A survivor of childhood sexual abuse is hoping to make a difference for other victims by raising money for charity during an excruciating 3,000-mile run across the country.
For the next five months, Christian Griffith will be making his way from New York City to San Francisco, running 30 miles a day five days a week. The avid marathon runner was inspired to embark on the cross-country trek after he began therapy to start his recovery from the sexual abuse he experienced, first at the hands of his mother, then by a number of men while in his teens.
“I carried that with me for a long time, 30-plus years,” Griffith, 47, from Jacksonville Beach, Florida, tells PEOPLE. “When you’re abused, especially by other men, it’s not really something that anyone would ever talk about, want to talk about or be willing to talk about. I carried that around and developed a lot of behaviors to try to hide from all the things that happened to me.”
According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), a child is sexually assaulted every eight minutes in the United States, and 93 percent of them know the perpetrator. According to the organization, victims can experience feelings of shame and can feel guilty about not stopping the abuse. They may also have feelings of low self-esteem, which can negatively affect how they manage relationships with other people.
“There’s no such thing as hiding, right?” Griffith, a digital strategist, says. “It just comes out in other ways and other behaviors. For me, it was a life of constantly broken, unhealthy relationships and dysfunctional behaviors.”
With therapy, Griffith says he was able to open up about the sexual abuse he experienced, and he hopes to inspire others to do the same.
“I got in therapy and it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me,” he says. “It totally changed my life and it taught me that for me to heal, I needed to be a voice for the little boy inside of some of us grown men. When you’ve been sexually abused, at least for me, it’s the first thing you think about in the morning, and the last thing you think about at night.”
Griffith has participated in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy, a psychotherapy treatment that focuses on alleviating issues caused by painful memories and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the American Psychological Association.
Over the last year and a half, Griffith has come to better understand how the abuse has affected him, and he now says he values his mental health just as much as his physical wellbeing.
“I don’t think I’ll ever stop with therapy now, ” he says. “I look at it as just like, I will always have a gym membership and I’ll always focus on my physical health. So I’m going to always focus on my mental health, too. Why wouldn’t I do that?”
Griffith says he’s been inspired by the many female survivors who are helping to initiate a new “awakening” in our culture to hold perpetrators accountable with the recent #MeToo movement.
“The women are coming out in droves and they’re not afraid,” Griffith says. “I want to be that voice for men. I’m going to be that loud voice for the men.”
Throughout his run across the country, Griffith will spread the word about treatment options for survivors as he aims to raise $1 million through a partnership with the nonprofit charity Help for Children. The donations will go to local organizations across the world that are actively working to prevent and treat child abuse.
Griffith—who recently participated in “The Selection: Special Operations Experiment” on the History channel—has a set up a fundraising page through GoFundMe that has since raised more than $28,000 of its $1 million goal for the run, which he is dubbing Run2Heal. He is also publishing pictures and posts on his Facebook page to document his run.
This week, Griffith is working his way to Pennsylvania after running in the freezing temperatures of the snowstorm that hit the East Coast this week. Once he finally makes it to California, Griffith says the experience will symbolize a “rebirth” of sorts for him. He just hopes he can spark the same type of healing in other abuse survivors.
“We’ve developed so many behaviors to compensate or to cope with what has happened to us that we need treatment, we need help, we need therapy,” he says. “I strongly urge people to first, talk about what has happened. Lift that weight off of you. Once you tell the people you trust, then you have to walk through the fire. You have to do the work, but you’ll be happy you did.”