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Interview with “Advice from a Loving Bitch” creator Rythea Lee on Healing Trauma from Childhood Sexual Abuse

By: STP Co-Director, Leila Zainab

As a survivor, I often scour the internet looking for articles that resonate with my unique experiences of violence, internalized shame and guilt, and healing. Of all the various types of abuses, resources on sexual abuse are some of the hardest to come by because of societal shame associated with exposing family and intimate partner violence. When I learned that survivor activist, and long-time Survivor Theatre Project member, Rythea Lee created a video series about self-hatred and trauma, I started watching immediately. 

Rythea Lee is a previous Survivor Theatre Performance Project director, artist, performer and dancer. She has spent the last 20 years of her life as a therapist working with survivors of trauma and using the arts as a mode for healing. Rythea is the author of “Trauma Into Truth,” a poetic and practical book about the journey of personal healing through trauma. I spent some time talking with Rythea about her new video series entitled “Advice From a Loving Bitch” and what brings her to care deeply about healing from childhood trauma.

Rythea’s video series isn’t necessarily intended for a survivor audience; it is most helpful for people who are looking for validation and healing from self-hatred, internalized anger, and shame. But so often, survivors of sexual violence deal with self-hatred because we see ourselves as responsible for the trauma we’ve endured. In conversation with Rythea, she explained to me that she made these videos because “somewhere deep down in most of us, there is a voice that hates ourselves,” and she wanted to put that voice out there for folks to acknowledge how debilitating it can be.

The best part about Rythea’s videos is how hysterically funny it is to see her step into her self-hating voice. What makes her message so accessible is how she weaves humor with deep, heart-wrenching truths about the power of hateful self-talk. Rythea makes talking about these painful issues relatable so that we can start to laugh at our voices of self-sabotage rather than judge it or push it away.

Rythea’s videos encourage personal exploration around our individual layers of self-hatred & self-criticism, anger, denial, childhood abuse, and offers us new ways of harnessing joy, self-love and creativity to move through the trauma into a place of healing and wholeness. 

Episode 19: “Three Women Rising” features Rythea and two other phenomenal survivor activists, Aishah Shahidah Simmons and Donna Jenson, who speak to their own personal journeys with healing and ending child sexual abuse. Aishah Shahidah Simmons is a self defined Black feminist lesbian, incest and rape survivor, award-winning documentary filmmaker & creator of “No! The Rape Documentary,” and visionary behind the social media campaign #LoveWITHAccountability. Donna Jenson is a survivor, artist activist, author, and performer. She is the creator of the one-woman-show “What She Knows: One Woman’s Way from Incest to Love” and author of upcoming book, “Healing My Life from Incest to Joy.”

What is most striking about this episode is the rawness of each activist as she explains her courageous experience facing familial childhood sexual abuse, spending her adulthood working to create artwork that explores trauma, and finding healing through it all. It is radically powerful to see survivors speak their lived experience of resilience in such a profoundly honest and inspiring way. Not only are these survivors speaking out against child sexual abuse; they are pioneers in their fields, paving a path for transformational healing from childhood trauma as activists and educators. They use their stories to model how healing can look, how it can pave the way for a life of love and action.

Childhood sexual abuse is a topic that is so severely silenced, denied, and largely unexplored as a societal epidemic. In Episode 19, Aishah Shahidah Simmons says it best: “I am unequivocal in my belief that the deep denial of child sexual abuse and incest is entrenched and deeply connected to protecting the family. All of us are taught from birth that we must protect the family at all costs. Unfortunately, what that usually means is protecting the harm-doer, perpetrator, and bystander.” Because we are taught from a young age to protect our families and other trusted adults, we as survivors do not speak out against the abuse we have experienced. It can be a hugely risky task, possibly resulting in further abuse or abandonment from the family. So, instead, we stay silent as loyalty to our families.

When I asked Rythea what she might say to a survivor who wants to “come out,” she offered this piece of loving advice: “Start with one safe person who can offer you loving support, who believes you, and validates you. This doesn’t have to be a therapist, it can even be a friend. Alice Miller calls it “The Enlightened Witness.”

If you are looking for a truly transformative resource to tackle your self-hatred, your trauma, and what holds you back from accessing your big joy, check out Rythea Lee’s video series entitled “Advice From a Loving Bitch with Rythea Lee.”

Watch here:

Check out Rythea Lee’s website:

Rythea Lee on Instagram: @RytheaLee



Womanshelter/Compañeras & Survivor Theatre Project Team Up to End Sexual Violence!

