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ARISE! International, Inc  





Reclaiming My Voice And Power

Hope and Healing After Sexual Trauma 

In September 1958, I was bor​n to teenage parents in Monroe, Louisiana.  At age six in 1964, my great aunt on my mother’s side of the family became my guardian and I lived with her for six years in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1970, I then was moved to Dallas, Texas at the age of 12 to live with my mother and younger siblings.  Immediately the sexual abuse began. My mother’s live in boyfriend who would later take on the role of stepfather in my life betrayed my trust and violated my boundaries.  After several outcries, I was abandoned in the confusing world of incest by those who failed to believe, protect and support. I endured chronic sexual abuse in an environment where I expected and should have been cared for and safe. The sexual abuse came in all three forms: verbal, visual and physical and extended over a period of five years.  As the abuse escalated I finally decided to take matters in my own hands and ran away in 1976 at age 17.

I graduated from high school in 1977 while living with extended family members. I tried to move forward with my life as best as I could. Without proper guidance and direction I was making a lot of unhealthy choices about life. I was troubled with low self worth and self defeating thoughts that there was “something wrong” with me. I had difficulty in relationships and wouldn’t allow others to get to close to me because of the fear of being hurt, so I controlled or attempted to control people and my environment which only led to additional problems. Being plagued with negative emotions of fear, anger, guilt, grief and shame, kept me in emotional turmoil, they were my constant companions. Somehow I never connected the dots to the troubles I had in everyday life to the past sexual abuse from childhood.

I didn’t realize the impact the previous experiences had on me as a person. Sexual abuse wasn’t talked about as openly as it is now. My disclosure of the sexual abuse was met with silence and secrecy and the issues were swept under the rug and never addressed openly and appropriately. Like many survivors, I adopted the false belief that once I left the abusive environment and the abuse had stopped I could move on with life as normal. Little did I know, the damage had already been done. The emotional pain would fester over time and manifest itself in the following ways: 1) the lies I believed about the abuse and how I viewed myself, 2) a plague of negative emotions, 3) a distorted body image, 4) troubled interpersonal relationships and 5) my view on spiritual matters. The magnitude of its impact would become painfully real to me as I matured.

For years I wore the mask and pretended I was OK, everything was OK but in actuality I was suffering with deep internal pain. Then in 1994, my life began to unravel and I hit an emotional wall when the person who chose to sexually abuse me passed away. I didn’t understand the emotional crisis it put me in which left me even more confused, angry and depressed. Sharing my dilemma with a personal friend she suggested I go see a counselor at our local church. When things were not getting better I heeded her advice and weeks later walked into a counselor’s office who diagnosed me with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and clinical depression related to the sexual trauma in childhood. The effects of the abuse also manifested itself in my body through Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome (TMJ) which was revealed by painful jaw movements due to stress and teeth grinding during sleep. 

After working with me for six months the counselor suggested I locate a sexual abuse support group to further my healing. Much to my dismay the groups were not readily available and I had given up hope of ever finding a group until an intern at my local church started a sexual abuse group in 1995. Although excited, I had my reservations upon entering the support group because I couldn't comprehend at the time how being a part of a group would address the effects of sexual abuse in my life. I later realized that what I needed more than anything was—a  safe place. A safe place to be accepted and encouraged to address the issues I needed to face and not face them alone. A safe place to learn the truth about my experiences because for the longest I blamed myself, thinking I had done something to cause the abuse. The support group was everything I needed! It gave me community with other women who had similar experiences as I. It gave me a safe place to share my thoughts and feelings as I was able to without feeling rejected, blamed and condemned. It gave me the tools I needed to address the emotional pain from the past and over time I began to heal and advocate for myself and others.

In 2007 while on my healing journey I established ARISE! International, Inc as a faith based nonprofit 501 (c) 3 organization whose mission is to raise awareness of the devastation that sexual abuse has on individual lives, families and communities. I facilitated my first support group in the Fall of 2008 and to date have led over a hundred clients through the recovery program, Shelter from the Storm© - Hope for Survivors of Sexual Abuse, the same curriculum that led me to truth, healing and freedom. I’m passionate about making support groups an available resource for survivors who are ready to begin the healing journey because of the difficulty I had in locating a support group when I needed one. ARISE! International, Inc. operates on Christian principles and utilizes Scripture and prayer for truth and guidance.

Now, the mask is off and I know personally there is hope and healing from the aftermath of sexual abuse. You don’t have to continue to live with the devastating effects of sexual trauma, help is available. The reality is, sexual abuse will always be a part of my personal history. I didn’t choose it, nor want it, it was something that was beyond my control. I know the truth about the experience now—it wasn’t my fault and I wasn’t responsible, my stepfather was. However, the devastating effects of the criminal acts perpetrated against me don’t control my life any longer. I have the tools I need to address depressing thoughts, memories and feelings that may surface as I "do life" with healthy thinking and behaviors based on truth and not false beliefs.  I’m a firm believer in the process of recovery that I’ve devoted my life to helping survivors reclaim their voice and power which allows them to move forward in life with peace and confidence just like it did for me. 

"When we deny the story, it defines us.  When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending." 

Brene Brown 

Gwendolyn's work has been recognized by the Dallas County District Attorney's Office, DeSoto City Council, 

Lancaster Police Department, Domestic Violence Advisory Commission Advisory Commission (DVAC), 

Genesis Women Shelter & Support, Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship and other community groups and organizations.