"True soul and spirit healing comes when we begin to embrace humility – the humility of wonder, repentance, and the willingness to admit that we don’t know everything and we cannot do this alone."
Content Warning: This article contains some descriptions of domestic violence and substance abuse that may be triggering for some readers.
Gavriela Powers, or "Gavi" as her close friends call her bravely shares how her experiences with domestic violence and substance abuse provided her more than mere bad memories and triggers that she would have to deal with later in life after being diagnosed with CPTSD at the age of twenty-nine; they also provided a deep understanding of her calling in this life to reach and help other women and children who feel trapped and stuck in the aftermath of abuse. She is a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor, Family Life Counselor, and a Relationship Coach in an effort to pursue her passion and zeal for connecting with broken and hurting individuals in need of healing. Gavriela runs an Instagram page called @not.a.doormat where she raises awareness about domestic violence, abuse prevention, the healing process, and ways to maintain healthy relationships.
SWY: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your experiences with childhood abuse and trauma?
GP: My name is Gavriela Powers, I am 31 years old and have survived 24 years of abuse. I grew up in a violent household in Memphis, TN, where I witnessed my parents abusing one another on a daily basis. My mother had a wicked mouth on her, and my dad had a wicked fist. They could never seem to agree or get along, and the slightest thing would cause an explosion of violence at any given moment. The childhood trauma I suffered was more from watching them bloody one another’s faces – the physical and sexual abuse didn’t start for me until I turned 13, after I hit puberty. My dad seemed to no longer look at me as his little girl after that; the first black eye I received from him was at age 15 for mouthing off. I will never forget the feeling of shame and guilt I carried around with me after that, long after the bruise had healed.
SWY: You started a blog and Instagram called @not.a.doormat. Can you tell us more about your blog and why you started it?
GP: My blog is called “Dear Survivor” and I began it as an effort to help survivors begin conversations with themselves about the abuse they have endured, as well as knowing they are not alone in their experiences and healing processes. I began @not.a.doormat much for the same reason – to help survivors find their voices in an artistic, light-hearted manner that relieves the deep feelings of stress and anxiety linked to learning how to share your experiences. My thought process was that if we begin to remove the stigma around survivors of abuse sharing their stories through colorful art, we can touch hearts that have been closed for years and help others who haven’t endured abuse understand what some of their loved ones have lived through without casting a shadow of judgment.
SWY: What are some of the goals you have for your blog in terms of helping other survivors?
GP: My only goal at this point is to touch one heart, one at a time. My grandmother taught me that you can “catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”; abuse is such a difficult thing to speak of, and also difficult to hear – my goal is to help both survivors and their loved ones be able to connect with a touch of honey that takes away the sourness of the experiences and the difficulty in hearing of the horrible pains endured.
SWY: On your Instagram page, you mention that you are a survivor of domestic violence - Can you explain to our readers what domestic violence is and looks like?
GP: Domestic violence can be anything from subtle verbal abuse to noticeable violence perpetrated against another person. It is a cycle of mental, spiritual, physical, and psychological abuse that has lasted longer than 6 months and persists or grows more violent when confronted. Domestic violence doesn’t always look the same from situation to situation – the bottom line is that “abuse is abnormal use”. If you are in a situation or relationship where you feel you are being abnormally used or mistreated, it is worth asking the tough questions that may help lead you to an understanding as to whether or not you are living in domestic violence or not. “Are my boundaries respected?”, “Do I feel appreciated?”, “Do I feel safe, and heard?” – if you answer “no” to any of these questions, it’s time to start bringing into awareness the possibility that you are being abused.
SWY: Can you touch on the effects that witnessing domestic violence may have on childhood development and some methods that one can use to heal from this kind of trauma?
