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.

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.

0127: The Faith Component


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

“The Faith Component,” Ben Huelskamp

This isn’t the first time I’ve said it, written about it, discussed it openly with others, yet each time I spend days processing my emotions to get to the point that I can write the words: when I was sixteen years old I was sexually assaulted by a Roman Catholic priest. 

To understand this trauma from my eyes you have to know that I am a person of faith. Raised in a Catholic parish and in thirteen years of Catholic education, I was an altar server, choir member, read in church, and led campus ministry. I was that guy and I thought I was called to be a priest. What do you do as a boy who wants to be a priest? You go on retreats at seminaries and with religious communities. It was at one of these retreats—an intentional space for spirituality and discernment—that I met and had my only interaction with the man who assaulted me. 

I went with a group of boys and two priests. Built more than a century before, the local seminary had plenty of small rooms to accommodate each boy for the weekend. A bed, a desk, a chair, a closet, and a single light overhead. I don’t know why I had gone back to my room, but I realized that the light was burnt out. The only person I could find was an impeccably dressed younger priest. He smiled, found a new bulb, and replaced the light himself. He said something about rolling up your sleeves and doing work. He touched my shoulder, slid his hand down my side. I stepped back. He reminded me that good Catholics do what priests say to do. I looked at the ceiling. He finished, patted me on the shoulder again; left without another word. 

Whenever I tell this story I have to pause here. It would take me nine years to remember and begin to address what happened that night. I buried the trauma, unconsciously forced myself to forget. There it sat, a slowly leaking vat of psychological toxin polluting my sense of vocation and my engagement with faith. I couldn’t express why, but after the assault I stopped looking at seminary, even at Catholic colleges.

Finishing high school I attended an Episcopal college, I came out as a gay man, I left the Roman Catholic church, and I struggled to make sense of all my new experiences. Only once did the assault ever flash in my memory: a mentor, noticing that I was unusually withdrawn during my sophomore year of college, looked me in the eye and said: “I think you either were sexually assaulted or you think you’re gay.” For a moment I wanted to answer “yes” to both. Wholly unconsciously I denied being assaulted and for the first time came out to someone.

Sometimes I wonder if coming out at that particular time in my life—and not before or after—was not a psychological defense to the burgeoning memories of trauma that were trying to expose themselves. 

Near the end of my first year of graduate school at the University of Vermont (UVM) we were strongly encouraged to attend the Dismantling Rape Culture Conference (DRCC) held each year at UVM. I strongly resisted attending DRCC 2012. Interpreting my resistance as male privilege I decided to at least give it a chance (I also found out that “strongly encouraged” really meant “required”). At the opening session and subsequently at the workshops waves of memories and emotions nearly incapacitated me. I wandered through the day eventually ending up at a workshop led by the keynote speaker Marta L. Sanchez. During an activity we were able to select and keep a small copy of one of her paintings. That piece has stayed with me since the workshop. I’m looking at it as I write. 

I knew I needed help and knew I couldn’t process these memories alone. Ever since the assault I found it difficult to interact with most older men, particularly older men in positions of authority. My relationships with male faculty members were particularly rocky as were relationships with male supervisors. However, it was in all male communities that I would find the greatest level of support and the space I needed to make sense of what had happened. I was fortunate to encounter two excellent male counselors who worked with me to confront and begin to recover traumatic memories from the assault. One helped me work through the faith component and the other walked with me as I addressed the maleness of being assaulted by another man. However, it was in an all-male space with other men that I was able to begin healing. 

In addition to my other identities, I am a fraternity man and a member of Phi Mu Delta Fraternity. I joined Phi Mu Delta as a graduate student around the same time that I began to remember and address the assault. I never meant or even wanted my fraternity membership to get caught up in the messiness of trauma. However, I felt the safest with other Phi Mu Delta men. My biological family had to wrestle with their own emotions—often quite strong—regarding what had happened to me and what they felt they had “allowed” to happen. Many of my close friends who I might have otherwise turned to are themselves clergy of multiple denominations or people of great faith who too dealt with significant doubts when they learned that a friend had been assaulted by a Catholic clergyman. It was in my fraternity with other men that I transitioned from victim to survivor.

I took a break from religion and God-worship. For approximately four-and-a-half years I drifted between calling myself an Unitarian, Humanist, or Atheist. Never blaming God, I simply couldn’t identify with religions. How could a person call themselves a follower of an all-loving entity yet perpetrate sexual assault against another human. I couldn’t accept that ordination either granted one unquestionable power or immunity from grievous fault. With the help of several friends I identified the priest who assaulted me and learned that he is now the pastor of a large congregation that touts its youth ministry.

I wrote to his bishop and reported the assault. Though the statute of limitations had not expired, I knew that my at best fragmented memory was not nearly enough to sustain a criminal proceeding. The bishop’s office insisted that none of my information was correct and that even if it was the priest could not have assaulted me. Adding insult to injury they requested that I apologize in writing to the priest for putting him through so much suffering. In no uncertain terms I refused.

I will never be thankful to be a survivor, but I love myself. I love the person I have become. Choosing to forgive the man who assaulted me is not about him and it will never be about him. My act of forgiving frees me to be in community with others, frees me to welcome every man as my brother. Now thirteen years after the assault in a very different place that I have ever been before I know that honest doubt, not certainty, is the cornerstone of faith. I awoke one day in a church community of faithful doubters where love is bold and welcome is always extended. I could call myself a believer and a Christian again. As a friend and pastor tweeted to me on Easter this year: #ReclaimChristian. Assault ended my association with one community. Authentic love brought me home to many new communities. May it be so.    


About the art:

So Ben sent us this story ALLLLL the way back in July! And since we didn't have space for it then, we saved it for Sexual Assault Awareness month because this is rightfully where the story should have landed.

I'm very thankful that Ben shared this story with us because it reiterates an issue with the Catholic church that permeated through Boston, MA and was showcased in the film, Spotlight. Ben's story is not unfamiliar in the grand scheme of the controversy that surrounds the Catholic church, but it's a story of courage for Ben to reclaim his faith amid the trauma he experienced.

Making this piece was a long time coming, as I said before, so I wanted to make sure it was something special and something Ben could be proud to hang in his home or office or wherever. So I wanted the message to be powerful for him and endearing. I pulled both quotes on this piece from the last sentence of his piece in order to capture the essence of survival in his story.

Ben told me he likes blue, so I made sure to use as much blue as possible without over doing it. And you might notice the black in the background - that comes from Katy having attempted to make a piece with this canvas last week, and I repurposed the canvas for Ben's piece and I think it adds a very cool aesthetic to the painting. Throwing in the white streaks and splatter give it the universal flair that I like to attach to many of my pieces.

Thanks for sharing this story, Ben! It's not an easy one to share, and I'm glad you were patient with us for holding onto this story for so long. Be well.

- Craig.

Tattoosday 21: Not A Cover Up


Content warning: The following story contains references to domestic, emotional, and physical abuse, which may be triggering for some readers.

"Not a Cover Up," Ariel Dickerson

I was 18. Just kidded out of my house for drinking and drugs and my grandfather had just passed away. As I lay on the floor of some strangers home all I could think about is how my family kicked me out in the most depressed state I have ever experienced. I was dating someone who was pulling me deeper and deeper into a very dark place and I needed was to be loved, but all I had was music.

Just like that I created my first tattoo.

It was to represent that all I had was my music to get me through a time when all I was searching for was the love of my family again. Luckily I grew further and further away from that dark place through a long journey of sobriety and forgiveness from my family.

