Brooke Elise Axtell: Badass Activist Friday

It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire cultural change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.

Today’s Badass is Brooke Elise Axtell. Brooke is a singer, songwriter and poet, as well as an adcovate for survivors of sexual assault and violence. She is the author of the poetry book Kore of the Incantation and creator SHE: Survivor Healing &Empowerment, a community for survivors of abuse and their allies. Her contributions have been featured in many outlets, such as the Wall Street Journal and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Here’s what she had to say to us!

Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get started as a writer/performer and what motivates you in your work?

I grew up dancing in professional ballet companies and started writing poetry at the age of 7. I eventually transitioned into music and discovered my voice as a singer and songwriter.

The arts have always been a place of refuge for me. I am motivated by the desire to make meaningful connections, to honor both the beauty and ruin of life.

Bearing witness makes everything sacred.

A lot of your activism centers around advocating for survivors of sexual assault. Among other things, you work with the speaker’s bureau of RAINN. What do you hope to achieve with your work, and what do you see as the most important aspect of advocating for survivors?

I hope that through my writing and activism I help women recognize that they are not alone. The deception of isolation is so painful. When I write and speak my truth, I am inviting others to do the same.

The creative process is a powerful instrument of transformation. The core of healing is the reclamation of worth and power. I try to remind those in my community of their own brilliance. Recovery is a process of remembering who we are.

You are a contributor to Seal Press’s new anthology “Dancing at the Shame Prom“. Can you describe the book for us, and why you chose to contribute to it?

“Dancing at the Shame Prom” is an anthology featuring essays by 27 courageous women writers who found ways to confront and release their shame. We address everything from addiction to eating disorders.

When Amy Ferris and Hollye Dexter invited me to contribute, I knew I had to be a part of the project. I intuitively sensed that it would be a healing process for me to give voice to hidden and silenced parts of my life. Their vision was immediately compelling and I felt that it would be a collection that contributed to women’s emotional freedom.

Please give us a sneak preview of your contributing essay, “What I Know of Silence”. What is it about, and why did you chose to write this particular piece?

I wrote about my experience of sexual assault and child sex-trafficking as well as my recovery process. I felt that bringing this darkness into the light would be the next step in my own healing and that other survivors might be encouraged to share their truth. Here is an excerpt from my essay:

Eventually, I decided to go underground in search of a healing path. I left the music world behind and moved to Boulder, Colorado to study poetry and Buddhist meditation at Naropa University. I started attending a recovery group for survivors of childhood sexual abuse and began to recognize how the beliefs I formed as a little girl colored everything I touched.

Before I felt compassion for myself, I felt fierce compassion for the other women in my group. To learn how to value myself, I imagined what I would want for them and then chose to embrace that vision. When they talked about how they had been used and exploited, how they still struggled to feel any sense of worth, I knew I was willing to do whatever I could to contribute to their healing.  With their help, I created a body of knowledge, a body that finally belongs to me.

In my meditation class, I learned about aspirations as a contemplative practice, a way to offer loving-kindness to ourselves and the world. Whenever I had flashbacks, I would turn to my own aspiration as a touchstone, a way to ground myself in the present moment: “May all who have suffered as I have suffered be liberated from their suffering and the roots of their suffering. May they be guided even now to what they need for complete liberation and healing.” I turned to this mantra to remind myself that I am not alone and that through my own recovery I can bring hope to others.

Isolation is an illusion. So many of us have suffered through violence against our bodies, souls and minds. I hope that by sharing my story and what I’ve learned through recovery, women will be inspired to break open their silences. Suffering can be the seed of awakening. When we awaken, we encourage others to do the same.

Sexual assault sends the message that our voices and our desires do not matter. Creative expression provides a sacred space for honoring the truth of our experience, so we can begin to heal. In the midst of my pain, I sensed that if could draw pictures of the abuse, write about the abuse and bring every trace of shame into the light, it could not destroy me. No matter what happened, I could bear witness and embrace myself with tenderness.”

What other plans do you have for the rest of 2012? What projects are you currently working on?

I recently contributed an essay to a forthcoming anthology on the songs of Joni Mitchell called “Blazes All Across the Sky.” It is the first book on her poetry that she has actually endorsed.

In my piece, I explore her song “Magdalene Laundries.” Outside of Irish towns, the Catholic Church ran laundries that depended on the slave labor of women who were deemed “fallen”: prostitutes, unmarried mothers, some victims of incest and clergy abuse. A woman could also be institutionalized if she was considered too attractive or sexual.

Many Irish girls were forced into the laundries by their families through the help of their parish priest. If they tried to escape, police would intervene and return them to the nuns. Church, State and family worked together to ensure their captivity and the continued violation of their human rights.

I am glad I have the opportunity to pay homage to her work and address this history of exploitation.

I am always working on something new, so please come visit me at my website.


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