Content Warning: This post contains information about suicidality, sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to some survivors.
“I Chose to Live,” Brooke
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.
My first year of college I was very naive as to how people in college truly acted. I went to a private catholic school where it was drilled into my head that sex is for marriage, God is all powerful and knowing, everything happens for a reason as God has a plan for all his children.
The last one always stuck after I was assaulted by someone I thought was a friend. 'Everything happens for a reason' suddenly turned my brain to thinking 'I deserved this,' which lead to 'I must have asked for it' and ultimately led to me never reporting what happened. I remember being placed in a tub after it happened... and I remember him leaving. There's no feeling in the world that compares to the feeling of being assaulted, and left by yourself unable to move.
My whole life I grew up following the rules. I was always told that you don’t get in trouble when you follow the rules, and to me, no sex before marriage was a rule that was meant to be followed. So, after my assault I struggled with what happened. I turned to religion for help, but it only hurt. My really religious friends told me that God had a plan, which pissed me off. Why would someone so loving PLAN for people to be raped? I struggled more and more with the notion of an all-powerful being.
I lost my faith, and tried even harder to follow the rules and control things in my life. I began dealing with panic attacks and freaking out if things weren’t in the right spot. I’d obsess during my classes as to whether or not I put something back where it was supposed to go. I’d refuse to go out with friends, because the last time I did, it broke “the rules”. The irony of everything, when my obsessive tendencies were at their worst, I was taking a psychology class related to mental health issues. I learned about OCD and quickly identified with what was happening and knew that I needed to talk to someone.
A year after my assault, I opened up to my boss (a Hall Director at my institution) about what had happened. The funny thing? My boss had a conversation with the man that assaulted me about why he felt the need to bring everyone down and act out. The man that assaulted me explained that he grew up with someone else ruining any bit of happiness he ever experienced, so he felt the need to do the same to others. In the most screwed up and twisted manner that gave me piece. In life, we all have our demons, our mountains, our battles.
Some people overcome those things, and some people become their demons. It was then that I realized I had two choices. 1. Let what happened ruin my life, tear me down completely, and pull me away from everything I had ever dreamed of doing. OR 2. Take what happened, and help those like me that it had happened to.
I chose the second option.
I chose to live, and most importantly, I chose to find a way to help people like me. Last spring, I finished my master's degree in Student Affairs Administration, and now? I'm ending my first year as a Hall Director. I chose to start where I know I could impact. I chose to start where I WAS impacted, and I've never been happier with the work I've done in one short year.
I'm very open with my staff about my college experience with what happened. I feel that transparency, and giving someone to talk to is so important for students. Most importantly, to me students need to be encouraged to break the pattern of silence. There's no greater barrier to ending sexual assault than silence
About the art:
While reading Brooke's story, I was already making connections of having been raised pretty religious, and not understanding the world around me. Until I got to college and I REALLY started to connect things. Like Brooke, I struggled to make sense of the trauma I experienced in life in the context of "everything happens for a reason." So when I got to Brooke's line, "I chose to live," I got a huge smile on my face.
1. Because that implies that she took control of her life.
2. I've been there.
3. It reminded me of the line, "I choose to live," in the A Perfect Circle song, "Gravity."
This song got me through high school, and a great deal of college. Because it is about choosing to not kill oneself after immense trauma, addiction, and self-harm. The album it appears on, The Thirteenth Step, covers all of those issues in great detail. But this song, "Gravity," has always been a crutch to me. A reminder that I can choose to live. And I often hum that line to myself when I need the reminder. So I'm glad that Brooke's story triggered this in me.
Funny enough, after I emailed Brooke about that line reminding me of this A Perfect Circle song, she fired right back with an email that told me the song, "Gravity," by Sara Bareilles was a big song for her during her survival. I thought this coincidence was pretty incredible. That two songs with the same title would resonate with both of us in similar ways for similar reasons, and have this lyrical connection. So i had to run with it.
And I did. I took the lyrics, "Catch me, heal me" and "I am surrendering to gravity and the unknown..." from the A Perfect Circle song, "Gravity" as well as the lyrics, "Set me free, let me be" and "I don't wanna fall another moment into your gravity," from Sara B's "Gravity" and wrote them in the background of the painting (as picture below).
I chose the first two set of lines from each song because of the juxtaposition presented with "Catch Me / Set me free" and "Heal me / Leave me be." Both pairings were so oddly connected in the context of how each song is about survival that this just made complete sense to me. And the third line from each song was clearly chosen because of the connection to the word, "gravity."
SO MANY CONNECTIONS!
The colors were chosen to keep a bright vibrancy of optimism to surround the "I chose to live" line in the forefront of the piece.
I loved this story. I'm so glad that i got to create something with a number of layers. I truly feel like I left a piece of myself, and my story in this piece for Brooke. And I am so thankful to have shared her story with you all.