Fast forward 7 years and I'm engaged and closer to my family than ever. One night I couldn't sleep and I laid in bed staring at this beautiful diamond my fiancé picked out for me and I couldn't help but reflect on the past 7 years.

Between the physical and mental abuse of others and my own abuse to myself and then to be where I am now. Happier than ever and I finally found what I was looking for. Love. From my family and my soon to be new family. That's when I decided that I had to get rid of the ink, but in a symbolic way.

So I covered it up, but ironically with the darkest lord of them all. Death Vader covering my tattoos helps remind me of the dark times, but also helps remind me of the love I have found. When I got home and showed my finance, now husband, my tattoo he mentioned how it really wasn't a cover up if you think about it, but more or a merging of two completely different times in my life to create a beautiful piece of art that I can show off for all to see!


About Tattoosday:

Tattoosday is way to demonstrate the storytelling quality of tattoos as well as the healing quality of tattoos.

If you would like to share the stories behind your ink, send us a picture of a tattoo or tattoos that have a significant story tied to your survival in life. Then write at least 400 words (you can write as many as you'd like) about the tattoo, it's meaning, and what it means to you today.

These stories will all run on Tuesdays!
One per week! So you have plenty of time to submit them to us!

The caveat with TATTOOSDAY is that we will not be making you a free piece of art, instead, your ink IS the art we will share with the story—which makes the most sense. BUT we will send you some stickers for sharing your story with us!

CLICK HERE to share your Tattoo story!

0111: Flashbacks


Content warning: The following story contains references to someone's experiences with post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by years of emotional abuse, which may be triggering for some readers.


"Flashbacks," Anonymous

My mother grew up in a physically and emotionally abusive household. She tried to break the cycle. She thinks she did. But that is a delusion.

On one occasion she beat me with a belt, until I had large welts up and down my back and side for weeks. Why? Because I pulled the dining room chairs too far away from the table before vacuuming under it.

The main scars though were emotional ones. Throughout my life she criticized everything I did. I was never good enough. I was blamed for everything that went wrong. Everything I said and did was scrutinized and attributed to ulterior motives.

I was punished for the mistakes of my older siblings, given even stricter rules than the ones that caused them to rebel. She told me I was the hardest of my siblings to raise. She constantly compared me to other people.

Every time I began to develop a healthy relationship with someone else, she would jealously point out every slight fault they had and tell them bad things about me. She mocked me and the fact that my father was a deadbeat and not a part of my life. She would tell me that I was just like him.

My faith in God and relationship with him was the only thing that kept me going, the only thing that kept me from taking my life. But her constant belittling made me feel I was unworthy of serving him, that he was unhappy with me and all of my shortcomings.

I managed to endure 22 years living with her. I lasted longer than anyone else ever did. I finally got out, but not without a ton of emotional and mental scars. I feel sorry for her and know that so many of her issues are because of her own terrible childhood and two bad marriages. That is why I have not cut her out of my life, even though I know it would be easier to do so.

She began to treat me differently, for the most part, after I moved out. She wants us to friends, buddies. She genuinely does not understand why I don’t want that. I am very careful how I speak to her and what I share with her. I constantly have to be on guard, because the second I say the wrong thing she will lose it and the person that raised me to hate myself comes out.

I frequently have flashbacks to moments when she spewed awful, hateful things at me. When she would say things to intentionally hurt me, simply because I wasn't doing or saying exactly what she wanted me to. When these flashbacks come it feels like I am reliving them all over again. That forgotten wound is fresh and bleeding once again.

I had a talk with her once about some of the things I went through and how it made me feel. She apologized. But she then brought up mistakes I had made, as if this made us even. I try to put it all behind me. I want to forgive her and just move forward. But I am plagued with memories that will not leave me alone.

I thought things were better between us, until there was a situation where she didn't like a decision I made and verbally attacked me. I had a panic attack and left. She later told me: “I am sorry, I didn't know you would react that way.”

Just being around her, or knowing that I will be around her, will often send me into a panic attack. I have trouble sharing my thoughts and feelings with those closest to me. I assume they don't care, because my own mother didn't. I assume they will mock me, they will use it against me in some way, because that is what my own mother would do.  

I assume everyone thinks I am ugly unless I wear a ton of makeup, because that is what my mother thinks. I assume everyone is watching me and harshly judging every small mistake I make, because that is what my mother does.

I have trouble getting close to people. I have trouble responding in an appropriate way to most situations. I avoid many large social gatherings because I feel they will all be watching me, waiting for me to do something stupid. I don't know how to handle conflict, the first sign there is an issue with another person I want to hide my head in the sand.

Every time I try to share my feelings with someone my brain shuts down and I have no idea how to say what I am feeling, or I break down become an emotional mess.

I will continue to try to fight my way out of my past. I will keep trying to put it behind me. But some days it feels like this weight will always be on me, slowing me down, threatening to crush me once and for all. 


About the art:

When this survivor shared their story with us, I was inspired by the depth to which they were willing to share their experiences with their emotionally abusive mother. None of this is easy to confront, so the fact that this survivor was willing to do so, to find some sort of healing, was empowering.

They told me that butterflies are their favorite, so I tried my own stylized rendering of a butterfly. The quote was also chosen by the survivor as one that reminds them everyday that being strong is the only choice they have to make. So this piece will certainly live on as a reminder for them to keep confronting their trauma and their challenges head-on.

I'm thankful this survivor shared with us and I hope it inspires others to do the same.

- Craig

Tattoosday 014: For the Love of All that is Mighty and Good, Please Be Kind


Content Warning: The following story contains mention of sexual and emotional abuse, which may be triggering for some readers


"For the Love of All that is Mighty and Good, Please Be Kind," Ali Russo 

Kindness has always been the trait I value the most. It’s the first thing I look for when forming relationships with people; I like to watch the way they fold their hands and speak out of the corners of their mouths, holding doors with the tips of their fingers and rocking on their heels. I try to take all opportunities of kindness the universe has to offer, not for any other reason except the satisfaction in that helping someone else has made their day a little lighter. If I want to believe that the world can be kind, I need to be so, too. 

Conversely, this is much harder to apply to yourself—or, at least in my own personal experiences. Growing up with severe, undiagnosed anxiety, I became my own, worst, inner-critic. I believed that nobody would like me, including myself, if I did not bend to all of the requests, favors, and needs of the people I cared for in my life; I wanted them to undoubtedly know, throughout all the lengths of time, that I would love them and be there when they asked.

At the time, I couldn’t understand the damage this ideology would do to me, and certainly didn’t grasp that a healthy relationship should not leave one feeling as fatigued as I was. But this was my kindness. This was how I liked to show it. 

The first semester of my freshman year, I got out of a two-year relationship that was both emotionally and sexually abusive. I broke up with him over a phone call, and subsequently, he had to leave work because of the emotional distress I had caused. Over the course of the weeks, trailing my soles across the carpet of my therapist’s office, I expressed how the failure of our relationship, including the abuse and the break-up, was my fault. I remember clasping my hands between my knees, my shoulders hunched as I spoke to my therapist. “The way I broke up with him, the way I left him feeling—those are the cruelest things I’ve ever done.”
“Those are the kindest things you’ve ever done.” She corrected.

I remember feeling dumbfounded at her opposition, gaping at the confidence in which her ponytail swayed from both shoulders while she shook her head. “Whether you recognized it consciously or not, you knew you had to get out of that situation. You knew you needed a change, and to be kinder to yourself.”

