By Joyce Aubrey, CCASA Board Member, Founder of Finding Our Voices & 2011 Excellence in Advocacy Award Recipient
Thinking about 30 years ago and what I was doing in the 1980’s takes me to a very different time in my life. I was a proud Type A individual…merchant, wife and mother living in my native state of Kansas. My days were spent at my retail store in Colby, selling fabric and sewing machines. The marketing campaign “Joyce’s has Choices” was appropriate and attracted a flow of customers from a 100 mile radius. In 1984 I cut cake for the 300th anniversary of Husqvarna/Viking Sewing Machines wearing a Swedish costume. Thirty years later, on September 26th, I’ll be cutting a rug dancing at the CCASA 80’s party.
By 1995, my life as a storekeeper ended. Flashbacks to childhood incest and “sharing” (today we call it family trafficking) disrupted my “normal” lifestyle. The fallout of those memories was that I walked away from all the roles that had previously defined my existence and moved to Colorado. Today I am still promoting “Choices” but in a very different setting.
One of the most important choices for me was to realize that I had control over the thoughts that I allowed to replay in my mind. I made the choice to limit negative self-talk and self-deprecating thoughts that condemned me to the victim stance. Then I made the choice to speak openly about how childhood incest had impacted every aspect of my life, even when I was living in denial.
The roads I traversed in Western Kansas in the 1980’s, traveling to home shows and county fairs were dusty and isolated. Today, the path I travel with survivors on the recovery road is often blurred with injustice and physical pain. The choices are more difficult and painful than following highway signs; isolation is far more personal. UC Berkeley and U of Michigan report on the detrimental effects of isolation during adulthood. They report that adults who do not cultivate nurturing relationships have premature death rates twice as high as those with frequent caring contact; furthermore “the data indicates that social isolation is as significant to mortality as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and lack of physical exercise.”
For me, success in the 80’s was measured in customer retention and dollars. Today success is identified in the countenance of a survivor who has found his voice; in the survivor who has sustained a relationship or job; in the strength of the victim who confidently affirms: “I won’t allow you to treat me like dirt anymore.” Success is in the tears of the survivor who announces that she doesn’t have to be afraid to walk to the store anymore because her offender was convicted and sentenced. A milestone is crossed when a survivor announces that she isn’t so easily triggered now that she has anchored her anger in a painting.
In the 1980’s I felt successful because customers reported they didn’t mind driving hours to shop my store where we enjoyed our job. My satisfaction today is much deeper, because I can see that through Finding Our Voices (FOV) and the support that CCASA gives us, we are changing lives… lives that were marginalized and trivialized, spirits that were crushed and ignored; individuals that felt no one understood them.
Choices today are focused on recovery from abuse as I work within FOV, a non-profit that supports sexual assault survivors through art activities, support groups and retreats. Working as advocates in the community, we inform citizens of the long-term effects of sexual violation, open dialogue about gender violence and speak out to break the silence surrounding abuse.
Choices exist in the public realm. We advocate in our communities to point out the re-victimization of survivors with language that calls victims “accusers” and perpetrators “defendants”. We shed light on the degrading practice of asking victims what they were wearing, what they were drinking, why they were at the venue. We call attention to attitudes that make defense the preferred strategy to avoid victimization.
We work at empowering survivors to make healthy choices rather than living in denial and engaging in self-destructive behaviors. We talk about breaking the silence by sharing our stories when it is safe. We speak openly about the difficult choice to avoid individuals, family or friends, who are toxic to our ability to reclaim a sense of self and self-worth. We work to empower survivors.
CCASA has been leading the charge for 30 years to change laws so that victims are supported, to provide resources for direct services centers and community groups, and to connect us with resources we need. I’m proud to have found my voice through Finding Our Voices and Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and I am humbled to help empower others to find their voices. Here’s to more progress in the next 30 years.
Join Joyce at CCASA’s 30th Anniversary 80s Celebration on September 26th in Denver!