What Does Healing Mean to Me?

Jessica Gidagaakoons Smith: Power

Healing is a journey of ups and downs, victories and defeats, triumphs and tragedies. Healing means turning your pain into power.

When I first began my healing journey, I was alone. I was scared and anxious, worried that I would fail.

For me, healing began as an academic experience. Going back to school after 10 years was scary, and I felt very out of place in the beginning. Early in my first semester, I realized my potential and how well I could do in an academic setting. I started building bonds with people at my school, and I came out as a survivor of human trafficking.

Those whom I have been blessed to meet — including survivors from across the country — have helped me to heal. Healing means being confident enough in yourself to help others. For me, that means fighting for justice, because without justice, it is hard to begin healing. I advocate for families of missing and murdered Indigenous people throughout the court process because I know, through research and my own experiences, that the justice system is re-victimizing.

Healing also means being a good relative, someone that your ancestors can be proud of, someone that your community can turn to for help, and someone who, no matter what the obstacle may be, never gives up. Healing means facing any storm head-on and finding the rainbow. Healing means finding the inner warrior; even wounded warriors still fight.

Annie Enneking: In Control

Photo Helen Teague

Healing means taking charge of the narrative. It means being in control of my body, using my knowledge in ways that empower me and those I work with. I do this through the arts. I am a fight director and the songwriter and front woman for the rock band Annie and the Bang Bang. I feel my power and purpose in these fields. I am in charge of my voice and body, and I facilitate those experiences for others.

Being a fight director means I craft moments of stage violence (the sword fights in “Romeo and Juliet,” for example). I collaborate with actors who tell character-driven stories with their bodies. Together, we create the illusion of violence while taking good care of ourselves and one another. I want my students to feel powerful, to take up space and to create space for others.

It is beautifully ironic and humbling that I get to teach young people how to be safe on stage. I was a student at the Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) in the 1980s, where students were not safe. I wrote my song “Get It Right” for brave friends of mine who sued CTC in 2015 for the abuse they suffered there as children. CTC had the opportunity to get it right — to come to terms with institutional memory, to acknowledge that it was built on the backs of children who suffered in unspeakable ways, and to make amends. The process, for most, was more damaging than not, but that song is an anthem for my friends. I feel grounded when I play and sing it.

Amy Farrar: Letting Go

In 1995, I moved to Minnesota on the heels of an abusive marriage. I had grown up in an alcoholic home, which had put a major dent in my self- esteem. Moving took a lot of courage, and I was lucky because I was moving in with my sister, which took a lot of financial strain off me at the time. After living with her for a few months, I got a job and an apartment in Minneapolis, feeling like Mary Tyler Moore finally achieving her independence.

In Minnesota I completely transformed my life, starting my own business as a freelance writer and editor, learning to trust again, and marrying the love of my life. We had a daughter, who is now in her senior year of high school. I have gotten everything I dreamed of, but had I not taken that first step to walk away from the situation, I never would have.

What I learned was that other people may not change, but we can change ourselves. I learned to let go of people and situations that did not feed my soul, and realized it was okay to ask for help from those who did. Healing meant treating myself as I would treat my own child, or anyone else I deeply cared about. I learned to accept myself no matter what had happened to me and to stop blaming myself. Healing meant taking time for myself and knowing that I am fine and whole and worthy. Ultimately, healing meant realizing that I was the creator of my own life.

Amy Farrar is author of “A Jersey Girl’s Guide to the Universe (A Memoir).”

Annie Fitzgerald: Gifts

Photo Stefani Bingham

I think the reason we are here is to grow. When we commit with intention to healing through therapy, spiritual practices, and being open with loved ones, compassionate witnessing becomes a salve. In sharing, we are reminded that we are not alone.

I feel myself experiencing this as a songwriter. I write to heal something deep within, and when other ears and hearts hear a piece in my story that helps them recognize something in themselves, I feel connected and grateful.

I wrote “I Know That Sound” for the #MeTooMpls collective in 2020, during the pandemic unknown. The group’s mission is to raise awareness around assault and abuse. As we spent time together over Zoom for interviews, the collaborative healing was palpable and powerful.

One of the most treasured spaces of healing for me is when I gather for the New and Full Moon cycles with kindred spirits. Since committing to this work almost 10 years ago, I have seen shifts and accelerations in my growth. My most recent single “Under the Moon” speaks about these rituals that promote renewal, and the gratitude I feel through holding space for the shadow and the light; the seeing and being seen. The Sufi poet Rumi came to visit in my song’s chorus: “This moment is all there is.”

When we let our own emotions be, let them pass with compassion and non-judgment, and glean the lessons they teach us, we are given a gift. The gift does not always feel good at the time, but knowing that more gifts are on their way, because we have done the work to clear things up, is something I have come to cherish. 

For me, healing centers around the holding of space; space for our inner, space for each other, and space for the divine. 

Jeannie E. Roberts: How Healing Feels

Like a twig’s subtle shift

it rolls from thickening dimness 

toward clarity

where surface coins scatter 

toss silver chorus to air 

while currents stir

 quicken through cradles of fertile Earth 

and cliffs rise 

where ferns burgeon beneath ledges

soothe sharps  

smooth edges 

lilt like a maiden’s hair sways

 awakening from the drape of absence 

to the turn of birdsong 

and the swell of springtime’s budding embrace.

“How Healing Feels” first appeared in the February 2018 issue of Blue Heron Review.

Laura Ely: Balancing Accounts

He said, “Do you want to stay up and watch the movie?

“Yes,” said my 10-year-old self.

“You can stay up if you let me touch you,” he said as he lifted my nightgown. I froze, eyes riveted on the TV.

“I won’t hurt you,” as he gently touched me down there. Next, he stuck his head between my legs and licked me. I froze in fear, knowing that what this fifteen-year-old babysitter was doing was wrong. My body responded to his touch, and I felt pleasure and shame. My parents were coming home, he stopped. Dazed, I went to bed. I told mom I did not want him babysitting ever. She listened and he never babysat again. Years later, I told her what happened. 

My sexual awareness was activated. I grew up in the ’70’s — a time of free love and legalized birth control. I began to realize that sex was not love. 

“Who am I? Why am I here?” I wondered. Truth inspired my spiritual search. I read philosophical and religious books, visited churches and synagogues. Nothing spoke to the truth in my heart. Then I was introduced to karma and reincarnation. Could this be true? If God is love, would he/she/it give us only one chance to get it right? I learned that every experience balances accounts. The sexual violation at age 10 was wrong, it was abuse, it changed me. Understanding karma and reincarnation allowed me to move on, trust again, be happy, and let go of being a victim.

Trina Porte: Poesy

As a rape and sexual assault survivor, I survive by surviving — by continuing to live as if I matter, to myself and to the world — and I find great solace in writing poetry:

what is the medicine for rape

last week at the acupuncturist

while tiny needles helped my qi unblock

the doctor told me that the chinese

view the inside of the body

as a garden with a waterfall flowing through

next week i want to ask him

do the chinese have a word for rape 

what is the character for it and

does a spot in the garden die

or does the waterfall wash it away

Resources for Sexual Assault Survivors