Rhonda Ramsey and I asked Sandi some questions.
Melina: How has being an abuse survivor affected your self esteem as an adult?
Sandi: As I entered adulthood, in the literal sense, I had no self esteem. I was extremely co-dependent, living vicariously through other people. In my late teens and early twenties I believed my existence was solely to please others. I was unconsciously attracted to people that would ultimately hurt me and I did a good job of hurting myself via drugs and alcohol. Eventually my self esteem did appear from my jobs and then a career in telecommunications. I was a hard worker and feedback from that lead me on the road to self esteem.
Melina: How did you turn to art as a creative/therapeutic outlet? How has it helped you?
Sandi: For one year I lived in Los Angeles prior to my current location. While in Los Angeles I found a wonderful therapist. Several weeks into therapy she told me of an acting class that one of her former clients ran. Some of the people at these classes were actually there for just that ‘acting classes’, and the others for therapeutic reasons. I began attending these three hour classes twice a week. Between my wonderful therapist and the acting classes, with an unbelievably talented facilitator, I cracked open like a raw egg. I began to get in touch with my body and hence my creativity. While my daughter was playing with modeling clay one day I decided to try to make something. Without being fully conscious of what I was creating I modeled a head. The head was of a devil and even though the subject matter was dark, I was impressed with how easily I had made the piece. I purchased some clay and began sculpting. Some of the works were very childlike but most were very dark. After, and sometimes during the sculpting process I would begin to feel things in my body, very scary and painful feelings. These feelings had to come out because they were literally killing me. So to answer your question, with each piece I would experience a memory. Looking at that memory in the form of art allowed me to accept it and let it go. With each piece I created I became lighter…the heaviness was beginning to lift. I had to relive the abuse I had repressed. Creativity allowed that to happen.
Melina: What was your inspiration for starting Survivor Activist Art?
Melina: In the beginning, did you have difficulty finding others to submit their artwork?
Melina: How many artists are featured on your website?
Sandi: At this time four visual artists and four writers.
Rhonda: What is your driving force? When you work so hard to help others find healing, where does that come from?
Sandi: For me it can only be explained one way ~ the energy of the Devine. When I was fifteen years old I had a near death experience. Prior to my NDE I had always felt a sense of God through nature and animals. My NDE showed me that love is what matters. We are here to learn and grow and love. Anything other than that is merely a distraction. My NDE showed me that we live within the Devine Energy, not that God lives within us. As a human being I hope to enlighten myself and others throughout my life.
Rhonda: What do you feel is the best starting place for finding healing after trauma?
Sandi: Tell, tell, tell and tell some more. If the first person doesn’t believe you find another. As victims we tend to gravitate towards people who may not be healthy for us, therefore keep telling until you get the help you so deserve. Finding the right therapist is key. Find a therapist that has training and experience with victims of trauma. If any therapist tries to force you into telling something you are not ready to tell, or do something you are not ready to do, find another therapist. You are in control of your healing process the therapist is there to help you feel safe and give you guidance. Properly facilitated support groups can be very healing. Contact your local rape crisis center.
Rhonda: When it comes to adults finding healing, after years of keeping things bottled up, what do you tell those who doubt a way out of crippling memories?
Sandi: That’s a tough one. I have a friend that has been holding on her whole life and refuses to face her past trauma. It is literally killing her. I’ll say what I have said to her. IT GET”S BETTER! The saddest thing for me is to see is a ‘victim’ and takes that title to their grave. Holding on so tight, so afraid, so sad.
Rhonda: How long have you been on this journey of helping others, and what has been some of your biggest obstacles?
Sandi: I do not remember when I was not on this journey. Unfortunately much of my need to help people was because of co-dependency and dysfunction. As I learned about my life and myself I have been able to turn that around. As a child my biggest obstacles were the same people that hurt me. I wanted to help them. It sounds so twisted but that is exactly what abuse does to you. As a young adult my biggest obstacle was me, promiscuity, drugs, alcohol, and putting myself in dangerous situations. As I began healing, I was able to help others in a healthy way. That saying ‘heal yourself, heal the world’ is profound. You must be to become.
Rhonda: When you think of your success stories, how would you describe that feeling of being a part of their healing process?
Sandi: We are all one. My heart fills with gratitude.
Rhonda: What do you tell others who want to reach others the way you have, but do not know where or how to start.
Sandi: As you heal, opportunities will open to you. The river of healing is running beside you, once you step on it you’ll know.
Rhonda: Do you have any regrets as far as your business plan? (Or anything that you would change about your journey thus far?)
Sandi: There are some things I would change about my journey. With hindsight I would have done more holistic work. All of the holistic work I did do was amazingly affective. I have no regrets about my business plan pertaining to SSA but I do have a personal regret…I wish I had been more present for my precious daughter. I tried so hard.
Melina: Your goal is to ultimately start a museum. How can others help make your dream a reality?
Sandi: Having a place for survivors, their partners, family and friends has been a goal of mine since experiencing the healing power of community. There are no words that can communicate how strong the power of coming together is. Many, if not most survivors have PTSD, including myself …we need each other. I do not have a business plan for the museum. I have just started by planting the seed of this goal on SAA. I’m open to all suggestions and any help I can get. I am disabled and on a fixed income so money will definitely help. More importantly getting together on a business plan would be a great start. At some point we would need pro-bono legal assistance, insurance, and of course a facility that would be accepting of a museum that to some would be very controversial. There is much to consider. The museum is in the pre-natal stage.
Melina: Anything else you'd like to add?
Sandi: Just a few additions you may be interested in:
· EMDR, (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), is very helpful for some survivors, it certainly was for me.
· I was awarded on two occasions for my activism
· I am a member of the RAINN, (Rape and Incest National Network), Speakers Bureau
· I have spoken out publically at the Massachusetts State House, assisting in changing two laws.
· I teach art to special needs children and adults on a part time basis at a local museum. That is my reward!