Ask the Advocate Podcast: Episode 3

A Window Between Worlds: Transforming Lives Through Art

Featuring: Cynthia Lopez, Domestic Violence Survivor and Long-Time ‘A Window Between Worlds’ Participant

Ask the Advocate Podcast Episode 3

about the Episode

"We create, and then, if you're comfortable, you share. And as I was sharing, I realized how much I had bottled up in me that I was able to bring out on a piece of paper, which I thought was completely crazy."

Cynthia is an inspiring survivor of domestic violence and decade-long participant of ‘A Window Between Worlds’ – a transformative healing arts program for trauma survivors of all ages. Hear her story of survival, and how AWBW has helped her and her daughter find healing after suffering an unthinkable tragedy. 

AWBW art counseling is a catalyst to releasing trauma, building resilience and replacing violence and shame with safety and hope. The hands-on creation of art has been shown to reduce distress, increase self-reflection and self-awareness, alter behavior and thinking patterns, have positive physical effects and build resilience — all of which play a key role in life transformation.

Listen to the podcast to hear Cynthia’s story and to learn more about AWBW. 

Billie Jo Weyant (00:00):

You’re listening to “Ask the Advocate,” a podcast series that features advocates for domestic violence, sexual violence, and all other survivors of abuse and serious crime. I’m your host, Billie Jo Weyant, and for the past three decades, I’ve worked in the victim services industry serving as the Executive Director for a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit named CAPSEA, which stands for citizens against physical sexual and emotional abuse. I invite you to join me as I sit down with my guests each episode to discuss critical victim service resources and to help raise awareness for the most pressing challenges facing survivors and the nonprofit agencies that serve them.

Billie Jo Weyant (00:44):

Hello, and welcome to episode three of “Ask the Advocate.” I’m Billie Jo Weyant, Executive Director of CAPSEA, and I am your host. I have over 30 years of experience in the victim services world, and I’ve committed my service to all victims and survivors of abuse. And I, I have a very, very special guest that I wanna tell you all about and she’s gonna be with us today. And our topic is A Window Between Worlds, which is something that CAPSEA recently found out about. And as soon as we found out about this wonderful, wonderful art counseling program, we had to have it for our own agency. A Window Between Worlds is a transformative healing arts program for trauma survivors of all ages and anybody who has experienced trauma. The hands-on creation of art has been shown to reduce stress, increase self-reflection, and also self-awareness, also altering behavior and thinking patterns, and it has a wonderful, positive, physical effect and builds resilience for people All of which plays a critical key role in life transformation. I currently have four people trained in this and we’re using it constantly. And I think without further ado, I wanna get you on here right away, Cynthia. So Cynthia Lopez welcome, and I am so excited to have you, and I’d love you to tell folks a little bit more about yourself.

Cynthia Lopez (02:15):

Oh, good morning. I’m very excited to be here. I am a survivor. I left my abuser in ’04, end of ’04, beginning of ’05… And I’ve been free ever since, but it wasn’t easy. And I didn’t just leave that one time. It’s, it’s definitely a story to tell.

Billie Jo Weyant (02:35):

And Cynthia doing the services that I’ve, that I’ve provided for people over the years, you are so right. People go back many, many, many times, and there are so many reasons. And the top reason is fear. And I really am so excited to have you tell your story about A Window Between Worlds, because it is so special and it’s trauma informed, and it is yet another way and another option for people to really work on things and do it in a very, very, as I said, trauma informed way. And, and, and go right ahead. I’m really excited to hear your story.

Cynthia Lopez (03:17):

The number one for me is A Window Between worlds didn’t feel like therapy. It didn’t feel like I was talking to somebody there was not nobody on the other side of that paper or that canvas to judge me. And it felt good. You’re not, you know, when you’re in therapy or you’re talking to somebody at a one-on-one counseling session, you, you do you’re talking back and forth and you see their faces. And as a survivor, you automatically go into that, like, “What could it be?” You know, what, what, what are they thinking? Are they, you know, they’re judging me. And so you kind of backtrack and you don’t know what to do, but when you’re doing art, it’s just you and that media. So to me A Window Between Worlds is life saving in, in my opinion I really, really feel that when I met Christie at A Window Between Worlds I took a big turn in my life.