Four years later, if you asked me the name of the college counselor who sat opposite of me in that tiny, warm room on campus, I couldn’t tell you. But I could tell you about the way her fingers wove into their own as she said this, the sporadic, faint spots on the back of her hands like prayer beads I could count with comfort. I could tell you about the eruption that followed, the flood that heaved; the collapse of comprehension at the ludicrous idea that I was just as important as those who held precedence over me—that I should hold precedence over me. 

I got my “be kind.” tattoo the following semester, squeezing my best friend’s hand as the ink settled into a reminder that remained forever. Now, in the year 2016 I am desperately trying to remind myself again, and again, and again, that being kind is always worth it, being kind is a reciprocal pleasure—it is the tangible mark of our humanity. We must never, ever lose it. 


About Tattoosday:

Tattoosday is way to demonstrate the storytelling quality of tattoos as well as the healing quality of tattoos.

If you would like to share the stories behind your ink, send us a picture of a tattoo or tattoos that have a significant story tied to your survival in life. Then write at least 400 words (you can write as many as you'd like) about the tattoo, it's meaning, and what it means to you today.

These stories will all run on Tuesdays!
One per week! So you have plenty of time to submit them to us!

The caveat with TATTOOSDAY is that we will not be making you a free piece of art, instead, your ink IS the art we will share with the story—which makes the most sense. BUT we will send you some stickers for sharing your story with us!

CLICK HERE to share your Tattoo story!

0102: All Feelings are Valid


Content warning: The following story contains references to domestic violence, bullying, violence, and abuse, which may be triggering for some readers.

“All Feelings are Valid,” Katie LaCourse

It was a glass plate shattering and dinner strewn across the floor. Name-calling, threats, and combinations of words I still don’t know the meaning of. Stepping in between or hiding in another room. Mom’s bruises and her numb foot due to nerve damage. When I was a baby, she was carrying me down the steps outside when she got a foot to her lower back. She twisted so I wouldn’t get smashed into the hard ground and she messed up her spine. I blamed myself for that for the longest time. If only I hadn’t been there…

Even after mom took us and left, I watched my dad do this to his girlfriends. One of them put him in jail which was humiliating. As an 11-year-old, I would go with my grandparents to visit him, sit across the table from a line of other inmates, just so he could swear and complain about the situation to his parents. It’s been a few years since then and a few years of trying to rebuild a relationship with him. It’s still very weak and very uncomfortable, but I was sure he had at least changed and become better. Recently, I found that was not the case. I can’t understand how he can look at me, his daughter, and not try harder. Has he ever pictured someone treating me the way he treats women?

I am ashamed to have this last name.

When I heard about Lesley’s Clothesline Project-shirts designed for and by survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault—I felt a strong pull to be a part of this project. I had it all planned out:

For my mom,
My sister,
My best friend.
But I told myself I didn’t survive anything. My mom did, my sister did, and my best friend did, so why should I make a shirt?

I didn’t want to say that I suffered from any of this. I have never been hit, threatened with my life, or been called a terrible name that affected me other than the moot insults of immature middle-schoolers. But for a while, when I saw a car racing by, I wondered if there was another one behind it trying to stop it, track it, or hit it. I felt sick to my stomach when I pictured kids in the backseat of the first car wanting it to go faster or to know which hotel they would be staying at that night. I felt guilty when people looked at me funny for not knowing the plot of Robin Hood or The Little Mermaid. Maybe I saw them, but I tried so hard to forget those years of bad that I lost a lot of the good.

And now, it’s still jumping at any loud sound and checking to see if it was something like a glass plate or someone being hurt. Or panicking when children do their screechy giggles that sound almost like cries. Feeling uncomfortable walking down a busy hallway, or making contact with strangers on a crowded train, or being in the pit for a concert and wanting to sit in a ball on the ground in the middle of hundreds of people.

Vulnerability, busyness, loudness—I’ll pass on that.

I’m beginning to learn that it’s important to acknowledge my feelings and my struggles. No, I have not been a direct victim of domestic violence, but growing up with violence in the home affects the emotional development of children. It is traumatizing and changes the way the world is viewed. I struggle every day with what I’ve heard, seen, and felt. Most of the women I’m closest to have been directly affected by relationship violence and/or sexual assault. I’m scared for my safety and the safety of other women. I’m frustrated that I can’t fully enjoy a concert or feel comfortable commuting to school. I don’t like that when I hear a loud noise I tell myself it’s probably nothing, but eventually I have to look anyway or I’ll worry about it for the rest of the day.

All feelings are valid. So are thoughts, fears, and everything else that’s a result from trauma. Regardless of what the trauma was or how direct, we’re allowed to feel things. We’re worthy enough to feel things, and we don’t have to tell ourselves to “get over it” because it wasn’t that big of a deal. It was and it still is every day. We are allowed to take care of ourselves, too.


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About the art:

With this piece, I wanted to acknowledge the strength and bravery Katie demonstrated by opening up about her experience. It takes courage to share our stories, and to do so without judging oneself can be difficult.

But Katie’s willingness to share, not only for herself, but for others with similar experiences, shows just how significant and powerful these stories can be when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. I wanted to celebrate and validate Katie’s experience and the feelings she shared. With this piece, I hope she will continue to honor her feelings and keep spreading her courageous message to others.

- Becca

098: Break the Silence


Content warning: The following post contains references to sexual assault, abuse, self-harm, and depression, which may be triggering for some readers.

"Break the Silence," Javier Negrete


Hello. I want to share something very personal in hopes that if you or someone you know has struggled as I have, may you find hope as I did. This is my story. 

I am 22 years old. And I am a survivor of sexual abuse.

When I was seven years old, I was sexually abused by another male. The abuser was around his mid-teens at the time and was a friend of the family. A complete stranger to me, but to the rest who knew him; he was a son, a brother, a friend, probably trustworthy, and just a kid. It all began at what should have been a fun day at the pool, but I left confused and afraid.

He said, "This has to be our secret if you tell anyone, I will hurt your family.” I was really afraid, what would happen to me if I lost my family. I was afraid of being sent away. He also said, "If you don't do what I say, I will do it to to your little brother."

I thought I was safe when we finally left his house. Until him and his family showed up at every gathering my grandparents (dad's side) threw at their house. It continued for that whole terrifying summer of 2001. Something I would have to live with the rest of my life. I told no one. Summer was over and the new school year began and I never saw him again.

I started 2nd grade at my new school where I began with what appeared to be school phobia. I began to worry every Sunday night worried having to go to school or, at least, that is what I said at the time; I just remember being afraid. After a few months of this, I was taken to therapy and I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and were apparently it was not caught that I had been abused though I did learn breathing exercises to help control the "anxiety". I still shared nothing of the abuse and continued my third, fourth and fifth grade without further incidence.

I culminated from elementary and started middle school where I was in the Magnet program; I joined drama and other school activities. I completed 8th grade and started high school in Fall of 2008.

In high school magnet program, I busied myself with Link Crew and Student Government, organized the Blood Drive, Homecoming, and joined in the AIDS Walk in my Junior year to name a few activities. In my Senior year, I was voted School Secretary where I was part of daily school announcements crew, helped with fundraisers, helped with planning Homecoming to name a few school activities. I was a regular happy, outgoing, fun-loving teen with thoughts of graduation and enrolling in a local college with the regular thoughts and fears of what will happen after I leave high school and join the "real" world. 

