How music helped save the life of a survivor of sexual assault

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How music helped save the life

of a survivor of sexual assault

I remember clearly the midnight phone call from the local police department letting me know there was a young woman in need of a sexual assault exam and evidence collection. As an advocate, this was not my first time for this type of call, and sadly, it has not been my last. However, the memory of this night resonates to this day.

“Melody” was in tears when I picked her up. She climbed into my car, clutching her guitar and few belongings, her face etched with emotion and pain from her trauma. The drive to the hospital never seemed longer as she recounted her assault and the moments leading up to this day. Her story involved being homeless, her battle with depression, and my heart could not help but stop as she recounted attempts to kill herself. “I would have tried again tonight. I wanted to end this pain. But I called the police instead. And now, you are here.”

While I drove, she began to strum her guitar, clearly her prized possession. She spoke of her music and how at times, singing and playing were all that kept her alive. I asked her what it was she liked to play and sing while she spoke of her first upcoming gig, and I listened in awe as she then fell naturally into song, filling my car with chords of heartbreak and hope as tears streamed freely from our eyes.

The next hours were devastating. I never once left her side through the night as the compassionate team of caregivers collected evidence, telling her repeatedly how strong she was, how brave. Her sobs were deep and full of pain as she lay there, curled up with her knees to her chest. “Why?” she said. “Why did this happen to me? No one cares about me or what happens to me. I don’t even know why I am here anymore.”

I knelt beside the bed and looked her in the eyes. “I care what happens to you. I see you for more than your pain. I see you for you. I see your potential. I see your ability to never give up and I believe in you. If you ever doubt that, you call me.”

Three weeks later at a local club Melody took the stage with her beloved guitar and she gave everyone the gift of her music. As an advocate it makes my heart sing to witness a survivor transform and take control of their pain and live their dreams. Melody’s last words to me linger.

That night I was determined to do whatever was necessary to make the pain stop. But you showed up. You reminded me of my potential, my worth. You believed in me. I am alive because you were there that night.”

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sexual assault is a serious and widespread problem. Nearly one in five women in the US have experienced rape or attempted rape at some time in their lives, and one in sixty-seven American men have experienced rape or attempted rape.

Learn more:

OURTURNisapublicserviceseriesbyTurningPointsNetwork(TPN)servingallofSullivanCountywith offices in Claremont and Newport. We provide wraparound supports for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, stalking and human trafficking and we present violence-prevention education programs in our schools. For more than 40 years, TPN has helped people of all ages move from the darkness of abuse toward the light of respect, healing and hope. 

For information contact 1.603.543-0155 or or find us onFacebook.

Fight, Flight, or Freeze: The impact of trauma on a survivor’s brain

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When it comes to the brain and trauma, we often automatically assume physical injury via some sort of sport related or vehicular accident. However, trauma to the brain can also be the result of a person, a place, or a situation. Specifically, it can be the result of abuse.

What exactly defines trauma? Trauma is a normal response to an abnormal situation out of our control.

Many of us have experienced trauma in one form or another, and all of us have a stress reaction to trauma. For survivors, trauma can include physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, assault, or even neglect, and it can invoke a “fight, flight, or freeze” response.

Most of us are familiar with the fight or flight concept, yet “freeze” is less well known. In fight or flight, the brain triggers the nervous system, signaling the senses to either adopt a defensive response, or to take “flight.” However, in many sexual assault situations, the brain’s reaction is to disassociate itself during flight mode, or “detach from reality,” often referred to as freezing. This is because the emotions are too overwhelming to deal with in the moment. Some describe this as mentally leaving your body while your body endures the trauma.

Continually experiencing traumatic events or reliving them through memories over time means the brain is constantly having a stress reaction, causing a buildup of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol in abundance activates the amygdala, the area of the brain responsible for emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation. With continued trauma, cortisol is triggering the amygdala, which is triggering emotions, which is triggering more cortisol. This cycle in survivors can often cause extreme reactions varying from aggression to over-sensitivity to complete withdrawal or fear.

“It is a self-perpetuating cycle that leaves survivors with heightened sympathetic arousal (fight or flight or freeze response),” according to Kimberley Shilson, Psychological Association

We know trauma can affect the brain in various ways, and the impact differs from individual to individual. Survivors may experience flashbacks, depression, numbness, nightmares, stress, feeling sick, shame or guilt, and have problems with social isolation, hypervigilance, or feeling overwhelmed all the time. Some even turn to alcohol and substance abuse in an attempt to block out the trauma and it’s impact.

For those on the outside looking in, it can be difficult to understand a survivor’s actions or reactions, which underlines the importance of understanding how trauma impacts the brain. Studies show that trauma actually rewires the brain, and the cumulative effects of trauma can put survivors in a constant state of overreaction or withdrawal, which can be hard for those around them to understand. Researchers are now referring to this as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.)

