0158: Boys Don't Cry


Content Warning: The following story contains references to sexual assault, self-harm, mental illness, and drug use - all of which may be difficult for some to read.


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“Boys Don’t Cry,” anonymous

Ever since I was younger I knew I was different, I didn’t know how but I was (well plot twist it’s because I’m transgender) my home was never really a safe place to me mostly because my birth parents would always scream at each other or us. Fast forward to grade 5. That year changed my life forever it changed my trust in humanity. I was r*ped. I had to talk to the police about it and it honestly sucked that year sucked.

I remember having to leave school early to talk to the police. after all that mess was over people started to tell me that I wanted it and that it’s all my fault and blamed me for something I can’t control. That’s when I actually like couldn’t live without self-harming. Every day I would, I started to only wear hoodies, and isolate myself from people more than I already had.

Grade 6 rolls around, I find out I’m Trans.

I come out and the day we go back to school people tell the guidance councilor. She calls me down and I’m down there basically the whole day. In the end she called my birth mum. She was against it and started to scream at me. Then I started to cut again and I couldn’t stop. I still have very visible scars on my legs from that. My friends started to accept me and actually call me by my preferred name and I was somewhat happy, until my sister tells me people are still talking about what happened the year before. Blaming it all on me saying I wanted it, calling me a slut the same stuff that happened last year. I was honestly so done with people. A few weeks later rumors started happening about me having sex with this kid and everyone believed it, I was broken. I pushed myself away from everyone, I lost everyone that year.

Grade 7 – It was decent. I came out over and over again and was yelled at every time. My birth mum said she didn’t want to see me so we stopped talking. I was never really wanted there and I’m still not because I’m Trans – it was a mess, I kept cutting and attempting suicide. Nobody ever found out because I put on a fake smile and acted so happy but deep down I think they knew what was up. I started to get scared of people touching me, getting near me, whatever it was. I would just have a panic attack is someone where to touch me. People told me to suck it up and I tried my best but I’m still super scared when people are around me. I also have panic attacks when people yell at me because of trauma but that just made them yell at me more. towards the end of that year I had people telling me I didn’t deserve to be called my preferred name and that I’m trans for attention. It was a mess, I was a mess. The year ends and I again basically lost contact with everyone from that year.

In the summer I go to warped and see bands who saved my life. I was so happy, until I wasn’t.

August 1, I tried to overdose. It didn’t work but I really tried. I hated myself so much. I started to count calories again. I started starving myself. I stopped talking as much and stayed in my room when i didn’t have to leave. My mental health wasn’t even existent.

October 6, I go clean.

November 6, I see a band that saved my life (As It Is) and [after the show] tell them I’m one month clean. The singer, Patty, was so happy and so proud it made me realize I needed to try my best to stay clean for him. I saw them again on November 17 and I was so happy.

I was genuinely happy for the first time in so long.

January rolls again and i start getting flashbacks for when I came out. It made me want to get January over with. January finally finishes and boom my dog dies, my dog I’ve had for years. I tried to kill myself. I wasn’t clean anymore. I felt that I fucked up, that I failed the bands I tried to stay clean for.

February 14, I was going to see another band who truly helped my through so much shit, but I was planning to say my goodbyes. I get there and plan to meet two of my friends who were the sweetest people ever. The bands made me realize something, I don’t really know what but they did. I talked to Patty again and I told him about it. I apologized to him saying that I tried my best. His response was, “sorry to me? Don’t be sorry to me. You’re fine. Shit happens.” Those words mean the world to me. I started telling him about how I was going to try to attempt the next day and how I wasn’t going to anymore because of how he helped me through that shit – how he made me change my mind. I realized I had a purpose again; I was happy. They (Patty and Ronnie) are some of the sweetest people to ever exist. They were so happy and so genuine it just made me feel wanted and welcomed.

All the bands also supported different things like a voice for the innocent, hope for the day, etc. and it just made me so happy to know that they care about us. I went home happy. I had the best night of my life.

Now I’m almost 2 weeks clean and I haven’t tried to attempt again. I’m so much happier now and you can tell. I’m trying my best to stay strong and try to make it back to one month clean, then two, then three and so on but right now I’m going to focus on my mental health becoming better.


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0157: An Open Letter to the Boy who Assaulted Me...


Content warning: The following story contains graphic details about someone being raped, which may be triggering for some readers.


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"An Open Letter to the Boy who Assaulted Me, the Lady Who Failed Me, and the Community that Held Me," Kellsei Tate

October 28th will always be a day that I have a hard time reliving. I write it out for the first time, as a way to continue to heal and as a release. It has been 2 years since my body was invaded in one of the most painful and degrading ways possible. I will always have to fight to remember that I am worthy of healing. I am worthy of love in the full capacity of which I deserve. To have my body forcefully dehumanized comes with a lot of aftermath and broken pieces that I will continue to glue back together no matter how many times they crumble.

To my attacker: you were stronger than me and must not have understood simple English. I guess that makes sense because you did not make it to your next year in university.  A two letter word that means so much meant absolutely nothing to you, no matter how many times I repeated it. I think about how I lived in a world of “what ifs” for the longest time.

What if I would have noticed you locking my door when you walked in my room?

What if I would have screamed loudly so that my residents could have heard me?

What if I had not shown kindness to you in the first place?

I have slowly learned that “what ifs” are bullshit and not necessary. What you did was wrong and I will have to continue to survive with the aftermath for the rest of my life. I remember the anger and frustration you showed at my unwillingness to comply. I remember my moments of freezing up. I remember crossing my legs to close off access to my body. I remember you finishing what you came in my room for and leaving like nothing happened.

I remember so much more, but choose to forget. I remember that there was no way to avoid seeing you because that is one downfall of being on a small campus, let alone being an RA in the building in which you lived.

You made my home foreign to me. You took away my safe space. You invaded my body. I remember seeing you the next day. Our eyes made contact and you quickly looked away. I remember the level of panic I felt. I remember feeling extremely dirty no matter how long I showered. No amount of soap and water could cleanse my body to feel pure again.

No amount of alcohol could numb the pain I felt physically many days after. I remember the bruises on my legs and flashbacks that constantly reminded me of how you selfishly destroyed my inner peace and self-worth. I remember having to throw away my sheets as a figurative way of removing the pain you brought me. It did not work. I remember skipping rounds on your floor just because I did not want to have to see you. I remember almost telling my hall director, but having fear you’d win.

My voice was silenced and I was not sure how to collectively put words into a sentence to portray what happened. I battled a hell that I never thought was possible to survive, while you most likely walk around to this day without an ounce of regret in your mind.  I suffered in silence until my last semester in undergrad in 2015. I learned quickly how sick secrets can make you and the internal battle that causes the dark to dim even more. I also learned how much love a small community can pour into you when you need it most.

To the boy who sexually assaulted me, I forgive you. You do not deserve to occupy another second of anger in my heart.

To the one school official that failed me, I forgive you, too. I became angrier at your lack of support and professionalism than at the boy who I thought destroyed me. I just hope you get it right next time because in this world, unfortunately there will be many next times until we get our shit together as a society and quit ostracizing survivors and their experiences. Being a female yourself, I am highly disappointed in the way you “handled” things and feel extremely ashamed to have trusted you. Your system failed me.

To my fellow undergraduate community and residence life staff, both professional and student: Thank you for showing me unconditional love when I was undeserving and stubborn. Thank you to my undergraduate family that sat with me through the silence and pain on days that I could not even get out of bed. Thank you for crawling into my darkness when I did not have any desire to see light.

To my current Student Affairs Family: Thank you for continuing the love and support as I continue to conquer. Thank you for those few that have helped me continue to heal and who have walked with me when I have hit some lows.

To the survivor in me: I know this will always be a part of my past, but I will continue to reach new heights of healing. I will continue to tell myself I am worthy and believe that I am going to be okay, until it is no longer rehearsed and simply who I am. I will not be silent to keep others comfortable.

I know that I will always live with triggers and that I may be a hard one to love. I also know that I am both a masterpiece and work of art all at once. I know that it is okay to have bad days, but not to let them consume the light that I hold within me. The walls that were created will crumble. I am okay holding the microphone as I am tired of society silencing people because of their discomfort. Try stepping into the level of discomfort you may feel having experienced it.

To my fellow survivors: I hear you, I see you, and we’ve got this. Here’s to healing and overcoming and the power of love.


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About the art:

Kellsei submitted this story nearly TWO YEARS ago and amid getting lost in the email shuffle and the back up of art we had been creating at the time, the story got set aside for TOO LONG. But here we have it - an empowering and powerful story from someone who has persevered and reclaimed her story. This piece was inspired her tenacity and reassured tone at the end of the story. I wanted to use this quote because it was so comforting and a fitting way to culminate such a piece filled with disappointment and frustration. You’ve got this, Kellsei.

- Craig.

0156: I Was a Statistic


Content warning: The following story contains references to sexual violence, slut-shaming, and suicidal ideation as result - which may be concerning and/or triggering for some readers.


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“I Was a Statistic,” Anonymous

I was a statistic. I was 1 in 6.

My story is not unlike many others. They were people I knew. People I trusted. People that have the opportunity to live their lives without any guilt, pain, or repercussions from their actions. I was a freshman in college at a small institution about an hour from home. When I stepped on the campus for the first time, with the intention of playing college athletics, I felt at home. A family member I looked up to attended there, so I was driven to also attend. The family member I looked up to had also joined a sorority while there. I fit in perfectly with that sorority and instantly bonded to those girls. I instantly felt at home again, especially since I hadn't felt as connected as I initially thought I would. I bonded with my pledge class, felt instant trust and love among my fellow sisters.

I was fun, I laughed, told ridiculous and dirty jokes, drank, smoked, danced, wore clothes I'd never dare to wear at home with my family and friends. I lived outside of my comfort zone constantly. I pushed the boundaries. I had also just discovered sex. And I loved it. If I liked someone, I flirted. If they flirted back, I flirted harder. I was really good at it, flirting that is. Well, I was also pretty good at sex. And it felt amazing. I guess I built up a bit of a reputation for myself. I enjoyed sex. I lived outside of my comfort zone. I flirted. I laughed. I had fun. Until I didn't.

