Y’all may remember back this winter shortly after my latest class of Spokesmodels joined us, that we had a self-defense class? You might have been wondering ‘What on earth does a self-defense class have to do with a photography program?’. Here’s our story of the significance & how this came to be…
It started with one of my amazing Class of 2016 Fab Grad Spokesmodels, Audra. She’s an exceptional young lady and among her many skills is martial arts. She is strong, independent & capable of defending herself and that is very cool & impressive to me! She will be graduating this weekend (GO Audra!), but well before that… much earlier this school year, she started her Senior Project. She approached me to see if I would be willing to let her interview me as part of her project. She asked this because her report was about the benefits of self-defense knowledge for young women, and how this knowledge can prepare women for the challenges life throws at them (i.e. rape, sexual assault, abuse, etc.) and… I was raped in my college years. I’ve always been open & free with talking about it for the most part, as I’ve always been one to believe that our experiences help others see that they are not alone. Maybe, just maybe it might help someone else through a similar pain. That being said, at over 20 years after the fact it’s not really something I let myself think about much anymore. I did a lifetime of that in my 20’s… drowned myself in thoughts & depression & worse from it. Every now & then it comes up in conversation for different reasons but that’s about it. All these years later, and now working with young ladies very close to the age I was at my experience, Audra’s questions struck some personal light bulb moments for me. The biggest one was:
“If you had been knowledgeable of self-defense tactics or training, would you have felt more comfortable in the new environment of college?”
and I answered:
“Oh heck yeah! On one hand I know I would’ve kicked his ___ (insert the word you feel most appropriate to use 😉 ). On the other hand, I don’t think I would’ve been in the situation in the first place. I think that had I known self-defense, I would’ve also known more self-confidence & emotional strength to go with it. I don’t know that for sure, but I am pretty confident in it. Had that been the case, I honestly don’t think I would’ve found myself in such a naive, insecure type situation. As I’m working through these answers for you, I’m actually thinking I need to get over my size insecurities & sign up for some classes myself… and that I need to find room in the schedule to sign my daughter up as well. She may not be able to prevent such a thing from happening to her someday, but she WILL have the tools and every bit of strength & skill (physically & mentally) to ensure she can prevent it happening to her… to as much degree as is humanly possible.“
You see… for me, I was raped by a security guard of all people, someone I’d known to a degree, in a back stairway at the concert theatre we worked at (while a show was going on). I was in my first year of college in a big city, curious about life but essentially a painfully shy, insecure, awkward, oafy very goody good kinda girl who hadn’t even had a boyfriend yet (yes, at 19). I had strong values & beliefs and also so very naively saw pretty much only good in, well… pretty much everyone I met. I was definitely among the ‘that wouldn’t really happen to me’ mindset. And then, I was forced to see otherwise. My experience traumatized me for many, MANY years & changed my life dramatically. I went through several layers of pain but luckily had an amazing friend that stepped in to be my hero in those initial stages. Though I don’t know how or why he did all that he did for me, he saw me through that period and to this day is a friend that I treasure very deeply. Despite all his amazing efforts though, he’s not a miracle worker. What happened to me shook everything I knew & believed in, at least relationship-wise at that point, and really my own confidence in my ability to have good judgement. There was no way to repair that easily or quickly. I spent ALL of my 20’s drowning deeply in my emotions. The first 2 years I indulged the hurt into partying, dangerous, dumb & such bad choices!! In my emotional state, I felt as though it wasn’t worth being so good since it didn’t matter & could just be ripped away so easily. I was both desperate to find someone to prove love & relationships were good and ‘fix’ this… and also I think, I was of the mindset that if I don’t say “no”, if I just go with any/everything then it doesn’t happen again… it’s all good. Right? Wrong! The partying stopped just shy of 2yrs when I found myself pregnant with my now 20yr old son. While unexpected, it certainly snapped me outta that phase & turned my behavior around quickly. But… I was still very deeply damaged.
