An interview with Jen Howver, co-author of Secret Survivors

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of interviewing Jen Howver, one of the authors of Secret Survivors.

Here is what the Youth Specialties website has to say about the book…

Secret Survivors tells the compelling, true stories of people who have lived through painful secrets-things that they kept to themselves until they could no longer bear the pain alone. As you read their stories, you’ll be drawn into their journeys towards healing, and you’ll understand why it’s so important to share your secret with someone else in order to start your own healing process. Read the stories of people, who as teens and young adults, dealt with issues like:

  • Date rape
  • Physical abuse
  • Cutting
  • Pornography addiction
  • Eating disorders
  • Incest
  • Drug and alcohol addiction
  • Abortion

You may find a story that sounds similar to your own secret pain, or you may learn more about secrets that a friend or family member is dealing with. Whether your own story is represented in these pages or not, you’ll feel a connection to the people in these stories, because we all have some kind of pain tucked away. But you don’t have to feel alone in your pain anymore. After you read the stories of these survivors, you’ll find the strength you need to share your own secret and start healing your heart and soul.

I read this book with two different perspectives. I read it as a youthworker and also as a survivor myself.

I’ve shared on this blog the fact that I’ve lived through some difficult things in my life. Because of that, I can say with some credibility that Secret Survivors lives up to it’s description. The stories included in the book offer understanding and hope to those who feel like they have no choice but to suffer alone.

The honesty, transparency and hope found in the pages make this book a must read for students and leaders alike. We can never really know what it feels like to go through the things addressed in the book – unless we’ve gone through them ourselves. But the courageous testimonies of the young men and women in the book give us some insight to the struggles our students may be up against.

Here is my interview with Jen…

How did you decide to write the book and share your own stories as a part of it? Was it a clear call from God that you immediately followed or was it something you wrestled with?

I (Jen) actually felt for a long time that I needed to do something with my story, and since writing is what I do, a book seemed a natural choice. However, I always had good excuses as to why I wasn’t writing it…too busy, to nervous, to unsure of myself…and the list went on. It wasn’t until I had two people close to me experiencing some pretty traumatic stuff that I decided it was time to finally write the book. I emailed all my friends looking for good stories to include in the book, and Megan replied to me saying that she wanted to help me write it. I knew Megan and knew that she had an amazing ministry to hurting teens, so I welcomed the partnership.

I notice that there are more girls profiled than boys. Was that a conscious choice as authors or was it easier to find girls that would be open about their stories?

We initially chose the topics we wanted to cover. Most of those tend to be more prominent issues among girls than guys, although we certainly would have loved to find stories of guys who were victims of sexual abuse (and willing to talk about it). It’s definitely still more taboo for guys to talk about being victims of sexual abuse (often because it’s a same-sex perpetrator, and therefore issues of homosexuality and gender confusion tend to make guys even less comfortable to talk about their experience). So, to make a long answer short, no, it was not a conscious choice to have more girls than guys in the stories.

How did you go about finding/selecting young people to profile?

Megan obviously had a lot of people she knew who had gone through some pretty intense stuff and come out on the other side. Some were people who help lead in her ministry, Life Hurts God Heals, and others were former students in the program. We had some recommendations from friends of people to talk to, and of course, our own stories are there as well.

In so many of the stories, the young men and women struggle with more than one of the things your book covers. What do you think this says about the things we struggle with?  How do we help students avoid this snowball effect?

One of the things we were fascinated by as we finished each interview was the amount of similarity between the experiences each of us had as a result of carrying our secret. Even though we each lived through something totally different, as we held on to our pain, it became like a cancer that ate away at us in so many ways. Honestly, the pain of carrying a secret (which usually involves a lot of shame, guilt, and embarrassment), can become so overwhelming that you begin to look for ways to cope with the pain. I think that’s why so many of the stories also involved eating disorders or self-injury as a means to cope with the pain of the original secret. It’s like we were using these other coping mechanisms for two things: to punish ourselves for whatever it was we felt we had done wrong, and to exert some kind of control in our lives, which felt so completely out of our control.  I think one way to help students avoid the snowball effect is to help them understand how it all fits together. We don’t just cut because we are sad or angry. We cut because of something much deeper. We don’t decide to drink or smoke dope because it makes us feel good. We do it because it helps us mask the pain we’re feeling inside. Granted, not every kid is carrying deep pain like the people in our book, but we know that they’re all carrying something that often causes them to act out or shut down in one way or another. Honestly, the first step of telling someone about your secret is really the most important thing we can help teenagers do. By providing a place where they feel safe and loved and accepted—no matter what—we can help them open up. If we don’t know what they’re dealing with, we really can’t help them. So if we can help them find the courage to share their secret, then we can walk with them down a journey towards healing, towards becoming a survivor.

How did you select the resources, helplines, etc. that are listed in the back of the book?

A few of these resources and websites were places that we had come across because of friends who were either running them or who recommended the sites or resources to us. Many of the resources are long-standing, respected support groups or networks that have been successful for countless people around the world. Megan did a lot of research for the resources she’s written, and that’s how a lot of the other sites/organizations were found.

What would you say to parents/friends who fear their loved one is fighting one of the battles you talk about?

The biggest thing they can do is to be a loving, encouraging, supportive, non-judgmental place for the one they care about. Each of us in the book kept our secret hidden because we were afraid of what people would think, or how people would respond, or how they’d view us after they knew our secret. Also, ask the person directly… They may deny it, or they may feel a great sense of relief that they no longer have to keep it a secret from you anymore.

Be loving, encouraging, supportive and non-judgmental. Important advice for all of us when we encounter these difficult topics.

I HIGHLY recommend this book. You can buy it in the Youth Specialties store.

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Posted on April 6, 2009, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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