October 11, 2016

Into A Better Place

This week, James Buffin continues his story and shares about his first step into a support program that opened up much more than he could have ever imagined.


For those of you joining this blog thread now, in the last post I shared about being triggered into awareness in 2011 about sexual abuse I endured in the 1970’s; that the shift in consciousness began with the arrest of my son’s teacher on child pornography charges.

The investigating officer in my son’s case was very kind. She pointed me in the right direction to make my own report and then referred me to a place called The Gatehouse in Toronto, where peer facilitated group programs have been running since 1998. It’s been said that the stairs to the entrance there are some of the hardest three steps you can ever take, but my intake meeting was even tougher. 

Until then, I had assumed that the chronic stress I was living with on a daily basis was simply a function of career choice. I had been a freelance technician in film and television since 1988, where the long days and months were either filled with diabolically chaotic scenarios at the mercy of extreme seasonal variations or mind numbingly repetitive banal studio shoots where we were chronically deprived of sunlight and fresh air. One of my favourite sayings about the film industry is, There’s only two kinds of people in the movies. Those who are dying to get in and those who are dying to get out. Remember, by this time I had a couple of decades under my belt and was struggling to get my own projects off the ground, but was either totally consumed by the work which I needed to pay the bills, or the worry about where the next gig was coming from. 

It was during the intake meeting at the Gatehouse where I began to recognize that the feeling of being trapped was actually something inside of me, not a real function of my external circumstances. That my inability to catch a full breath and the constant body sensations of heightened alert were not just due to a constantly changing landscape and lots of coffee. 

A crack in my perception of the world opened up in that meeting. Through it I caught a glimpse of something better. But it wasn’t easy. The cost of this new and intriguing possibility was vulnerability. 

There I was sitting in a room full of teddy bears and kids books, sharing my story with a total stranger. I was suddenly overwhelmed with a wave of fear. Would I be turned away? Or worse, would this be just one more time where after reaching out for help, the professional on the other side of the table would blankly hand me a pamphlet and invite me to another session I couldn’t afford in either time or money? 

Accessibility is a key principle at The Gatehouse. Founder Arthur Lockhart has ensured that this is upheld, so that there is never a financial obstacle to people who want help. Their core support model is peer facilitated group programs. The first one is 15 weeks, two hours a week. The second phase is co-ed (a first in Canada). After that, a constantly evolving array of programming is available that includes, but is not limited to, a partners program (another first) and art therapy. 

Tone is perhaps the greatest element that separates The Gatehouse from any other support I’ve ever experienced. The work that is done there involves going into very dark places and shining a light. And it’s one of the happiest, most welcoming environments I’ve ever experienced. I think that lightness is the foundation that allows for the heavy lifting to happen. It’s not an attempt to gloss over, ignore, displace or minimize the struggles of survivors. For example, during the phase one men’s groups, it would be typical for Art to respectfully check in by poking his head through the door. Imagine a group of 8 or 9 guys sharing hard stuff. We’re talking tears and snot. And in comes Art with a smile to say, “Hey guys, how’s it going?” To respectfully pull that off, without breaking the integrity of the meeting is what I’m talking about. That tone is contagious. I’ve never seen a happier group of traumatized people than at The Gatehouse.

Lockhart had already been doing work with documentary filmmaking prior to my participation at The Gatehouse, so he was familiar with the power of the medium. By the time I arrived, I’d already been self-documenting my story for several months. It seemed a natural fit to do some work together. One of the ways I’m giving back is to produce a video blog of empowered survivors, The Turn with James Buffin, filmed at The Gatehouse. You can see it here.

In the next episode, I will share about the genesis of the documentary film Picking Trauma’s Pocket and how it went from doing a selfie outside a police station to telling a global story. The international phase of shooting has gradually evolved into a global odyssey where I have met incredible survivors, scientists and specialists on several continents and counting.

You can help complete Picking Trauma’s Pocket, the documentary by contributing to our crowd funding campaign until November 10, 2016. 

Go here to support this amazing project: https://igg.me/at/ptpthefilm

Read Part 3...

James Buffin is a filmmaker with over 26 years experience, working on movies, tv shows, commercials, music videos and documentaries shooting across North America, South America, Asia and the South Pacific. The theme of his current work is disaster/recovery, both environmental and personal. Current projects include a feature length documentary about becoming an aware survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Having taught for many years with organizations like Planet In Focus, LIFT Toronto and Workman Arts, he recently expanded his company, Veritus Pictures, to include video workshops in Toronto’s East End.

Picking Trauma’s Pocket 

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