Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Fun and Healing: The New Way to Stop Abuse and Help Survivors Come Forward -- reprint from 2010

by Virginia Pickles Jones

The reporter from the Wallowa County Chieftain was skeptical.

“You mean to tell me that you drive places and get out and walk?” 

“Yes,” I tried to explain, “We tried walking almost every step of the way in 2008, and found ourselves spending lots of time communing with wild turkeys.  This is not a march or a political statement. We walk to talk to people to raise awareness and support survivors coming forward.  We reach more people by walking through towns and scenic trails.”

The reporter was not impressed, and the Wallowa County Chieftain did not cover the Walk Across Oregon when we passed through the Wallowa Valley in 2009.

I always end up having to explain myself.  My approach to organizing the Walk seems new to people.  The Walk is not the usual race or run/walk fundraiser.  Nor is it a demonstration or political statement.  My hope is to never have a large group of runners or walkers, but to have multiple small groups of walkers following the same course, focused more on having fun than on impressing anyone with our athletic prowess.  Survivors of abuse often struggle to trust others, especially strangers.  They seem to need time to evaluate a situation to decide whether it is safe to come forward.  Coming forward to small groups of supporters is much safer emotionally than is trying to cope with a large crowd.  Moreover, a small group of supporters can give much more personal attention to a person in need than can a crowd.  And the support of a newspaper is not needed.

Our best day ever on the Walk Across Oregon with the largest number of interested people approaching us with their stories came in Independence, Oregon, in 2008.  Walking north from Ashland to Portland we had lot of media coverage in Medford and Roseburg and Eugene, but in Independence we had nothing -- no newspaper articles, no radio, and no television coverage -- no one to tell anyone why we were there and where to meet us.  All we had were our t-shirts and banner that said, “Stop Child Sex Abuse.”

We started in Monmouth and walked along Highway 51 to Independence.  The Mother who started the Walk spotted a Farmer’s Market, and we paused to buy fruit. Then my kids spotted a park and playground on the banks of the Willamette River, so we stopped and played. Then the Mother’s husband found a yard sale and stopped to see if there was anything he wanted to buy.  During each of these stops -- when we paused to enjoy ourselves -- people approached us to share their stories with us.  When we walked quickly from point “A” to point “B”, people did not approach us.  We didn’t give them time.

The second reason for pausing to enjoy ourselves is healing.  I am a sex abuse and rape survivor too.  I’ve struggled with chronic mild to moderate depression all of my life as well as low self esteem, anxiety, problems with touch.... I’ve been something of a loner a good deal of my life.  Hiking has always been one of my favorite past times.  One of my most memorable hikes took place in the Warner Mountains of California in the summer of 1980. I started hiking early in the morning.  I didn’t have a car so I just followed a dirt track from the town of Cedarville up into the Mountains.  When I reached the crest of the mountain range, not a tall peak, just the swaybacks between the peaks, I passed through a mountain meadow -- a small creek ran through a sparse Juniper woodland, carpeted with low sagebrush.  Along the brook grew a scattering of grey-green, velvet leafed Mule’s Ears flowers -- like a lazy row of foot high sunflowers.  Above and behind this meadow was a blue blue unpolluted sky of the high desert summer.

It was so beautiful.  I thought, This is “God’s Garden”.  No man could make a garden this beautiful.  I felt perfect joy.  My ever present depression was ever so far away.

The irony was that I was an agnostic who was not looking for God at the time.

I have felt this kind of joy on the Walk Across Oregon too.

Last year, in 2009, when we visited Joseph, Oregon, and Wallowa Lake, the local agency was supportive and sent our flyers around, but no one joined us.  

Supporters had intended to come from Portland and Walk with me in Joseph, but various crisis interfered, and I was alone with my children.  No one spoke to us about child abuse or domestic violence or any other form of abuse.  No one even commented on our shirts the way they did La Grande and Arlington.  We’d had more luck the year before with two or more adults and children walking together.  No offense.  I guess people don’t want to talk about child abuse when they have only a mother and two children to talk to.  I was a little disappointed, a little depressed.
But we carried on, and as a mother, I am always paying attention to my children's needs.  To get my kids walking through Joseph during the morning, I promised three afternoons at Wallowa Lake.  The first afternoon my daughter noticed other people playing with rubber boats and inner tubes and asked me to buy one for one for us.  So, like the obedient mother I am, I bought an inflatable boat the next morning.  That afternoon, while my son rebuilt the Roman Empire in the sand and mud on the shores of Wallowa Lake, my daughter and I tried to figure out how to row that boat.  We put the oars in the oarlocks first.  My daughter couldn’t make the boat go anywhere so I took over, confidently telling her I would show her how to do it.  Well, it turned out I couldn’t row much better than my 10 year old daughter.  My daughter giggled at my flailing arms and oars.  I gave in and giggled too. What else could I do?  Next I suggested to my daughter that we row canoe style, without the oarlocks.  We finally managed to sort of make that boat sort of go places.  

Eventually I leaned back in that boat and took in the sunshine filtered through the clouds over the Wallowa Mountains with the blue blue sky behind and thought, This is what happiness is.

As an abuse survivor who has long struggled with depression, I know that depressed people often withdraw into themselves.  Staying home alone tends to make matters worse. While we need time and space for healing, the next most basic thing we can do for ourselves is to get out and do something healthy, wether it an urban activities of walking down a street with trendy chops and cafes, or a rural activity such as hiking along a scenic trail.  When the body gets moving, the mind follows.  Moreover, we need to get out to meet people.  It is much harder to heal alone, with no one walking the journey of life with us.

Fortunately, my children and I did not remain alone through the rest of the Walk Across Oregon in 2009.  We eventually met many supportive people. In Pendleton and Hermiston we were joined by volunteers with Domestic Violence Services of Umatilla County.  Kay Ebeling, the City of Angels Lady and family and friends joined us in Portland and the Columbia River Gorge, and Pioneer House residents and staff from Clatsop County Women’s Resource Center joined us Astoria.

In Hermiston, Oregon, the Walk worked the way I hoped it would.  The East Oregonian carried an article about us and interviewed both me and Marta Harville, the Executive Director of of Domestic Violence Services of Umatilla County, The article also included our local itinerary.  A family member of an abuse victim met us in Hermiston along with a volunteer with Domestic Violence Services.  The volunteer brought along her children and a friend.  We bought cold treats in a Mexican tienda and stopped in a local park.  Our children coped with the August heat by playing together in the sprinklers while the adults sat in the shade and listened to and supported the family member.  Then we all walked to Domestic Violence Services together and introduced the survivor family member to the people in Hermiston who could support her.

Why don’t you join us and help with raising awareness and outreach to survivors?  And heal by having fun in our beautiful state of Oregon?

Contact Virginia Jones at compassion500@gmail.com.

Copyright 2010 Virginia Jones

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