Today we’d like to introduce you to Gwendolyn Jones.
Gwendolyn, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
In 1994, at age 36, I hit an emotional wall and was spiraling out of control to which I didn’t have a clue as to why. As a wife and a mother of two young children, I needed help and answers. I confided with a dear friend and co-worker what I was going through and she suggested I make an appointment with our church counseling ministry. In retrospect, making that appointment was one of the best decisions I could have ever made. In fifteen minutes after answering poignant questions about my childhood from a trained professional, I received a double diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and clinical depression. The diagnosis was given as a result of the sexual abuse I experienced in adolescence for five years (12-17) by my stepfather.
The clinical diagnosis caught me by surprise because, in my ignorance about sexual trauma and its aftereffects at the time, I thought when I ran away from the abusive environment at the age of 17, my problems were over and I could now move forward with my life. I didn’t understand how events that happened to me over twenty-four years ago could still influence my current life in such a negative way. Much to my surprise, I had been deeply wounded internally and the aftereffect of the sexual trauma was continuing to impact my life in so many areas. I never connected the dots that my present negative attitude and agonizing emotional state were a result of the past violations. Working with the counselor for six months I became gravely aware of how much damage had been done to my personhood, my ability to interact in a healthy way in interpersonal relationships and the negative ways I viewed myself. He suggested I find a sexual abuse support group to continue my growth and inner healing. Upon my search to find a support group in my community I soon became very discouraged and frustrated because they did not exist in my residential area of Lancaster, TX. I searched in neighboring cities and the vicinity around my church located in Oak Cliff. However, after diligently searching online I was able to locate a support group in North Richland Hills, TX which was a sixty-five minute drive from my residence. At the time I was employed with a large telecommunications company and the scheduled group meetings on Tuesday’s at noon would not permit enrollment because of work obligations let alone the lengthy commute.
Much to my amazement, an intern at my church started a sexual abuse support group for adult survivors of child sexual abuse using a Christ-centered curriculum called Shelter from the Storm©. I enrolled in the group in January 1995 and I like to say the rest is history. For the first time, my emotional wounds from the sexual violence were addressed appropriately. I learned to replace false beliefs with the truth and over time I healed. In learning the truth about my experience I no longer blamed myself for the poor choices and actions of the person who chose the destructive behavior. Along that journey of healing, in 2007 ARISE! International was established as a 501(c) 3 organization with a mission to raise awareness of the impact sexual violence has in the life of survivors, families and the community. Shortly thereafter, in 2008, the baton was passed to me to facilitate the support group and since that time ARISE! International has led recovery support groups every Spring and Fall semester for adult survivors who need a safe place to heal.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The road to recovery is not an easy journey but one that is well worth it. The path is paved with setbacks, frustration and unrealistic expectations that healing will happen quickly. The wound from sexual abuse is very deep and painful, not a surface wound and the facts remain, that it will take time to recover. It’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to work. I would not change the decision I made to heal and I would make that decision a thousand times over again if needed. The support group became my safe place and the community I needed so I would not feel alone anymore struggling with past memories, painful emotions and false beliefs from the childhood trauma. The support group gave me a place to tell the truth about what happened to me and it gave me the support and encouragement I needed to continue on the healing path.
My advice to those who need to start the journey toward healing is to connect with a professional who is trained in working with sexual trauma and its consequences. Seek to join a support group with other survivors so they can receive the help and support that is vital so they can experience healing and not face the pain of the past alone. In addition, I highly recommend establishing a support system outside of the support group of individuals who are emotionally supportive who they can reach out to when they need to talk. It’s important that we feel connected and not isolated in the recovery process.
Please tell us about ARISE! International
As a small but growing organization with a volunteer staff, I definitely wear many hats at ARISE! International which ranges from president and founder to program director and lead facilitator. We are always looking for board members and volunteers who possess the compassion, time and integrity to stand with us in our fight against sexual violence. One of our five-year goals for growth is to increase our services to support and reach more survivors. So in January 2019, we expanded our scope to support survivors of human trafficking in our educational support and recovery program.
As an organization, I am most proud of the recognition we have received from professional counselors, community leaders and elected officials of the difference we are making in the lives of clients who commit to our forty five-week recovery program. In addition, I’m proud of helping survivors reclaim their power and voice through our recovery groups. Other client services we provide:
- referrals and resources for counseling, legal and social services and support of other faith based ministries
- community outreach and education on awareness, prevention and recovery
I believe what sets us apart from others is that we are more than a support group. We build a safe community amongst survivors, a sisterhood, where they experience authentic and trusting relationships in many instances for the first time. Since boundaries were violated in the act of sexual violence learning to set and maintain healthy boundaries for themselves and respecting the boundaries of others is the pathway to experience and have healthy relationships.
Our Spring 2019 semester marks the facilitation of our forty second support group since 2008 and we have supported over one hundred clients through our program. I am passionate and I work meticulously to ensure our support groups are available for those who have carried the emotional pain of the past alone for decades to have a safe place to finally breathe and to be supported without being blamed, criticized or judged. ARISE! International shines as a beacon of hope as we come alongside to empower and inform survivors about the truth of their experience, we embrace them so they don’t feel alone in their pain and encourage them to begin the healing journey and to continue the recovery path because healing is possible!
Were there people and/or experiences you had in your childhood that you feel laid the foundation for your success?
I would have to give credit to my maternal great aunt who raised me from the ages of 6-12 for instilling in me a strong work ethic. As a child I thought she was being cruel and unloving for all the assigned tasks and chores, now I appreciate the values and disciplines of hard work she taught me. Before recovery, the experiences from childhood left me with a deep void in my life about my worth and value. It is difficult to function as an adult when your childhood was built on a foundation of betrayal, confusion, pain and rejection.
Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time and energy in counseling and support groups overcoming the devastation of sexual abuse. In time, the emptiness I felt was replaced with a profound determination to heal and take my power back. I finally achieved a place in my own healing that enabled me to reach out to survivors to begin their healing journey in order to break the silence and isolation with the same fervor and vigor that I fought for my own recovery. The experience of child sexual abuse has definitely given me compassion and understanding for anyone who has gone through similar incidents so I can extend caring and empathic listening. I am eternally grateful to my great aunt for embodying those principles that have guided my work behavior beyond corporate America. I am a firm believer you can triumph over tragedy because I’m walking in my truth. As the saying goes, “It’s not how you start in life but how you end.” I choose to end victoriously!
- $300.00 per client, per semester
- Website: www.ariseintl.org
- Phone: 800.513.2450 EXT 1
- Email: email@example.com
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ariseintl.inc
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/ariseintl
- Other: https://www.linkedin.com/in/gwendolyn-jones-02332222
Adrienne Moreno, A&A Videography