I enrolled in college and started the semester with some minor anxiety. All my classes were on campus. As the semesters passed, a few memories of my abuse would pop up here and there but I'd brush it off. I think that at some point, I made myself believe that it did not happen; because men do not get raped. I do not remember any boys or men for that matter around me ever sharing anything like this.

Around the age of 20, a slideshow of images began emerging in my mind. I began to feel nervous, worried, concerned and constantly looking over my shoulder. The anxiety crept up again and the feeling that I was not safe lingered. In the back of my mind, I knew this person was still out there, and still, I told no one. I began to distant myself away from everyone. I only remembered the face of his younger self, I did not know what he would like all grown up. Could he be the man serving my food, could he be the older student sitting next to me, the mail carrier, or the Uber driver.

After years of silence. I've begun to fall apart little by little. Everyone around me knew something was wrong before I even knew myself. But I managed to put up a smile and say I was "fine.”

How can I share what I've hidden for 15 years? Would anyone believe me after such a long time of silence? The moment I finally shared with my mom was a huge blessing. No judgment. No blame. Just love. She persuaded me that therapy was the best option. I felt I did not need it, but I went anyway. The first session helped me understand I was not at fault. The only person to blame was my abuser. He took advantage of everyone.

With help from therapy, I was given the advice to share with the family. So I could know who the monster was and continue with a police report. I had the courage to tell my family but still had a fear of how each would react. Everyone was very supportive and made it clear to me that they will have my back no matter what. I shared with the family what I remembered. And we discovered who it was. With the support from my family, I was ready to make a police report ―
which I did. I felt better knowing the police knew and was ready to get my justice.

Now, for the hard part ― waiting.
It was a struggle.

I finally received a call Thursday afternoon in February. My heart racing and fingers crossed for great news. Sadly, the detective said they could not pursue with any charges. Why? The monster denied my truth. My stomach fell to the ground. Feeling defeated. Did he win? Not yet. I will continue to fight. I broke his sick minded agreement when he told me not to share our "secret". Well, the cats out of the bag. I no longer will be silent. This is just the beginning of my story. I am a survivor.

If you have been abused, please don't be afraid to speak out. Regardless of your gender. It can happen to anyone.

As you read my story, think of how you would protect yourself and your loved ones. Think about how you supervise your kids, nieces, nephews or grandkids. 
Break the silence. Let's end it.


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About the art:

Javier submitted this story to us MONTHS AGO! And after some miscommunications with who was making the art for it, I stepped up and made sure that his powerful story was shared with our project.

Javier told me he wasn't particular about colors for the piece, so I went with something brighter in hopes that it would bring some vibrance to his situation.

I chose the lines, "I am a survivor - Break the silence," because they not only appear in the story, but they align perfectly with our mission as a nonprofit and I'm so glad we're able to have this piece representative of our project.

Thank you for your bravery in sharing this story, Javier, and for being able to process such a challenging portion of your life.

- Craig

054: Cope


Content Warning: This post contains information about a survivor's experience with mental health, explicitly depression, self-harm, PTSD, as a result of repeated sexual abuse, which may be triggering to some survivors.

"Cope," 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.


Growing up in the religious south of the US, I was raised to believe that a woman’s intrinsic value was tied to her sexual purity.

It’s no wonder that I found myself unable to reach out for help, or even forgive myself, when one month before my set wedding date my fiancé had forcefully taken my vaginal virginity*, smothering my face and cries for it to all stop with a pillow.  Afterwards he told me how I wanted it.  He explained how it’d be a shame for anybody to find out what a slut I was, and so he promised to keep ‘our secret.’  It took me years before I realized that this was rape, that I had been gas-lighted.

* NOTE: Like many others brought up in Christian households, I was involved in the practice of ‘saddlebacking’—unprotected anal sex intended to preserve virginity. I recall one time in the back seat of my car in a dark parking lot; I had blood dripping down my backside, I begged for him to stop with tears, but he only forced himself harder inside of me as if he couldn’t hear me.

After just three months of a marriage progressively filled with more mental, verbal, and sexual abuses paired with the torture of sleep deprivation, I started to fantasize about lying on the train tracks behind the apartment, suffocating myself in the graveyard across the street, bleeding out in the bathtub...  I was taught that divorce was never an option, and so at 19 years of age I began to think that suicide was a reasonable way out.

Sex hurt — it felt like multiple razor blades faced in opposite directions dragging my insides for what seemed like hours at a time.  I’d bang my head against the headboard over and over to make the pain be anywhere but down there. Every time we had sex, I’d immediately run to the toilet to see if my insides were slipping out.

The times that I resisted his advances or complained that it was excruciatingly painful, he would punch the pillow next to my face, yelling, “It’s all in your fucking head!”  Naturally, I questioned if it really did hurt or if like he insisted, it was all really just in my head.  After 9 months of this anguish, he finally allowed me to go to the clinic.  The nurse had whispered cautiously so that nobody could overhear, “You have chlamydia.”

I must have taken her by surprise by reacting with laughter mixed with tears of joy.  It wasn’t all in my head!  And there was a cure!  Although my husband would never apologize, refusing to admit that he had been the one to pass the STD on to me, I felt relieved that I could trust my body and mind after all.

During the two-year marriage, I had literally lost my ability to think thoughts, something I would never have believed was possible.  I started recording any thought that came to my head in a journal, including simple observations such as “the sky looks pretty.”  It took months to fill a measly 10 pages.  I, once a confident and thoughtful girl, had grown anxious and nothing terrified me more than a verbal beating for saying something stupid.  It became safer not to think at all.  
After taking on a new girlfriend and all of my savings, he kicked me out of the house with no back-up plan.  While homeless, a co-worker had offered to put me up until I got back on my feet.

I quickly learned that there was a price tag attached to the new housing arrangement.  The cost was sex.  Three times a day.  For several months.  He was the first man to ever physical abuse me.

After finally filing an order of protection against him, I rushed into an apartment that I couldn’t quite afford yet.  Without enough money for food and the first month’s rent, I lost 27 pounds surviving on stale crackers and the few canned goods I had.

Years later, while pursuing a Master’s degree, I learned that one-third of the girls at my university were involved on a website to exchange sex for money to help pay for college expenses.  I of course played the academic role of questioning the indignities, inequalities, and complexities for young people engaging in these arrangements.  But later I became a statistic; I was one in three girls that sold sex.  I had been homeless and hungry before, and I had decided that this time I would be the one to call the shots.  Looking back, perhaps more painful than the depths of humility I would go through for a modest amount of cash was the long-term impact of my damaged sense of self-worth.

Mental health problems run in my family, but I’m honestly not sure if it’s simply genetic or my life’s trauma- or both- that led to my mental illness.  I’ve been given a few diagnoses, but the one I feel is most accurate reads as follows: “Severe major depressive disorder (MDD) with psychotic features; and a mild-to-moderate suicide risk.”

Looking back, I can pinpoint when the major depression began.  I had laid in bed for two full weeks, developing bed sores on my hips.  I went periods of three consecutive days without eating because I couldn’t force myself downstairs to the kitchen.  I had even drank some pasta sauce straight from the jar because it was the only food within reach of the bed, not eating again for another several days after.  I was in bed for 23 hours or more per day, holding my pee until I knew that I would mess myself if I waited even another second.

This past summer a family-friend raped me.  I was black-out drunk and don’t recall giving consent, and so he was quick to assure me that it was something he knew I had wanted.  It took me days before I was able to admit to myself that being drunk was not ‘asking for it,’ that sex from him was not something I had wanted, nor asked for, making it not okay.  And yet I was unable to work up the nerve to immediately tell my boyfriend or family, and never contacted the police.

