“Ali Warren is a firefighter, emergency medical technician, a self-published author, a business owner, an inspirational speaker, a mental health advocate, a suicide prevention instructor, a domestic violence and sexual assault counselor, and a sexual assault and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder survivor. Basically, she’s an absolutely incredible human being and holds an unprecedented power to touch lives. Cultivating her voice after experiencing trauma has given Ali the opportunity to let people battling their own trauma find their voice too. Through her unbelievable desire to create a healing space where no one feels alone, Ali empowers many individuals by helping them find their deepest strength. Growing up, we’re often told to choose one career path and stick with it, but Ali defies that expectation and believes we should strive to live out all our passions. It’s courageous and inspiring, something many of us wish we could do, yet often assume isn’t possible. Good thing Ali wants to tell you that it is possible, very possible:” – Victoria Emanuela
“I used to think that was wrong, that I couldn’t possibly be all of those things, that maybe I needed to pick just one so when people ask, “So, what do you do?” I’d have a simple answer. Why? Why did I feel the need to be able to sum myself with one or two words? To be able to neatly fit in a certain box? We don’t have to have personal log lines that explain who we are in one or two words. We can be hundreds of things all at once, and we can change as opportunities present themselves or fade away. I become something new and let go of something old every day, whether that’s a feeling, concept of the world, or belief about myself. I will always follow my simple purpose, and that is to be a helper in as many forms as I can manage. Someone asked me once, “What are you dedicated to?” What an interesting spin on the usual question about how one spends most of their time. It really got me thinking. What am I dedicated to? One answer could be my fiancé and my family, another could be my mental health and well-being. While those are both true, I think this answer rings the truest: I’m dedicated to helping people find words for what leaves them speechless. I’m on a dedicated mission to help others and myself find words for trauma, experiences, and pain. I believe it’s through words, whether that be written or spoken, that we are able to find our way past those hurts and make our way to peace.”
Trigger Warning: sexual assault, harassment
My name, Alexandra, means “helper of mankind” in Greek.
I remember thinking when I was little that this meant there was a purpose for my life that had been determined before I was born. At 16 years old, I found firefighting and fell head over heels in love with the opportunity it gave me to calm chaos in people’s lives. I was confident that I had found my life’s purpose. Immediately I started to write everything down. At first, I started documenting what it felt like to fall in love with something. But soon, my journals became the place where I was recording the devastating truth about what was happening to me.
Before I knew it, I found myself in the middle of a war that still feels like a made-up nightmare. Those firefighters wanted me to fit into their little box of expectations, but I refused to submit to their demeaning and humiliating ideas for a woman in the fire service. As soon as I made it clear that I was serious about training and becoming a skilled firefighter, they saw no use for me and became hellbent on making me leave. It started with smaller things; soaking my gear, changing my key code for the station door, embarrassing me during training, but it quickly became much more dangerous and life threatening. I still don’t fully understand their reasoning behind it, but my love for the job and determination to not give in kept me from walking away. Still, every day was a challenge unlike anything I ever thought I’d face.
After years of fighting for my place, my world finally split open. I experienced an attempted gang rape at the hands of three drunk firefighters. I was paralyzed with terror at first, but their rough hands on the skin of my stomach shocked me with enough adrenaline to fight and run. After that night, I felt myself simply shut off, like a light switch. My happiness was replaced by rage. I began to feel that every person had two sides and one of those sides was a threat to my life. I felt worthless and invisible. I carried knives in my pockets and in the ankle support of my boot. I felt irreparably broken, but was too stubborn to let them break me completely.
I moved away for college and poured over dozens of full journals, hoping to pinpoint the moment where I changed, where the anger overrode my optimism. I thought that if I could see exactly when the change happened, I could change back. I kept writing ceaselessly, and my memoir, Where Hope Lives, was born. It told a story of tragedy turned into triumph and a fierce hope that led me through even my darkest days. The positive coping mechanism of writing helped me feel whole. I self-published my story and then formed Hope Lives Publishing, a platform I created to help other people share their stories of triumph and survival.
I joined a new fire department, and desperately wanted to be happy, but there was something stopping me. My fight-or-flight mechanism was stuck in the “on” position, and I was consumed by constant feelings of being in immediate danger. I felt as panicked as if someone were holding a gun to my forehead. I was suffocating in fear. But I smiled and pretended. Eventually, I stopped sleeping. I forgot to eat. I was a shell. I wrote and I raged, but I didn’t talk about it for so long.
Until I realized talking was the only thing left to do.
In 2012, I reached out to a therapist and she provided the diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I finally had a name for the pain that consumed me and altered virtually every part of my being. Living life with PTSD is like standing in the ocean. If an approaching wave looks big enough to knock you over, you can dive under it and let it pass. If the wave looks small, you find your footing in the sand, stand up to it and let it break around you. Waves, both big and small, still come for me, but most of the time I can get my mental footing and stand up to them. Some days, mercifully, I don’t even feel like I’m in the water anymore.
Speaking up, getting help and taking my recovery seriously was the single greatest thing I have ever done in my journey to heal.
People ask me “did you get the PTSD from the sexual assault or from the way you were treated?” The answer is both. I experienced a sexual assault once on a dirty couch in a dark firehouse living room. Although incredibly traumatic at the time, through writing and therapy, I’m now in a place where I don’t feel hurt by that experience anymore and I can think about it without feeling triggered.
But what does cause me pain is the dangerous sexism we as women experience in everyday life.
This is a war that women are fighting every minute of every day, all across the world. It’s a war for our right to our own bodies, our own voices, and our own autonomy. My weapon in this war is my voice. I’ve known the pain of being without it, of screaming and not being heard. I’ve known the pain of being invisible, of feeling like you’d set yourself on fire just to make someone see you. That is a pain I can’t forget.
I spend a lot of time standing on stages telling my story, practicing my right to have a voice, and letting others know they are never alone in their struggle. According to some, I’m not supposed to fight for change or yearn for a world rooted in equality. What happened to me was a truth I was never supposed to tell, but even on my worst, most PTSD-ridden day, I believe that telling the truth is worth the effort to push for change.
What I tell anyone who will listen is the same thing I tell myself: there is a strength in all of us, fierce and hidden.
We must not be defined by anyone’s attempt to keep us under water. We must refuse to let any person, experience or struggle tell us who we are or decide what we’re capable of. Every single one of us has that power to fight. Standing up for ourselves and getting help are the strongest and bravest things we can do.
I write these words in my 71st journal. Writing has become the most important part of my recovery, and putting pen to paper makes me feel the most alive. Through this journey, I’ve learned that pain matters, however insignificant we think it is. You matter. You deserve to feel free of your burdens. Let go of the voices and faces and names from the past that keep you from feeling whole.
Trauma is a nasty, vicious monster that affects everyone differently. But the biggest lie it tells all of us is that we are alone. Let go of that lie. Let go of the idea that you are an afterthought. Let go of the idea that you are not worthy, that your life will always be full of hardships. Let go of the idea that you are forgotten. It has never once been true.
Society tells us that struggle of any kind is a weakness. By sharing our pain and triumphs, we can be louder than that oppression and show others that living our truths is the best way to wholeness. Femtrospection is an amazing platform for women to be honest and open about what makes us, us. Honesty and authenticity about our experiences allow us to see how we as human beings are more similar than we could ever imagine.
I believe this is what will bring our world to peace.