Valuable lessons should be learned from a noble survivor

By Dan Mollison

When you look closely enough at the darkest aspects of our world, you can’t help but see the light peeking through.

Last week I attended a screening and talk given by filmmaker Angela Shelton about her documentary, “Searching for Angela Shelton,” in which she journeys across the United States meeting other Angela Sheltons in an effort to survey women who share her name. According to her Web site, during the course of her journey, Shelton discovers that 28 out of 40 Angela Sheltons she has spoken to have been raped, beaten or molested. Shelton’s survey of women becomes a journey of self-discovery, and culminates with her confronting her own past and the man most responsible for her trauma: her father. The Angela Sheltons complete the journey by teaching the filmmaker about forgiveness, faith and the power of the human spirit.

Angela was repeatedly molested by multiple members of her family as a child (although she believes the word “torture” is more fitting to describe what these experiences are like, especially for children.) She has been exposed to more horror from her own experiences and from those who have flocked to her for support, than most of us are even willing to think about.

And when this trauma survivor had the opportunity to speak to a full-capacity audience at Foellinger Auditorium last Wednesday, what did she choose to pass on to us?

She reminded us to relax and breathe deeply more often. She encouraged us to love ourselves. And she talked to us about the importance of living a joyful life.

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She told us about the benefit of thinking good thoughts. She told us that recent brain research has shown that the more you think a certain thought, the stronger a path it forges in your brain. She likened these neuro-pathways to the roots of a tree and told us that the more we feed a particular root, regardless of whether that root helps us or hurts us, the stronger it will grow. Angela has successfully used self-affirmations as a tool in working through her own trauma.

This woman told us about the importance of not judging others. She shared a story about a friend of hers who is so fat that when they met, the first thought that came to Angela’s mind was “It looks like someone needs to start skipping those second helpings!”

But when Angela spoke with this woman, she learned that the reason she is fat is because when she was a five-year-old child she was gang-raped by twelve adult men. The attack was so severe that one of her lungs was punctured. She had to replace it with a fake lung and she now has to take steroids, which will ultimately cause her premature death. That explained the woman’s condition, and Angela used this story as an example to demonstrate why we shouldn’t judge others. Her message was that we can never completely know why someone is the way they are.

She told us that those of us with stories of past sexual trauma should share them. Not for ourselves, but because others can greatly benefit from hearing them.

Our stories can help others understand that sexual abuse is a collective issue that an overwhelming number of people face, and they can remind those who have experienced this violence that they are not alone.

And she told us to honor ourselves by sharing with the world the gifts that we are meant to share. We each have something to offer humanity that is totally unique to us, and if we don’t follow our own call we will fail to do the world a great service.

I wasn’t sure what I expected to hear when I took my seat in Foellinger Auditorium last Wednesday, but it sure wasn’t this.

There is something truly inspiring about the fact that after wading through the darkness of life, Angela Shelton has fully realized the importance of spreading the light.