April is sexual assault awareness month. I have a group of friends, who are all survivors, who live all across North America. We keep in touch and share our struggles with and fight against the issue of sexual violence. This month, we’ve decided to share each other’s blogs as we post about S.A.A.M. and what it means for us. One of those friends/survivors is Sheena. Here is her Facebook page. Here is her blog. She sent me interview questions, which I answered, and decided to share on my own blog.
Before I get to the questions, I want to share the shirt that I made last night, as a part of a survivors group. It is for the clothesline project. You can find out more about The Clothesline Project here. It was started as a grassroots effort to give survivors the forum to speak about their experiences as an aid in the prevention of and awareness around violence against women. Survivors are encouraged to make t-shirts conveying their “testimony to the problem of violence against women.” As I watched women all around me, I tried to think of what I wanted to say in regards to the issue. I wanted to express my pain and anger, but I also wanted to share my hope that we have the power to turn things around. I drew an image of a bird coming out of a heart, but the words continued to evade me. Then a bible verse popped into my head. It is Genesis 50:20 and it says: You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. I think it adequately expresses the fact that we have the power to turn around what has been done to us and stop the cycle, a theme that was common as I answered the interview questions from Sheena. Here is a picture of my shirt:
Ok, and now for the interview!!! Enjoy:
1. Who are you?
Noelle: Freelance Writer, Future Banjo Prodigy, Recovering Addict, Self-Proclaimed Rock Star, Christian Feminist Slam Poet, Survivor
2. Does Sexual Assault Awareness month and Childhood Sexual Abuse Prevention Month hold any significant meaning to you? If so, why?
Yes, because I’ve experienced both and I think they are both completely unacceptable and unacceptably quiet experiences in the lives of far too many people.
3. What is your story?
4. According to some statistics, very few people report abuse & assault crimes. Why do you think that is?
Because our legal and medical systems, as well as our entire society as a larger whole pressures those who experience such violence to stay silent. Often times this pressure is carried out in the form of shaming and further abuse of victims.
5. Do you think abusers, rapist, molesters, pedophiles and the likes can be reformed, healed or changed?
I think anything is possible. Ask me if it is likely, and I will say no.
6. What do you want others to understand about those who have been victimized?
That such violence is completely unacceptable. That victims receive little to no support after such acts are committed. That our culture allows and even endorses sexually violent behavior, and that it is EVERYONE’s responsibility to start examining the way we live and making a genuine and vigorous effort to change. And that such violence is devastating in the lives of victims, but with support and dedication, such violence can be overcome.
7. What’s been the most difficult thing to deal with as it relates to what you’ve experienced?
The most difficult part of my experience to deal with is how I was treated after I was victimized. Again and again, I was either completely ignored or simply not believed. I was belittled, accused, ignored, and silenced, not only by the legal system, but by my loved ones.
8. How have you dealt with your own personal rage at the traumatic things that have happened to you?
Honestly… I haven’t. I’m still working on simply allowing myself to feel the rage, because I spent my entire life trying not to feel any of it. Whenever I do feel rage, I want to sit with it, embrace it, and express it. I feel like I deserve that.
9. What was an unexpected thing that aided in your growth and healing?
God. It was very hard for me to get past the idea of God as a man, or that God had allowed these things to happen. I was angry and full of blame. What I realized was that I was misunderstanding God. I had always listened to what others believed God was, and I didn’t like what they had to say, but I lived with that God for a long time. Now, I realize that God is more personal than that. God isn’t some giant angry white dude in the sky with a long beard. I see God in a way that comforts me. I also had to make the distinction that God and people are two different things. People have free will. People f*ck up, in major ways. God doesn’t hurt us, God is there to comfort us when people have.
10. What encouraging words do you have to offer for anyone who has ever been abused or assault?
Keep going. Don’t give up. We have the power to change things. What happened was unacceptable and inexcusable. Allow yourself to feel, and remember that everything you feel is valid. Trust yourself. This doesn’t have to break you.
11. What have you learned considering your experiences?
Too much to write here. So much.
12. What do you think is the most important thing the world needs to hear?
We hold the power to turn things around.
13. What brings you ultimate joy?
My future. My nephew. God. My dog. 😀
14. What’s your favorite quote?
“Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” -Dorothy Bernard
15. Who inspires you? Why?
My sister, because she taught me to question authority, and that you can make your own family without recreating the mistakes of your parents.
16. Is there anything else you’d like to share? This is your space to say whatever you want to say unedited, unscripted and without any filters.
To Be Continued… 🙂
It is hard to believe sometimes, looking back at my photos from childhood, that the kid in those pictures was me. It is hard to look at them today, with an adult perspective and understand what things must’ve been like for me then. My perspectives on things were a lot more simple, even if the experiences themselves were not. See, times have changed. My life has changed. I understand far more about myself than I ever did when those photos were taken. I cannot look at them now, without the intense desire to nurture the little girl staring back at me. The same goes for photographs of my sister. A psychologist now, I often wonder how much of her experience of childhood has become convoluted by an academic understanding of how the mind works. Whether it is sad, or just something that simply is, those times can only be glanced at, much like we glance at the photos themselves. Those moments in our lives are over, and all we can really do is make sense of what we went through, so that the same mistakes are not made as we move forward in our lives.
I think the same can be said for photos from other moments in my life. I could look back at pictures from a little more than a year ago, and realize that I was suicidal when they were taken. Or that recovery had not quite taken hold in my life. Or that I had completely given up on the God that I now know and love so very dearly.
It is alarming and confusing to consider that I was the person in those photos. I was that person, drinking recklessly and taking pictures to remember things that alcohol would blur. I was that person, the beautiful young woman, seductively staring at the lens. I hadn’t eaten in days, and the last time I had eaten, I didn’t keep it down. The operative word in those snapshots being “was.” It is important to always consider how a few simple turns can take me to that place, and that I’m no better than anyone else struggling with those things right this minute. I am also, however, no longer the person I used to be. I am a new person. Time, work, experience, honesty, love, care, and most importantly, God, have all made me into a new being. And as easy as it would be for me to become the person I was, I know that I don’t have to. I have so many supportive loved ones to reach out to. I have communities, families, and supports who pour into me spiritually. I guess you could say, I have connections. I know people. I know people who know people. 🙂
I wish I could convey how God has changed my life, but again and again, I find myself at a loss for words as far as that goes.
Sunday was Easter. The service at the church I went to had me in tears. They posed the question, “What difference does it make?” Throughout the service, people walked up with posters with a word on it, conveying who they used to be. After holding it up for a moment, they flipped it over and showed who they had become because of God. I started to think about all the things my poster could say.
Stagnant… Taking Off!
Here’s the one I actually made a picture for. It makes me smile.:
People from my church will get that one. Or people from the south in general.
So, I’ll be making my transition soon. I’m taking another step down in care. I’ll have a little more freedom, and I’ll basically be starting my life over. Like… completely over. I’m thrilled. And excited. And hopeful. And terrified. And willing. My heart is open. My mind has transformed. My spirit has blossomed. My faith has strengthened. If I didn’t trust God completely, I wouldn’t be doing this at all. I’d venture to guess that if I somehow had the opportunity anyway, I’d still be far too frightened to do it.