I attended a fraternity event, called Formal. I got all dressed up with a borrowed dress from a friend and a brand new pair of red high heels I begged my mom to buy me. I did my hair in curls, I had my friends do my make up. I drank a little beforehand. I drank a lot during. Honestly, I drank most of a handle of rum. Mixed with soda, mixed with water, mixed with rum. I drank to a point where I couldn't remember drinking anymore. I don't remember how I got outside. I don't remember how these two males got me outside. I don't remember who pulled my underwear down. I don't remember who bent me over. I don't remember who penetrated me from behind. I don't remember who put their penis in my mouth.

I do remember realizing what was happening and saying no. I do remember staggering away, confused, barefoot, back inside. I remember seeing my "sister" and immediately crying. I remember being put into a car and taken back to campus. I remember trying to explain what happened, through tears and vomit. I remember waking up the next day, feeling the pain in my head, all over my body. I remember feeling disgusting. I remember my "sisters" explaining how much I drank, how the guys who did it were physically assaulted by their "brothers" for what they did - specifically that they tried to have sex with another brothers date. I knew that it wasn't just sex. Because I didn't remember it. I didn't remember flirting. I didn't remember liking it. How was it really sex?

I remember being approached in the dining hall by one of the guys, who told me "If I knew you were that drunk, I wouldn't have let that happen." I remember nodding my head and saying "okay."

I remember approaching the school counselor, explaining what happened because I couldn't remember much, but I didn't think it was sex. I remember being asked "what were you wearing?" and "how much did you drink?" and "what did you do to make them have sex with you?" I remember feeling like I was the one to blame.

I remember in the days to come, my "sisters" turning on me. They "heard the real story". How I threw myself at both guys. How I'd had sex with one of them a few weeks back, so of course he thought it was okay. How I had drank so much that I was putting myself at risk.

I remember being slut shamed by an ex-boyfriend. I remember getting text after text from him one night about how I was a SLUT, WORTHLESS, ASKING FOR IT, and that I should KILL MYSELF.

I remember feeling so alone. I remember wanting to die. I remember trying to die.

I also remember finding strength in those who believed me. I remember the time that it took for me to realize that it wasn't my fault. I remember hearing the stories of other victims, of other survivors, of other people just like me. I remember understanding that I was more than my experience. And now I know that I am not simply a number. I am one person who overcame. I am one person, among many, who experienced trauma, survived, and thrived. I am one person who takes each day as it comes, and understands that I will never really feel okay, but I will be okay. I am more than what I remember.


0155: Boy Afraid


Content warning: the following story contains references to sexual assault, alcoholism, and depression, which may be triggering for some readers.


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“Boy Afraid,” David Cave

I was maybe 10 or 11 the first time John held me up against a wall with the force of his body and rubbed me up and down, kissing my neck. His hot breath made me shiver, I felt violated, disgusted and impossibly tainted, paralyzed by fear and shock. Over the next few years, this would happen nearly every Sunday at the Baptist church my family attended three times a week. As I got older, I grew resistant to John's physical prowess over me, threatening to tell on him. I never did, I still haven't told anyone of consequence what he did to me. Every time I threatened him with action, refusing to play the docile deer-in-his-headlights he threatened me with violence, or threatened to do the same to my brother, instilling a terror that casts a long shadow over my life. In the same turn he would add more time to the clock that he counted out in his head while he felt me up violently and kissed my neck by the storage shed behind the church, often arbitrarily adding time to my sentence for the slightest transgression. I quickly tried to get out of going to church as much as I could, faking illness and trying to maximize time around the friends I knew I was safe around that might provide protection (because John's fear of being found out trumped his violent sexual urges).

John was often referred to as my friend, as we were constantly around each other, and eventually I bought into this lie (the truth was he wouldn't let me far out of his sight, terrorizing me every second he could just through his oppressive presence). He would refer to my brother and I as "pretty boys," something which my mother realizes the true gravity of in retrospect, but at the time came off merely as jealousy at my family's middle class existence. What he was really saying was that we were worthless and unlovable, just like him. I can't recall what eventually led to the end of John's reign of terror on my life, my memory of those years is hazy and missing large chunks likely due to the trauma inflicted on me. I understand this phenomenon as the activation of defense mechanisms within my mind shutting off sections to protect me, like sailors closing off bulkheads to keep water from spreading to different areas of a ship, threatening to sink them all.

It wasn't until my late twenties that I learned my brother, two years my junior, had been John's de facto victim when I wasn't around. My family eventually moved on from that church when we moved to a new neighborhood on the North side of Denver, but I heard that John, one year younger than me, had gone to juvenile court for assaulting his cousin. The story as I recall was that his cousin had been sitting on his shoulders and he had "accidentally" reached up her skirt and grabbed her inappropriately. Inherent in this was the insinuation and insistence that it had been an accident, that it was harmless and there's no way John could have committed such an act. I didn't speak up. I felt ashamed, I was speechless, and I knew exactly what he'd done immediately. I froze, and couldn't say anything.

There were rumblings around the time my family joined the church (that I would hear until years later) that John's grandfather, the former pastor of the church, had physically and sexually abused his grandchildren. This fact was rarely brought up, not even as an explanation for John's actions, but it has provided me some much needed context with which to frame my experiences. Hurt people hurt people. I guess. It doesn't excuse what he did, but it helps me to understand and maybe begin to empathize a bit. Is this how Stockholm Syndrome begins?

Regardless of this, it's clear the church and the community systematically failed us. The patriarch of the church abused his grandchildren (and very likely other people in his family), with no repercussions and no one did anything to stop him. He was even fondly remembered by his family, who I've been told knew what he did. How can someone look back at their abuser and feel fondness? Although I understand he too likely underwent his own abuse at the hands of someone, I find it hard looking back at that period of my life with any sort of fondness for John or even his family for that matter.

For years I kept these events locked up in the furthest recesses of my memory, threw away the key and refused to look at them. I found solace in video games, places that I could feel powerful, worlds where no one really got hurt (Pokemon Red was a favorite of mine around age 12, a joyful cartoony escape from what I endured outside the game). I took solace in punk rock, shouting along to all the words of Black Flag, Minor Threat, and Descendents. The pain, frustration, and boredom of suburban white teenage boys raised in stifled, emotionally closed off environments appealed to my internal need to be be heard but paradoxically not knowing how to vocalize how I felt. I was angry at my parents and the church for not protecting me. I was angry at society for the mere existence of people like John. Most of all I was angry at myself for not telling anyone and not stopping the cycle of sexual violence John perpetrated on me and countless others. I got it stuck in my head that it was my fault, that somehow I was culpable. I believed I was broken, damaged, I was a piece of shit. Henry Rollins was the only person who knew how I felt, so I drowned out the pain with Greg Ginn's wailing guitars and alcohol.

The ensuing years went on, I didn't think about John or what happened to me, it was locked up deep inside and it never came up in my thoughts. It was almost like it'd never happened. Almost. Looking back now, it's easy to see that at least to some extent it helped fuel my alcoholism, my depression, my unending loneliness as I sought to find a real connection with other people (but failing miserably at every turn). I manipulated people I was in relationship with when they disagreed with me, when I felt insecure and afraid they would leave me alone with myself. These were tactics I didn't learn from my parents, they were maladaptive behaviors I learned through my abuse. Even when I got sober at age 20 the fact that years of abuse could have influenced my behaviors or my alcoholism hadn't occurred to me until I got to my fourth step inventory in Alcoholics Anonymous. I was working on my inventory, in which I chronicled my resentments, what had happened, my part in what happened, etc. John just flowed out of me and onto the page, along with all the parts I blamed myself for- not saying anything for years, not stopping him, not protecting my brother or anyone else he assaulted. I shared this with my sponsor, who remains until now the only person I've ever told at length about what happened to me. It was also the first time someone told me it wasn't my fault. Something in me broke open, and memories came flooding back. My emotional reaction was still muted, still disconnected, but I wasn't living with the trauma just under the surface anymore. Maybe I could live with it. Maybe I could be vulnerable without fear of being hurt. For the first time the possibility that I could be fixed occurred to me.

I spent years as part archeologist, and part palmist- examining what I remember of who I was before John, how what he did changed me throughout the years, trying to remember changes in my personality and moods; also trying to trace the lines of trauma in my daily life, who I am now, what I want, how I can be more like my original childhood self, and what sort of psycho-sexual effect the abuse has had on my long-term development. I was processing, trying to find the answer why so I could fix myself. I still don't like people being forceful with me in intimate settings for obvious reasons, but there seemed some possibility the complete eradication of agency in my life at a young age jumpstarted the depression and anxiety I've struggled with as a teenager and adult. If only I could think my way through it hard enough, I might solve my problems. Now I understand how futile an endeavor this was, no amount of thinking could undo what was done to me. It wasn't going to make me healthier or more adaptive in my daily life. I had to find a new way to exist, but what thinking did help me do was process.

I'm still at a loss for what I do with this now, I've had this horrible hex put on me by someone else, yet when I try to follow in the footsteps of notable men who've undergone sexual harassment and abuse like Terry Crews or Brendan Fraser, I'm often met with incredulity that a straight, white, able-bodied cishet man such as myself could have an experience many associate with women. I even had a woman in a multicultural social work class tell me that my experience was invalid because as a man I "don't experience things like that every day," as though the frequency at which I experience assault is a qualifier for being a victim. I talked about it in a journal paper that I had to turn in to my professor in hopes that maybe she might bring it up in class to show that in the social work field we can't make assumptions, but was met with silence. I was left wondering why I even bothered to share my experience in the first place, despite my professor prompting the discussion about sexual assault on men. Now I understand first-hand what it's like to have your experience invalidated by those around you, shutting down uncomfortable discussion with pointless qualifiers and platitudes that "it could always be worse." As though human suffering is quantifiable. All I seek is validation, a seat at a table where I can be vulnerable with others who've gone through similar experiences that I can learn how to heal from.

I've never felt I had a place in this world as a victim or a "normal man". I still don't know where I belong, as Jacob Bannon sings in the Converge song "Last Light":

"I need a purpose and I need a reason
I need to know there is trophy and meaning
to all we lose and all we fight for
to all our loves and our wars
keep breathing
keep living
keep searching
keep pushing on
keep bleeding
keep healing
keep fading
keep shining on
this is for the hearts still beating"

With tears in my eyes for the things I've lost, and resolve in my heart, I keep pushing on.


