Trigger Warning: This post contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to some survivors.
"Ad nauseum," Anonymous
Note: All survivors who reach out to The Art of Survival are given the option to remain anonymous in sharing their story. Any specific details about the survivor are shared at their discretion, and not the creators of the page.
I had never really seen myself as a survivor.
You see, survivor was a term reserved for people who had fought and who had won: people who survived cancer, people who had survived war to return as heroes or people who defeat strangers on an island for reality television. This was not me. I did not fight. I did not win.
I was a young child, around seven, when I was sexually molested by a family member. At the time, I didn't fight him. I didn’t tell him, “No.” I didn't even tell my mom. There was nothing that I did that would have made me feel deserving of the title "survivor." It was just something that I let happen to me.
Throughout the years, I experienced shame and so much guilt over what had happened. I was too ashamed to tell anyone and too scared of what might have happened if I did. But there was also the immense guilt I felt as the thoughts crept in: Because I didn't tell anyone, did that mean he did this to someone else? So then, not only did I make myself responsible for my abuse, but for a theoretical someone else's.
The cycle repeated. And repeated. Ad nauseam.
I harbored and fed my feelings of responsibility and guilt. I let the feelings grow sitting in my abstinence only sex education health class in high school: What I had let happen to me was so bad and unnatural, we weren’t even allowed to talk about it in school!
I let the feelings flourish in interactions with sexual partners: I’ve let someone else take it before, I might as well let this person, too.
I let the feelings thrive when I sat in silence about my experience.
These feelings could not have been the feelings of a survivor.
During college, I went through volunteer training for a women's shelter for survivors of intimate partner violence and sexual assault. I was exposed for the first time to the information and statistics about those who perpetuated violence against people, people like me. I heard the stories and shared the space with those who shared their stories. I began to understand why the term "survivor" was so important. From that day on, I began to refer to others as "survivors" but it still was not a phrase that I could use for myself.
A few years, a great deal of research, and a happy, healthy relationship later, I have finally started to think of myself as a survivor. I may not have fought or won during the act, but I have been fighting and winning every day since. Every day that I get out of bed (no matter how hard it is) and every day that I accept an "I love you" from my partner (no matter how hard it is), I am reminded that I fight. I fight for myself and for that seven year old girl. I can see it in myself now. I fought. I won. I survived.
About the art:
The survivor for this work focused on the positive in their life. They quoted Anais Nin, writing, "And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." Through their story I learned of their struggle to identify with the the term survivor. By the end of their story they had blossomed, learning that they could use 'survivor' in an empowering way.
For this survivor I wanted to capture their blossom. I used a printmaking technique called wood carving. Using a wood block I carved a flower (Gladiolus's symbolizing strength and integrity) with tightly closed blossoms.
After carving, I printed the image multiple times. Then I continued to carve into the same block, revealing that the flower was beginning to open its buds. Printing and carving once more to reveal even more of the flower's blossoms. I also layered the image at different stages of carving to produce different layered effects of the flower blooming.
I wanted to give the survivor proof of themselves blossoming. Using one wood block, I wanted to create something transformative and beautiful for this survivor.