I had numerous therapists, medications, etc, etc for years. As someone that attended the top school in the country for my field with no official training and believed that I truly could do anything I set my mind to… I changed to someone that longed for that feeling but really didn’t believe in myself anymore. I no longer took chances or tried too hard for things – I was too scared that it couldn’t really happen. I’m not sure how or why this experience took that from me, but it did. I gained weight to the tune of 390lbs. The Dr’s said that I put the weight on as a safety wall to keep men away. And that it did! I really didn’t date for my entire 20’s after having my son. I was sad & lonely & confused & a mess. I had to try to work on me & take care of him. There were nights that I would have to call my mom &/or sister over to sit with me and make sure I made it through the dark moment to fall asleep safely. I had many thoughts of wanting all the pain to end, feeling like I just couldn’t get life together and not wanting to go through all the struggle anymore… wishing that I would die but not being able to do anything because of the son I was now responsible for & loved too much to do that to.
My life is dramatically different today and actually rather weird to remember that I was once in that dark of a place or that I experienced the things that I did. It’s like an entirely different life. Not perfect, of course, but I am strong and healthy, mentally & in spirit in a way I never knew before this latest decade of my life. I no longer need therapy or medication, nor have I for many years. I’m obviously pursuing my dreams, have made big life changes & taken risks again for this business. I believe in myself & what I can do, understand & accept what I can’t, know what I want and how I genuinely feel about things. All of this has taken a HUGE amount of work and effort. The after effects of my experience took a crazy number of my younger adult years of life first though and is something I wish no one else would ever have to experience.
As I’ve healed over the years, I’ve wanted to volunteer for RAINN or something similar but have continued to feel that, however well-intentioned, it might not be a wise decision for me to put myself into emotionally. Then Audra’s questionnaire came, which was followed by my son’s Karate class that very afternoon. I saw a flyer for birthday parties & got an idea in my head to ask if they did other type get togethers/team building classes. I instantly started forming a vision of having a private self-defense class for the girls. Miss Bauguss (now, Mrs Palmer 🙂 ), whipped her head around with eyes lit up wide! It turns out that they were about to start a round of a 6-week women’s only course, especially for young ladies around the age of leaving home/heading to college & ‘the real world’, called Take Control. It is a program designed by Kathy Olevsky & further developed by Miss Bauguss to help prevent, deter, overcome and conquer assaults both in and outside of the home; teaching participants how to manage various situations in order to keep themselves, as well as their family, safe when facing danger. The course additionally covers statistics, learning what most attackers look for in victims, improving observation skills, making intelligent choices to help deter attacks and techniques for learning how to fight back and not be a victim in the event an attack happens. I knew immediately that this is something she is passionate about & she meant it! I also already knew that I wanted to ramp up the program & do more with/for our girls! In particular, more above & beyond the photography we do with these young ladies. So I booked our night & Miss Bauguss prepared a mini 2 hour private overview course of the Take Control program! It was in line with our strong hero girls’ theme this year and relationship building for the girls, so great on that front. However, most importantly, it was an opportunity to help prevent or at least minimize the risk of all the above that I went through (or their version of such) from happening to even just these few girls.
As our event took place, it was a very moving experience to watch! Miss Bauguss bonded with the girls pretty much immediately. You could see them relax & take comfort in her instruction. They allowed themselves to act out scenarios & try out actual moves. They listened intently and asked questions. You could visibly see them learning, growing & strengthening as women. They took things seriously while also laughing, bonding and building brand new friendships & memories that I genuinely hope they will have for many years to come. They will certainly never forget how to handle a bear hug attack method 😉 . I certainly had to wipe a few tears as I watched what was happening! This girls, their bright spirits & promising wonderful futures ahead make me beam with smiles… I couldn’t possibly adore them more. There’s never any guarantee of what will or won’t come their way in life – I certainly hope they never have need for their new skills but I believe that Miss Bauguss’s lessons will stay with them and help keep them that much safer.
While not a part of our upcoming ‘themes’ I hope to include this as part of our program going forward, maybe even open it up to a broader audience someday. For now, THANK YOU Mrs Palmer for all that you give to this program & all that you shared with my girls, THANK YOU to Audra for inspiring this addition and THANK YOU to the moms & girls for coming and investing in themselves in this important way! I would also encourage all women of any age, if local – to sign up for a Take Control program or find something similar in your area!! YOU are worth taking care of!