About the art:

David is one of my new best friends - we met in September and quickly hit it off. Since then, we’ve shared so much of ourselves in learning how to have a healthy male relationship. David is one of the most knowledgeable and insightful people I’ve ever met. For a story like this to come from David was a pretty big surprise for me.

When I first read his story, my heart sank - I hated learning about a struggle he’s lived with throughout his life. While he has this experience, I know this piece took a lot for him to write, but I’m so thankful he did because I know this piece will help many people heal.

So for the art, I went off his affinity for Converge’s “Last Light,” matched the colors from the artwork, wrote all of the lyrics in the background and focused on the last two lines as a symbol of motivation for David.

- Craig.

0154: Classic Rock Queer


"Classic Rock Queer," Anonymous

I first discovered I was part of the LBGTQ+ community in October 2015 and told three of my closest friends who I knew I could trust with the secret that I was bisexual. Eventually, I started telling other friends and some of my family, getting reactions that occasionally surprised me.

On National Coming Out Day 2016, I posted a picture of the bisexual pride flag on Instagram and people I knew were supportive and said that they would still love me no matter what. These people are friends, family, classmates and I still talk to them, even though some are far away and we don't see each other often, if at all. I know that if I ever need someone to talk to on a bad day, I can always text one of my friends. I love them and I also love myself for who I was, who I am, and who I will be in the future.

For me, being part of the LBGTQ+ community in the United States gives me the freedom that members of this community who live in other countries might not have, such as the freedom to marry whoever I want. I also have friends who are part of the LBGTQ+ community and I'm glad that these people are part of my life because I can talk to them about anything if I'm having a good day or a bad one. We laugh together, we cry together and have become a family. When I think of the family I made, all the memories we have makes me smile and I'm extremely proud that I have an amazing support system made up of incredible friends and family who make me feel like I can be myself.

I'm proud to be a bisexual person living in New Jersey and I have friends and family who love me and care about my feelings and well-being. These people inspire me and help me become the best person that I can. They also help me believe that I can set out to do whatever I want and achieve my dreams. If I didn't have this support system, I don't know what I'd be doing or where I'd be.

One thing I do that makes me feel a lot better on my bad days is play the guitar my grandmother got me for my 15th birthday. When I pick up my Fender Stratocaster that I named White Lightning, after Def Leppard guitarist Steve Clark, I feel like I can do anything and I'll play songs by my favorite classic rock artists, like Def Leppard, Bryan Adams, Bon Jovi, KISS, Bruce Springsteen, Mötley Crüe, AC/DC, Journey and many others. These bands inspire me to write my own songs and start a band one day with friends who are also musicians.

When I'm not practicing my favorite classic rock songs or writing one of my own, I'll write stories, read books, draw or watch my favorite WWE superstars' matches on YouTube. Playing guitar, writing stories, reading, drawing and watching/talking about WWE are all things that make me feel better when I'm down.


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About the art:

I met this wonderful human after giving a talk on their campus a few months ago, and they were just wonderful. I was very thankful to have them reach out to share their story. This piece was important to them - using the bisexual flag and this quote was essential - so I made it happen for them!

- Craig.

0153: Scarred


Content warning: The following piece contains references to depression, self-harm, suicidal ideation, abuse, and suicide attempts, which may be triggering for some readers. Also, note that all names have been changed by the author and are replaced with letters.


"Scarred," Anonymous

I am scarred. I’ve had my essence cut away since birth. I’m not even supposed to be here and I don’t know how I’ve made it this far. My life has consisted of so many ups and downs. Saviors and damnation. Friends and abusers. Significant others and cheaters. Family and monsters. Honesty and deceit.

I was born with a rare genetic illness that I almost died from. I spent 10 days in the hospital when I was just 1 or 2 weeks old. No one knew what was wrong, they just knew I may not make it. But I was saved after 10 long days. By a doctor I don’t know the name of. A doctor I hope to one-day meet. To tell that I’ve made it this far. As a reminder I have a scar on my stomach. 3 inches long. Ugly. Abnormal. Weird. Different. Anytime someone sees it they want to know about it. I always told them because they were curious. I leave out how it makes me feel. Undeserved. Mistake. Undead. Survivor. Fuck up. The one bad gene.

I was born to my mother and father. A loving mother. And a fucked up father. A mother who stayed with me no matter what. A father who left. A mother that talks to me weekly. And a father who hasn’t reached out in 18 years. A mother who has been there for me. And a father that tried to run me and my mother over with a car. One who loved me. And one who drank. One a nurturer. The other cursed me forever. One who has been hurt and survived time and time again. And one who went crazy and left.

It was soon after the divorce that a new person entered my life. My dad. Not my real dad but my adopted dad. He was strict, aggressive, had money and… urges issues. He also had a daughter, my crazy sister. But… he loved me. But I guess my mom didn’t love him enough. He went off a lot, he was in the military. My mom would sometimes go off on business trips. Trips to R. The only business was sex. My mom cheated on my dad. Someone who loved me enough to adopt me. To try and give me a father figure that I wouldn’t have ever had. He brought home my first dog, he introduced me to video games which quickly became an escape for me. The funny thing is… after my mom destroyed their relationship, my dad never left me. Another funny thing. No one ever told me he wasn’t my father. He wasn’t blood. I didn’t know until I was 10 or so.

My family has a history of lying to me. When I was young I had to take pills regularly. “Allergy pills.” Code word for ADHD meds. I took allergy meds too but these brain altering pills were fed to me as well. It wasn’t until much later maybe 12 or 13 that I found out I wasn’t normal. I wasn’t like other kids. I was a special case. Unique. Different. Sick. Mental. Fucked up. A wild card. A menace.

The lies continue.

My family lied to me about my genetic illness. They told me it was a simple birth defect. It was much more. They told me the truth this year. I almost died. I could pass it on to future kids. I don’t think I want kids. What if they’re as fucked up as me? What if I’m like my real dad? I go crazy and try to kill them? What if my genetics kill them before their birthday? My mind is a monster waiting to infect any offspring I have and my genetics are a weapon waiting to kill them. I couldn’t do that to a child. But now with the knowledge of my genetics… if I ever wanted kids… its much scarier. What if they die? What if they can’t be saved like my uncle? What if they’re scarred like me? An ugly ugly scar. It would match mine.

After the second divorce my mother stayed with R. I despised him. He was mean and evil I could tell. I was beginning to get good at reading people. They were dating. They were in love. Honeymoon phase right. I knew there was something wrong. It was confirmed when the beatings started. He would hit me for mouthing off, for not using manners, for making bad grades. I quickly learned to follow orders. To do what I was told. My mom found out. What did she do? Married him. He never hurt her. Just me. Sometimes she would see. Sometimes not. My mom tried keeping me away from my dad at the time. R never attempted to be a father figure like my dad did. He’d just give orders and beatings. Never drunk either. He was always knowledgeable of it. He knew, he was in control, he was powerful. One time he dragged me on a hunting trip. I accidentally got mud in his truck. I tried to act like it wasn’t me. I lied. But he didn’t believe me. I got a special hit that time. He took the butt of a gun to me. Cracked my chin open. I needed stitches. 4 I think, maybe 5, I can’t remember. But what it left, was another scar.

After a year or so my mom got pregnant with my brother. My half-brother. Their marriage ended a year after he was born. Now he’s forever in my life. The son of my mom and a monster. They got a divorce because I guess hitting me wasn’t enough anymore. He started hitting my mom too. That was when she had enough. Her… not me. I was so alone. This divorce left me with a scar, a devil spawn half sibling, and the feeling of being empty and alone.

This divorce left us with nothing. Barely any money, low amounts of food, my mom had a terrible job. I was 9 or 10 by now. Already been through so much right? Guess not. Around this time was when I was first introduced to bullies. And the word fag. That word stuck with me for a while. I never knew how mean other kids could be. About everything. Even the little things. Whatever made you different. And boy was I different. I was small. I was the shortest kid in class and I had my ugly scar. Kids are mean. They shun the new and the different. They made me hurt. They made me hate myself. And the bullies never left.

A year after the divorce with R my mom met a new man. M. I could tell he was just like R. But my mom wouldn’t listen. He hated me, I could tell. I had gotten very good at reading people. I hated him too. It wasn’t even a year that they had shacked up. My new step dad. Dad number 4.

I was right about him. He was just like R. Hit less, but just like him. He also only hit me when he was drunk. Otherwise he would just scream or call me names. By now I knew how to handle people like him. Stay away and act like I don’t exist. I thought my mother would act different this time but she didn’t. Thinks were okay financially after almost a year. But things weren’t alright in my head. I don’t remember what set it off, maybe it was learning about my ADHD, maybe it was one-time M yelled too much or hit too hard, maybe I was just feeling too empty. I took a knife to my skin, and dug. Right on my right hand. Just over my right wrist. I didn’t want to die, maybe I did and was scared. All I know was I was 13. And I had scarred my body once again.

The feeling was… sad. It didn’t make me feel. I cleaned it. I played it off like it was something dumb. I picked at it. It scarred. It has never gone away. It’s hard to see. But I see it. I look at it. I know it. It’s another ugly scar that belongs on my disgusting body. Middle school the bullying kept going. It got worse. I was a fag. I was short. I was new. I didn’t play sports. I read and played video games. No one wanted to be my friend. I was an outcast.

High school was the same. The bullying got worse. So did me cutting myself. And upon coming into high school I had 2 friends to my name. 2 friends that didn’t turn out to be fake, or backstabbers, or bullies themselves.

High school got better in some ways though. I eventually met amazing friends that helped me have a reason to stay alive. To ensure the knife never went too deep. I delved more into video games as an escape from reality. I also learned about comic books and dungeons and dragons. More escapes.

Nightwing was my favorite super hero. He was funny, charming, daring, an older brother to the other Robins. He was everything I wasn’t but also everything I wanted to be. The best thing was he was normal and he had a terrible upbringing like me. I related to him and his story. He was important to me. Comics still are. I have a huge collection now. I hold each book, each story, each escape close to me.

Dungeons and Dragons was amazing. It was a chance to leave life and delve into a fantasy world where I was a hero. I always liked being a paladin. I liked being righteous and a destroyer of evil, a defender of the week. My love for dungeons and dragons only grew. Now in college I play with 5 close friends and I have written my own fantasy world and story for them to experience. Now I act as the dungeon master. I make them the heroes.

These escapes kept me alive.

