, your amazing ability, your strength, your beauty, your creativity, your importance and your power to meet any new challenge. When you begin heckling yourself from the balcony in your brain, sit yourself squarely in front of the mirror and repeat the encouraging thought out loud at least 10 times.

Heckling can become a very bad habit; and, like any habit it can be very hard to break. Positive self affirmation can be extremely therapeutic. Forget the statements that start with “I will …” (I will lose weight, I will exercise today, I will spend more time with my children). Instead use “I am …” (I am beautiful, I am healthy, I am a great mom). In order for this to work, you must reaffirm your positive qualities every single time the hecklers start shouting insults from your head to your heart.

Make a List, Check it Twice

People who suffer from depression — chemical and/or situational — are hard on themselves. If you are suffering from this potentially debilitating illness you might have experienced one or all of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts

Make a list of the symptoms you have experienced. If you are suffering signs of depression, call your doctor now. Your doctor can help you come up with a treatment plan that best suits you and meets your needs based on your beliefs. Track your concentration, energy level, emotions, appetite, and physical health every day for at least one week prior to going to the doctor. Make another list — this one will include major life events that could be causing or contributing to your depression. Some events to consider are the following:

  • death of a loved on
  • a new addition to the family
  • divorce
  • a new relationship
  • a major move
  • financial pressure
  • job loss
  • job change
  • major purchases
  • worry over a child or loved one
  • abuse
  • illness
  • disability

Seriously search your soul to determine the events in your life that are adding to daily stress. It’s possible you might not be able to identify what’s bugging you. Look anyway. Write down major events of the last five years and even minor events of the last few months. Try to open a dialogue with yourself. Remember, you know yourself better than anyone else. Refine your list, check it to see if there’s anything you might have missed, and take it to your doctor. Try to discuss your condition openly and honestly. Your physician might recommend psycho therapy, relaxation techniques, activities to help you feel better, a special diet and even medication that will help you get a handle on your life.

Never minimize your own emotions. You are the best person to take care of you.

Everything is Not Broken

Ron Messerly

‘Little O': A Frank Discussion About Suicide

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Donna Messerly-Brownby Donna Messerly-Brown

It is so very hard for me to think of him; I mean to really think of him. The gamut of emotions ranges from disabling grief to fond remembrance to guilt to love to pure anger and back at again.

Ronald Wayne Messerly is my little brother (although I could never convince him of that). On Dec. 29, 2011 — just hours before my mother’s 73rd birthday, he took his life in a hot parking lot next to his Jaguar in Arizona. Sometimes I have to focus on the ugly details so they don’t constantly niggle at the back of my mind begging to be released into the light. He was 46.

Many knew him as an accomplished partner of the law firm of Snell & Wilmer. He was known nationally as a bright, young attorney. The Best Lawyers in America® recognized Ron for his work in construction law (2010-2011) and construction litigation. He was recognized as a Southwest Super Lawyer® for construction litigation in 2011; and, was named one of “Arizona’s Finest Lawyers” in 2011. The Business Journal named him “Best of Arizona Attorneys” in construction law in 2009. In 2005, he earned the distinction of the State Bar of Arizona “Member of the Year.” None of that really matters now. To me he was just “Little O.” (If he were here today he would kill me for telling you that. That’s the problem with bailing out before your siblings: they are left to tell your embarrassing secrets.)

Read more on the subject of suicide.

I don’t know how he got that nickname. I’m afraid to ask my mother for fear it will force her to think of him and cry. Ron was the last child born in our family of four children. Everyone adored him. I was born about 18 months before he came into this world. Little O was born with a serious birth defect called Craniosynostosis. The defect affects the appearance of the head and development of the brain. Approximately one out of every 2,000 babies is born with the condition. Normally there are sutures, or connections, on the head that separate individual skull bones-almost like a puzzle. With craniosynostosis, one or more of the sutures closes prematurely and gives the head an abnormal shape. Left untreated, the condition makes it impossible for the brain to grow and develop properly. He was oh so very tiny when he underwent his first surgery to install metal plates in his head to relieve the pressure and facilitate the growth.

As a pre-teen Ron often complained that he was a “cone head.” He was sure there are so few pictures of him as a baby because his head was misshapen. I know it was because he was the fourth child in a large family and by then my parents were so over taking pictures and just trying to survive.

