The child in artist T. Darlene Warren Doerr knew cruel days.
Bits of metal, pieces of stone and figures of body parts found their way into her artwork. When admirers suggested the sculpture was about child sexual abuse, she would disagree - that was not what she meant - but people read the meaning anyway, she said.
"My art told my story before my voice was able to," said Mrs. Doerr, a survivor of abuse.
Now she leads a seminar, Journey into Healing, about her experiences.
Mrs. Doerr began speaking on the topic about 10 years ago after helping initiate the Take Back the Night abuse awareness events. The Augusta events were patterned on ones she saw in Michigan several years ago while she was in therapy.
"If God allowed me to get well, I would see to it" that Augusta had similar events, where survivors could tell about their experiences and encourage others to get help, she said.
The idea for a workshop at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church came up before the sex-abuse cases surfaced this year in the Catholic Church, but it ran into scheduling difficulties, said Mrs. Doerr, a member.
Abuse happens in every church - she was abused by a non-Catholic minister when she was growing up - "it just wasn't on the 6 o'clock news," she said.
The problems in the Catholic Church are "an enormous opportunity" to turn something negative into something positive - a view she shares with many fellow parishioners, she said.
"Our feet have been dragged to the fire, but we can show the rest of the world how to care for people who have been hurt."
Mrs. Doerr married after graduating from high school in Asheville, N.C.
"I fell in love with the most marvelous man," she said.
She threw herself into keeping house and raising a family. But she went from being a woman who could mow the lawn, paint a room and run a home "to a woman who couldn't put ravioli and green beans on the table" as the story of her childhood came out, she said.
Her husband's focus became earning enough money to pay for her therapy, she said. "I have had numerous friends ask, if something should happen to me and I should die, `Would you hate me if I divorced my husband and married yours?'Ä" she said with a laugh.
Healing came a piece at a time - people have to work at uncovering what needs to be mended and accept what doesn't, she said.
"If someone had told me early in my recovery I could forgive, I would have said `Yeah - right.' I always thought it would be very difficult, but it just came. And it became part of who I am."
In the late 1980s, she enrolled in the fine arts program at Augusta State University. Her senior exhibit was the first Take Back the Night event. "That started me off," she said.
Invitations came for her to speak at conferences and to present workshops, both places where she could also set up her art.
The artwork prompted people to talk about their experiences, a step in healing. "It was like God knocking me on the shoulder," she said.
One piece, depicting a small person trapped in box springs, is from "a particular time in my life," she said. As a small child, she found pulling herself up into the box springs was better than hiding under a bed.
"There are lots of children who did that. I didn't realize how many" until the piece was displayed and people began telling her, she said.
Knowing she has survived her own childhood experiences has given her strength and endurance, she said.
"It fills me with hope and I have a peace with life."
IF YOU GO
T. Darlene Warren Doerr, a child abuse survivor, will present Journey into Healing from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church, 117 Pleasant Home Road. For more information, call 863-4956.
Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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