finding direction after living with childhood domestic violence through art therapy Artwork by Jolene Dames

Jolene Dames is our most recent CDV Champion. As a child, she found a creative outlet to escape her harsh realities and traumas from living in a home with domestic violence, art. Although she may not have called it art therapy, it was at first a means of self-discovery and escape. It transcended a means of escape, into something she knew would be part of her life-long healing from Childhood Domestic Violence (CDV).

Understanding CDV later in life

She was aware that she was unique to other children. She grew up quicker than others and had worries that no child should have to face. As an adult, Jolene understands that her experience with CDV had shaped her childhood. And up until recently, she came to understand that it stays with you into adulthood. And just like in childhood, negatively impacts physical health and mental well-being.

Jolene may be successful and more content internally now than ever, but it was a long road to get there. Her story is one of a self-imposed and self-guided journey of learning, hard work, and alchemy. Read her inciteful story below.

The Reality 

I was born into a highly dysfunctional family. Being raised in a domestic violent home where addiction ran the household instead of my parents, I faced numerous situations where the threat of survival was very real. Daily, I had to deal with things other children never had to worry about. Alcohol, drugs, abuse, neglect, and abandonment are truths of childhood I quietly suffered. 

It was the beginning of my inability to trust the world, myself, and my inner compass. All my senses would be considered contradictory to the circumstances. It was disorienting and inescapable. I was dealing with things other children did not have to worry about. Like what would happen at night when my father came home drunk; would we have food or a place to live? Would he hurt my sister or me? I felt helpless to help my mother.  

I called all these experiences my life and thought this was normal- not knowing what it was then; it was far from ordinary. Until recently, I could not publicly say that I experienced childhood domestic violence.  I never wanted my parents to feel ashamed for who they were. After all, they are the result of their own childhoods. I felt like I needed to protect them, maybe because I was not protected. I have compassion, understanding, and insight into why they did and acted the way they did, but it does not take away from the fact that I still suffer and have to work through its consequences and triggers. 

The Internal Struggle 

Being able to put a name to what happened does help my process. It also scares me because it makes it real and means accepting big truths. Some are freeing, some are isolating, and others fill me with relief—big truths like:

It was not my fault

I am not to blame

I don’t have to carry their shame

That shame, that awful shame of feeling like if I was not here, it wouldn’t be happening. I am why they are like that—the shame of hiding what was happening. In all its forms and later manifestations, shame has been the worst aspect of CDV. It’s a lot of baggage for a kid to haul around. 

After reading some of the research and information in the book, “Invincible,” I can see where CDV has negatively impacted my health, emotional well-being, behaviors, and my relationships as an adult. Not being able to show your underbelly least someone attacks you is exhausting. Feeling exploited and ashamed because you cannot discern who is manipulating you and who is not.

When you are coming from such a deficit of lack of love, wanting and needing to feel safe with others is what you long for and are terrified of at the same time. It splits you. And unfortunately, you tend to attract more of the chaos because of how hard-wired you were from those childhood experiences. 

Growing into an adult and then trying to reconcile the split is hard on the physical body, spirit, mind, and soul. Not feeling safe in yourself, with others, or in the world, it is surprising to me I have lived as fearlessly as I have, but that’s why I feel “invincible.” These days, self-forgiveness and shame are my hard-won allies. Resiliency is my superpower. 

Jolene Dames, champion of childhood domestic violence

Art has the means to heal- art therapy

Despite it all, at the age of three, I started creating art and used my imagination to help me escape the chaos of that world. My imagination allowed me to dream up anything I wanted and transport myself to better places. By the time I was five years old, I knew I would be an artist. When my parents divorced in my early pre-teens, I had no one to talk to. Even if there were people around, I couldn’t trust anyone. So I painted, drew, made collages, and wrote pages upon pages of poetry while I kept silent because I was still too scared to speak. 

We moved around a lot, and art was the only thing I could produce consistently while all my other learning suffered. It gave me common ground with my peers in each of my schools. In high school, I gravitated toward the adults who showed support and interest in me, like my art teachers. I have had many people step in to help me throughout my life. Friends, parents of my friends, and community leaders have collectively helped me face and overcome CDV’s adverse effects. 

The Results of Resiliency 

Regardless of how I grew up, I continued to thrive in life, taking advantage of opportunities and experiences that came my way. I became a scenic artist, and painted sets for theater and, eventually, television and movies. I would be an artist in my own right achieving awards, gallery showings, and dozens of commissions. 

art as a means to heal - art therapy

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Artwork by Jolene Dames

Learning to trust myself enough to feel safe within myself has taken me all over the world, generated an impressive career, and, most importantly, allowed me to create the one thing I was always searching for peace within myself. In my paintings and real life, I have recalibrated my compass, become in tune with my own true north, and continually feel guided by the internal navigational system I have worked tirelessly to hone.

I used my childhood to alchemize myself into the person I am today. 

My only advice is the conviction of my belief that you can turn chaos into beauty. It takes some deep dives to pull up hope where there looks like there is none. But if you can find those tiny slivers of gold in places, people, and things you love to do, keep doing them.

  • Honor those little kid parts in you that showed up repeatedly to keep you moving forward.
  • Do not discount the myriad ways you HAVE shown up for yourself despite those awful circumstances.
  • Most of all, find constructive ways to let out all those feelings within you which accumulated from those years.

Your life is a result of your ability to survive; it can also be the reason you thrive. 

Jolene Dames, Artist & Alchemist

Check in with us this October for a discussion with Jolene on art therapy.

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