Cynthia Lopez (04:12):

So I was there going through all the programs and I was told, you know, we had our, we had our little schedule, we had counseling. We had, you know I wanna say education, but it’s like school. Then we had art. So every day was something different. And I kept trying to get out of the art class because I’m not an artist. I like I’ve explained many times I draw stick figures and you know, I’m not very good at art. And Christie came to me and she explained, you know, if you don’t follow through with all the components, we’re not gonna be able to keep you here because you’re not doing our structure. So I said, okay, I guess I’ll go just basically to keep her quiet. And I went and I literally fell in love. I did not wanna leave.

Cynthia Lopez (05:01):

I don’t know what it was, but I just, everything just was flowing. I was crying. I, you know, was creating this- To me was ugly, but it was all my feelings were just coming out. And then we did after doing the art me backtrack a little bit, when going into a class in the beginning, you know, we talk, we go over what, what activity we’re gonna be doing. We have a little bit of self meditation and, you know, just kind of get to a good space in your head. And then we create, and then if you’re comfortable, you share. And as I was sharing, just realizing how much I had bottled up in me that I was able to bring out on a piece of paper, which I thought was completely crazy. Because like I said, I, I never, in a million years thought that art could save me or help me in any way, shape or form.

Billie Jo Weyant (05:52):

Hey Cynthia, can we step back just a moment.

Cynthia Lopez (05:55):

Yeah.

Billie Jo Weyant (05:56):

I’d love for everyone to really know who Christie is and a little bit more because you are the expert here, not me. This is all brand new for me. Can you talk not only Christie, but exactly what A Window Between Worlds is. I, I know you probably have a wonderful description that everyone’s gonna better understand than if I did it.

Cynthia Lopez (06:18):

For, so for me Window Between Worlds is my safe Haven. A Window Between Worlds, when I started in the shelter was a group of women that came together. Kathy Salzer, who’s the founder, s he started going from shelter to shelter with art supplies in her van and, and going and visiting different shelters and introducing how art can help you.

Billie Jo Weyant (06:42):

Wow.

Cynthia Lopez (06:43):

Um to now grown like literally A Window Between World is everywhere and in a bunch of different shelters and groups and their, you know, they work with different agencies now, not just domestic violence, you know, any type of trauma explaining how art can, can help you, how it can save you how it can make you realize what you’ve went through and worked through it without having to sit and talk one on one with somebody you, your it’s your own expression of your trauma.

Cynthia Lopez (07:13):

So my best explanation, excuse my language is, is getting your s**t on paper. It’s getting, getting it out, just dumping that trash can getting, you know, getting all those ugly feelings out onto some sort of media. Windows has definitely grown. There’s now I I’m so happy because now there’s also men working there. When I started, it was nothing but women. So Christie was my facilitator. She was my counselor. While I was going through a program through a different shelter and they introduced A Window Between Worlds to their- part of their day and part of their it’s not a solution. Part of their program. Yeah,

Billie Jo Weyant (08:02):

That’s fantastic. Now I know that when I first heard about A Window Between Worlds and there is a website for that. Yes. You know, it’s what, awbw.Org. And we’ll talk, we can, we can mention that again. But when I first heard that, I really didn’t understand it until I really saw, I checked it out for myself. Can you talk a little bit about all the different ways in which people can dump their stuff on paper or do other things like three dimensional things or any, I mean it’s not, not just drawing.