Ronnie loved to play baseball, tease and run in Wasatch Park near the home in Salt Lake City where we started our growing up years. His best friend was Alex Bury on Reed Avenue in Salt Lake City. He must have been about 7 years old when my mother and father decided to move our family from the busy city to a remote rural community in Southern Utah. He thrived there. Little O loved to hike the hills of Newcastle, build scant forts on the mountainside and hunt with our older brother, Doug. Eventually we moved to the Beryl desert and the transfer gave Ronnie more room to run! Ron’s “cone head” didn’t stop him from being brilliant. (His head didn’t really have a cone shape, but I’ll bet I used that insecurity in a variety of ways to torture him by the ripe old age of 8).

Learn to survive sudden loss.

He was a problem solver from very early on. Ronnie was playing baseball once behind the small country school house where we attended elementary school. He was catcher when a great big softball plowed right into his mouth. It knocked at least two teeth out and the injury was a gory, bloody mess. He was delighted. He was rushed to Cedar City for surgical repairs and must have recovered nicely because he launched his first entrepreneurial adventure the very next day.

So, the kid comes walking into our Beryl kitchen with his still-swollen mouth. He’s jamming his fingers deep into his pockets. With each dip he draws out another coin and throws it on the top of our chest freezer to tinkle and roll into place with the rest of the pile.

Mom: “Where did you get all that money?”

Ronnie: “What? Oh, this?” He points to the pile of coins on the freezer.

Mom: “Yes, that. How much money is in there?”

Ronnie: “Well, there’s about five dollars. I charged kids on the bus 25 cents each to look at the stitches in my mouth.”

We used to joke that he was destined to become a lawyer. He did. Pretty sure he made more than $5 at it.

My brother was the baby of the family and so automatically considered spoiled (because he was). As a teenager he ranted about tennis shoes that made him look like he had “clown feet.” He raged when the ladies of the house wore his personal tube socks and stretched them out with our “fat legs.” I’m smiling now, because I am remembering just how much I loved that spoiled little brat. His clown feet must have helped his sense of humor because he could make anyone laugh. And, in high school he capitalized on his ability to bring people around to his point of view. He joined the Cedar City High School Forensics team and began to forge his impeccable talent for winning most arguments.

Ronnie got to spend time at home as an “only child” after the rest of us had flown from the nest. He and my mother forged a mysterious bond that glued them together for the rest of his short life. She was able to invest something in him that parents can only give their youngest children. He returned the favor as she aged.

Enough Reminiscing, Let’s Talk About Suicide

I could go on for the rest of the day reminiscing about my beautiful little brother. The fact is, the older we grew, the further apart we drew from one another. Although we bickered and argued and retreated with hurt feelings at times as adults, I never, never, never stopped loving him. I just stopped knowing him. I am reminded of his thrilling and bright personality when I interact with the two amazing children he left behind. Ron grew into a successful, compassionate and — okay — controlling man. He was a jerk. He was kind. He was loving. He was driven. He was my brother. That’s all that really matters. Except that, he suffered all of his life from bipolar disorder and severe depression.

Judge Not, Lest Ye be Judged

It is natural for some people to shoot up standard barriers to the reality of suicide. People who make unkind remarks about an individual who has committed suicide do so in order to avoid reality. Go ahead, say it with me: “Suicide.” Repeat it over and over and over again until all of the stereotypical thoughts you have about SUICIDE dwindle. Purge your brain. Forget about it. I’m going to debunk some myths — not as a psychological expert — but as the sister of someone she loved deeper than harsh words will ever reach.

Suicidal people are selfish. People who actually commit suicide aren’t thinking of those they leave behind — in fact, they aren’t thinking at all. By the time a person reaches the point of pulling the proverbial trigger, he or she can only think of ending the pain. Imagine the worst migraine headache you have ever experienced. Multiply it by one hundred. What might you be willing to do to make it stop? Most of us will never know the depth of emotional and physical pain required to drive an individual to actually end his or her life. When people commit suicide they are not capable of making rational decisions. They are not able to consider the potential consequences to every individual in their lives. A suicidal person — even the most brilliant one — has only one purpose: to end the pain.