Healing from a traumatic experience takes time. Everyone heals at their own pace, and it is important to recognize when to seek professional help. For those in a survivor’s circle, it is equally important to educate oneself about trauma, to better understand how to support the survivor through their healing.

Turning Points Network has been helping survivors of trauma for over forty years. If you or someone you know has survived a traumatic experience, and is still struggling at work or at home, or continues to suffer fear, anxiety, depression, or any of the symptoms discussed, TPN has a 24-hour crisis and support line, and the staff are committed to helping survivors find their way again while maintaining a healthy and safe life.

OUR TURN is a public service series by Turning Points Network (TPN) serving all of Sullivan County with offices in Claremont and Newport. We provide wraparound supports for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, stalking and human trafficking and we present violence-prevention education programs in our schools. For more than 40 years, TPN has helped people of all ages move from the darkness of abuse toward the light of respect, healing and hope. 

For information contact 1.800.639.3130 or or find us on Facebook.

Odd Bits for Week of March 15

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We're always interested in hearing about news in our community. Let us know what's going on!

local and regional news

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So far this week, an anticipated nationwide sweep has not materialized at the expected magnitude. Yet the mere prospect of such action has prompted legions of pastors, rabbis and their congregations across the United States to stand ready to help vulnerable immigrants with offers of sanctuar…

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. warship on Thursday destroyed an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz after it threatened the ship, President Donald Trump said. The incident marked a new escalation of tensions between the countries less than one month after Iran downed an American drone in the sam…

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WEATHERSFIELD, Vt. — Figuratively speaking, the adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” may ring true. But when selecting items to donate to a nonprofit’s yard-sale, realize that your treasure might become their trash.

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CLAREMONT — Shelly Hudson, producing artistic director of Amplified Arts, sees a wealth of potential in Claremont and its surrounding area to build a strong culture for theater, music, performing and visual arts. Hudson has spent several years staging plays in Claremont and Newport. She said…

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CHARLESTOWN — As one committee works on a plan in the event that Charlestown withdraws from the Fall Mountain Regional School District, another committee is studying to change the funding formulas that contribute to Charlestown’s desire to leave.

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June is the time of year in the Upper Valley when female turtles begin to move from the water looking for sunny and sandy spots to dig a hole, lay their eggs, and then return to their water source. This journey often takes them through a dangerous, life-risking gambit – crossing the road. Yo…

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CLAREMONT—It was open mic night for Rural Outright at Claremont Makerspace Tuesday night, where a dozen or so people gathered to tell stories, read poems, play guitar and ukulele and generally entertain one another.

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DUMMERSTON, Vt. — The Green Mountain Conservancy invites the public to a guided hike at the Deer Run Nature Preserve on Sunday, July 28, at 2:30 p.m. The hike will follow the new gradual gradient trail through the future Deer Run Nature Preserve in Dummerston, Vermont, and will be led by Rog…

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DERRY, N.H. — Where were we, and what were we doing in the summer of 1969? Were we moving along in a job, raising a family, attending school, or just enjoying our childhood in a small-town neighborhood?

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McALLEN, Tx. — United States Rep. Anne Kuster traveled with a congressional delegation to McAllen and Brownsville, Texas over the weekend to observe the conditions at detention centers for asylum-seekers.

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Caption: Joshua Dauphin, chief of the West Weathersfield Fire Department, discusses the importance of having a full-time chief with EMT-certification in town, which would enable residents to see a trained first responder to a medical emergency before an ambulance arrives from out-of-town.

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We all grew up with family folklore, stories that captured the personality and quirks of our relatives, while sometimes giving us a taste of our local history. They ranged from whimsical accounts of playful Aunt Ellen to the outrageous and peculiar behavior of Uncle Bob. Of course, the best …

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Vermont State Police are looking for assistance locating Richard Royce. He was last seen on July 12 in the Hartford, Vermont, area. Royce is described as 5-feet-6-inches tall and weighs approximately 167 pounds. He is known to frequent the Hartford, Vermont, and Lebanon, New Hampshire, area.…

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CLAREMONT — The Claremont Planning Board heard a report about housing in the city from Olivia Uyizeye of the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission (UVLSRPC) that summarized the results of a survey of employees of 18 different employers in Claremont. Uyizeye told the board th…

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Players from the IMPACT traveling theater group presented The Wind in the Willows for children at the Claremont Opera House Monday morning. Next Monday the show will be Tom Sawyer. Back row: Badger (Ryan Alarid), Toad (Miles Messier), Samantha Resnick (Rat), Logan Clingan (Mole). Front row, …

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CLAREMONT — It’s the last day of Camp Invention at Disnard Elementary School, and the kids are getting ready to race “orbots.” Fifth grade teacher Katey Wachsman floats through the classrooms and keeps things organized, remembering what items go home with which kids and resolving any problems.

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