Story by Nancy A. Shobe
It was Gabriela’s* boyfriend, John*, in high school, who first noticed her extreme anxiety. When he would kiss her, Gabriela would become anxious, her anxiety eventually turning into flashbacks. John became concerned and asked her about it.
Gabriela decided as a young girl not to remember being sexually abused by an uncle during a family holiday party. Over the years, she had silenced her voice and quelled her anxiety through alcohol and marijuana use. It wasn’t until she became physical with John that the memories resurfaced.
John had seen a commercial on television for the nonprofit Child Abuse Listening & Mediation (CALM) of Santa Barbara County. He convinced Gabriela to talk with her parents and to call CALM.
That one phone call changed Gabriela’s life.
Gabriela graduated from CALM’s art therapy program a year later and transitioned into a skills learning class for teens. She is now a thriving college student and is still dating John, says Christine Scott-Hudson, CALM’s clinical art therapist. She continues, “Kids don’t have the tools to deal with the abuse so they push it down and don’t try to express it. Art therapy lets them put a story somewhere where it is believed. It externalizes their internal world.”
Art therapy is just one of the 20+ programs that CALM provides. In addition, prevention classes are taught in schools and programs are provided for young victims of domestic abuse.
“One eight-year-old child, Marcos*, came to CALM because he had school phobia,” says CALM’s executive director Cecilia Rodriguez, MFT, who, as a nearly 30-year CALM veteran, has seen the program successfully help many children. “The process (through CALM) took many weeks and then, with the help of his CALM therapist…Marcos said exactly what had happened.” He talked about the blood, the police.
Marcos’ mom was astounded because she thought he was sound asleep in his bedroom while her husband was beating her. Marcos didn’t want to leave his mom’s side after witnessing it, thus causing school phobia. With help from CALM, his mom reassured him that all was fine, dad wasn’t coming back, and they were safe.
CALM serves more than 2,000 children and families countywide in its treatment programs each year and reaches over 5,000 children through its prevention programs in the schools. CALM is co-located at preschools and family resource centers. In addition, CALM has three main offices in Santa Barbara, Lompoc and Santa Maria and a satellite in Carpinteria.
“The need for our services is so great that we plan to double the number of children served in the county over the next three to five years,” says Rodriquez. A special emphasis is being placed on expanding services in North County.
She continues, “I will not be silent about stopping violence in the home so that a child like Marcos can grow up in safety and just be a kid.”
CALM’s work is critical in helping traumatized children find their voices again.
Guests can support the work of CALM by attending the 29th Annual Celebrity Authors’ Luncheon on March 14 at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree, 633 E. Cabrillo Blvd., 10 a.m.–2 p.m., 805/682-3925. To learn more about CALM’s services or to make a donation, call 805/965-2376 or visit calm4kids.org.
*Names have been changed to protect identity.
Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine, Spring 2015.