The knife was different. I had gotten smart. I knew to cut under my sleeve where no one saw. I would leave the marks alone. I would treat them. They didn’t leave visible scars. But even now it’s as if I can see them. The ugly invisible lines from where I hated myself enough to tear away at myself. Ugly invisible scars. Disgusting, awful, different, ruined, terrible scars. My body a canvas and a blade as a paintbrush. The art I made was disgusting.

One time on Christmas I got a knife as a present. In a moment of disassociation, I pressed too hard and it slipped. It cut my thumb open. Boy, did I bleed. It got stitched up quick. By the time I was 15 I was scarred in so many places. Some intentional. Some accidental. I was a dumb kid and I didn’t care if I got hurt. What’s another ugly scar on my disgusting body? My knee from a fall. My chin from roller-skating, running at a pool, and a wrestling mistake (they were in the same spot as the one from the rifle. Cover up one scar with others I suppose. My shoulder from a skin thing. My thumb from a burn. Next to my eye from a friend being stupid with a sword.

Numerous scars everywhere. I’m disgusting. Undeserving of life. Ugly. Awful. A monster.

I think I was 15 when it happened. M cheated on my mom and they got a divorce. M cheated on my mom with 3 other women at the same time. Funny right. I guess it comes full circle. Maybe she deserved it. We were once again left with nothing. This time even worse than before. My cutting got worse, I gained weight, I got acne. I was ugly outside and inside. I was disgusting, scarred, a burden. My anger issues developed around now. I got angry, I would scream and break things. I was terrifying. No one saw me like this. I made sure of it. This year was a time that I had begun to seriously contemplate suicide.

My mom eventually found a job. It was steady enough. Around this time, I got my first girlfriend. K. She was amazing and I thought the world of her. It was long distance. It was the beginning of my senior year of high school when we started dating. I saw her every chance I could. She was the first person I fell in love with. Someone I trusted. The first person I told everything too. She made me promise to stop self harming. And I did.

High school finally ended and I was off to college. Everything was changing and looking up. I was off to New York for school all the way from Alabama. My mom had found a better job and was moving. I had a girlfriend and we loved each other. We were going to be closer to each other when I moved. I lost weight, got help for my acne, and finally stopped self harming. I was finally out of the place where I had been tortured and abused all my life. I was beginning to be happy. In the first week of college I met people that I still consider my best friends. Hell, I met my closest friend ever. My best friend C. He’s like a brother to me. I never drank the first year. I never did drugs. Never smoked. My whole life I was against it. Then it was the end of the first semester.

Around the middle of my first semester my sister, my dad’s daughter decided to disown the family. She left and went to Texas. I haven’t seen her in years. Anytime she talks to me she just wants money. This year she got pregnant. She’s 19 or 20. About a year younger than me. And pregnant. She’s not married either. The dad is her ex-boyfriend. The baby is due very very soon.

Towards the end of my first semester of college I had been dating K for almost 2 years. I had begun to notice changes. Emotional distance, less talkative, spending more time with other people. I felt distant too. My feelings changed. I was a different person. K was too. So… I broke things off. I felt like my world was ending. We tried staying friends but that didn’t work. We just drifted apart. She dated someone else. I dated around before finding my next girlfriend Ra.

Ra was cool, dangerous, punk rock, awesome. Everything K wasn’t. She fed the darker side of me. Encouraged me to go out, encouraged me to have fun, fed my anger, fed my lust. It was fun while it lasted. 3 months I think. She ended up dropping out, moved back home, left me alone. After that… I started drinking. I drank a lot. Every time I got the chance. I also developed an interest in men. I came out to my friends as bisexual.

During both my relationships I was always scared to take my shirt off. I didn’t like them seeing my scar. I didn’t like it when anyone saw it. I didn’t want pity or anything. I was afraid of my own disgusting self.

School ended and I went home to Alabama for summer and sometimes I’d snag a little alcohol from my mom. She was dating someone new. Terrible guy. She had horrible taste. It was that summer I found out I had been betrayed again.

My ex K. Cheated on me during our relationship. She was dating this new guy. We broke up 7 months ago maybe. She made a post saying happy 9-month anniversary to her and her boyfriend. To my knowledge 9 is more than 7. She had been dating him 2 months before we broke up. I was destroyed. I broke a chair, screamed, took a knife to myself but I didn’t cut. I wasn’t going to let her scar me like so many others. Someone like her wasn’t worth it. It was now that cheating became a taboo to me and honesty became a must.

Coming back to school was amazing. It felt like my real home. I was an orientation leader for this year. My sophomore year. It was this time that I met someone important in my life. I met N. My third girlfriend. I also began cosplaying as a hobby.

N and I started off slow, we would drink together, hang out, we had fun. It was nice. I drunkenly kissed her and I would never take it back. We started dating. My friends disapproved, I didn’t let that affect me though, at least not yet.

That first semester of sophomore year was perfect, wonderful, amazing. I was really and truly happy. It felt like something I had never had before. N was the second person that I told everything to. My entire life story. Some parts I told her that I never even began to tell K. She was also someone that I didn’t care if she saw my scar. I never felt embarrassed around her. She never pitied me. Just… loved.

Then came second semester. I met new people. New friends. New backstabbers. New manipulators. New cursed awful people. Under the guise of friendship. I met them through cosplay. The worst one was A.

N and I had our share of problems but this semester I grew to distrust aspects of her life. She didn’t seem to understand; she didn’t really care to. And I never really gave a good explanation. During our problems, A was there for me. He would talk to me about any and all of my problems. He was great. And twisted.

Any time I had a problem with N, A would feed it he would manipulate me and tell me the worst things, things I didn’t want to hear or believe. But I trusted him so I let him sow the seeds of distrust into me. N and I argued more and had 1 or 2 huge fights. By the end of the semester I had had enough. But I didn’t realize that there was nothing that I had had enough of. I left for a while to Canada. I left after an unresolved fight with N. During my time in Canada N and I could barely talk because of cellphone restrictions. Our fight never got resolved. The entire time every chance he could A would tell me horrible things that were probably happening with me away. He made me distrust N more. He played me. He pushed my buttons. I was stupid.

When I got back still nothing was resolved with N. And I believe a week or two later it finally happened. We broke up. Over... nothing. It was stupid. And one of my biggest mistakes. I’ll never forgive myself for how those words hurt her. And after A made his move. He told me he loved me. And he wanted to be with me.

I was week. I was stupid. I was so alone. I fell into it. After the breakup N got drunk and screamed at me. A used this as an opportunity to confirm everything he said. And I believed him. A and I lasted about 3 days. Before it all came crumbling down. He told me he had no feelings for me. Later I found out all of it was a plan to make his ex-boyfriend jealous. Additionally, it turns out that while he was in love with me and we were having a very very short thing he was sleeping with his ex as well.

I had had enough. I contemplated suicide. I took the knife and I dug it into my hand. The blood was fresh and new. It had been so long. I broke such an old and well-kept promise. I had never felt so dead inside. I had messed up with someone I really and truly loved and who loved me back. I had been betrayed by someone who I thought held me so close and dear. I had never in my life wanted to die so much. I thought N despised me and wanted me dead. I wanted A dead. I felt so alone. So very very alone. And once again my scar was present again. I picked at it to keep from cutting again. Another scar. Another reminder of how ugly I was. I was so cruel. Disgusting. Awful. Abusive. Terrible. Unwanted. Alone. Ugly. Scarred.

Summer passed, I dated people. All the dates were empty. Just to waste time. I felt nothing towards anyone. I was empty. School began. N and I began talking again. But it was angry passive aggressive talking. She despised me and I still had the seeds in my head from A. One night. She invited me over and we got so very drunk. We almost had sex so many times that night but we didn’t. Not that night anyways. Later N and I talked. I was ready to confess that I still had feelings for her. Before I could say anything she told me there was nothing left between us and that she moved on. About a week later we began having casual sex. We were friends with benefits. It was awful. Because I still had feelings and I wanted to be with her. This felt like the only way how. So I kept quiet about my feelings, played them off, it hurt. I didn’t even understand how much it hurt until later.

This semester was bad. I drank more, I tried weed, I had self harmed again. N and I argued a lot during our time as friends with benefits and eventually broke it off. She confessed she thought she still loved me. I confessed too. But we didn’t do anything. Other things happened with her and other guys. I began slowly trying to find dates very unsuccessfully. But the whole time I was still madly in love with her and it was driving me crazy. Not to mention the amount of school work and stress I had. So I cut again. 2 gashes under the sleeve. But this time they were noticed. N noticed them. I had to tell her. Tell someone. I picked at them. I picked at them to keep myself from cutting more. But picking at it made them scar over.

Two more ugly reminders. Ugly. Disgusting. Bad. Evil. Awful. Reminders.

The semester was coming to an end and I confessed everything to N. I begged for another chance. I got it… I think. A small chance to remedy us before it’s too late. It was my first step to bettering myself.

I’ve decided for myself that I have to seek help. I have begun regular counseling appointments. I will be attempting a trial run of anxiety medications. I have close friends I love and trust. I have my mother who is finally dating a nice guy that I like. N and I are friends again with hope for a possible future maybe. I also finally learned about my genetic illness. I learned things about my biological father. Things that one day I can use to find him and get answers. I am also contemplating possibly being demisexual.

So many times I have thought to myself that I should end it all. I’m disgusting. I’m a burden. I’m ugly. I’m too scarred for this world. But… I’ve never let myself go too far. I’m not dead yet. For some reason. I have hope, goals, dreams, aspirations. I have people in my life that I never want to leave.

I’m determined to get my life on track this year. I know I can. This time I promise to myself to never cut again. To never harm myself again. I want to learn to trust again. To love again.

I have been beaten, broken, cheated, bruised, bullied, scarred…
I am P. I am 20 years old. A junior in college studying what makes me happy. Apart of the LGBT community. And I have survived.


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About the art:

This survivor gave an incredibly detailed account of a life filled with trauma, illness, and perseverance. The survivor told me that he was a big fan of Nightwing - a character in the DC Universe, connected to Batman and an alter ego of Robin. So I whipped up a piece that contained a quote from Nightwing and his brand/logo in the background. I did it in a more expressionist approach in hopes it'd look less realistic and more beaten and battered to resemble the struggle our survivor has experienced.

- Craig.

