“I come from a poor community in Puerto Rico and I come from a lot of rejection and pain and suffering. I have been in Philadelphia since 1991 and I am now a candidate for priesthood in the Episcopal Church, and I will be the first Latino to ever be ordained for priesthood in Pennsylvania. I was a women who suffered abuse mentally, physically, and sexually but it has made me stronger and now I stand for others who feel they have no way out. I help them to stand up and to speak of the injustices they endure. One way I have done this is through Mothers Mission, an advocacy group that I have been directing for over fifteen years. When I meet abused women I let them know that I see them and if they are beaten down my goal is to make sure they will rise again as a beautiful flower. I make sure the news seeds I impart in them are seeds of love, self worth, and self esteem – to stand up and not be afraid of speaking the truth. Mothers Mission is lifting women and men up. We want to protect them and to let them know they are of worth. Mothers Mission has expanded from Philadelphia to Chester PA, to Puerto Rico, and to Atlantic City.
I have helped to organize an Inter Faith Peace March which will take place on May 4th in Philadelphia. It will start at B Street and Allegheny Ave. at 11 AM. The goal is to bring people together in communities that have been hit hard by homicide and other crimes.”
Carmen, One Year Later
*I first met Carmen in March of 2018. When I first met her she shared that she had been incarcerated for five years and was released in 2011. Her brother was also murdered three years ago and she has made it her mission to fight for justice for the victims of homicide and for their families. She has taken this mission even further in the past year and has organized an Inter-Faith Peace March on May 4th.
“My strength comes from all my past failures and all the trials I’ve had to endure from childhood traumas to reliving those same traumas that I never healed from as an adult.
I had to find ways to always reinvent myself and was afraid of the stigma associated with finally confronting myself and trying to figure out who I was. In the past I have endured physical and mental abuse as well as drug abuse, deaths of those close to me, and incarceration where I was separated from my children.
Where I am today? Since my brother Richard Davila’s murder on 01/03/2016 I began my quest for justice and even though those who killed him were apprehended within he first three months I never stopped fighting. I joined other organizations in the quest for justice for their loved ones and became a mentor and advocate for others in the community. Today I am closer to establishing my non profit and providing the much needed services that our youths and community members need. I have since become part of the Philadelphia Cares program within the district attorneys office in which I am able to provide services and support to the families of those affected by gun violence in the city of Philadelphia. I am the only bilingual crisis responder throughout the city and I am able to serve and support the families who have had a family member killed. I bring forth my own personal experience and am able to provide for these families the support that my family never received. I continue my outreach work with the high risk population and I facilitate anti-violence groups with youths ranging from 12-18 yrs old to prevent them from entering the system. Last but not least on May 04,2019 I and pastor Jessie Alejandro have organized a city wide peace march that will take place in neighborhoods throughout the city. Our hopes are to rebuild communities and give them hope and a voice !!! We are fighting back! The city of Philadelphia is already up to 100 homicides this year – and no one is coming to help us – and we must help ourselves and begin to change the narrative.”
“In 2010, I was asked by Yan Li, an international gallery owner, to be in a photography show in China.This was an amazing honor and opportunity and I felt both proud and nervous.The conflict for me was that I had been battling agoraphobia for 36 years of my adult life. Agoraphobia,is an anxiety disorder that manifests itself with a fear of leaving home – a fear of driving, traveling, fear of being trapped, i.e. on a plane, bus or escalator. This fear causes crippling and terrifying panic attacks. I suddenly developed this condition while living at home after working one year in California independently.
I suddenly could not even get out my house to get my mail! I was so fearful then, I couldn’t look up at an airplane, like the ones I once flew on so easily from coast to coast before. These panic attacks were so terrorizing that they left me feeling completely helpless.
So when I boarded that plane to China, chin firmly held high, in October of 2011, accompanied by my loving and supportive husband, Richard, I was full of hope. I started to feel nervousness giving way to strength. When I landed I was greeted by a young Chinese woman in a real, like I am not dreaming, airport in China. She was holding a “Jamie Gordon” sign, and I just started to cry and cry. The young woman said, “This is a happy day, why cry?” I smiled at her. I had a movie in my head running of everything I had gone through to get to this place in my life, all the work – the tremendous struggles, doubts, fears – the wonderful friends, it just kept going. I realized that despite my challenges I kept getting up….and I finally felt strong. So very STRONG! That day was a turning point in my life that I carry with me today. I will never forget that young woman smiling back at me as we walked towards the van, ready for the journey to begin.”