Over the following months while in Paris, France, two different men sexually assaulted me.  I jumped out of a moving vehicle to protect myself the first time.  Weeks later, another man held a knife to my neck after stripping me down.  The experience with the police turned out to be just as traumatizing as the assaults.  I was met with pointed questions about the color of panties I had been wearing, insinuating that I was somehow asking for it.  My own mother even asked if I was putting myself in these situations ‘on purpose,’ as if to further punish myself.

As far as the psychotic symptoms, I had been court-ordered to a hospitalization for my own safety after a panic attack with vivid visual hallucinations found me walking into traffic with suicidal intentions.  I had called my boyfriend just hours before, weeping openly outside the T-stop, swaying and stumbling to avoid all of the massive boiling bubbles popping out of the melting sidewalk.  I wept because I knew I had betrayed him; I had kept the secret for too long.  I couldn’t quite piece together how long I had known, but I had to make my final confession, “I am an alien.  My eyes were not meant to see this world.  I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.”  It makes no sense to me now, but that was my truth in that moment.

I’ve had many out-of-body experiences where I’ve sat next to or above myself, simply observing me.  My therapist tells me this disassociation is a coping skill I’ve developed to get through the abuses in my past.  Not going to lie, sometimes it’s been convenient.  I once watched myself successfully lead a seminar class I was nervous about!  But it is terrifying to ‘reality-travel,’ waking up to find myself in the middle of sexual activity I don’t remember starting.  I am in Florida having an uneventful sit on the warm beach, squinting my eyes wondering where my sunglasses are, playing with one hand in the sand; and then without notice, the very next moment I discover that I’m actually back in Boston having sex with my boyfriend.

At times I don’t even recognize myself anymore; my energy, my memory capacity, and my mood are all unstable, affecting my ability to function normally.  I’m a mental health advocate and have dedicated my lifelong studies and career to improving voice and dignity in mental health care.  It has been interesting transitioning into a self-advocate role as well in light of my own struggles with mental health.

I  know that I’m very fortunate for both my work and school to be so understanding of my health concerns. I’ve been open about my diagnosis and the accommodations I need- mostly just flexible scheduling and extra time, but even still I’ve burned bridges.  I painfully had to opt out of an international opportunity the day before the flight because I was having extreme flashbacks, nightmares, and was physically ill over traveling so soon after my trauma in Paris.

There are times when I think I’m all better and that it’s all in my past, but about quarterly I find myself in the midst of another disabling depression.  I wish I had the answers, but for me personally, I’ve found strength in being able to talk to those around me about my struggles.  But when confiding in others without the proper mental health training, know their reactions are likely to disappoint.  They won’t know how to act, at times they’ll say the wrong things, they’ll struggle with patience… but I’ve been surprised at the acceptance I’ve received and their willingness to help carry the burden.


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About the art:

This survivor's story became very close to me as I was working on her piece. Her bravery and resilience inspired hope, and an inflamed need to persevere in the face of my own trauma.  

I thought the part she had mentioned about keeping a private journal to keep her thoughts was incredibly beautiful. Bookmaking and visual journaling is something I took up during my own recovery and is very close to my heart. The brain in the image is both a visual representation of her relationship with her mental health, as well as the thoughts she would write down in her diary. Surrounding the brain are her favorite flowers, tulips and ornamental kale.

I also included a small journal I had made myself. Journaling is a very important part of the recovery process, and I hope it will be something that she can use along the way.

- Hannah Gaucher

050: The Gift


Content Warning: This post contains information about sexual abuse, mental illness, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and queer experiences, which may be triggering to some survivors.

"The Gift," Lynne Marie Meyer


I was freshly turned six years old when I discovered the truth about Santa Claus. I was in my parents’ bedroom, hiding away from the chaos of the Christmas party my parents were hosting. Being naturally shy and much younger than all but one of my cousins, I appreciated the quiet that I found behind closed doors. For some reason, I took a peek under their bed, and found a stash of presents marked “from Santa”. I don’t remember being bothered by my realization. What I do remember is that this was also the night that the abuse started.

My oldest brother is 11 years older than me. My abuser was a friend of his, and the same age. He’d also gone into the bedroom, ostensibly to rest away a headache. I didn’t mind the intrusion. In fact, I welcomed it. This was a trusted member of my family-by-choice. My parents had a fondness for unofficially “adopting” my brothers’ friends; my oldest brother was “son #1”, the next brother was “son #2”, and then the various friends were sons #3, #4, and so on. My abuser fell into this category. As far as my family was concerned, he was one of us. And so, I trusted him. 

I can also admit that I loved him. As children are prone to do, I’d developed quite the crush of sorts on him. He was funny, rather charming when he wanted to be, and unlike my teenaged brothers, really seemed to enjoy spending time with me. Little six year old me found it flattering to have the attentions of a 17 year old. When I realized he felt unwell, of course I wanted to make him feel better. When what he asked for was a kiss, I thought nothing of it, assuming it would be on the cheek. When instead he suddenly thrust his tongue into my mouth, I thought… well, the truth is, I didn’t know what to think. 

This was the 1970s, and literally no one had ever spoken to me about such matters. I had no frame of reference whatsoever to understand what was happening, or how to navigate the incredibly complicated emotions that were coursing through me. It was flattering -- a first kiss! -- but wrong, and I knew it. He capitalized on my ambivalence, of course, and I was told to keep it “our secret”. 

I did.

Over the next three years, the abuse continued, and escalated. When the first rape happened, I couldn’t tell you; I also can’t tell you exactly how many there were. By the time I was 11, I’d pushed the worst of the details to the deepest recesses of my mind. Every time I looked at the necklace he’d given me -- a faux-ruby heart shaped pendant -- I felt inexplicably uneasy. I became suicidally depressed, but couldn’t exactly explain why. I knew something had happened, could remember portions of it, but because the specifics were gone, I felt that I was a fraud. And because I didn’t speak up at the time it was happening, because the parts I did remember were tinged with pleasure, I was terrified that if I did say anything, my parents would find out that I was no longer a virgin and label me a whore. 

More than once, I tried to kill myself (notably, never doing so badly enough to even warrant my family’s realizing it; I was unconsciously calling out for attention and failing badly). My grades plummeted. By the time I was in high school, I was skipping school every day. Me! The girl who loved learning more than anything else, the girl who was skipped a grade in elementary school, the girl who always scored at the top of her class! But I couldn’t be there anymore. I couldn’t be anywhere anymore. Everywhere I went, there he was. And everywhere I went, there I was. As much as I tried to escape myself, I couldn’t.

At some point, I admitted to my confused and concerned parents one part of what happened, an incident that had never fully left my mind. Though they have yet to understand or admit the severity of that assault (even today they regard it as something that should have been minimally impactful on my life), they were more outraged than they let on at the time. I found out later that they'd relayed the information to my brother, who apparently gave my abuser quite the beating. After years of enduring his presence almost daily, even his accompanying us on out out-of-state vacations, I had some relief: My abuser was finally banished from my home. His name was never mentioned again, and neither was what he had done. This silence did not help me. In fact, it made the pain, depression, and internalized shame worse.

One day, for a reason I don’t remember, a friend voluntarily checked herself into a mental hospital for a brief period. I asked to go with her. My parents agreed. I’d hoped this would help, but how could it when I wasn’t even able to tell the truth to myself let alone a therapist? The doctors slapped a diagnosis on me that I knew wasn’t accurate, and put me on pills that at least helped to manage the depression I was experiencing. I pushed the memories of the rapes further and further away. After a while, I started to function again.