Cynthia Lopez (08:41):

Oh, not at all. So like one of them was a collage, so simple. I mean, literally it’s a piece of paper. I drew sad me, um and then I just started talking about… We, we got magazines and we were cutting things outta the magazine. So I did like, “I’m beautiful and it’s time for me to expose the truth.” “lose the bad and keep the good.” We did canvases. And, and then this is like a doily in the middle. We’ve done. I don’t have my, I have a, a piece of dang. I can’t remember what it’s called, but it’s like clay and we molded it. And then I can definitely email you some of my work. It, we made it into a person and then it gets baked and we painted it. And they’re “me dolls.” So it’s you and like a little rep representation of art.

Cynthia Lopez (09:40):

We did oil pastels. I’ve done shrinky dinks, which I did as a child and never what I thought that I’m gonna come back to do shrinky dinks. In my restroom, I also have touchstones. So it’s like a little looks a like a glass rock and you, you, you know do an image or you do something on the bottom. And for me, those came in such handy for my child who has anxiety, to have that touchstone in her pocket and hold it and know that you’re okay, you’re free. You, you know, you, you, you created this, it’s your piece of are, so there’s so many, I, I, I think I’ve done at least 50 workshops at the very least. And, yeah…

Billie Jo Weyant (10:23):

That’s phenomenal. Phenomenal. And you talk about the touchstones, the staff members, you know, just to share a little bit on CAPSEA’s end. We had, we have staff members that because of the type of work we do at CAPSEA and the high level of stress and the helping, we have staff that like to get together and do this also for themselves. Yes. So it’s very self soothing and healing on that part. So the helpers are getting help. It’s just an all around wonderful program. We, we’re starting to see, I have staff members that are bringing people in weekly, biweekly when we have people in our shelter, it’s a wonderful way to break the ice and help people feel more comfortable and safe. It’s just a phenomenal thing. Cynthia, you said that your daughter’s even participating, so that’s wonderful. That is fantastic. Can you talk a little more about that?

Cynthia Lopez (11:20):

Yeah, for sure. Both my daughters and my grandkids. So kind of my eyeopener with Windows we were working on something called a traveling suitcase, And it’s literally a suitcase. Uh we created some art inside of it and it was gonna go on I, I was scheduled to go to the workshop. I forget maybe like a weekend. And my babysitter had fallen through and I called Christie and I said, “I can’t make it. I don’t have anybody to watch her.” And Christy said, “Ah just bring her.” Okay. We’re not supposed to have kids. This is, you know, it’s a group setting. But you know, they had known my kids so they knew they would behave. So I’m creating my suitcase and you know, they set up my daughter over on another table and they gave her some art supplies.

Cynthia Lopez (12:14):

Me not paying attention, because I’m so into my art, and I know my daughter’s in a safe place. Don’t even realize that she started creating a suitcase of her own. And I hear, I hear people talking, “Oh my God, do you see that? Oh, wow. Do you see that? Oh, look what she did.” I’m like, man, we must have like a really good artist in here. I’m starting to kind of things. Mine might not be that great. And so I turn and they’re all gathered around my daughter’s table. And so I walk over and my daughter created a suitcase. She got two blankets and she wrapped up these babies in a pink and a blue blanket. And them retracts a little bit. Part of my domestic violence story is that I was beaten so bad I went into premature labor at seven months and I delivered two stillborn twins. I, I don’t wanna say that I didn’t think that my daughter didn’t know what we went through, but I guess I didn’t think she hurt the way I hurt. And I didn’t- I thought as a child, “Eh, you know, that’s, mom’s crap. That’s not mine, you know, just go about my day and I play.”

Cynthia Lopez (13:22):

So, you know, I, we do our writing, you know, she’s writing stuff and she’s talking about how she’s thankful for our abuser. She’s thankful that our abuser made us as strong and you know, she’s sharing all this stuff and I’m in awe. So I go, you know, I’m getting ready to leave. And I talk to Christie, like, man, how, what do I do next? Like, she’s, she’s feeling this too. And Christy said, “You know, that window just opened; that window opened for you to have a discussion with your child.” Okay. So we get in the car. And I said, “What happened back there?” And she said, “Man, Mom, that was amazing.” It was amazing? There’s a bunch of old people doing art, you know? And that’s our joke because she calls me an old person. So so she starts just telling me, you know, how good it felt to create.