People who commit suicide have no one to love them. Wrong. Individuals who make the decision to end their lives are not capable of feeling the love that surrounds them. They certainly are not capable of loving themselves. Mental illness is a mean, ugly disease. It inhibits a person’s ability to function normally. Thought processes are skewed, disconnected, broken. Not even the most loving ally can stop a person from killing his or her self. Not even a thousand adoring family members, friends or co-workers can end internal pain once the final decision is made.

People who threaten to commit suicide are just seeking attention. Right. People who threaten suicide are seeking attention. When a person is so desperate for attention, he or she really needs it. Never assume a person who threatens suicide will not follow through. Idol threats mean your loved one is mulling the possibility of dying to escape a painful reality. This is the time to help him or her get help. Call the police. Drive straight to a hospital. Do not leave the person alone. Make it clear that you are going to respond to such a cry for help and do not wait. When a loved one suddenly stops threatening to commit suicide, it can be too late.

I can prevent (or could have prevented) a suicide by …There are many things we can do to help people who are in so much pain they see death as the only remaining option. Ultimately, it is up to every single individual to measure the value of his or her own life. If you have suicidal thoughts, now is the time to think about others. Now is the time to get help. Call the National Suicide Prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or call someone you trust to discuss these feelings rationally. Drugs and alcohol are often used by those who try to mask the pain. Unfortunately, the very same vices often give individuals the false courage to act on their obsessions. Don’t let suicide become an obsession. We really can become our thoughts.

  • My brother was not selfish. He shared more thousands of dollars with the people he loved — and some he didn’t even know — than many of us will make in years.
  • No one could have prevented Ronnie from killing himself. It is what he decided to do. He had taken medication. He had spent hours upon hours in therapy. He had even checked himself into a hospital the very night he checked right back out and pulled the trigger.
  • So many people loved our boy that it hurts to think of all those suffering from his loss.
  • I could have been kinder to my brother. I could have worked to be closer to him so I would know what he was feeling. I could not have prevented his suicide.

This week my family and friends are participating in the “Out of the Darkness” walk for suicide prevention in the names of my brother, my son-in-law’s brother, and my grandchildren’s grandfather — all lost in the last three years to suicide. If you would like to aid the prevention effort, please think of contributing to our cause.

Find Yourself in Family History

African Oral Historian Touched by Importance of Past

Donna Messerly-Brownby Donna Messerly-Brown

One of the greatest places to find yourself is in family history. There’s just something about the ability to connect with ancestors unknown that helps me develop a sense of self. For that reason, family history research is a rich form of self-help.

Several years ago I fell in love with my great-great-great-grandmother Elvira Teeples Wheeler Rockwood Van Curen. I descended from her through my maternal grandfather, Floyd Raymond Morgan. Sometimes when I feel absolutely defeated, I think of Grandma Teeples and of the hearty pioneer stock from whence I came!

Grandma was one of the earliest members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She followed its first president Joseph Smith and subsequent leaders to the West despite seemingly insurmountable circumstances. Her first husband was killed in a rock quarry while helping to build the church’s Nauvoo temple. Her second husband beat her with a buggy whip (she cooked that whip up in a stew and left it for him for dinner as she rode off into the sunset with her children). Three of her homes were burned during the Mormon persecutions in Missouri and Illinois. Her third husband left her in Idaho with young children to raise alone. She delivered a significant number of babies during her era as early settlers tamed the Wild West.

Just one of the many colorful characters I have discovered in my family history, Grandma Teeples is my own pillar of strength (and I’m pretty sure I can feel her blood pumping through my veins).

I encourage everyone to delve into family history. Ask questions, conduct simple research, look for your ancestors’ names online. It’s so easy to start; but, be careful, this activity is known for its high addiction rate!

Because I love family history and its  ability to heal the soul, I want to tell you about a special event taking place in Georgia thanks to Family History Expos!

The following information was garnered from a personal interview with Paul Adjei of Ghana Africa. What an inspiring individual! What an honor to have spoken to him. Mr. Adjei is another pioneer making progress on a wild frontier despite tremendous odds against him:

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African Oral Historian Stresses Importance of Recording History at Georgia Family History Expo

By Donna M. Brown

Paul Adjei

If the traditional West African belief is true, “every time an old man dies it is as if a library has burned down,” it’s safe to consider Paul Adjei a modern-day fireman. He is an oral historian sworn to collect, preserve and protect a dissipating past.