0152: I Still Stand


Content warning: The following story contains references to sexual violence and coercion, which may be difficult for some readers.

"I Still Stand," anonymous

To this day I still remember every detail. I remember how they used my innocence and thirst for adventure to their own selfish amusement. 

I drive past the hall where my innocence was taken, where my foundation was cracked, and I flashback to the scene. I try to convince myself once again that I am okay, that this event did not alter who I am. But I know that is a lie, I know that I am forever changed and will never again be the person that I was originally set to be. 

At first I was shocked. I was not able to understand what had just been done. I was embarrassed to tell anyone because I was so uncertain about the pain that I had just endured. I wanted to be strong. 

I have always been strong,
on the outside. 

But inside I knew that I was not capable of dealing with this.
I was never taught how to deal with this situation. I was not ready for this storm. 

Isn’t it funny how the hardest lessons in life are those that come from a moment that you were unable to prepare for? I think to myself if I had only known that he was going to force himself on me I could have prepared an exit plan. 
I could have prepared a firm counter argument that made it clear that I did not want him inside of me.
I could have prepared for the pain that I would have to endure.
I could have prepared for the pain that my loved ones had to face. 

Yet, this type of tragedy is not one that allows you the courtesy to prepare.

Without preparation my world shattered, 
The thought of him on my body still haunts me. The memory of how it felt to be ripped apart still shatters me. 

 But I can’t let that control me. I can’t focus on that feeling of hatred, disgust, guilt. 

This is my body. 
This is my body. 
This is my body. 

I will not let myself continue to be his victim. I will proudly stand tall against his lingering shadow because I know that I am okay.

I know that I am strong, 
that I am wonderful, 
that I am courageous.

 I am not afraid of him because I know that he is weak. He bowed down to his own weakness and prayed on mine. From this I learned where I was weak and built up supports to ensure that no one would ever lean on this weakness again. 

I have become so strong. Even through my strength I still remember my weakness, like a childhood friend. 

Time always freezes in a moment of misery. No words could ever describe what I endured.

I think about it and my heart shrinks. It shrinks and hides away in fear of the pain that it had endured. I make myself small again in fear of standing out to another predator. Once again, I feel myself become scared and fragile. 

But these thoughts are only my fears coming to limit my passions, to halt my success. I know that these fears are not valid, for I know that I am strong. 

Today I stand tall. Today I walk with a purpose. Even though there are cracks in my statue I continue to stand. Each crack fills with courage and hope and makes me stronger. 

I am not willing to let myself be held back by the storm that tried to knock me down. Others in my situation may be scared of the rain after coming face to face with a storm, but I embrace it. I let the rain wash over me and take away the grime that the world has put on me. I embrace my pain because that is what makes me who I am.

I am a girl, standing on a solid foundation, looking for the next opportunity. 

I stand strong. 

I stand beautifully. 

I stand purposefully. 


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About the art:

This piece is pretty straightforward - and it's somewhat deceptive at the same time. I wanted to use the affirmations - "I know I am strong, I am wonderful, I am courageous" - as the forefront of the piece, with "This is my body" in the background because it combined both of the major strengthening moments of the story. This survivor is determined and brave to share as passionately as they did and I'm so thankful we got to share this piece.

- Craig.

0151: Move or Die


Content warning: The following story contains references to rape, sexual violence, coercion, and toxic masculinity, which may be difficult for some readers.


"Move or Die," Molly Mitchell

I met my rapist through the DIY scene in Tucson, Arizona. I was a DJ and operated an independent record store, and he sought me out to create a musical partnership. After he booked me for a number of DJ gigs, we became good friends, and I started helping him with his creative projects.

In addition to operating a DIY venue and booking shows at the local "cool kid" spots, he was also part of a shitty white guy hip hop duo and had an operation called "The Rap Van." The idea was that he would load up about 15 buzzed participants from the local bar in the back of his white cargo van, and he'd drive it around while an actually talented rapper would perform. Tucson ate that shit up. So did I.

In the beginning of our friendship, my rapist and I actually had a consensual sexual relationship. I mean.. sort of. He was also sleeping with a number of other girls 15 years younger than him and lying to me about it. That's where the sexual relationship ended, and I insisted that we either pursue a plutonic, professional friendship, or nothing at all. He chose the former. After six months of effort, it finally felt natural to just be friends.

One night, we ended up taking a mini road trip up north with another female friend of mine. The trip was originally supposed to be just she and I, but she put herself in charge of finding us a third person with a vehicle, and he's who she chose. 

Initially I wasn't sure about it. I didn't know if I could completely relax on an overnight trip with him. But after hours of friendly conversation (during which he continued to gush about his new love interest), I started to feel more comfortable. He was our designated driver, so my friend and I participated in some good old fashioned binge drinking. One of the neighborhood bars had a niche drink-- 30 oz of Mountain Dew and vodka. We caught ourselves a caffeinated buzz, but I never lost consciousness. 

I remember getting into the van and asking my rapist if he was good to drive. He said "I'm not even kind of drunk", and he drove us to our location. Once we got to our camping spot, he and my friend went outside to smoke a cigarette, and I fell asleep in the back of the van fully clothed-- jeans, shoes, and all.

I woke up the next morning exactly how I fell asleep, except my hips were in excruciating pain, which I chalked up to sleeping on the floor of a van. Throughout the remainder of our trip, my rapist kept making jokes about how we "had sex." I knew that even in my drunkest state, I had no interest in doing that with him again, and he said it in such a way where I believed he was kidding.

The jokes persisted all the way back to Tucson, and my friend started getting in on it, too. When I finally asked my friend why she kept saying that we had sex, she simply said "Because you did." I asked her how she knew-- Did I do it in front of her, did she see me, was I vocal, was there movement? She said "no, it seemed like you were passed out, but he was moving and grunting, so I knew you guys were doing it." She was so cavalier about it. He was, too. I didn't ask any further questions, and spent the next week feeling terribly about myself-- How could I do something that I was so explicitly against? 

Finally, I confronted him. I sent him a message on Facebook spilling my guts-- Telling him how fucked up it was that he felt welcome to my body when I was clearly unconscious. I had spent six months rejecting his advances and making my stance clear...there was no room for doubt. He responded apologetically, admitting "I didn't get your consent. I didn't check in...as a friend."

I confided this to the owner of the record store, who is still to this day one of the best men I know. He respected that I wasn't sure about going public, but advised me that my rapist was featured on a local rapper's upcoming album, as well as a local zine. He told me that he refused to carry the zine and album with my rapist's name on it, and thought it was only fair to give the artist's behind those projects fair warning.

And so we did. We told a few people the truth at a time. And then it blew up. In no time, my good friend, who is a well-known hip hop artist in Tucson publicly outed my rapist on Facebook (with my permission, of course). It became the talk of the town. The venue that hosted The Rap Van cancelled his upcoming events. His hip hop duo's album release was cancelled. Word spread like wildfire.

Before my name was even associated with the outing, "his side" of the story started circulating. My rapist was going around letting everyone know that I was the one who raped him-- That's right. I grabbed him by his bits and forced him into mine. Poor guy. Even more ridiculous is that people actually believed him.

Let it be known that I did file a police report only a couple of weeks after the assault. I provided a very detailed report and followed up with the police. Nothing happened.

Anyone surprised?

I was overwhelmed with support in Tucson, no doubt. But there were also a significant amount of people who were actively against me-- Many of them were people I considered friends. I stopped getting DJ gigs (not like I wanted even wanted them anymore, I didn't even want to leave the house). My rape became my life. People were constantly coming up to me at work (I worked weekend at a popular bar) and sharing their personal assault stories. People were also constantly coming into my work just to stare me down and intimidate me. I couldn't escape my rape no matter where I went, and I stopped feeling safe in my own town.

My rapist fled Tucson shortly after he was outed. He deleted all social media, never publicly addressed the issue, hopped in his Rap Van, and took off. As if that didn't scream "guilty" enough, I had publicly shared a screenshot of the conversation in which he admitted to raping me. That wasn't enough for a lot of people. Music bros kept demanding more proof, demanding police reports, demanding answers from me personally. Even female survivors were speaking out against me, claiming that I had single-handedly ruined the downtown music scene with my "allegation", and that I should have gone through the police, not social media. 

I reached a point in only a matter of months where I realized it was never going to get better for me in Tucson. I was sleeping all day, only waking up when I had to go to work. I was dangerously depressed and knew that I had two options-- Move or die. I chose to move.

In the midst of saving up for my move, it was brought to my attention that my rapist had fled to Detroit, where he was hosting The Rap Van shows at a different bar. Same shit, different city. It was also brought to my attention that his van was being funded by a creative grant issued by Meow Wolf, a well-known creative organization based out of Santa Fe.

At this point, I was too drained to take any further action. Fortunately, I had a lot of really incredible soldiers fighting for me. People I didn't even know were rallying together to call the Detroit bars and performers associated with The Rap Van to warn them of my rapist and his actions. After this, he eventually fled to Canada, masquerading it as a tour-- Calling it "Vanada." Shortly after that, The Rap Van's instagram was deactivated and I haven't heard any news of him since.

A really remarkable amount of friends and strangers also rallied together to contact Meow Wolf-- Eventually getting in touch with the CEO. While it was too late to revoke the grant, my friend negotiated with the CEO, who agreed to match his Rap Van grant as a donation to SACASA, the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault.

That wasn't the only good thing to come of my rape. It turns out that leaving Tucson was the best decision I've ever made. My whole life has turned around for the best. While I still suffer from PTSD night terrors, I'm working through my trauma in therapy.

Meanwhile in Tucson, there are still plenty of bros who insist that my rapist is innocent. And that makes me worry for what they're capable of, as well. I fear for the young men and women of Tucson. I fear for the young men and women who participate in art scenes everywhere. So many of us find music and carve out little communities for ourselves through that art, thinking that we are surrounding ourselves with like-minded individuals who, regardless of gender, are all to some varying degree "feminists." When that gets tested, you realize that, in the face of clear evidence, folks who were so much a part of your progressive, mindful, equal community are quick to not take sides in a situation where right is is clearly right and wrong is clearly wrong.

All that we have is our voice. And all that we can hope is that someone listens. Thanks for listening. 


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About the art:

This story shook me at my core - it's a story that hits home in a lot of ways, especially with so many men in the indie/emo music scenes being outed for their predatory and/or outright sexually deviant behavior.