GP: A child’s brain develops the most during the first three years. During this time, witnessing trauma and abuse can produce the mimicked symptoms of autism – aqe regressive behaviors such as bed-wetting, muteness, or self-injury. Beyond the age of three, witnessing abuse and trauma has many psychological effects that can hinder emotional growth and stability. It can cause children to withdraw, act out, or even live in an imaginary place in their minds where they feel safe and non-threatened. Healing from this kind of trauma has a great deal to do with becoming self-aware of these effects. Many of us who grew up in abusive households were often raised to believe the abuse was normal, and therefore it may take many years for a person to realize that these abusive behaviours are not acceptable and not healthy. I often recommend that people who grew up like this begin with journaling their experiences, bringing into awareness the parts of their past that haunt them and facing the fears they bring. As always, I recommend finding a counsellor who can help someone walk through this, as not everyone can do it alone.
"Many of us who grew up in abusive households were often raised to believe the abuse was normal, and therefore it may take many years for a person to realize that these abusive behaviours are not acceptable and not healthy."
SWY: You have mentioned that not only are you a survivor of abuse, but your abuser was a drug addict - How do you think this played into your experiences of abuse?
GP: Yes, my abuser was addicted to crack cocaine for the first ten years of my life – which we have now learned is not physically addictive, but psychologically so. Beyond that, he always had some kind of substance abuse issues – from alcohol to meth to prescription drugs. I truly believe these substance issues made his ability to become aware of his abusive behaviours unattainable. It heightened the danger my mother, brothers, and I lived through because the substances removed his ability to tell the difference between right and wrong. It completely removed his inhibitions and increased the strength of his anger and hatred. Had he not had these substance issues, I reserve the thought that there might have been hope for him to repent and change; however, due to the extreme amount of substance abuse he endured, he became numb and the chemicals in his brain became irreparable. He basically changed the chemical consistency of his brain to where now, he cannot harbor a single thought without first having his substances – and even then, his thoughts are all wrapped around the warped mindset that substance abuse produces, such as selfishness, anger, irrationality, and living in a false reality.
SWY: Why do you think most people do not talk about the correlation between drug addiction and abuse? What are some ways we can raise awareness about this topic?
GP: Drug abuse is often an escape that both abusers and victims use to comfort themselves through the horrible reality of the pain they feel. I believe it is not easily talked about because of a spirit of shame, guilt, and denial. People don’t like to admit that they are no longer in control of their decisions, or admit that they feel weak and helpless and that taking drugs helps them feel in control of something. I believe the best way to raise awareness about this topic is to continue to share our experiences and be brave enough to be vulnerable in admitting that we are afraid, and that substances help us not feel so afraid. To encourage one another to speak up, face our fears, and embrace the reality that only things left hidden in the dark have the power to control us – once we bring these things into the light, we have the power and ability to create lasting change that brings healing for many generations.
SWY: Domestic violence plays a large role in intergenerational trauma, what do think are some ways that we as a society can break this cycle of violence?
GP: I must speak my truth in answering this question, and I truly believe the only answer is society returning to God and once again embracing a lifestyle of faith, modesty, and morals. Society today has come so far away from holding to a standard of truth – now the truth is thought to be subjective or malleable when that is simply not the case. There is one truth and one truth only: God and His power to save, heal, and redeem us from this wickedness. For those of your readers who do not hold a mindset of faith, I would encourage them to begin a spiritual journey, seeking answers and truth beyond what society offers. Society today is heading in one direction: to that of evil, hatred, division, and judgment. Instead, seek your own spiritual truth, be brave to reconcile your mind, body, and soul – for one cannot attain generational healing without the reconciliation of all parts of your being. We are not merely physical beings – we are spiritual beings having a physical experience. One day this physical experience ends, the body dies, and the spirit goes on. Society doesn’t offer a real path to learning who you are as a spirit, and where your spirit will continue on to once the body dies. This is essential in breaking generational pains and traumas. All abuse is spiritual – because it reaches beyond the depths of flesh and bone and affects the very essence of a person’s soul. True soul and spirit healing comes when we begin to embrace humility – the humility of wonder, repentance, and the willingness to admit that we don’t know everything and we cannot do this alone.