009: Control

Content Warning: This post contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to some survivors.

"Control," Arleyna Loss

My story is actually not recent, but it still impacts me to this day.

 When I was a young girl, my aunt started dating a man and eventually married him. For several of my formative years, he sexually abused me. It terrified me, but I was too young to know better or speak up. I hated it, but I loved my aunt. I didn't know how to even tell anyone it was happening, or if they would even believe me.

Then, one of my cousins who was younger told their father he was touching her inappropriately and the father pressed charges. It created such a rift in my family. I remember hearing whispers at family gatherings wondering if the little girl made it up. I wondered if I was the only one who knew she wasn't lying. Instead of standing up and saying he also abused me, I said nothing.

I didn't want to tear my family apart. Besides, the man was sent away to prison for a year, and I thought he'd be out of my life.

Unfortunately, a year passed and my aunt went back to him when he got out of prison. The abuse began again shortly after. Somehow I found the courage once when we were alone to tell him if he ever touched me again that I would make sure he ended up back in a prison cell and that he would stay there. I was 11.

After that, the abuse stopped. I avoided him like the plague, but I told no one. I logged it away promising myself I would never remember those disgusting memories and I would never let him define me. So I moved on, or so I thought.

It wasn't until my junior year of college, nearly 10 years later, that I ended up facing my trauma unexpectedly. I took a seemingly harmless social work course on family violence. When we started studying the section on child sexual abuse and how it manifests in children and adults, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

It was me.

The anxiety, the abdominal pains, the constant nightmares that had plagued my dreams every night. The very man I promised would never define me ended up defining my entire being and I didn't even know it. I fell off the grid. I was an honor student who always went to class, so naturally my professors became extremely worried. It was because of their kindness and their genuine caring for me that I was able to tell someone what had happened to me for the first time.

I received overwhelming support. It was that day I knew I wanted to do something with this. I knew I wanted to turn this horrible experience into a strength to empower others. I told my parents. I told friends. I shared my stories, and a year later, I entered a student affairs master's program. 

The rest is history. I now work in residence life, driven by the same passion and caring I received on that day.

But I'm not over it. The struggle never ended.

That man is still someone I see at family gatherings. I still cringe when he tries to speak to me, though I just walk away. I remember once at a picnic not long ago he told me I looked pretty, and I nearly threw up behind a shed because of it. I still face panic attacks and anxiety on a frequent basis, and I still have nightmares every night. I am sheer proof that we really are survivors.

I have scars that will never heal and wounds that will always burn, but I have chosen to not be a victim anymore, but to fight back. For all the students that go through horrible situations, I will be there for them when their world comes crashing down like mine did, and I will help put them back together again. I will teach them how to embrace the anxiety and the pain, and to channel it toward the greater good.

I no longer fear my anxiety, but I embrace it. I control it. I control me, and in doing so, he will never control me ever again

About the art:

I created this painting for Arleyna using warm, bright colors and soft brush strokes for the background.  The quote in the branches, "You are enough. You are worthy." is one of her favorite quotes and really resonates with her.  It is a beautiful quote that reminds all of us that we are enough exactly as we are. 

We are worthy of love and acceptance.  The tree symbolizes continuous personal growth and enduring strength.  Arleyna is an incredibly strong person and I am honored to do this painting for her. 

I wish her all the best in the future, and I hope that she never forgets that she is enough.  She is worthy.

- Emily Lopez