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Like so many over the past year and a half, I found myself spending more time online, seeking connection and conversation. I opened social media and was met with another post about one of my favorite bands, naming one the members as the survivor’s assailant.

I was in shock, but I received the information through a trauma-informed lens, one I’d like to deem full of compassion and empathy. Unfortunately, others in the comment section didn’t quite fall under this umbrella, jumping to the defense of one of their idols at the expense of another’s pain and suffering.

It was easy for me to see what my fellow survivor was experiencing in putting her story out there only to be ostracized. I found myself admitting silently I wasn’t sure if I could ever be quite as brave as she to share so publicly. The first time I had shared my story in a much smaller setting, I was shut down. I found myself writing dozens of comments, defending a stranger on the internet as if she were someone I had known my entire life, unsure why I felt so inclined to.

It was a reminder that telling my own story didn’t feel safe; I needed a community.

The stars aligned, and a post from Jamie Sivrais (founder of AVFTI) appeared on my feed, introducing me to the organization. For the first time in a long time, I felt like there was something I could do to make a difference.

I couldn’t silence or change the minds of those who refuse to open their minds to statistics on assault and trauma. But what I COULD do was volunteer, adding another voice in aid of drowning out the negativity of invalidation.

I have only been volunteering for AVFTI for a few months, but I can say with certainty that my short time with this organization has been moving, powerful, and inspiring. Week after week, I have been privileged to read the brave stories from survivors of all walks of life who come forward and choose to share with us …and in each story, I healed a little piece of myself but was still too scared to share my own.

Finally, when I was ready, I took the step from volunteer to storyteller. The outpouring of love and support I received surprised me, even though that is exactly what this community is intended to do. While sharing my story again was scary, the healing I found from not receiving blame, invalidation, or critique has allowed me to come to terms with some of what I have been hiding.

These stories stay with me. I carry them around like bricks – not in a sense that they weigh me down, but in that they are helping rebuild the foundation of my self worth.

There are other people out there who understand. I am one of those people who can understand. I can be understood. And although at times the reason for the understanding can feel like a curse, today, I’m choosing to see it as a blessing. There is no stronger bond than the solidarity of survivors and the power of our storytelling.

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