Jeanne and Larena

The Stories We Tell:
Writing our stories, creating a tribe.

 

"We went into the room very different individuals with very different stories. But we emerged after a weekend not just Voices, not just Faces, but a tribe," Jeanne and Larena say, reflecting on their participation in The Voices and Faces Project's testimonial writing workshop.

 

We met in a sunny conference room in San Diego one weekend in February 2016.

The participants were incredibly diverse: age, ethnicity, religious beliefs, sexual identity. We went into the room very different individuals with very different stories. But we emerged after a weekend not just Voices, not just Faces, but a tribe. What we discussed in that room was not "what happened" to me, to her, to you, or to the person in the third chair from the door. What we created in that room under the skillful guidance of Anne Ream and Clifton Spargo was a chapter. We studied, participated with, and created a chapter in the bigger volume of human experience, a volume that is unique to the survivors of sexual or gender-based violence. And we found, as our stories were created, as our words came out, that we overlapped—in fact, we repeated each other. That my private writing and your private pain have much in common.

In our many differences, in our isolation, in our solitude and fear and shame, we came together as parts of a whole and found that the often irregular pieces of family and society and work and justice somehow fit together better when we were all in that room. That we must not keep our voices quiet. That there are safe places in the world. That testimony creates community. That Voices and Faces can change minds, hearts, and lives. — Jeanne and Larena

Image

Jeanne De Vita

“Survivor” is such a solitary word. It connotes trauma at worst and at best the experience of difficulty that surpasses common pain. Of course, there can be survivors—plural. But even tragedy or horror shared by many is experienced in individual ways, over individual moments, by each and every individual person in their own way.

Likewise, surviving is a personal process, a journey of fits and starts that one morning can begin and end before coffee— with a memory, a gesture, an image. Recently surviving has become a form of entertainment. Whether humans are battling the elements, zombies, or the confines of our own minds and bodies, the business of reality has created episodic television that would not exist without the underlying theme of survival.

As I stand in the kitchen of my soul, I simmer a perilous stew—my survival journey. Part trauma, part memory, part body, part soul, I add to the pot, I sip and taste, but this is a meal I must make for myself. There will be no dinner party, no flowers and laughter, no chatter and stories. I must keep my voice quiet. After all, what good did crying out do before? When I was four, when I was nine, when I was twelve. At different times I had opportunities to open up about the abuse, but when I did the capital letter F that so tenuously holds family together threatened to topple over and bring our house down with it.

One thing I learned as a result of having been abused at a young age is that there aren't many safe places in the world. Nightmares before dreams. Tension before calm. Fear. Trembling.

As humans will, I found solace in adapted comforts: solitude, taking care of my younger siblings, the busywork of keeping order that kept the chaos at bay.

I turned to writing at a young age. On the page I could create illusions of the lives I had been denied. I could make stories my reality. I could find that safe place.

At least that is how I felt until February of 2016 when I participated in The Voices and Faces Project's testimonial writing workshop. I had reached a point in my life where the desire to talk— to be heard— had wrestled to the ground the survivalist who believed I needed to be silent and alone to be safe. Maybe what I actually needed was to listen and to share — community?

Image

Larena Patrick

One thing that I learned as a result of having been abused at a young age is that there aren't many safe places in the world — that no one really listened or wanted to hear what a girl had to say. That was my belief, my modus operandi for years. So I kept my voice quiet. Eventually I turned to writing to express myself with journals and poetry that I kept tucked safely away. And I spent a lot of my time alone. I don't think I actually realized how much I needed the exact opposite, a safe place with people who want to hear what I have to say. And the opportunity to open up about past abuse.


So the idea of a writing workshop for survivors of sexual violence sounded like something that would be perfect. Though, it seemed like something of a pipe dream. To feel safe enough to share my personal writing and to create and expand a community in one weekend? As idealistic and romanticized as that sounds, I actually experienced it in The Voices and Faces Project's workshop in San Diego.


"The Stories We Tell" is the country's first testimonial writing program for survivors of sexual violence, domestic violence, and trafficking. Find out more at voicesandfaces.org

Image