Molly is one of my favorite folks to interact with on Instagram - it's really the only place we know each other. She has great taste in music and has always been straightforward when discussing her mental health and life situations. So when she reached out to me after I was calling out a dude for basically what she discusses in this story (re: bros needing more "proof" and not believing the accounts of survivors), I suggested sharing a story with us - and she had it ready to go almost IMMEDIATELY. I essentially woke up to the story in my inbox.

I'm so thankful that Molly was able to take a careful look at her circumstance and recognize what she could/needed to do to be safe and have a chance at a more normal life - and sometimes that takes moving away. I WISH I could say this is the first time I've heard that rationale, but the reality is that many folks end up having to disassociate from a scene, or leave it altogether in order to preserve some sanity. That's why the words in this piece are some important - it's so real.

And it's such a necessary and poignant story to read because it encapsulates many elements of pervasive and explicit behaviors existent in the scenes today. There's no room for a scene to be unsafe, coercive, and/or dangerous FOR ANYONE. I just hope we truly begin listening to voices and survivors and challenging the toxic behaviors of men in the scene and at the gigs.

- Craig.

0150: Taylor of the Past


Content warning: The following piece contains references to sexual assault and coercion, which may be triggering for some readers.

"Taylor of the Past," Taylor, the Survivor

Dear Taylor of the Past,

You’re now at college, congratulations! New and amazing memories will be created here: you will laugh till you cry and smile till your cheeks hurt. I do ask that you pay attention to the meetings on campus safety, reporting an incident, and consent (especially how an intoxicated individual cannot legally give consent to engage in sexual activity). Why do I ask this of you? Because college means experimenting with your limits and this will include alcohol limits. I am sorry to say you will not always be smart when testing your boundaries with alcohol. For there will be a night come winter quarter that will taint your memories for the remainder of your life. 

The night will be cold as snow blankets the ground, but you will be warmed by the alcohol pumping through your veins. It starts out innocent as you drink with your girlfriends in one of their rooms, but then you will receive an invitation to a party, your first college party! It’s a small party with music and more alcohol to add to what you drank before coming over. While there, encouragement to continue letting drinks slither down the throat will echo in the ears. A guy will muster up courage to ask to dance, and a drunk agreement will escape the lips because who doesn’t like to dance?

In your haze you will remember to tell him that “We are not having sex”, quiet yet still audible. As the party continues, the ability to concentration or perceive surroundings decreases and blurs. Suddenly, the guy grabs your hand, leading to his bedroom in the back. You’ll start to realize what is happening when you are laid on the bed and panic will grip your heart. “Do you want to?” is thrown into the air, “No. No.” But suddenly clothes disappear and now how can you leave the room to your friends 10 feet away with nothing to cover yourself? A corner deep in the mind will welcome you and hold you until it is over. Desire for memory to cease to exist is strong as tears hinder the ability to see, making it difficult to leave the now forbidden apartment. Walking back to the dorm, a comparison is made between yourself and a newborn deer stumbling on unstable legs. You are now another statistic, one where alcohol was consumed when the assault occurred.

The next day while talking with a friend the word “Rape” escapes her lips, said in a gentle tone-yet it cuts the surrounding air. Shock arises as she confirms your fear. People will radiate with doubt as the words “Drunk mistake” are whispered, but you know the truth, you know you said no. With a strong mindset, a report will be filed and the exhausting process to healing begins. Several conduct meetings will be held with the school and him; I can tell you that he did not fully comprehend his actions that night.

After the assault, a single touch can cause the body to shiver in fear, and the thought of seeing the man on campus creates anxiety that squeezes the heart. Schoolwork will become strenuous and difficult to focus on and it will not be easy waking up or going to sleep for weeks. People will scrunch up trying to hide from the word rape; trying to hide from you. But deep down is the courage and the strength needed to push past all of the negative feelings, because I know you, and I know that you do not want a single man to determine your life. I also know that you would rather handle this than have it happen to one of your friends, but please don’t forget to take care of yourself. Over time the feelings of anxiety and fear will start to deplete but never completely leave. While the road may get bumpy, use it to educate and help others. Just remember that I will never stop believing in you.

Love, 
Taylor, the Survivor


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About the art:

This story was sent to us by a colleague who solicited a number of stories from their students - for an upcoming event on their campus. So I wanted to share one of them now in preparation for sharing the others next week! This piece is meant to be a powerful reminder for this survivor, who is clearly using the letter format in an intentional manner for this to be related beyond just their experience. Which, as unique as everyone's experiences can be, many of these stories begin to sound eerily similar. And those similarities serve as valuable reminders for folks to look out for each other and to find ways to take care of ourselves.

- Craig.

0149: Fear of Disappointment


Content warning: The following story contains references to sexual assault, coercion by a teacher, and psychological abuse, which may be triggering for some readers.

"Fear of Disappointment," Anonymous

It all started when I was 13. I was young and innocent. Didn’t know how sex worked or why people did it. I was ignorant when it came to that topic. I became a leader and slowly got closer to a teacher of mine.

At first I thought it was cool that I was making an adult friend, but I regret that feeling to this day. I wish I could go back in time and stop myself then but I can’t. Anyways, the days passed by and days turned into weeks. He slowly started to lure me into his office and ask me personal questions that made me feel uncomfortable. I began to answer, hesitatingly, but not thinking much of it.

He started to use those things against me. In addition, he’d get mad if I didn’t stay in his office during lunch and break. He’d get mad if I didn’t talk to him all the time. He’d use that anger against me and make me feel guilty. That thirteen year old didn’t know what was happening. I clearly didn’t understand.

Sadly, I just took it.

I thought that I had to obey and didn’t want to disappoint and lose my leadership position. I didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of my classmates. It began to get more sexual. He started asking for things and making me feel like I had to say yes or there would be consequences. I didn’t want anymore problems. I knew if I’d fight it, it would only get worse so the way I survived was keeping my mouth shut and taking it. I never wanted what happened to me.

For months he manipulated me, hurt me, etc. I just took it. He yelled at me for hanging with friends. He became obsessive. I thought maybe after I’d graduate high school it would stay in the past and I wouldn’t need to live it again. I thought wrong. It followed me for 2 more years. No one knew. I had no idea I was being sexually assaulted until I read about what that was last year. I called the police and now he’s in jail.

I’ve been having nonstop nightmares and panic attacks because of the past and because of the hearings coming up. I’m scared to see him again in court. I’m scared he’s going to hurt me again. I just couldn’t imagine letting it happen to another girl and I couldn’t deal with the pain any longer.

Today, I’m struggling with PTSD and severe clinical depression. After being in therapy for months, my therapists and psychiatrist suggested that medication would be necessary to see more improvement in my mood and mental state. I’ve been on Zoloft for about a month and still have trouble staying motivated. My best friends helped me get through it all and it wouldn’t have been possible without them.

I still have trouble talking about details whether it be with police, my therapists, my friends, and especially my parents. I’m constantly stressed about court and having to give a testimony. I have trouble trusting people and it takes me a while to get close to someone because idk who to trust anymore.

Sometimes I feel better but hopefully my life improves after all of this and I can also hopefully inspire others who are going through something similar to come out of the shadows and speak out against sexual assault. Telling the police was the hardest decision I’ve ever made but the decision that I’m most thankful for.


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About the art:

For a survivor who still struggles to discuss this experience with police and their peers, I am so thankful for the pieces they were willing to share with us here. This survivor was even willing to add an extra piece to the story to bring it altogether, which wound up being my favorite part - because it inspired me to use this quote for their piece. When asking the survivor what they would like me to paint, they requested a quote that would give them strength.

So I actually took a line from one of my upcoming new songs - a line that gives me a lot of strength. A line that we have printed on a number of patches. So I look forward to sending this painting to the survivor AS WELL as some of the patches to match!

This is an important piece for our audience because it clearly names and addresses a massive power imbalance that occurs in the education system - a system with which I work and have observed behaviors like these in other teachers. So I'm glad this was finally addressed on our project. So thank you, survivor!

- Craig.

0148: No


Content warning: The following story contains references to sexual assault, rape, drug use, and coercion, which may be triggering for some readers.

"No," Anonymous

I’m a Christian woman. I always used to wonder why nothing bad ever happened to me. I was blind to the privilege of my skin color and the religion I subscribe to. Not once, but twice, I have had someone invade my body, without my permission. My senior year of high school, I was dating a guy a few years older than myself and one night, we smoked weed together. Little did I know at the time, but him and his friends all dealt coke but would keep a little for themselves and then cut it, but they use cocaine in their blunts, so I smoked unknowingly and passed out.

I later woke up to him having sex with me, I don’t know how I got there or when I got naked, but this man was having sex with me as I was unconscious. When I had asked him to stop, he simply replied, “Can’t handle me, huh?”

And then finished.

The second time occurred my freshman year of college, I had just recently told a close few friends about how I had been assaulted the previous year. It was Halloween night and we had met some frat guys the night before at a party and invited them back to our apartment. They brought three blunts and a handle of Smirnoff grapefruit, which they used to their own agenda. After playing Kings and smoking more than I have ever before, I thought I was safe to walk home alone, so I left.

One of the guys followed me back to my apartment, and since I was so crossed I wasn’t aware he was behind me. I was home alone, so no one could stop him and he followed me to my room and pinned me down to have sex with him. I said “NO” but he continued pulling off my clothes, and unable to stop him in my subdued state, he took something from me, something he had been told not to take.

My take away is that, I still struggle with drinking to this day. I only drink until I feel buzzed because I’m afraid it will happen again. However, I would never wish my story upon any of the other millions of women and men that it happens to. Some days are better than others, but you are more than a rape survivor. You are capable, you are stronger than you think, and you are beautiful, despite the disgust you may feel both inside and out.

Both of those nights, I lost a little something I’ll never gain back. I can’t tell my family, they won’t understand. But I do want to empower other women and men to tell their stories and stand up and respect the word NO.


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About the art:

In knowing this survivor, it broke my heart to read this piece. So instead of focusing on the negative, I wanted to give this survivor something special and powerful to live with and have in their life. I loved this quote because it evokes much of the current conversation on sexual assault centers on believing survivors and seeing those survivors and their stories as a sign of strength. While it feels like it took us a while to get to this point as a country, I am excited to see such a change.

- Craig.