Adjei, sponsored by Family History Expos, will present at the 2012 Georgia Family History Expo Nov. 9-10 in Duluth. There he will share the spirit and purpose of his work collecting the oral histories of the Akan in West Africa. He will travel from his home of Kumasi-Ghana to teach two classes at the expo and participate in a panel discussion there with Fortune 500 executive and genealogist Bernard E. Gracy. The Expo will take place at the Gwinnett Center, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway.

Adjei Born to Africa, Called to Serve

Adjei was born in Kumasi-Ghana in 1977. His mother had given birth to seven children prior to marrying Adjei’s father. “I have many elderly brothers and a sister,” he said. His mother and his father brought five more children into the world and raised them in a 14X14 room. Adjei has a twin sister. A lack of food and money for school was always a struggle for his family.

“I was not resentful, but accepted our condition as it was,” Adjei said. “As a child I helped my mother to sell so we could put food on the table.”

Adjei helped feed the family throughout his youth. “My mum has done almost any business that an African mother could think of. We use to sell charcoal. We sold earrings and I would put them in a flat bowl and hold the bowl on my head. I would go from house to house to sell to our neighbors.”

The 2012 graduating class of field students who attended the Rural Development College in Kwaso, Ghana. The students are field workers supervised by Paul Adjei commissioned to collect oral histories of their people for Family Search.

The turning point in Adjei’s life came the day he met missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1991. “I was one of the people missionaries would call a ‘golden contact,’” he said. “I had never seen the church in my neighborhood before. One Saturday evening I was contemplating about which church to join. My dad was the pastor of a Charismatic church in town.”

Adjei said he was unfamiliar with the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Most church’s paid their clergy; so, one Saturday afternoon he walked into an LDS church and asked for the pastor. Individual wards of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are overseen by volunteer clergy members lead by a bishop. Bishops are not available at the meeting houses full time, but there were missionaries available to talk with Adjei. “The missionaries came out to meet with me. I had never stayed for church activities,” he said.

Although his father had his own church, Adjei’s parents were supportive of his decision and began to see the transformation in him immediately. At the time, it was common for youth in his area to smoke and drink and swear,” Adjei said. “My parents noticed that I did not do any of those things because of the church I joined. Even though my father had his own church, they were always supportive of my decision.

It was the church that introduced Adjei to the concept of genealogy and family history research. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is strongly rooted in families. A cornerstone principle of the Gospel is that families can be together forever.

In 1999 Adjei went on to serve an LDS mission in his homeland, Ghana. “Heavenly father has never, ever made a mistake in anything that he does and I’m sure the Lord led me here,” he said.

Today Adjei compares notes of his childhood with his siblings. “There are so many stories we share whenever I meet my brother who is currently doing well economically. We look back and feel humble,” he said.

In 2000 Adjei launched his commerce-based business, Worldbiz. “This business was organized for commerce, not family history,” Adjei said. In time, the African businessman came to accept his life’s calling as an oral family historian. Yet, he still holds out hope for his commercial venture.

“The one thing about family history work is that it is a field you have to have a passion for,” Adjei said. “It’s a field that allows you to help people discover and uncover the past.” The bottom line? There’s not much money to be made in the family history industry, but he accepts that it strives toward a greater purpose. “What I expect and I hope to accomplish is to be able to tell the outside world – especially with African-Americans it is time to look back, it is time to be able to know where you come from.”

The family genealogist, a young child in the center of this photograph, is carried up to practice his family history. This child was chosen by a clan in Ghana, Africa to study his lineage in order to preserve history for his clan.

The Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU), also known today as the FamilySearch Archive, was founded in 1894 by leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is self-described as a private, nonprofit, cultural and educational organization.

The organization’s purpose is many-fold. While its records of all kinds are open to the public, it was originally formed to promote genealogical research and help church members identify their ancestors. FamilySearch Archive helps by:

  • collecting
  • organizing
  • preserving
  • providing access to

all kinds of family-related records.

It was GSU that first recruited Adjei in 2007 to use his passion for the people, his knowledge of the region, his love of history and his unique skill set to lead an African hunt of epic proportions – a hunt for crucial Akan history stock-piled in the minds of its elders. The project is a challenge, Adjei said, because much of the information FamilySearch wants to preserve was once only found in the songs, stories and rich cultural traditions of the Akan. With an average male life expectancy of 55, much historic tribal knowledge is buried with its vessel.

