I am always uplifted when spending time with victim advocates. This week I was privileged to attend the NOVA, National Organization for Victims Assistance, Conference in Philadelphia. The presentations were energizing as well as educational. The true benefit was being able to share precious moments with MADD victim advocates from around the country who were able to attend the conference. There were about 10 of us, including Debbie Weir, MADD's Vice President of Victim Services and COO. Every one of these individuals exudes kindness as well as expertise. They radiate joy as well as peace. Each of them has a quiet "knowing" about them. Some have lived the experiences of victimization themselves and others are simply those wonderful souls that care and "get it" and stand by others who are victimized. The photos are of our MADD victim advocates.
The last morning I attended a class that filled my spirit. The guest speaker was Melissa Lucchesi, who shared her story of being a survivor of not one, but two rapes, six and a half years apart. She was testament to the power of the personal story. In addition to hearing her story, though, she was amazing to watch, as she wove her experiences, how she felt, how she reacted, and how she overcame. Her vulnerability was palpable and yet her strength filled the room. She was so real and she was so inspiring. One could hear her agony in her voice and her words, yet in those very same breaths, one could hear her determination and feel her power. She was able to invite her listeners into her world and allow us to be part of her experiences.
Melissa began with a quote that continues to help her on her journey. "Don't let the tragedy be the end of your story."
Melissa's story of survival can be applied to all types of victimization and that is why I share it with you. She relayed that counseling has been very helpful and continues in it today. That was not enough, though, and so she sought other methods as she moved forward in her healing. She relayed that reading memoirs of others who had similar experiences were very helpful to her - she no longer felt alone,that she was the only person with the reactions she was having. She enjoyed healing retreats and began running for physical release. She trained for a half marathon, sharing that she has a love-hate relationship with running. She appreciates it because she has to focus on it, which helps push out all the negative emotions related to her victimization.
Melissa says that "being a survivor means struggling every single day to live life fully, but not forgetting the trauma." As she shared these thoughts, the weight of what it took for her to again live life fully was actually visible. Melissa began an organization to help others who share similar experiences. It is called Voices, Incorporated. I encourage you to visit her website. She takes her peaceful power, reaches out, and invites others to join her.
Melissa quoted Maya Angelou as she closed, "The greatest agony is holding an untold story inside." Melissa shares her story to not only empower herself but to empower others. She indeed empowered me to continue to share my story in the hope of saving lives.
Thank you, Melissa.
Warmly, Jan Withers
National MADD President