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The Bristlecone Project

Portraits and Biographies of Male Survivors

Lewis Trembath

Faith and hope, entwined with his Maori roots, remain alive in Lewis despite the traumas that have marred his life. As a young child, Lewis was afraid of the night. He would often climb into his grandmother’s bed, seeking safety. But his grandmother turned her comfort into sexual abuse, leaving Lewis trapped in family loyalties and dynamics that he could not possibly navigate. So he remained silent, and he suffered.

His suffering intensified at the age of thirteen. Lewis’ older brother was given a drug that damaged his brain, turning him unpredictable and violent. He terrorized the entire family with his outbursts but turned his worst violence on Lewis when he violently raped him.

The accumulated trauma burdened Lewis with anxieties and panic attacks that only years later would be diagnosed as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. At sixteen, he left home and found work in a sawmill. He was a hard worker and managed to support himself. But he was keeping the lid on a cauldron of traumatic memories, and he turned to alcohol to help numb the torrent of emotions that he could not handle alone.

And then hope reawakened in his life, in the form of Christine. A fellow Maori, Christine told Lewis about her own sexual trauma, and so Lewis told her about his. “We were healing balm to each other.” Drawing on their combined strength, Lewis gave up drinking. Drawing on their combined strength, the two of them volunteered for an organization that provided services to battered women, and later provided foster care to dozens of traumatized children.

And then Christine became ill with cancer. After two years, she died. Still, the hope and faith that she helped nourish in Lewis remains alive. He found support and solace from two Maori mental health agencies, Te Awa o te ora and Purapura Whetu trust, and with fellow survivors at Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust, and the carved pendants that hold both his bond with Christine and his tears at her loss lie close to his heart.