Due to the Akan’s oral tradition, Adjei said before the oral history project, stories were only stored in the memories of musicians, story tellers, historians, genealogists and myth makers. A strong sense of culture can help keep the information alive through African tradition, but times are changing and hundreds of years of information are at risk if the knowledge goes unrecorded.

The GSU’s first oral genealogy project in West Africa was conducted in Gambia in the early 1980’s, according to a 2007 report, “African Oral Genealogy: Collecting and Preserving Yesterday for Tomorrow” by Osei-Agyemang Bonsu and Melvin P. Thatcher. It was written for the World Library and Information Congress 73rd IFLA General Conference and Council in Durban, South Africa. IFLA is an acronym for the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions.

In 2003 a pilot project was organized among the Ashanti of Ghana, a sub-group of the Akans. “In 2004 and 2005 pilot projects were carried out among the Ga in Ghana and the Ibibio in Nigeria,” the report said.

Akan People Targeted in Oral History Project

The Akan people represent an ethnic group in West Africa. The Akan are most concentrated in Ghana and on the Ivory Coast. With about 20 million people representing the Akan ethnic group, they make up the majority of the population in both countries.

There are many subgroups of the Akan and the people speak a wide variety of dialects of the primary language known as Twi-Fante.

Adjei set out to accomplish his part of the project with a handful of field-trained interviewers. In time he became aware of the Rural Development College in Kwaso, Ghana, (one of his field workers was a student there). The college helps non-governmental entities develop rural areas of Africa – the perfect partner for the oral history project. About 30 fieldworkers are assisting with the project today and all are students.

“We have worked with the school in diverse ways,” Adjei said. He and his partners constantly seek ways to give back to the school and the rural communities it represents. He recently aided the acquisition of computer equipment for the college. “We also go out to do charitable things for people,” he said.

Students of the Rural Development College in Kwaso, Ghana board the bus to travel through communities in order to collect oral histories of the Akan. The students are field workers supervised by Paul Adjei commissioned to collect oral histories of their people for Family Search.

Education First Step to Successful Harvest

Adjei said the project is met with mixed emotions. “Our communities are made in such a way that [the land] is ruled by chiefs and by kings … you have to get permission from the chief of the land to collect oral histories there,” Adjei said. When a chief approves the collection of an oral history without consulting them, his people can become resentful and closed minded.

“The key is to help the people understand the importance of what we are about to share. It’s a matter of education, it’s a matter of letting them know what we are doing and they always open up when they understand,” Adjei said.

African lore implores individuals to become familiar with the sound of their own chief’s trumpets. The village is the basic social and economic unit, and the entire village typically participates in major ceremonies.People must be present at the colorful festivals and celebratory gatherings of people so they can become familiar with the trumpet’s unique sound. If they do not know the sound, they are likely to be missed, Adjei said. A Diabur is a traditional general meeting of the Akan people. When the people gather at the meeting they are called to their own by the sound of the trumpet. If they do not know the sound, they will be lost.

Genealogy a Labor of Love

“I have learned so much. The greatest of it all is the enlightenment of our rich culture,” Adjei said. “I am touched by the inability of our ancestors and our leaders … and by their lack of knowledge in those days that they did not see the importance of the recording of our history.”

Adjei said it’s better late than never and for future generations, “The world is going to be looking at our history. I find it a great honor and a privilege … Because of the project I have traveled to the hinterlands of my country and have been overcome with the people’s great knowledge of our culture.” He is continually humbled by the people’s willingness to share.

The oral historian relates a song by Osibisa, an African rock band, called “Welcome Home.” The song lyrics say in part:

You’ve been gone it’s an empty home,

Come on back where you really belong

You are always welcome home, welcome home.

You’ve been kept down for much too long,

Stand up please and say I am free

Don’t forget you are welcome home, welcome home.

Adjei believes African descendants should not be treated like traditional tourists when they visit the country, but like family returned to their own promised land. He hopes his collection of oral histories will help turn the hearts of his people back toward home.

The oral histories he gathers will one day be made available through FamilySearch Archives. In time he hopes to have the stories translated into English and languages that will make them easy to share among the people.

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