Cynthia Lopez (14:10):

And I’ve taken them to workshops before and they’ve sat, you know, with me and they’ve done their own thing. They go and they volunteer and they help out. But I never saw the finished product, I guess, not this deep. And so, you know, we, we talked and it made me realize that, you know, they’re going through the trauma too. And so we started doing art at home. You know, when I would go to my group, I would get a little bag of stuff that Windows would bless me with and we would go home and we would do our ourselves. Me and my two girls we’d create stuff. Even if it was just a coloring page. It was just that time of like getting some stuff out, you know? And my kids still, my daughters draw. They, they both, you know, know, love to write.

Cynthia Lopez (14:52):

They, you know, we do a lot of journaling. But Windows to me opened that window, like I said, to have these not so great conversations with our children and, and know that yes, we are survivors, but we all are survivors. And as if you notice my name is “CAD survived,” that’s Cynthia, Ariel, and Destiny survived. We survived what we went through and we won’t be silenced anymore thanks to Windows. Thanks to Windows, we’re free. Thanks to Windows for, you know, I, I could have went through any program anywhere and I could have done counseling and I could have done the shelter and the steps, but honestly having Windows is why I finished the program. It’s why I stayed… It’s to me when I’m having a absolute, horrible, horrible day I will call Christie or send her a text and say, “What can I do?”

Cynthia Lopez (15:45):

Like, give me another project, give me something, like, give me an idea. I need to think out of the box, you know, and I, I need some help instead of going to therapy because I refuse to be put on medication. I refuse to be, you know, labeled, I, I know what I have. I, I, you know, was beaten. I, I was hurt. I was left for dead. I lost my twins and, you know, I had to bury them and, you know, being able to express myself on paper that I can throw away if I think is ugly, that I can put in a box and no one ever has to see, it feels really, really good. And that’s thanks to Windows.

Billie Jo Weyant (16:25):

Cynthia, that is fantastic because it’s all about giving people choices too and doing what’s right for you.

Cynthia Lopez (16:32):

Yes.

Billie Jo Weyant (16:32):

That you, and I think that’s really important. And again, never discounting other forms of therapeutic work or trauma informed work, whatever works for someone and, you know, quickly jumping back to what we do at CAPSEA. For instance, when A Window Between Worlds became another option for people, I saw adults and children, myself, as the director of that program, literally opening up and saying, “This is what I wanna do to work on things. I don’t want to be face to face and talk to somebody or virtually or on the phone.” And there are many people that do like that style, but then it’s also providing those options for people that normally, we wouldn’t be able to reach.

Cynthia Lopez (17:21):

Yes, yes. For sure. I really feel if I would’ve just had to go through therapy, I, I probably would’ve went back. I, it, it, it’s easy. It’s easy to go back. It’s one little thing can set you off and I really feel, and like you said, it’s not for everybody there. You know, one on one counseling might be for somebody else, but just like we all learn different, we all heal different.

Billie Jo Weyant (17:44):

That was very well said. I love that. We do, we all heal differently and we all need those different options and ideas. And I, and I love the idea that, you know, how you’ve just over the years have just taken this and you integrated. You’ve been, you know, it’s part of your life.

Cynthia Lopez (18:06):

It, it really is, you know, and, and not just for survivors, but for grief, you know, I’ve, I’ve buried my husband. I just recently lost my mom and I know for myself what I need to do to get through these steps now, because Windows going through either like a meditation process going, you know, clearing my mind for me, what, when, when I was going A Window Between Worlds for my SAC, which is the Survivor’s Art Circle. Yes. They’re located at Venice beach. So I would always go a little bit early. I would go to the beach before, listen to the waves, clear my mind, you know, just know like, today’s my day. And then after, because it’s heavy, you know, it it’s just like therapy. Sometimes you come out and you’re exhausted.

