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Volunteering to Heal

Could helping others help you?

  • February 03, 2017
  • By domesticshelters.org
Volunteering to Heal

Pictured above: Audrey Mabrey, right, with a fellow survivor.

Audrey Mabrey’s husband wasn’t abusive during their marriage.

“He had never been violent before,” she says. “He had never put hands on me. He had never called me a bad name or told me to shut up.”

Then, in 2009, the couple became estranged and all that changed.

“I had requested a divorce and we separated,” Mabrey says. “I stopped by the house one day and he wasn’t supposed to be home. When I came in, I put my stuff down and went for a jog. When I reentered the home, he attacked me immediately.”

Mabrey’s previously docile husband had become a ravenous monster. During the attack, he forced Mabrey to the ground with a butcher knife at her throat and attempted to rape her. He then bludgeoned her with a hammer four times.

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“I reached up and felt the warmth of blood,” Mabrey says. “My gut told me not to fight back. ‘If you fight back, you will die,’ is what I thought. I said my final prayers and prayed for my boys and asked God to forgive me. Then I thought about my boys being orphans as teenagers and I changed my prayers.”

At that point, Mabrey’s husband lit a candle, and she knew what was coming next.

“He doused me in gasoline and I was up in flames before the candle even hit me,” she says. “I ran out of the garage; from my waist up I was engulfed. I ran toward where I thought the grass was and stopped, dropped and rolled.”

Mabrey’s neighbor came to her aid. She spent six weeks in a coma and even longer in the hospital. The horrific story got a lot of attention in her own Tampa Bay as well as New York, where Mabrey’s husband had previously been an NYPD detective. The attention brought donations from the community.

“The case was very high profile in our area, and the entire community came together, donating money for me and my children,” she says. “I can’t express enough how much the community and my family and friends mean to me.”

As she began to heal, Mabrey decided she wanted to give back. She did so by speaking out against domestic violence in hopes of helping someone else through her story.

“I became involved in the community efforts against domestic violence,” Mabrey says. “I started speaking everywhere and really just gave myself over to the cause, never really realizing how healing it was going to be for me.”

Over time, sharing her story allowed Mabrey to work through the emotions it triggered.

“I remember when I couldn’t get through my story without crying,” she says.

Today, the president of the board of directors for Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence can share it without her voice so much as cracking.

“It’s not just healing that occurs in sharing your story but in giving,” Mabrey says. “My community inspired me to give back for an eternity. The biggest reward for me is when you have a survivor sister come in who is completely shattered and then you see her grow and emerge into this beautiful butterfly. There’s nothing more rewarding.”

Volunteering After Abuse Can Be Healing or Triggering

Speaking out against domestic violence and sharing your story can be healing for you and comforting to others. But counselors and advocates caution survivors to make sure they’re ready and to select the appropriate volunteer positions.

“Becoming a volunteer and/or volunteering with a domestic violence agency can be helpful for one's own story,” says Kristine Seitz, LSW, a staff therapist with the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. “However it is very important not to use either the volunteer training or their service as their own therapy.”

Rather, having a little distance from your own situation may be for the best for all involved. After all, you don’t want your own emotions to get in the way of helping someone else.

“The training and volunteering can be triggering and we would want to prevent a volunteer's reaction from interfering with the people who are seeking services currently,” Seitz says. “It is recommended to have gone through their own healing first before volunteering.”

Think you’re ready to share your story with others? Read “Speaking Out” for tips on how to get started.