0147: Fight to Survive


Content warning: The following story contains references to suicide and depression, which may be triggering for some readers.

"Fight to Survive," Jenn Mitchell


Working in Higher Education, and then working in Residential Life one’s largest fear is losing a student.. For me, my biggest fear was having one of my students commit suicide and having to finding them. On October 18th, 2016 my biggest fear was my reality.

We all know one phone call can change your life, your Grandma on the other end of the phone sobbing that her husband your Grandpa had died, but you’re the only one home. The phone call from home when you’re in college that an accident had taken someone else close to you. On October 18th the phone call that came was from my Director, and I had no idea how it would change every single aspect of my life and how it’s still changing my life on a daily basis.

I worked in Residential Life and Housing at a small private liberal arts institution overseeing 4 buildings, 48 apartments and 24 small houses, at this point I couldn’t even tell you how many students that was. I was loving the job that I did, in being there two years with whispers of job changes on the way I was excited for the future. I had gotten married that summer, we were living on, it wasn’t terrible.

On October 18th the phone call came in, can you check on this student.. If they don’t answer do not key into the room. As an area coordinator we got those calls often, can you check in with this student make sure they are okay, have them call home.. This call was different with 10 words added, If they don’t answer do not key into the room. It was a fight or flight situation, I got up from my desk, locked my office door went straight to the elevator and went to the floor, my worst fears were quickly in my stomach, which was really in my throat as I knocked on that door. I knocked again, and there was no answer. I get chills knowing that there was no answer still to this day. I called my Director back, he told me again don’t key in Security will be there in a minute to go with you. Security was half way down the hall when I keyed in because I physically could not wait any longer. I opened that door praying it was an empty room, it wasn’t. It was far too late.

Since I was 14 I’ve been in the fire department working structure fires, ems calls, car accidents any emergency you could think of. Going into those calls, I was always prepared. In the trucks, in my head I always prepared myself for the worst. I was 25 and for the first time keying into that room I let my guard down and forgot everything I had learned in preparing myself for the worst. I did not forget my training as I yelled the name, when the officer asked me to wake them up.. I told him they were gone, I checked for a pulse first in the foot, then on the neck. I knew they were gone before checking for a pulse. The student was cold and a shade of purple that I had seen in my life, almost memorizing, looking back on it, that image will never fade from my mind.

The hours following were a blur, I remember some of it. I have a document that I sat down and wrote with every single detail in the days following the 18th because I knew my brain would start to erase details that I had seen to try to protect itself. In the last few days of trying to write this, I read it. It was the first time since I wrote it that I had read it. In some senses due to my mental health now, it was empowering, in other ways it was still move life changing and I’m not sure how I have lived through it.

From October through December I was so numb I got up went to work did my job checked on everyone else and made sure everyone else was okay. That was the person that I had always been, everyone else’s rock. Yet I turned my back on myself, when even my wife was pushing me to get help and stop trying to help others. I pushed everyone away. In January everything shifted drastically, from things that that institution did to me to try to “help me” to my personal life being turned completely upside down.  I felt as if I had no one. From October through December I slept 1-3 hours a night max, by the time January hit and I started feeling again I could sleep 16-18 hours without even trying. I didn’t know what this was but I knew I needed help and sought out a psychologist. I had no idea that I was suffering from severe PTSD, Depression and Anxiety because I was so stubborn that I refused to know that I was suffering from these things. I knew I had some symptoms but I brushed those off. (Note I am leaving out how the institution or how anyone at the institution treated me, helped or didn’t help me to not only protect myself but also them) I will say in January a few meetings that happened at the institution that send me into a downward spiral.

Asking for help is not something that I’ve done often or maybe even ever. I now have been carrying around a burden that no one can understand within me. I have pushed most everyone who cares about me away including my wife, I have made some terrible choices and I have no excuse for those.

It seems as if I woke up one day in January alone, needing help because I knew it was only going it get worse if I didn’t get it. I started seeing a psychologist once a week, people who know me, know that I don’t open up to others. Normally I get a tattoo to feel the pain of what I am going through and I move on, but with this I couldn’t move on. I can’t move on. No matter how hard I try, most days it is as if the darkness has captured me. Yet I get up, I go to work, I mask everything that I feel, I complete my tasks and most of my new co-workers have no idea that I’m suffering with these three things that feel like most days I will not survive from. I live every day fighting to live, fighting to breathe, because one student couldn’t do it anymore, couldn’t fight anymore. The worst part now is I completely understand, I’m not angry that, that student took their life, I understand. Where does the support come from, how do you build a support network when you can so easily wear a mask that no one can see through, and let’s be real how the hell do you build a support network when no one has any interest in talking about mental health and how fucked up it makes you feel.

Fighting to find anti-depressants that don’t make you want to kill yourself more than you already do, having your doctor give you anxiety medicine but says to you, don’t take it too often because it is addicting. I’m fighting, I’m still here fighting, feeling as though I’m letting everyone down. Yet it all started because one student couldn’t do it anymore, and it seems as if… some days it has put me in the same position. They say that the darkness will lift, some medicine will work, I’ll be okay.. But honestly I don’t believe that, right now I believe I will fight to survive every day for the rest of my life all because of one phone call making me the person. October 18th 2016 has changed every single aspect of me, and of my life, it has made it a fight. 


About the art:

Jenn came forward with this powerful story months ago and we delayed releasing it for when we were ready to fully start accepting stories again. So here is the fairly simple, yet dynamic, splatter piece I made for Jenn. The context of the story focusing around fighting every day to survive was important for me to capture. So I included it here in this piece and I'm glad she likes it!

- Craig

0146: I Survived


Content warning: The following story contains references to someone being sexually assaulted, which may be triggering for some readers.

"I Survived," Nicole

 

It was school spirit week, and it was formal day. Being a freshman, spirit week was crucial in becoming one with school. During homeroom, my advisor was taking a picture of my group when it started with just a touch on the shoulder. Nothing to worry about right?

We had been friends for two years, nothing would ever happen. We were talking by the door, when he backed me into the door, i struggled to break free but he wouldn't let me go. He moved so he could press his stomach against my back.

I kept struggling, the only thing he said was that struggling wouldn't help and neither would no. He pressed his hips into mine and ran his hand up my dress telling me not to tease him. Tears streamed down my face as the school bell rang, the only thing saving me from going to far. The first thought that ran through my mind was how did no one notice me struggling? Why during school?

It took two weeks for me to report him, I had to sit in the principals office for four hours repeating my story, and typing it out. I saw him for two weeks before he was removed from my classes. He told his friends that I was a lying whore.

Imagine being a freshman in school and just being re-attacked once more.
To think that someone could just ruin my life in a matter of twenty minutes.
Everyone believed him, and made him out to be a victim.
I had to keep reliving the assault until it finally died down.

It wasn't until his father made the decision to switch schools for the rumors and lies to stop spreading. I have only told 5 people about the assault. And how I survived was that my desire to not let this define me as a person was greater than letting him think he won. I graduated high school a month ago, and I have never looked back.

Talking about this never really becomes more comfortable, but just something easier, because I’m not alone. There are so many people I can go to, and ones that will support me. The hashtag #MeToo has shown me I don’t have to fight this battle alone. As I type this, I ponder everything that I have been through, and to this day a former friend still sees him. Post snapchat stories, and when I think of her I just feel sadness.

And I hope she doesn’t end up in the same position as me. She even admitted that he made her uncomfortable but I guess once you start to leave someone who meant so much to you in your past, some people don’t really know who to turn to. So you turn to anyone who will attempt to be loyal. But as I just continue to learn to love myself, I hope maybe one day she will do the same.

Can someone learn to love themselves after she has done so much to hurt people? Yes she can, she can push through the pain of people not understanding. And no one caring, and being miserable, and rise above everything that has happened. To hope that one day, I will be able to walk the streets and not look behind my back. That one day I will feel okay, his face won’t flashback anymore. And when it does, it’s just a mere thought. 


About the art:

When Nicole first reached out to us to share her story, she had only shared a few sentences and I could tell she had a lot more to share, so I asked her to elaborate on some of the stuff she brought up in the initial message to us! I'm thankful she did because she unraveled a lot of elements of her experience with which I think many people with relate.

I wrote the quote, “I survived because the fire inside me burned brighter than the fire around me," repeatedly in the background because the quote stood out to me as one that really resonated with Nicole's story. And then I taped off a lot of the canvas and left the words, "I Survived," visible amid all of the paint. It was cool to create a painting like this! And then I painted, "#MeToo," on the canvas a few times for the MeToo campaign.

- Craig

0145: I Didn't Tell Anyone


Content warning: The following story contains references to sexual assault, violence, and depression, which may be triggering for some readers.

"I Didn't Tell Anyone," S.D.

It wasn't the quintessential spring break everyone talks about. I was about a month away from being nineteen in my sophomore year of college and that meant no bar hopping in the sometimes sunny Isle of Palm. I was on vacation with my friends at one of their beach houses and was so excited to be away from home that anything they wanted to do was going to be fun. It was a group of four girls so we had some natural hiccups but nothing that was going to keep me from being happy to be there, even if they did want to use dating apps to meet guys in the area.

One night, we had signed on to an app individually. Something I don't distinctly remember doing but won't forget having done. I complained to my friends, "Yeah, its sort of shitty tho, since they only show you people you've already "liked."" My friends looked at me, then to each other. "No it doesn't" one said, sort of sassy, sort of trying to understand. She explained, after some confusion, that each person I swiped right for had already swiped right for me, but that that doesn't happen every time. And just like that, a moment that would continue to hang over me in playful teasing in our friendship was born.

There was a bit of back and forth about having strangers over the house but we came to some sort of agreement that they would be allowed in and if anyone was uncomfortable we'd send them away. We had plenty of alcohol and we were never going to finish it all alone. They came over, I don't remember their names. It was awkward to start and then people got more comfortable. There was this weird sort of auto pairing off that happened. One girl went to bed and then the three guys each sort of made clear who they wanted to talk to of the three of us left. I was a little uncomfortable because I had a boyfriend at the time and felt like there was some implication with using an app that we wanted to sleep with them which was by no means the case. 

