Joyce Aubrey was in her early 50s when she decided to try bodywork for undiagnosed pain.
During her Rolfing session, the deep physical manipulation triggered her first flashback, and she eventually realized the pain in her body was due to the sexual abuse she suffered as a child.
“I was in mental and physical crisis and now I’m in really good physical health,” says Aubrey, 81. “Reclaiming the self leads to physical vitality, mental clarity, emotional stability and a connection with the god of your understanding.”
To heal, Aubrey continued the bodywork, along with talk therapy, movement and naturopathic and homeopathic medicines. And there was another method that greatly helped her move the trauma out of her body: art, specifically process painting, which is painting where you don’t have a purpose of creating a particular image or design. You allow it to happen spontaneously, like stream of consciousness writing.
“I painted things that were not in my conscious awareness and that later flashbacks would explain,” Aubrey says. “The same thing happens with writing, or any kind of creativity — collage, clay work, painting — that reaches deeper than our conscious thinking, or has the potential to do so.”
Aubrey is the president and founder of Finding Our Voices, a nonprofit that provides healing art activities for survivors of sexual assault. Since 2008, the organization has helped hundreds of survivors through donation-based monthly art workshops, weekly stream of consciousness writing classes, retreats, weekly support groups led by a licensed clinical social worker and an annual art show, featuring work by survivors. The exhibits have been held at Cottonwood Center for the Arts since 2014.
“Survivor Art Exhibit” opens Friday during First Friday Downtown and runs through April. A free opening reception is 5-8 p.m. Friday. There also will be a second reception from noon-4 p.m. April 10. During each reception, Aubrey will sell and sign copies of her new, independently published memoir, “Beyond Aftershocks: Reclaiming Self After Sexual Trauma.” The book is available at Poor Richard’s Books and Gifts, Hooked on Books, Covered Treasures and online at Amazon.com and through Aubrey online at findingourvoicescs.org.
Sexual abuse survivors are four times more likely to have eating disorders, consider suicide or have relationship issues or authority issues that make it difficult to sustain employment, says Aubrey. And even those who believe their abuse happened so long ago it doesn’t affect them anymore are still having problems, such as addictions and other ineffective coping mechanisms.
“The way to get over it is to face your demons and let the memories come through so they can be released,” she says. “And then you’re free.”
Process painting is one of those ways. Art helps a survivor move the trauma from their amygdala to their hippocampus, says Aubrey.
“We now know being traumatized or threatened, especially when you’re repeatedly traumatized, like in childhood sexual abuse that lasts more than a decade, it’s not stored in a place you have access to,” she says. “It goes to the amygdala where memories are usually stored. Things like movement and art can move it to where it’s accessible.”
Survivor Mary Duefrene met Aubrey seven years ago when she was going through a rough time dealing with her sexual abuse. She began making art and experienced a transformation. “Art is so healing,” says Duefrene, who is now the nonprofit’s co-treasurer and administrative assistant.
Duefrene, a delivery driver for Grubhub, was recently awarded a $10,000 grant from the organization through its Driver Grant Program and donated the money to FOV.
“We were ecstatic,” Aubrey says. “It doubled our budget. We do what we do on a shoestring.
Contact the writer: 636-0270