“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.” Helen Keller
I’ve always been amazed at the power of the human spirit. The courage, tenacity and the resilience that has been shown by so many throughout time has always given me hope. As a young boy, I spent a lot of time reading about the struggles and depravations that others had encountered and endured. I was in amazement at their perseverance to carry on, despite the troubles they were in the midst of. It helped to foster my own sense of strength and determination to carry on – in spite of the perverse and brutal child abuse I was experiencing at the house of horror I lived in.
I was drawn to reading books and stories about people’s struggles and anguish in surviving the Holocaust and war time. Many of the books were about battles and tales of soldiers enduring these horrific experiences. This was the key word for me, surviving. I was like a sponge in trying to fathom how people not only survived these times of terror, but how they were also able to help others, despite their own pain and suffering. I wanted to know how they did this, what made them so special that they could look past their own suffering and lend a helping hand. These books led me to the stories about the “Trail of Tears” and the personal accounts of those who were held in slavery. Despite their suffering and the abuse being inflicted upon them, they somehow carried on. Those who undertook great voyages across the seas or in the covered wagons and were besieged by hostile weather and other misfortunes also caught my attention. I read a story of a Mountain Man who was savagely mauled by a grizzly bear – he killed the bear with his gun and knife in close combat, but the bear had broken both his legs and torn him apart all over. And yet he lived…he crawled his way down the mountain to find help and he survived. So many times I had to crawl away from the abuse that had been inflicted upon me…I drew strength and inspiration from the Mountain Man and so many others – if they could carry on and live, well, so would I.
I did survive my childhood abuse, but now came the task of learning to thrive in life.
My experiences in the ‘mental health system’ were a mixed blessing of good and bad – that is another story for another time. Today I want to talk about those who I respect and admire, my fellow surviving spirits. I have met so many incredible people starting back in 1993 – in the psychiatric hospital, the day treatment programs, peer support centers, conferences, advocacy endeavors, on the web, books, self-help support groups and so much more. These surviving spirits had lived through all kinds of pain and suffering and still they carried on. Once again I had inspiration to draw from and I thought they would be a great resource to share with others – offering Hope, Healing & Help.
Out of these experiences and knowledge came the idea to start a newsletter. The task was simple. I would share the books, websites, advocacy and other good works of people and organizations who were addressing the issues of trauma, abuse and mental health challenges. The “Friends of Survivors and Survivor Friends” newsletter started out initially with a mailing list of roughly four hundred people. Years later that newsletter morphed into what it is today, The Surviving Spirit.
The goals and the idea are still the same except now there is a nonprofit organization with a passionate and dedicated board of directors, a website with lots of resources to share and a monthly newsletter that reaches thousands all across the US, Canada and many parts of the world. The resources that are shared in the newsletter and at the website are diverse and unique, we are inclusive to all and this philosophy helps The Surviving Spirit continue to grow in the efforts to help those who have been impacted by trauma, abuse and mental health challenges.
To help honor those affected by life’s struggles and pains, The Surviving Spirit has established The Freedom To Soar Award, a prestigious certificate of achievement, that recognizes individuals for their “outstanding achievement of maintaining dignity, self-respect, poise and growth in the aftermath of what… has been endured.”
Thank you & take care, Michael Skinner