He kept staring at me, even when we talked as a group. It was sort of noticeable and I tried to ignore it. Claiming it was getting chilly, I purposefully excused myself to put on a bigger sweater. I returned in a cozy outfit of soft leggings and a tee shirt and sweatshirt to find that my two friends wanted to take the guys they had been talking to on a tour of the house and the area. I said something like, "sure yeah okay". I wasn't expecting us to split up and do tours in pairs, but that's what happened.

This guy and I walked around the house; I put on a sort of anti-hostess attitude and showed him the place. It was a small beach cottage with a few stories and a nice master bedroom. I ended on the last bedroom that no one was using since there were only us four girls staying there. He grabbed my wrist and spun me toward him when we had just stepped inside.
I said something quickly in protest but he kissed me anyway. I pushed against his shoulders and was shocked at how little I could move him; he didn't look that strong. He slid his right arm under my shirt, up my back and grabbed me by the back of the neck. His grip on the base of my skull forced me to face him and he said something to the effect of we can do this the easy way or the hard way.

He whipped me around and slammed me into the twin bed face down. He ripped down my leggings and called me naughty for having not worn underwear. He pushed my face into a pillow and shoved himself inside me after rubbing spit on himself. He leaned into me hard and bent forward to tell me not to say anything, that if I would he'd find me and kill me and kill anyone I cared about. He put his hand on my throat and kept it tight. I couldn't breathe or think or feel anything. Then he loosened his grip and told me to call him daddy like I meant it. I did. It felt disgusting, like shaking strangers hands all day in an airport and no way to wash your hands. But instead of just my hands, it felt like my whole body was one layer of thick filth.

He pulled up my pants and called me a good girl. I could feel the stickiness between my legs; it rubbed between my thighs and onto my leggings. I pulled my shirt down, put my hair back up and went downstairs. He followed. We all sat in the living room and I kept my feet under me on the single-seater couch. I saw my friends eyeing me. I played tired. The guys thanked us for the good time and left. I went to bed.

I wish that was the end of it.

I wish I'd never thought about it again or that I could just close the chapter that it was in and I could be someone else. 

I didn't tell anyone for two years.

At first, I was scared the girls that were there that night would have told my then boyfriend that I cheated. I tried to find a reason to talk to someone for a while after that but then my urge to speak didn't exist anymore. And it just fell into a deeper part of me that I didn't want to go find.

I have had chronic nightmares since long before that night on spring break, but now I relive my trauma for weeks on end. It all came to a head one night with the boyfriend I had junior and senior year. We were walking home one night and I imploded as we crossed the quad. I knew my nightmares had been effecting our relationship and I knew I was going to lose him if I didn't tell someone something but every time the words bubbled to my lips from the slow boil in my heart I couldn't speak. Something would change or take my mind off of it. I could tell the whole story in my mind but it was like the second it was supposed to come out it all got translated into a foreign language like a processing error.

I've since been diagnosed with PTSD, something I struggle with telling anyone. I'm met with the same horribly familiar responses so I don't share. "Only people from the military get that." "You can't be serious. Rape is not the same thing as watching all of your friends get blown up." "You're too pretty to have problems. If I looked like you I'd never have a bad day in my life."

Even things that people mean well by, I have a hard time swallowing.

I have a hard time thinking I'll ever be with anyone that can stay with me through the effects of this because I'm scared they'll never go away. I'm scared I'll be 35 and waking up screaming crying in the middle of the night and that my SO won't understand. I can't have sex with someone who doesn't know this about me and I refuse to tell people about it because I'm scared of what they'll say either in front of me or behind my back. I want a meaningful relationship but I'm scared I'll be too much for someone to handle because of all the baggage that one night gave me.

I am a graduate student and I work with undergraduates in a peer education program. They bring inquisitive questions and classic conundrums forward about the topics we cover regularly. It forces me to be at the table of conversation about sexual violence and has really helped me understand my PTSD and experience that night by better understanding the neurobiology beneath my memory. I don't know what healing looks like, I just know it takes a long time and that I wish it wasn't this lonely.


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About the art:

This piece of art for SD was truly a labor of love. I wanted to play around with a taping style that I'd seen on the internet, so this was a fun way to explore that a bit! And then I tossed around some of my splatter paint! And tossed a great quote about strength and power to help SD get through the days at work!

So glad we are back with stories after a brief break - life has been a bit chaotic for us lately. However, we should be moving forward for the foreseeable future!

- Craig.

0144: How I'm a Survivor


Content warning: The following story contains references to domestic violence, violence, depression, drug use, anxiety, and body dysmorphia, which may be triggering for some readers. 

"How I'm a Survivor," Morgan Murdza

I really am not sure where to start.

This has been a hard thing to write about, along with being super disorganized. There has been so much in my life that has shaped the way I look at the world. So, I guess I will try my best to explain to you how I’m a survivor. 

Murdzas:
My father has never been a good man. Before I was even born he was wicked. He tortured my mother. He would lock her up, he would isolate her from the world, he would beat her, try to push her out a window, and humiliate her. He even mentally abused my older brother. Now, I had no idea of this happening because I was just an idea. When I was born, things only grew worse for my mom and him. There were times of her leaving, only to have him harass and abuse her from the outside. One day, he almost broke my mom’s back with his fist. This was the end. Around the age of two, my mom met someone else. This is another story. My father wanted nothing to do with my until I was four years old, when my stepfather had wanted to adopt me. This created visitations every now and then. I liked it because I had two new sisters who were older than me. I loved them.

My mom and him were civil, but I could always feel a tense vibe from her. As I got older, I began to see his true colors. He was a cruel man. He belittled his workers, belittled practically everyone. My sisters had a different mom. He beat her too before he got with my mom. She wasn’t much better though because she abused her own daughters. Megan, the oldest, got the brunt of my father’s anger. He would belittle and even abuse her, right in front of my eyes. This was tormenting. We drifted when I was about 12 or 13. My sisters lost contact with him too after awhile. Megan, got pregnant when she was 18 years old. This strengthened our lost bond. I loved her and my unborn niece. We grew together.

She miscarried only weeks before being due. This was traumatizing for her. She then got into heavy drugs like heroin and heavy drinking. She got pregnant again. She had the baby. A perfect little boy. She used throughout her entire pregnancy and after, making her a horrible addict. She began to act like my father. I cut off ties with her. She lost custody of her son and the daughter she had years later. My mom had told me about what my father had done to her. I couldn’t believe the man who I had been around could do all of those horrible things.

We talked again when I was 16, forgiving and trying to move forward. He was still the same and lies would continue and eventually, I cut it off. My other sister, Ashley, was really nothing but a leach. She didn’t want anything to do with anyone unless they were useful to her, thus cutting off our relationship. They ruined me in a way.

My loving family:
As I had mentioned before, my mom moved on from my father. She then met the love of her life, Frank. I immediately fell in love with him. He was the greatest man to walk the planet. He loved me and my older brother as we were his own. I was so young when we met. He wanted to adopt me and make me officially his, but my father wouldn’t allow it. Oh well. My mom and Frank married, making him my stepdad, the closest I could get to him being legally my dad.

I loved having my family like this. We moved to a beautiful home in upstate New York and I couldn’t be happier. Not long after was I blessed with a baby brother! I was thrilled. It was finally perfect. I loved my life. I never thought anything bad could happen. Of course, I was wrong. As I was hitting my teen years, I began to watch my favorite love story crumble before my eyes. Frank and my mom were arguing and there was talk over divorce often. Well, it happened. It was ugly and sad, but eventually the friendship happened between the two. We all still saw Frank as our stepdad and saw him whenever we could. Not long after that did I lose my grandma.

My first death ever.

I never thought I would feel a pain like this. Again, I was wrong. In 2009, my stepdad was diagnosed with Stage 4 Small Cell Lung Cancer. I was devastated. He really didn’t get much time. How could I lose my best friend? We got a year with Frank. One last year. One last everything. I watched my hero deteriorate in front of me, one of the most traumatic times of my life.

The accident:
In 2013, my little brother and my uncle were going for a ride in Galway, NY. My mom and I got the call hours later hearing that a van double crossed the lines and hit them head on. My uncle was instantly killed and my little brother was flung to a near death experience. I had almost lost my then, nine year old, little brother. Months in the hospital, months in surgeries, months of watching my mom grieve what had happened to our family. How could I recover from this? How would we? Eventually, my little brother pulled through flawlessly. He can walk, talk, function, everything normally again. It’s a blessing. I, unfortunately, never really healed.

My own problems: 
Ever since I was little I had problems with anxiety. I was constantly a ball of worry. I always worried if people liked me, I always worried if I would do well in school, I always worried about everything. I would make myself physically sick at the constant worrying I had. I worried about people dying around me. I worried about the world ending. I felt that I was always in a crisis situation. As I got older, the anxiety didn’t help with my new found body image issues. This was a constant struggle from the time I was eight until today.

It didn’t matter.

I could have been average, skinny, overweight, anything, and I would still hate who I was. I never lifted myself up, ever. This created negative attention seeking. This created a girl who couldn’t love herself, so she sought it out in other ways. This tormented me and made me loath who I was. The anxiety worsened and I began to suffer from panic attacks and fits of depression. There were days where I wouldn’t want to get out of bed and days where I couldn’t release the negative energy, making me act recklessly. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me and today I still am not sure. 

I know these all seem like little things, but to me, they were never-ending. All of this has shaped me into who I am today. My mind has been molded into a mess of trauma, grief, and constant anxiety and self-hatred. Despite all of this, I pushed on. I tried my best to make something amazing of myself.

I made friends. I helped others.
I did amazingly in school and even went onto college. I am now entering my Senior year, ending my last semester with a 3.9 and a scholarship. I want to rejoice in all that I have accomplished, but my demons continue to haunt me. I am a survivor and I will continue to thrive for happiness and positivity. 

Thank you for reading my story. 


About the art:

Morgan shared this story with us months ago and I couldn't find the right place to share it. But now that we are moving away from topic-based months, this is a great story to encapsulate the complexities of the multiple forms of trauma that exist in some of our lives.

For everything that Morgan has been through, I wanted to create something that she wanted real bad. So I asked her what would make her happy everyday, and she suggested this quote from Grey's Anatomy - along with a desire for pastel colors like pink and purple. She also mentioned a love for glitter, so I used metallic paints in the background - which don't show through THAT well, but the pieces does shine when you pass by it or tilt it a little bit.

I hope this piece helps Morgan heal a little from her many traumas, and I hope her story helps our readers as well.

- Craig.