By: STP Co-Director, Leila Zainab

Survivor Theatre Project (STP) thrives in partnership with an abundant network of community organizations and agencies committed to social justice. For years, STP has partnered with a variety of organizations that work at numerous intersections to fight for justice, stand up for vulnerable communities, and shed light on issues affecting sexual violence survivors. We believe that building strong and supportive community networks is the nexus of our movement’s sustainability and growth. It is because of these partnerships that STP can bring our original performances to communities that desire to expand their reach on issues relating to sexual violence, rape culture, and the arts. We team up to develop a cultural event that accommodates the community’s unique needs. These partnerships are always fruitful and inspiring as we work together to create a collective vision to end violence and support survivors through the arts.

We are deeply grateful to weave with organizations that have welcomed us into their community spaces with open arms. Womanshelter/Compañeras has been that organization for us. Womanshelter/Compañeras is a domestic violence agency located in western Massachusetts. They are committed to supporting their participants, many whom are survivors of sexual assault in their intimate partner relationships. In the Fall of 2016, Womanshelter/Compañeras hosted performers from STP, and dozens of regional groups for their annual “Purple Light Nights” event to honor the lives lost to domestic violence, and light a torch for survivors of violence everywhere.

Womanshelter/Compañeras Community Educator, Carmen Nieves shared that “our collaboration with STP is an extension of our mission to bring awareness and healing to communities. STP is not just a valued partner, they enrich and enhance the work that Womanshelter/Compañeras does."

Womanshelter/Compañeras serves women, men and children throughout western Massachusetts, with outreach focused in Holyoke, Chicopee, Ludlow, Springfield, West Springfield, Westfield, Southampton, Monson, Palmer, Ware, South Hadley, Belchertown and Granby. Womanshelter/Compañeras is also a safe place for refugees and immigrant families across the region; hosting bilingual programs in Spanish, Russian, and English. It is an honor to be in partnership with such a sensational team of organizers!

This Spring, Womanshelter/Compañeras and STP are coming together to create a community space for survivors and allies to experience a powerful performance and engage in open dialogue about the cycles of violence in the western Massachusetts area. On May 18th, 2017 at 6:30pm at Holyoke City Hall, we will join in community to uplift a message of resistance and resilience for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. STP’s Touring Company’s performance, “ROAAARRR! A Beautiful Anger” is a show that connects music, percussive rhythms, spoken word, and raw emotion to encourage audiences to reflect on how sexual violence survivors thrive in a world that attempts to silence our rage.

Need another reason to support transformative community organizations this #ValleyGives day on May 2nd? Please consider supporting Womanshelter/Compañeras and Survivor Theatre Project; two organizations committed to uplifting survivors, advocating and educating communities about the cycles of violence & strategizing ways to end and protect communities against abuse. Without organizations like Womanshelter/Compañeras and STP, survivors are invisibilized, and our experiences erased. Help us sustain this important community building effort to promote safe space for survivors to express, grow, heal, and thrive. Make a tax deductible donation on May 2nd #ValleyGives day!

Stay tuned for the donation link on May 2nd



"Practicing Survivor Self-Care", by STP Co-Director Leila Zaina


As survivors, we can be hard on ourselves. We can forget to take care of our well being. We can get caught up in all of life’s responsibilities, and make ourselves last on the list of priorities. Sometimes, we forget that we deserve care at all. But we do.

Caring for ourselves is the most important thing we can do during hard times. In fact, it’s the one thing that makes all of our life’s work sustainable. Self-care keeps burnout at bay. If we don’t take care of our most precious selves, our work, our families, and our communities can suffer greatly.

So, how do we begin to self-care? It can feel like an overwhelming project, but what’s important to remember is that it is a practice and it gets easier over time. Each day, doing a small piece of self-care can create massive shifts. You don’t have to have tons of time on your hands, or need lots of money to invest. Just an intention to care, and a few minutes a day. 


1. Breathe Deep.

Breathing is an act that we take for granted everyday. The simple act of intentional breathing throughout our day can decrease our stress levels and clear our minds. Taking a few minutes a day to sit in a comfy chair and breath deeply into your belly can help ground your energy and releases tension in the body. Your life and your breath matter.


2Make Art.

Making art can be a transformative experience for survivors of sexual violence. Art can be a channel for healing. It can help speak to experiences that can’t be told with words. Move your body. Sing a tune. Dance to a rhythm. Shake it, jump, and grind! Paint your feelings. Perform on a stage, or for yourself in the mirror. Cook a nourishing meal. Bang a drum. Slam a message. Let your poetic voice free. Sometimes survivors do not believe that art is for them. Sometimes we feel shy making or appreciating art. But it is always ours to use, create, and play with however we like. 

3. Grieve.

Giving ourselves time to grieve the violence and pain we have endured is one of the most difficult, and crucial pieces of self-care. Grief looks different for everyone. Sometimes it looks like crying; wailing, tears that flow for days, weeks, or years. Sometimes it looks like silence; quiet reflection, inner dialogue and processing. Sometimes it looks loud; angry, aggressive, screaming, punching pillows, and taking kickboxing classes. Sometimes it looks like creating distance from family members or friends who don’t provide the kind of support we need. Sometimes it is all of these things at different times. Sometimes it is none. The key is to give yourself time to try different things that might help. Grief is an ongoing process. It can come and go in waves. But know that when we give it space to be, it won’t feel as overwhelming or out of control. 