By the time I started college, I actually thought that I’d healed. I was in school, doing well academically again, and although I was still extremely shy and had no social life to speak of apart from a few close friends, it seemed that life was pretty good.

And then, I started dating. Or at least, I’ll call it dating. It really wasn’t. While it was always consensual, it was also exploitive. In my mind, I was still a virgin (since what happened before wasn’t by choice, it didn’t count somehow), and so at age 20 when I made the decision to engage in sexual activity, I initially felt empowered and that I was reclaiming part of my identity. Yet, again and again I found myself agreeing to things that made me uncomfortable, and allowed him to treat me with a staggering amount of disrespect. After the third date, he decided that he would no longer kiss me. He’d still sleep with me, mind you, but he wouldn’t kiss me. My 44-year old self would kick someone to the curb for that, but back then, I accepted it and kept sleeping with him. 

This unhealthy arrangement lasted, on and off, for a few years. I broke it off finally around the time that I got accepted into my second Master’s program and was headed out of state to the school of my dreams. Once again, I thought I’d put my past behind me; I was away from home and living on my own for the first time, making new friends, and pursuing my scholarly passions. Once again, the presence of a man in my life would prove me wrong.

I hesitate to even call what developed a “relationship”. It was brief and intense and sexual, and ended badly and awkwardly -- partly because of him, and partly because of me. Being with him, coupled with the stress of grad school, triggered every last one of the unresolved issues from my childhood. I didn’t realize it at the time, and I couldn’t see any of it for what it was. The last year of my program was a struggle. It was nearly impossible to focus, and for the first time in ages, I started getting sick. I was worn out in body, mind, and spirit. Graduation was a relief, but felt like a hollow victory. I had no idea what to do next. All I wanted to do was crawl into a hole somewhere and hide from the world.

For the next few years, that’s basically what I did. I took odd jobs to pay the bills, and all the while fell deeper and deeper into the shadows. 

I found myself again in a relationship. Like the others, it was less than healthy. But unlike the others, it lasted for years and marked the first time in my life I could actually say that I both gave and felt love, however imperfect. As much as I may have hoped that would save me, it couldn’t. Eventually, the PTSD hit me full force.

Flashbacks and nightmares brought forth long-forgotten details; I suddenly knew why I loathed the color pink (the color of the sheets on the bed the morning he first raped me), why as a child I was both drawn to and terrified of the basement, why I hate the smell of alcohol and being around people who have had too much to drink. Then the somatic symptoms started. Insomnia, headaches, pains that froze in my tracks as my body seared from the memory of attacks from long ago.

No one understood, least of all me. Turning to my partner was in vain. At the time, I couldn’t understand his apparent unwillingness -- his utter inability, really -- to offer even a modicum of support. What I now know, long after his death from cancer, is that he too was a survivor. He was much older than I was, a man who had come of age in the late 1960s, when there was even less support for male victims of rape than there is now. His was of coping was to tell a different story, to reinvent his past and himself and to pretend that nothing had happened. But it did happen, to a child barely 10 years old when he was taken into the foster care system. My recovery, and my bringing to conscious light the details of my own past, was far too painful for him to contend with.

With virtually no income at this point, since I could barely work, it took me a long time to find a counselor I could afford. I did find one, though, and with her I started making progress. She was good, but there turned out to be someone else who, in many very important ways, was better.

Her name was Buffy. 

I know, I know. You're probably thinking really? Yes, really. Buffy the Vampire Slayer saved my life.

She was one of the best gifts that my partner gave me during the seven years that he and I were together. He had been a fan of the show since it debuted in 1997 (the very year that my grad-school relationship triggered the onset of my PTSD). By the time he got me into the program, it was season three. Tuesday quickly became my favorite day of the week.
The vampires and demons that she fought each week were perfect metaphors for the ones plaguing my nightmares. Her every victory over the forces of darkness gave me hope that I could do the same.

Without my consciously realizing it, in Buffy I began to see myself. I began to redefine a woman’s capacity for power, even in the face of uncertainty and fear. When my demons tried to convince me to end it all, Buffy made me feel brave enough to go on.

This is a show that celebrates the strength of women, perhaps most vividly exemplified in the final season’s episode “Chosen”. One scene in particular brought me to tears -- healing, powerful, tears -- as I watched girls and women finding their strength and fighting back.

And somewhere along the way, as all of this unfolded season after season, it transformed my understanding of women and womanhood and in the process undid decades of internalized misogyny. I had spent decades of my life angry at myself for being, in my eyes, weak. For allowing the rapes to happen. For not fighting back. For not telling. I’d also been angry at my mother, for her weakness. For not seeing what was happening. For not stopping it. For leaving me in his presence for so many years and never hearing my stifled cries for rescue. As the stay-at-home parent, she was the one I’d seen as the person who was supposed to know what was happening in our home -- but didn’t. As I grew up, I rejected seemingly feminine things. My strength and my survival rested in embracing “masculine” ways of being.

In season 4, the character Willow falls in love with another woman. Their relationship becomes one of the most beloved of the entire series, and became a favorite of my subconscious. At first, I thought this was just another example of a metaphor at work in my psyche. I was dreaming of making love to Buffy because I was reclaiming my power. 

I thought.

It would take me a while to come to terms with the fact, but I did eventually realize that this was not a metaphor. It was the authentic me emerging. I love men, but I also love women. I just never knew it before because I was unable to love myself.

So many people falsely think that being abused makes people turn gay. In my case, it made me think I was straight. All those unhealthy relationships were me trying to work out the issues of my past according to the only framework I knew and could perceive. Heterosexuality was assumed by everyone and everything around me; I was almost in high school before I even heard the word “lesbian”. Given my attraction to men, I knew that label didn’t fit me. It wasn’t until the late 90s that I heard of bisexuality, and when I did it was because I met someone who was brave enough to out themselves to me as bi. That was the final gift, the final piece of the puzzle. It made sense to me. That fit. The first time I kissed a woman, I knew it in my bones. I had come home to myself, decades after my abuser made me forget who I was.

I was whole. 

It’s been thirteen years since Buffy went off the air. Today, I’m married to my best friend, a man I love deeply, authentically, and who knows and supports me in all facets of my being. I’m still bisexual, finally happy, and a survivor who has found her peace.


About the art:

I'm a big fan of Lynne as a human being. So when she reached out to share her story, I was pretty excited because I knew it would be full of heart, courage, and expert wording. And Lynne delivered JUST THAT!

Lynne actually contributed this story at the beginning of April, but I felt it covered ALL THREE of our first topics, sexual assault awareness, mental health and queer pride, so I asked Lynne if she would be comfortable if I pushed it to the end of May to serve as a transitional piece for the project.

Clearly, she obliged with that idea. So here we are!

Lynne loves Buffy, so I wanted to use a quote from Buffy, and Lynne chose this quote from the episode featured above. I asked what colors Lynne liked and she said shades of purples, so I through in red and blue, you know, because they make purple...so yeah! Had fun splattering this one, too! Lots of dynamic colors.

I am glad Lynne wanted to share her powerful story, and I'm thankful I got to create this piece for her.

-Craig.

039: To Silence a Nightingale


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

“To Silence a Nightingale,” Kara Large

Note: Portions of this piece have previously appeared in Persephone's Daughter, and on Kara's personal website.

 

I was an anxious child. Not from lack of nurturing, nor ruthless teasing, but from an overactive mind. When I failed to keep it adequately occupied, I worried about threats beyond my years. But I never worried about getting raped.