What makes me feel strong inside? Tackling a good challenge makes me feel strong. Having lasted so long in such a broken system has made me feel strong, much of the time. At other times, I have felt defeated. My unending ambivalence has lead me to reconsider what a good challenge entails. I enjoy hard work and seeing the fruits of my labor. I am proud of what I have accomplished in each of the schools I have taught. I’m incredibly grateful for what teaching has taught me. I’ve also been daunted by the insurmountable weight of the expectations dropped on teachers and with such little regard and respect. Sometimes it feels like the only people fighting for teachers are teachers and we are exhausted.
A good challenge for me now still involves hard work but it means having conditions about where and how I invest my time and energy. This means having the strength to say no and to avoid becoming entangled in someone else’s convoluted web. It means limiting the amount of time I spend explaining or trying to be understood and validated. I have more important work to do at this point in my life.”
“I have learned that I feel my strongest when I am surrounded by a community of women. I have always surrounded myself with groups of women, but, in the last 10 years or so, have intentionally created or participated in women’s circles. I am currently a part of a circle of local women who meet once a month.
There is something profoundly powerful in sitting in circle with women who are able to support, nurture one another, hold space for one another, and listen to each other. It is a there that I feel unequivocally strong. It is a space that reminds me that I’m not alone in my challenges (and even in my victories), and where I always feel seen and heard. The women I have met through ten years of circles have become my confidants, sisters, best friends, and my support system.”
“The act of loving oneself sometimes takes more strength than the act of loving others. Each day I have to make a choice to ignore the voice in my head that says I am not good enough, that I am not worthy of love, or that I don’t deserve to be happy. For years I listened to that little voice and lived in a place of severe depression. I had moments where things would seem normal on the surface but deep down I was always depressed. And for long periods the depression would become so severe that I would isolate myself, not eat, loose my days to sleep, and just sink into a dark place. That voice cost me lost opportunities because I didn’t believe in my ability, it caused me to be stuck in destructive relationships because I didn’t think I deserved to be valued and respected, and made me loose friendships because I didn’t believe I could be loved. The day I decided to finally get help and go to therapy changed a lot for me. Acknowledging that I needed do something to change my life and that I needed help with it was a HUGE SCAREY thing. I thought that if I reached out for help that I was a failure and I should be able to solve this by myself. But that was the same negative thinking that had created the situation I was in. Therapy put me on a path where I was able to develop ways to tune out the voice and to reframe how I look at myself. However, that ability to ignore that voice took years of effort and work, and each day is still a struggle but I wake up choosing to love me.”
* I met Anne in her row home in Philadelphia where she lives alone with her cat, Black. Her entire home is basically one large studio space – each floor containing art supplies and space for creating and there is artwork all over the walls. I saw a space devoted to carpentry; Anne makes the supports for her work herself. She is in her mid eighties and has been making art for most of life, though she told me that she only started to find more recognition in her seventies. So she told me to “never give up!” My impression of Anne is that she is very much her own person. She lives her life as she wishes and despite difficulties she keeps on doing what matters to her, as she said not “giving up”. She says what she wishes to say and makes the art that she wishes to make. I find her quite inspirational.
“Interior strength is the awareness, willingness and the ability to cope with being a vulnerable and productive human being in a difficult, complex and mysterious world.
I understand that there are no black and white answers and solutions except in the most extreme circumstances. I try and grasp my position and act accordingly hoping that my decisions are as un hurtful as possible to myself and others.
I’ve spent a life-time trying to figure it all out. I’m a “work-in-progress”. At 84, I’m still able to consider options, ideas, example of others and obligations to myself, others and my work as a practicing artist.
I have a reasonably positive and progressive out look. I am an optimist.
The above has gotten me through all kinds of difficulties , including mental illness , cancer and some serious financial problems.
A sense of interior power, for me , must embrace reality while maintaining the ability to simply “let go” and journey to where my imagination and desires suggest.”
Sufey, One Year Later
*I first met Sufey one year ago when she was pregnant with her daughter, Tahvy. She then spoke to me about pregnancy and the prospect of becoming a mother – and about growing and birthing a child, things she had never done before. I wanted to see her again to hear what she had to say now that she has spent nearly a year with her daughter. Had her perspective shifted?
“Motherhood is an initiation like nothing other. I thought I was strong before? Forget it. This year has taken me to my knees and shown me, to the core, what I’m really made of.