Cynthia Lopez (18:55):

And, and it’s the same for art, you know, sometimes you come out and you’re like, “Wow. You know, I, I just put all that out.” I would go back to the beach and my girls knew that was our routine. We’re gonna stop at the beach before we take that, drive home. We’re gonna let it all out. We’re gonna listen to the waves and we’re good. So, you know, and one thing I, I, I know that I didn’t, I mentioned it’s kind of weird to see your progress through art. So when I first started, I was using a lot of dark. I was, you know, blacks and, and really dark colors as time went on. I mean, I went, you know, literally from like really dark black, I don’t know if you can see that, to bright yellows because I was in a different head space. Yeah. I didn’t know this. I, I, I knew, I knew did not know anything about art, like I said, but as you know, we’re talking and we’re healing and, and they’re explaining, “Wow, you know, do you realize your colors? Do you realize the change?” You know, I, I definitely didn’t, but I mean, to me, it’s just so crazy how much art can do.

Billie Jo Weyant (19:53):

It’s phenomenal. And the other thing with the entire program, it’s great because you, you can help someone. And again, I’m only going back to what I’ve seen in this short time at CAPSEA to share with you. And I’d like to remind everyone that’s participating episode that Cynthia’s from California and Windows and, and you know, Christie’s, you know, heads up the, A Window Between Worlds in California. And it was wonderful that we were able to participate in our staff now, our facilitators and their facilitators. And we did everything virtually online. The training was fantastic. Every single staff person I trained came back and said, if there are any update trainings, please, I wanna be a part of it. And they’ve got it because it’s so great. But getting to the other piece, I have other people that come for their, A Window Between Worlds time, and then they’re able to even go to the store and buy their art supplies and they can do that at home and continue on independently. Yeah. And that’s the beauty of it.

Cynthia Lopez (21:08):

Slowly but surely growing that little craft, you know, I started with like a little shoebox tote. Yeah. I have a Rubbermaid now, like a big box of just all kinds of art stuff, literally whatever we wanna create, or if we wanna do something, you know, we have it. And that, it’s a good thing, you know, Windows provides and helps know with that stuff. And I mean, a lot of this stuff too, if you don’t have, you know, that at your hands, the Dollar Tree, dollar store, you know, you can grab some really good art supplies. But yeah, definitely it’s something that we’ve definitely incorporated into our life, you know, for healing.

Billie Jo Weyant (21:44):

Oh, absolutely. And again, it just I’m in awe over it and it just blends so well with all the other work that is being done and anybody can do it. It is fantastic stuff. It’s just fantastic. Really is.

Cynthia Lopez (22:00):

We did. So during the whole COVID and being home and quarantine, they had a workshop “Home is Where the Heart Is” and they, you, you, you, you purchased your ticket and they sent you a box. And so I have it, I, I haven’t done some of it, but I have it for me and my grandkids for a night, just, you know, it’s, it’s a book and we create different pages. It has, you know, how did this make you feel? How did that make you feel? You could draw a picture, you could write whatever helps. So…

Billie Jo Weyant (22:29):

And there, there, again, wonderful ideas. I, it, it’s just fantastic. What can be done with this program, for sure. Just fabulous. And again, because I wanna make sure everybody knows how many years have you been doing A Window Between Worlds now?

Cynthia Lopez (22:45):

Over 13 years.

Billie Jo Weyant (22:46):

Wow.

Cynthia Lopez (22:47):

Yeah. Yeah.

Billie Jo Weyant (22:48):

Wow.