A product of 90s media, I was acutely aware of “types,” and where I thought I “belonged.” I categorized myself as “the smart girl.” Velma was my “Scooby Doo” protagonist. I would have no trouble navigating the world, I foolishly thought; smart girls always outwit the danger.

But a few months in to my second year of college, I was violently raped by a stranger. Clumps of hair were ripped from my scalp, I can still feel the scars where the hair refused to grow back for so long; I don't blame it for wanting to remain rooted in a garden of refuse. Eventually, I blacked out from the pain of my head being bashed to silence me, to still me. All I could think in that brief moment between consciousness and darkness was: "I never planned for this, I don't know how to handle this; this wasn’t supposed to be in my story." The first thing I clearly remember after the attack was crawling into my shower, each inch manifesting in me a conviction to deny the trauma I had just experienced.

I remember feeling shame too, a kind of shame that left me dousing myself with nail polish remover in a panicked attempt to destroy any evidence still defiling my body. I felt the only way I could survive at that moment was to run from it all. I didn’t report it to the police nor to my parents. I hid from my closest friends. No one could know – not even me. So I attempted to erase the memory. I channeled all of my energy into anything that allowed me to forget. But so much purposed forgetting was not sustainable. Eventually, my demons caught up to me.

Sitting in a law school lecture hall three years later, I learned that my Criminal Law professor included rape in her syllabus. Even reading the word made my hands shake and my mind swell with fear. The trauma was closing in on me. But still I tried to evade it. I skipped classes that I knew involved the topic and would leave the classroom when it was unexpectedly mentioned.

The following year, I was once again blindsided when I learned the focus of my client counseling class was sexual assaults on college campuses. This was right before the topic became a daily headline. Once again, my reaction was to hide, but my skills were not as refined as they had been. After a graded client-interview exercise, I finally volunteered information about my experience with rape to my professor in order to save my partner’s grade from my awkwardness with the topic. Instead of taking this experience in stride, accepting it as an opportunity to be honest with myself, I again felt more comfortable retreating deeper within the remaining shadows of my mind. It helped that I learned of the anesthetic properties of alcohol; but when the stupor wore off, the memories returned with each clank of the liquor bottles piling in the trash can.

I finally stopped running before my final year in law school. In the midst of a pre-finals breakdown, I surrendered to the trauma and told my parents that I had been raped while in college. That weekend, we watched the film version of “To Kill a Mockingbird” together; it just happened to be playing on Turner Classic Movies. And so my journey to healing began examining a culturally significant and controversial rape trial for the first time as someone who had actually been raped. Although rape is the crime on trial in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” its presentation only adds to hundreds of years of rape myths, particularly that women maliciously cry rape as a manipulative strategy. As I thought about what one of my favorite stories added to the dialogue of sexual assault, I became angry. So I decided to finish my law school journey by writing about the sexual violence epidemic in America.

My initial pursuit of law school, as I’m sure many other would-be lawyers can relate to, was influenced greatly by my childhood introduction to “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Not only does this work detail a complex rape trial, it also signifies to me about what must be demanded in our society to end rape culture. In this prolific passage, the title’s importance is explained in the form of a lesson on birds:

"Atticus said to Jem one day, 'I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.' That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.

'Your father’s right,' she said. 'Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.'”

An avid recreational bird watcher, I spend a great deal of time in the company of mockingbirds. They will sing all day if unbothered by other business. But they do not sing songs of their own. Instead, they repeat a phrase of another bird’s call in a pattern, usually three times. Fierce nest guardians, they only reveal a cry of their own when asserting their dominance over their territory. It is a shrill and broken buzz. But the nightingale, though small in stature, is renowned for its powerful and beautiful song, a song of its very own. A song heralded as the most beautiful birdsong in the word. I posit then, that to silence a nightingale is just as great a sin as killing a mockingbird.

An avid recreational bird watcher, I spend a great deal of time in the company of mockingbirds. They will sing all day if unbothered by other business. But they do not sing songs of their own. Instead, they repeat a phrase of another bird’s call in a pattern, usually three times. Fierce nest guardians, they only reveal a cry of their own when asserting their dominance over their territory. It is a shrill and broken buzz. But the nightingale, though small in stature, is renowned for its powerful and beautiful song, a song of its very own. A song heralded as the most beautiful birdsong in the word. I posit then, that to silence a nightingale is just as great a sin as killing a mockingbird.

Sexual violence is not about sex, it is about power. The power is stolen from the victim, ripped out of the victim’s body. It may take years to find that power again. It may never return. When someone’s power is taken, without consent, something happens to the voice as well. The vocal chords shrivel in fear, their screams denied. Without a sense of personal power and autonomy, the voice seems useless, as useless as a bruised eye or broken pelvis. Unless that voice is nurtured and soothed, it cannot share, it cannot sing. And then silence falls.

Kara has created a number of images to illustrate the reality of rape culture and her approach to what is called, Consent Culture. Click the image to check out more of her work at her personal website!

Kara has created a number of images to illustrate the reality of rape culture and her approach to what is called, Consent Culture. Click the image to check out more of her work at her personal website!

Rape culture systematically silences its victims. It silences them through victim blaming, through slut shaming, through denying fair and thorough investigations, through failing to prosecute rapists. When a nation silences one in three of its women or one in six of its men, it tells them that their voices do not matter, their stories do not matter, their lives do not matter. By standing idly by, we are creating a new class of people that believe they cannot make a difference. This cycle survived for far too long. Too many voices have been silenced. I finally decided mine would never be hushed again.

An avid recreational bird watcher, I spend a great deal of time in the company of mockingbirds. They will sing all day if unbothered by other business. But they do not sing songs of their own. Instead, they repeat a phrase of another bird’s call in a pattern, usually three times. Fierce nest guardians, they only reveal a cry of their own when asserting their dominance over their territory. It is a shrill and broken buzz. But the nightingale, though small in stature, is renowned for its powerful and beautiful song, a song of its very own. A song heralded as the most beautiful birdsong in the word. I posit then, that to silence a nightingale is just as great a sin as killing a mockingbird.

Sexual violence is not about sex—it is about power. The power is stolen from the victim, ripped out of the victim’s body. It may take years to find that power again. It may never return. When someone’s power is taken, without consent, something happens to the voice as well. The vocal chords shrivel in fear, their screams denied. Without a sense of personal power and autonomy, the voice seems useless, as useless as a bruised eye or broken pelvis. Unless that voice is nurtured and soothed, it cannot share, it cannot sing. And then silence falls.

Rape culture systematically silences its victims. It silences them through victim blaming, through slut shaming, through denying fair and thorough investigations, through failing to prosecute rapists. When a nation silences one in three of its women or one in six of its men, it tells them that their voices do not matter, their stories do not matter, their lives do not matter. By standing idly by, we are creating a new class of people that believe they cannot make a difference. This cycle survived for far too long. Too many voices have been silenced. I finally decided mine would never be hushed again.

Click the image to access a FREE download of Kara's first edition of To Silence a Nightingale.

Click the image to access a FREE download of Kara's first edition of To Silence a Nightingale.

For my final law school thesis, I set out to learn everything I could about rape culture in an attempt to derive a solution for the sexual violence crisis that remains unresolved. After months of extensive research and writing, I finally found personal peace. Publicly admitting that I had been raped, after years of repression, unleashed hell on my mind; my therapist referred to this as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Among other symptoms, I suffered night terrors, debilitating anxiety, and brutal self-hatred. Leaving the house was like gearing up for war – every person I encountered was an enemy. My home did not feel like the fortress I needed. I didn’t even feel safe in my own body, my mind constantly churning flashbacks of terror.