4. Write.

Writing is a powerful healing tool to utilize when overcoming trauma. Keep a small notebook or journal and dedicate it to your healing and self-love. Write down all the things you love about yourself, things you are most proud of yourself for, or simply write about how your day went. Make lists of the things you need to do. Write down your worries, your thoughts, your feelings. Write letters to your childhood self. Write letters to your perpetrator (and never send them). Write about your trauma. Write a fictional story. Blog about yoursurvivor journey to help other survivors with shared identities. Whatever your desire or message, write it! 

5. Connect to Survivor Community.

You are not alone in your healing journey. It can be immensely helpful to connect with other survivors about their survivorship and to share resources. There is healing power in exchanging stories, and supporting one another in our paths to liberation. Attend a “Healing Through Creative Arts Workshop” for survivors at the Women’s Center in Cambridge, MA (February 18th workshop info below). Connect with friends who can support and love you in the ways that you need. Join a survivor support group in your area, over the phone, or on the internet. It is in community that we find the connection, relationship, and validation we seek. 

Self-care takes time and practice. It may not come easy at first. Each time you do a small act of self-care, congratulate yourself. It is a big step. Self-care is not meant to create extra stress; it is meant as a time to heal, to reflect, and to listen to our hearts so we may be ready to take on our lives with renewed energy. Record your efforts each day and be proud of your self-care. Caring for ourselves in a culture that invalidates and silences survivors is a powerful statement. And nothing short of revolutionary!

Written by Leila Zainab, Co-Director of the Survivor Theatre Project. Her favorite self-care practice is snuggling her cat, Lily. 


"STP's Collective Leadership Model" by STP Co-Director Leila Zainab

Survivor Theatre Project thrives on a Collective Leadership Model that guides the mission we hold, and the work that we do. Our Leadership Team is made up of previous Performance Project participants, facilitators, educators, artists, and activists who are deeply committed to our mission of ending sexual violence through performance and community dialogue. Each Leadership Team member plays a prominent role in the organization’s various projects, outreach efforts, and workshops. When we gather together in quarterly retreats, we cultivate strategies for community building, strengthening our connections, and creating new avenues for solidarity across movements.

Our staff serves alongside our Leadership Team. STP staff are focused on the general operations and management of Survivor Theatre Project. To STP, Collective Leadership means that everyone's voice is heard, and everyone's experience matters. In a world where leadership is often synonymous with corruption and hierarchy, Survivor Theatre Project leads with equity and a hive-mind approach. We practice transparency and authenticity with each other, and regarding our organizational decisions; always referring back to the Leadership Team for guidance and support.

Each of our roles is vital to the sustainability of our work. Each of our personal missions is important and we work to uplift one another in the process. We honor wellness and self-care, practicing our work of healing and self-love within our organization, as well as with the communities we serve. Our Collective Leadership Model means that we are committed to growing and learning new ways of creating community culture within our organization. It means that we are committed to creating a new world, a new way of working - one that is centered around honoring each and everyone one of us with care, love, and respect.



STP Healing Through Creative Arts @ the Cambridge Women's Center

For over four years, Survivor Theatre Project has run the Healing Through Creative Arts program at the Cambridge Women’s Center in Cambridge, MA. Program Coordinator Martha Rogers (STP Alum and Leadership Team member) shares with us the importance of this program in survivor’s lives and the vitality of the Women’s Center:  

Consistent steady programming for people who live with the unpredictable vulnerability of trauma is a critical piece in the healing process.  That steady year-in year-out presence is a major strength of the Healing Through Creative Arts workshop series. This series is a regular public statement that all child sexual abuse survivors in the Boston area have a healing, creative refuge for expression each month for anyone who walks through the door.

Martha continues

Another major strength of the workshop series is its grassroots base.  Many of the workshop facilitators were first workshop participants and had never led a workshop before.  Our facilitators choose to offer their facilitation because they know first hand that this environment can provide survivors a safe place to take risks, heal and explore different art forms.  The opportunity for contribution to others healing is healing in itself and empowering for each person whom I witness taking that leap.  It fills my heart. Repeatedly people who lead these workshops for the first time say that they want to do it again.  That speaks for itself.  And in some cases they go on to offer independent workshops as well.

This creative and healing space would not be possible without Program Coordinator Martha Rogers, the many facilitators who bring their skills and passions, the longstanding Cambridge Women’s Center staff,  volunteers and board members, the expertise and guidance of Incest Resources Director Elaine Westerlund, and the many survivors who bring spirit, courage and imagination to these workshops. We give thanks for this community, and send many blessings to you all in the new year.