Every so often there is a gathering of like-minded people that gives outsiders looking in due pause. This past weekend’s national conference for The Well Armed Woman was one of those events.
Amid a sea of women decked out all sorts of purple, there was a contagious feeling of unity. The energy and cohesive bonds were palpable among the chapter leaders from across the country as they descended on Provo, Utah for a few days of education, empowerment, and good ‘ole fashioned fun. Some were longtime friends, and some were just meeting for the first time in person. Either way, it was this organic sense of common purpose that led these 300 ladies of TWAW to spend time away from their families for the benefit of their chapter members back home.
The Well Armed Woman is one of those special organizations that you’re drawn to because of how inviting each person is, and that standard is set daily by their founder and chairwoman, Carrie Lightfoot. Standing all of about 5’3”, Carrie is an authentically warm person who lights up a room without having to demand attention. Everything she does is for other people, and her altruistic nature was on full display this weekend as a host.
When Carrie reached out to me a few months ago about joining her group as a presenter in Utah this fall, I was thrilled. I’d interacted with some of the “Twisters” (as they call themselves) on numerous occasions and have always found them to be educated, dynamic, and genuine. I leapt at the offer to share my story with these women and impart research on trauma and crisis intervention during their general session. We were sure to involve local resources from the start and I’m greatly thankful for The Center for Women and Children in Crisis of Provo, UT for attending our morning session as on-hand advocates. In addition to myself and Carrie, Critical Incident Stress Management member Jane Wilson, and law enforcement victim’s advocate Suzy Burros, both TWAW leaders themselves, joined us as fellow panelists to round out our seminar.
We asked that no photography, recording, or streaming be permitted during our session, and it was the right choice to do so. The doors closed, the phones turned off, and it was simply 300 women together in a hotel ballroom for the next two hours. What transpired I still cannot eloquently put in to words, but the sharing of personal tragedies and experiences with abuse touched many lives that day. The aim of our session was to introduce leaders to the domain of PTSD, stress, and crisis intervention. We gave them the tools to identify and connect persons in crisis to the appropriate resources. We showed them how trauma may manifest within individuals. We discussed what this actually looks like day-to-day. And as predicted, we opened some deeply hidden wounds among many attendees.
Unfortunately, I am used to seeing others’ tears when I speak about my own assault. It isn’t fun, and it’s one of the most personal topics you can address. I’ve grown comfortable snapping in to what I deem “advocate mode” and offering words of guidance. I know the feeling of sitting among hundreds of strangers trying to gulp down tears threatening to spring from your eyes while holding yourself in your seat as another person narrates your own pain. I have been there.
But in the Marriott ballroom in Provo Utah, I didn’t see the shame and hidden aches being pushed aside. I saw women rise; rise together, for each other. They reached out to their sisters, they embraced each other, they stood in solidarity. They wept, they cheered, and they supported one another. There were no differences in backgrounds, in experiences, in walks of life; we were all just humans sharing an emotive connection to one another. And in that moment, I saw hope.
For all the pain and suffering and abuse that transcends what we as women will endure throughout our lives, still we will rise.
I want to thank each and every one of you who attended the conference this weekend. I know some of you didn’t want to come to this gut-wrenching seminar for personal reasons, and maybe didn’t want to stay, but you faced that fear and made it through. You are stronger than you know, and I hope this message of advocacy will find its way back to your chapter members, your family, and your friends.
When I took the stage once more during the Friday evening dinner sponsored by Ruger, I thought many of you may run for cover knowing that I’d play my 9-1-1 call, but you showed me even more of your support. I was honored to share my perspective, my weekend, and introduce my steadfast fiancé Michael to you all. He may have been blushing when I asked him stand and be thanked for the work he does on a daily basis for victims of crime, but he echoes my thoughts about your overwhelming kindness and acceptance.
So again Twisters, thank you for the opportunity to be with you this weekend. And thank you especially to Carrie for the invitation to speak with Jane, Suzy, and yourself. I hope to cross paths with all of you again soon!
For more information about The Well Armed Woman and your local chapter, please visit their website here.