Storytelling school

Healing through storytelling – OutSmart Magazine

Pacifica Sauer

PThree-time Emmy-winning editor Pacifica J. Sauer uses her platform on KHOU-TV to give marginalized people the chance to tell their stories.

“The privileged can tell their story all the time. Ordinary people and little-known intermediaries, these are the people we need to tell stories about,” says Sauer, a lesbian out.

At KHOU, she oversees community programming, commercials, sales, documentaries, and more. She recently helped the station produce a documentary about the Houston Pride Parade and Grand Marshals, highlighting Space City’s contributions to the fight for LGBTQ rights.

Sauer has always loved telling stories. Growing up, she remembers imploring the people in her life to tell her a story. “I loved hearing stories. The way people told them, the way they changed their voices, how they went over things and explained them, all of that was important to me,” she recalls.

And now the storytelling is helping her heal from a trauma she suffered in the Navy. His award-winning film in 2021, The Invisible Projectexposes the adversities faced by women in the military.

An army brat, Sauer was raised all over the world, from Alabama to Germany. She left high school to join the Navy at 17, and she served for eight years, from 1996 to 2004. Recruiters promised her that she would discover herself, see the world, and receive the funds she needed for a better education. “It was true, but it all came at a personal cost,” she says.

She was assaulted by her supervisor when she was 19 and later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

“When you talk about your traumatic events, a lot of people talk about their ‘date of death’. It’s the day of their incident. They mourn the loss of who they were before it all happened, [but] I didn’t have all that,” she says. “I had no identity before the attack. I still don’t know who I am.

Published in 1993 and repealed in 2011, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” shaped Sauer’s time in the Navy. This policy prohibited military personnel from discriminating against those locked up
LGBTQ service members, but banned people who were out of military service. This had a negative impact on the lives of many soldiers, especially women.

“As a woman in the military, especially if you’re enlisted, [according to the men] you’re either a ‘bitch’ or a ‘bitch’, and if you’re not sleeping with everyone, they kind of figured it out,” she explains. “If you want things to be easy for you, you pretty much have to sell your body, and that’s a shame.”

Years later, Sauer still suffers from delusions, paranoia and overwhelming anxiety. Before being diagnosed, she swore that pedestrians on the street were following her and colleagues were plotting to ruin her plans. Sauer says her disorder made her unstable.

“When I started having hardened symptoms of PTSD, I had no idea what it was,” she admits. “I thought I was having a psychotic breakdown.”

After her assault, she received an ROTC scholarship and attended college in Vermont, but failed all classes. She lost 20 jobs due to her illness, and she once had a fight with co-workers that ended in slamming doors. She has also lost many friends and loved ones over the years.

“PTSD tore my life apart; he tore it to shreds. It tore up my family life, it tore up friendships, it tore up school. It was basically a life sentence,” she admits.

According to a report by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, one in three women and one in 50 men have experienced military sexual trauma (MST).

Sauer wanted to shine a light on the struggles faced by women in the military, and she knew she could do that as a storyteller. As she pursued a career in animation and later in production, her healing journey began.

“Being a production editor really helped me fix a lot of holes in me. Where I saw a lot of unfinished stuff in my life, I could fill in the holes with completed projects that changed minds, gave ideas to people and inspired humanity to do better.

At KHOU, she was entrusted with several projects involving veterans. Working with people who had also experienced MST, she found much-needed camaraderie. After collaborating and hearing the stories of many veterans, in 2021 she produced The Invisible Project, her own film about military women and their struggles. KHOU aired the film on July 4, 2021.

Create The Invisible Project forced her to confront her trauma and work on her healing. “You can live and die this way, or you can make something out of it. I chose to do something, and that’s what became The Invisible Project.”

Sauer is still battling PTSD. Even while working on The Invisible Projectshe suffered from delusions, fearing that a colleague was plotting to overturn her project after receiving an email in all capitals.

But she now has a better understanding of her illness. She wants to start more conversations about mental health and inspire more compassion for people with mental illness. She is working towards this goal as a storyteller with the help of her partner of 10 years, an elementary school principal.

When Sauer told her partner she was an STD survivor, she worried about being kicked out of their home. But her partner has embraced her, and the therapist they have found is helping her live in her truth.

Sauer and her partner now live with their three dogs, Peanut, Bella and Lucy. “We work to educate people and change mindsets,” she says.

She urges budding creatives to never give up. “Keep trying and be nice to everyone, even the receptionists.”

To veterans with STDs, Sauer adds, “There’s the veterans’ club, and then there’s [the MST club that’s] not the one you want to be a part of, but you find yourself there. We are more numerous [there] than we want to admit, and when you start to really learn about people, you find out that you’re not alone in your problems, and that STD is very common, and that’s OK. Its good.”

For more information on The Invisible Project, visit theinvisibleprojectfilm.com.

The 24-hour National Sexual Assault Hotline can be reached at 1-800-656-4673. 4410. For more information about TMDR and SHARP/SAPR, visit tmd.texas.gov/tmd-sapr.

This article appears in the July 2022 issue of OutSmart magazine.