Cynthia Lopez (22:49):

And I started just during the whole shelter, just going, going to groups. And then, you know, once I was out we were blessed to be able to have the Survivor’s Art Circle, which we would go once a month down to them and do a group with women, which now we’ve actually started doing virtually. So we,uwe, we did take a very, a very big pause, which was hard. And we had to learn how to do it on our own. Ubut Windows was able to bring it back for us just recently. And our facilitator, Rose and Christie,uwe do a virtual Zoom,uart, and they they’ll mail us the stuff. I actually have one of my little,umy little envelopes here that they’ve sent me and we’ve, yeah, we’ve been creating tags. So we’re, we’re doing, mhese, these size tags and they have the little hole on the top.

Cynthia Lopez (23:43):

We have a key ring. And so we’re putting together a book. So every week has been something different. We’ve done, like, how can you fill yourself up? You know, you’ve done little messages to yourself. So like we got like these little gift pouches and just little tags. You write a little message in there. We’ve done something as so simple as going to like Home Depot and getting these little paint things and then creating like a cup. We did a cup and how do we fill our cup? And so at the end of all of our group, we’re gonna attach all of these with the cover and we’ll have our own little book.

Billie Jo Weyant (24:20):

That is awesome.

Cynthia Lopez (24:21):

Yeah.

Billie Jo Weyant (24:22):

It’s phenomenal.

Cynthia Lopez (24:24):

And I have another one right here, but same thing, like a chipboard book. This is like my little art area. So just this one was you know, when we were in the shelter writing and looking at things that one day we wanted, like, you know, we wanted, I want a beach house. I, I wanna live by the beach, you know, and then just some writing, like, it’s, it’s just a, a chipboard book. So I mean, such simple things to do.

Billie Jo Weyant (24:54):

Well, simple things that you can even find around your house or- and it’s life changing.

Cynthia Lopez (25:02):

Yes.

Billie Jo Weyant (25:02):

It’s absolutely life changing.

Cynthia Lopez (25:04):

Yes. One of them we did even like old gift cards. Yeah. And we covered them in I think it’s called decoupage… Uh we covered them and then, you know, we designed the front of the gift card, but it was like a harder base than just like a piece of paper. They come up with some really, really good workshops, things you would never, ever, ever think of.

Billie Jo Weyant (25:28):

I’ll tell you what, Cynthia, I mean, you, I’m just new to this. You’ve educated me. Educated me and, and made me more excited to now work with our CAPSEA staff to do some other neat things, reach out to you. I mean, and anybody that is, is interested in A Window Between Worlds, you can reach out to me. I can get a hold of Cynthia and the rest of the folks at A Window Between Worlds. I think this is just a wonderful, wonderful, alternative art therapy therapeutic process for people. We’re wrapping up up here soon. Cynthia, is there anything else you would like people to understand and know about A Window Between Worlds and any way or anything that you can tell them? If they’re interested, they can reach out and get more information.

Cynthia Lopez (26:23):

For me, definitely check out the website. Like we said, it’s www.Awbw.org. But more importantly, just try it. Try it once you might like it. I’m, I’m telling you, you know, from going almost a full year of not wanting to try it. I, I wonder, “What did I miss in that year?” You know, just try it once.

Billie Jo Weyant (26:45):

Cynthia, I wanna have you back. Will you come back? And-

Cynthia Lopez (26:48):

I would love to come back and do my story. I would love to come back and just talk. I, I, for sure.

Billie Jo Weyant (26:54):

We will definitely have you because there is, we’ve just scratched the surface of this. Oh, this is fantastic. It is. It is. Episode three, A Window Between Worlds you’ve been listening to and viewing Kasey’s podcast, “Ask the. Advocate.” For Cynthia Lopez, I’m Billie Jo Weyant. Thank you so much. And everyone take care.

Cynthia Lopez (27:18):

Thank you.

Billie Jo Weyant (27:20):

Thank you for listening to this episode of “Ask the Advocate.” If you have a topic suggestion, or would like to be a guest on the podcast, you can contact me directly at asktheadvocatepodcast@gmail.com.

 

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