But when I started to learn more about the history of sexual violence, I achieved a breakthrough in my healing. The culmination of my research not only resulted in a dissection of rape culture, but also allowed me to break down my own fears that had been silently suffocating me for years.

Nothing offered me greater comfort than finally acknowledging that my rape was not a personal attack; I was a passive cog, one in three, entangled by an evil, cyclical machine. Now, I will be silenced no more, and I will continue to shout until the message is received.

I hope my writing empowers other survivors with the crucial realization of their own strength. Together, we can illuminate the darkness of sexual violence and catalyze national enlightenment by sharing our stories and defying centuries of myths.


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About the art:

Kara’s story involved many metaphors and symbols representing the connection between nature and her personal story.

Before collaborating with Kara, I immediately pictured representing her story with some elements of nature. After communicating with her and learning more about her journey, the symbols in nature were even more prevalent.

The painting I did of Kara planting seeds in her garden is a symbol for her continued efforts and determination to take control and be a part of creating growth and change. When you plant the seeds of hope and change, new life will grow, and beautiful things will bloom.

- Becca

025: A Soldier, a Fighter


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

"A Soldier, a Fighter," 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.

Throughout my childhood, I was witness to domestic abuse and child abuse. My dad would beat my step mom and my brother, all the while not touching me.

As I grew up my brother grew angry. When I turned 9 it changed to my dad would beat him and in turn he would beat me. In 2014 I began treatment for all of the abuse which happened from 9 years to 22.

During my treatment, I was diagnosed with PTSD and began EMDR treatment. This treatment was designed to separate the emotion from the memory through sensory mechanisms. I had to relive the memory and describe how it would make me feel.

It is gruesome work.
While going through this, a repressed memory surfaced.

At age 12, I had been drugged by my brother and raped by his best friend. Throughout my adolescence and teenage years I was depressed and suicidal. My now ex-husband could not handle the information and began to move away from me.

In August 2015, we got a divorce.

Today, I am still going through my treatment and trying to rebuild my life. The catch is my brother, after years of drug abuse, does not remember any of it.

He remembers the abuse by our dad but nothing of what he did to me. I have not told him and have in fact forgiven him. Part of my journey is rebuilding a relationship with him. It is hard and every week is a struggle but I am stronger and happier than I have ever been.

PTSD is often a term one associates with soldiers. Many people do not realize that there is a war going on here in this country. Domestic abuse and child abuse is a war zone for everyone that lives it. Every day is a struggle to survive and every day we try to find a way to fight back, to fight for our lives.

Being diagnosed with PTSD in a country that does not recognize this war is akin to reliving the trauma all over again. But now, we are fighting for our right to be heard and to be recognized for the war we have fought and a war we have barely survived. Many of the scars I have are just memories I get to relive in my mind and in my nightmares. Every bump in the night is a possible attack. The reaction to either fight or flee has been so ingrained in me that I have been running all my life.  I will forever be searching for a safe place.

Being a victim is not something I associate myself with.

I am a soldier, a fighter, and a survivor.

I have PTSD because I have fought a war that is never ending. PTSD is not just for the military soldiers. It is for anyone who has fought to live their lives without someone threatening them. It should be recognized as a mental and emotional trained reaction for everyone. 

The biggest fear I have with my PTSD is the fact that people do not take it seriously. I have heard "Oh, were you in the military?" And the shame comes back a million fold when I softly confess, "No, I was abused." And the look on the other person’s face is one of pity.

The look that says, "I am now uncomfortable and will be ignoring what was just said."

Abuse is the pink elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. That no one wants to get involved in. What they do not realize is that it is the longest war this country has ever fought, and no one knows.


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About the art:

When this survivor reached out to me, I knew we were gonna end the month with their story. Taking on the topic of PTSD is an interesting one, and we, as a project, will delve further into the topic more next month. So this seemed like a perfect transition piece to end April and enter into May.

The idea that PTSD is only reserved for those with military experience is misconceived and misunderstood. It's called, post TRAUMATIC stress disorder, which means it applies to all forms of trauma. This story does an incredible job showing that even if a person hasn't served in the military, they can be just as strong as a soldier in the way they conduct their daily lives.

Living with PTSD can feel like a burden. A burden that others might not understand. So it's important that our society takes heed of the message of this story and listen to its words. The person who wrote this piece is truly a solider in life, a fighter of stigma and trauma, and survivor of the hell it puts them through and I tried to capture that with the bright background and black splatter — a scheme I don't often use.

Thank you for your story, survivor.

We will be back on Monday with the first story of Mental Health Awareness Month!

- Craig

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. 


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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

017: I Continue to Heal


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

"I Continue to Heal," Dan McDowell

I was 13 when it happened. I was on a camping trip with my summer camp. I was shy and had few male friends and ended up in a tent with a group of other young boys I didn’t know.

It was "lights out" when it started. It began with general teasing and bullying before evolving into assault. I tried to laugh it off. I pretended it was some weird game I needed to shake off. I pretended it had no impact.

For years afterward I was insecure in my sexuality. Any physical contact that reminded me even vaguely of the assault caused me to flinch. Even then I told myself that discomfort was all in my head, that this was just normal reaction and part of growing up.

It took me years to recognize what happened to me as assault. It took me eight years to say it out loud for the first time. For some time after identifying as a survivor I wasn’t sure what to do, knowing only I didn’t want counseling, and so I stayed silent. I was afraid to come forward as a male and have my experience or sexuality questioned, or be called “less of a man” (whatever that means).

Even today, identifying as both asexual and a survivor, I always fear someone will respond that it is my assault that made me asexual.  Eventually, I did share my story. The first person I told about my assault was my now-wife. I was afraid of how she might react.

When I told her, tears fell. I was afraid that it would lead to pity or sympathy rather than empathy or support. Thankfully my fears were unfounded. We talked through it together. She listened and empathized and that moment is when I think I truly began to heal. 

Now, nearly 13 years later, I have continued to slowly open up. I’ve discussed my survivor status with family, co-workers, and the RA staff. It’s an experience that I have slowly accepted as a part of my story and who I am, but just a part.

Being a survivor doesn’t define me any more than my gender or sexual orientation. It is only one of many lenses through which I view myself and the world, but it’s a part for which I had found more support. When seeking resources, I wasn’t sure what was or was not open to me since my assault did not occur on campus. I was afraid of police involvement and the distance of time since the assault- a distance that had become so great I no longer knew the perpetrators’ names.

In the meantime, I continue to heal. While that specific incident was negative, I am still thankful for my summer experiences. I met some of my closest friends and when I need to calm myself the crashing waves, cries of gulls, and the sound of a bell buoy still spring immediately to mind. Sometimes life is full of dissonance, and mine is no exception.


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About the art:

Dan and I connected a while back through #SAchat while talking about asexuality. As a fellow ace and survivor who struggles with many of the same worries, I was happy to create a piece for him that would help showcase the bright parts of a dark time.

The imagery of waves, a buoy, and gulls was something I could very easily picture in my mind - but it wasn't something I felt 100% prepared to paint. I spent a great deal of my time with this piece watching YouTube tutorials, and trying to recreate what I saw.

It was fun to learn something new, while creating something that may help give someone else a sense of comfort or peace, and I really hope Dan enjoys having this reminder of a serene and happy place in his memory.

- Katy