018: Don't Tell

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

"Don't Tell," Jennifer

Note: All survivors who reach out to The Art of Survival are given the option to remain as anonymous as they would prefer in sharing their story. Any specific details about the survivor are shared at their discretion, and not the creators of the page.

I haven't received a life ending diagnosis or been involved in a traumatic accident. I've never been to war or have had to overcome staggering odds. However, I am a survivor. 
It's an identity that I can't take off, no matter how many times I've tried. It becomes something that you must learn to live with because the alternative is even more daunting.  Unfortunately, so many of us are living in shame, fear or self-hatred of an experience that we never asked for. I wish I could be more proud of it; I wish more of us could openly talk about our experiences and support each other. If we could be brave and compassionate about our own stories then we could learn how to help each other. So much of sexual assault is in losing your voice that the most important thing is to regain our control and start again. Well it is time I choose myself, my life, my happiness. It’s time I tell my story.

My trigger word, is incest.
The word itself is unpleasant, however for me the word, connected to thoughts in my mind, is paralyzing.  When I was 8 years old, my parents were going through a divorce and like many others this meant the once happy family turned into a source of anger, frustration and resentment. 

I was 8 years old the first time he touched me, my older brother. I remember him sitting next to me on my mother’s bed; we were both watching TV in her room since it had the only air conditioner in the house. He turned to me and reached for my pants, all he said was “don’t tell”. At such a young age I didn’t really understand what was happening but I knew that I wasn’t supposed to tell. For years this went on but soon I started to feel like something wasn’t right, like whatever this thing was that he was doing to me was wrong. It soon became more than just touching as he forced himself on me both orally and vaginally.

Dealing with this constantly made me anxious, I was learning about what we were doing in health class and I learned that it was wrong but all I could remember was “don’t tell”. At this point I was constantly staying over at my friends’ houses and trying to avoid him as much as possible. Somewhere in all of this I started to blame myself, I thought I should have told someone and now it was too late. This had been going on for so long that if I told someone they would have wondered why I never stopped it, they would have think I wanted this. 

My escape came when I was 12; my Mom got remarried and moved to Washington State. I asked to go with her but all I really wanted was to move far away from him. I had literally put an entire country between me and my attacker but that didn’t stop the anxiety, the flashbacks, the self-hatred and the guilt. The older I got the more I compartmentalized this experience, if I didn’t talk about it then it didn’t happen, right? The only issue with your attacker being in your family is that you don’t get to escape them; you don’t get to cut them out of your life and move on. You have to see them at holidays, birthdays, family vacations. You have to smile when puts his arm around you in pictures. 

No matter what I did I could never escape him. He would always be a part of my family… or so I thought 

Flash forward to where I am today. I currently work at a university and I am back in my home state of Connecticut. I finally started seeing a therapist to talk about what happened to me once I realized I would never be “okay” but talking about it helps. 

I have told both my parents about what happened (within the last few months) and they are really supportive, well they try to be really supportive but I think they are still processing this. 

I met a really amazing friend about 6 years ago, without knowing any of this about me, he became my brother. He is the person a brother is supposed to be and his family has taken me in and given me a place to call home. I am quite sure that he will never know how much he has impacted my life for the better or what his friendship means to me. We have laughed together, cried together and most importantly we have protected each other.

I do this work now, I work with students and I try to be a source of support for them in times of trauma and in trigger. Sharing our stories of survivorship together, I have learned so much from them and their resilience. Every day I wake up and I remind myself that my life is not normal, but that normal doesn’t exist and that my life is beautiful just the way it is. 

You are strong, you are brave, you are resilient. 


About the art:

Jennifer has lived in mountain towns for many years, and likes the feeling of strength and stability that mountains symbolize.

I had the pleasure of talking with her about her interests and found that we have very similar tastes.  She loves rainy days, darker colors like navy and cobalt, and she enjoys poetry.

Jennifer chose this quote for herself, which goes wonderfully with the mountain background.  Like the mountains, Jennifer has been through so much and her ability to hold strong and not just to continue, but to thrive, is inspiring.

Jennifer is a wonderful person and I am so glad that I had the chance to celebrate her survival through this painting.

- Emily Lopez