I think strength is what it takes to sit with our shadows and meet them with curiosity. It’s the open embracing of all that is present, observing instead of projecting. It’s drawing from the infinite source of energy that we are all connected to — to shift, expand, rise, and hold the ever loving, ever awakened space.
I never knew I was capable of such love. To show up with such grace on such little sleep to be fully present for my baby. But truthfully this strength isn’t something that belongs to me. It simply flows through me as I open my heart to receive, receive, receive.”
Charlene, One Year Later
** I first spoke with Charlene just over one year ago. Below is the photo that was originally posted in Dec. 2017 along with her original story. She shared about the sexual abuse she suffered and how she has been on a path towards healing after spending many years of her life burying and hiding her past. Over the past year she has made great strides towards lessening the pain of the trauma, opening up, and letting go.
“Telling the story, for me, has been really healing because my story was very much a secret. I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t actually begin to talk about it until about four years ago after I had my son.
My family has a long line of sexual abuse. I was sexually abused by my father from the time I was very young, and I have suspicions he also did it to my sister. My mother was emotionally unstable, had violent outbursts and was verbally abusive.
The sexual abuse that happened to me, I really feel like it caused so many issues, symptoms in my life, starting with severe anxiety. That was probably the first thing. Stomach, severe stomach issues, starting from when I was – kindergarten all the way up until – I still have it, but it’s not as bad as it used to be. Eating disorder, alcohol and drug addiction, so many identity issues. Self harming, self destructive behaviors.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and on some really heavy meds for a long time, and then – only in recent times, like within the last year have I totally stopped taking that stuff because my psychiatrist and I, and my therapist, it was kind of just like, we don’t really think you have this. We think you have PTSD from trauma. And that’s really what it was.
It’s gotten a lot easier for me to talk about it. I didn’t used to be able to talk about this without breaking down. Every time I talk about it, it gets a little easier. It’s like I’m unleashing the secret into the world.
I recently spoke at a survivor’s meeting…and I left there with this really intense feeling of strength. There’s so many people that are benefiting from what you’re saying, and even though it’s hard for you to say it, you’ve given them such a gift.
This is me, this is you, this is so many people. And we all have this similar story.
As soon as I started realizing how shut down I was about it, it was like the floodgate opened. I couldn’t ever go back to that denial.
I think for me remembering every detail was giving validity to it. It was validating my experiences…. But I’ve gotten a little better with realizing that I don’t need that to heal. I don’t need those memories to heal. And I don’t need anyone to validate what I went through.
My father – he has manipulated everyone into believing that he didn’t do anything, even though he so much as confessed when it initially happened. It’s bizarre the way the brain can transform what’s said and then alter it.
I left the family completely, but do have some contact with two of my sisters. I’m the scapegoat. I’m the pull apart. It was a leaning tower, and it toppled when I decided to do what I did, but it was the best thing for me and my family. I do not have any connection with my mother now, but when I think of her, my brain is still like a child in the way that I wonder why didn’t you save me? Why didn’t you take me away from this? And she didn’t. She couldn’t. Because she’s a victim herself.
I think for me one of the things that is so hard with abuse is that at your core you feel worthless. You feel like you are constantly trying to achieve the unachievable, and you live in this – I feel like for me, I live in this perpetual state of motion, where I’m constantly chasing something.
The silence is so much based in shame. It’s this cycle…It’s so shameful that you’re locked.
I have been using yoga as a tool in my healing and today I thought of the things that yoga has taught me. So many things, but the biggest thing is breathing to let go. I am learning that there is so much healing in the letting go. Through my breath-steady, in and out- I have learned to move with so much more grace through this world. To soften my face, to feel compassion when I want to judge. I am reminded of love and courage, moments of clarity that have brought me into the present. Those moments are invaluable to me.
Yesterday after we got home from a long day, my son Miles said “It’s 8:56!? I never go to bed this late. I’m so tired. I just want my bed. Ah, peace. I have so much peace in my bed.”
When he said this my heart leaped and hit the bottom all at once. My husband and I, we have given him that peaceful rest, a peaceful life. I never had that. It’s a big deal for me to be able to give that to him.
My biggest fear is that he will one day hate me, as I hate my Mother and as she hated her own. Yet, it is in so many moments that he has told me this is not to be…and here is yet another. I am doing something right, I have to tell myself that sometimes.”