0155: Boy Afraid

Content warning: the following story contains references to sexual assault, alcoholism, and depression, which may be triggering for some readers.


“Boy Afraid,” David Cave

I was maybe 10 or 11 the first time John held me up against a wall with the force of his body and rubbed me up and down, kissing my neck. His hot breath made me shiver, I felt violated, disgusted and impossibly tainted, paralyzed by fear and shock. Over the next few years, this would happen nearly every Sunday at the Baptist church my family attended three times a week. As I got older, I grew resistant to John's physical prowess over me, threatening to tell on him. I never did, I still haven't told anyone of consequence what he did to me. Every time I threatened him with action, refusing to play the docile deer-in-his-headlights he threatened me with violence, or threatened to do the same to my brother, instilling a terror that casts a long shadow over my life. In the same turn he would add more time to the clock that he counted out in his head while he felt me up violently and kissed my neck by the storage shed behind the church, often arbitrarily adding time to my sentence for the slightest transgression. I quickly tried to get out of going to church as much as I could, faking illness and trying to maximize time around the friends I knew I was safe around that might provide protection (because John's fear of being found out trumped his violent sexual urges).

John was often referred to as my friend, as we were constantly around each other, and eventually I bought into this lie (the truth was he wouldn't let me far out of his sight, terrorizing me every second he could just through his oppressive presence). He would refer to my brother and I as "pretty boys," something which my mother realizes the true gravity of in retrospect, but at the time came off merely as jealousy at my family's middle class existence. What he was really saying was that we were worthless and unlovable, just like him. I can't recall what eventually led to the end of John's reign of terror on my life, my memory of those years is hazy and missing large chunks likely due to the trauma inflicted on me. I understand this phenomenon as the activation of defense mechanisms within my mind shutting off sections to protect me, like sailors closing off bulkheads to keep water from spreading to different areas of a ship, threatening to sink them all.

It wasn't until my late twenties that I learned my brother, two years my junior, had been John's de facto victim when I wasn't around. My family eventually moved on from that church when we moved to a new neighborhood on the North side of Denver, but I heard that John, one year younger than me, had gone to juvenile court for assaulting his cousin. The story as I recall was that his cousin had been sitting on his shoulders and he had "accidentally" reached up her skirt and grabbed her inappropriately. Inherent in this was the insinuation and insistence that it had been an accident, that it was harmless and there's no way John could have committed such an act. I didn't speak up. I felt ashamed, I was speechless, and I knew exactly what he'd done immediately. I froze, and couldn't say anything.

There were rumblings around the time my family joined the church (that I would hear until years later) that John's grandfather, the former pastor of the church, had physically and sexually abused his grandchildren. This fact was rarely brought up, not even as an explanation for John's actions, but it has provided me some much needed context with which to frame my experiences. Hurt people hurt people. I guess. It doesn't excuse what he did, but it helps me to understand and maybe begin to empathize a bit. Is this how Stockholm Syndrome begins?

Regardless of this, it's clear the church and the community systematically failed us. The patriarch of the church abused his grandchildren (and very likely other people in his family), with no repercussions and no one did anything to stop him. He was even fondly remembered by his family, who I've been told knew what he did. How can someone look back at their abuser and feel fondness? Although I understand he too likely underwent his own abuse at the hands of someone, I find it hard looking back at that period of my life with any sort of fondness for John or even his family for that matter.

For years I kept these events locked up in the furthest recesses of my memory, threw away the key and refused to look at them. I found solace in video games, places that I could feel powerful, worlds where no one really got hurt (Pokemon Red was a favorite of mine around age 12, a joyful cartoony escape from what I endured outside the game). I took solace in punk rock, shouting along to all the words of Black Flag, Minor Threat, and Descendents. The pain, frustration, and boredom of suburban white teenage boys raised in stifled, emotionally closed off environments appealed to my internal need to be be heard but paradoxically not knowing how to vocalize how I felt. I was angry at my parents and the church for not protecting me. I was angry at society for the mere existence of people like John. Most of all I was angry at myself for not telling anyone and not stopping the cycle of sexual violence John perpetrated on me and countless others. I got it stuck in my head that it was my fault, that somehow I was culpable. I believed I was broken, damaged, I was a piece of shit. Henry Rollins was the only person who knew how I felt, so I drowned out the pain with Greg Ginn's wailing guitars and alcohol.

The ensuing years went on, I didn't think about John or what happened to me, it was locked up deep inside and it never came up in my thoughts. It was almost like it'd never happened. Almost. Looking back now, it's easy to see that at least to some extent it helped fuel my alcoholism, my depression, my unending loneliness as I sought to find a real connection with other people (but failing miserably at every turn). I manipulated people I was in relationship with when they disagreed with me, when I felt insecure and afraid they would leave me alone with myself. These were tactics I didn't learn from my parents, they were maladaptive behaviors I learned through my abuse. Even when I got sober at age 20 the fact that years of abuse could have influenced my behaviors or my alcoholism hadn't occurred to me until I got to my fourth step inventory in Alcoholics Anonymous. I was working on my inventory, in which I chronicled my resentments, what had happened, my part in what happened, etc. John just flowed out of me and onto the page, along with all the parts I blamed myself for- not saying anything for years, not stopping him, not protecting my brother or anyone else he assaulted. I shared this with my sponsor, who remains until now the only person I've ever told at length about what happened to me. It was also the first time someone told me it wasn't my fault. Something in me broke open, and memories came flooding back. My emotional reaction was still muted, still disconnected, but I wasn't living with the trauma just under the surface anymore. Maybe I could live with it. Maybe I could be vulnerable without fear of being hurt. For the first time the possibility that I could be fixed occurred to me.

I spent years as part archeologist, and part palmist- examining what I remember of who I was before John, how what he did changed me throughout the years, trying to remember changes in my personality and moods; also trying to trace the lines of trauma in my daily life, who I am now, what I want, how I can be more like my original childhood self, and what sort of psycho-sexual effect the abuse has had on my long-term development. I was processing, trying to find the answer why so I could fix myself. I still don't like people being forceful with me in intimate settings for obvious reasons, but there seemed some possibility the complete eradication of agency in my life at a young age jumpstarted the depression and anxiety I've struggled with as a teenager and adult. If only I could think my way through it hard enough, I might solve my problems. Now I understand how futile an endeavor this was, no amount of thinking could undo what was done to me. It wasn't going to make me healthier or more adaptive in my daily life. I had to find a new way to exist, but what thinking did help me do was process.

I'm still at a loss for what I do with this now, I've had this horrible hex put on me by someone else, yet when I try to follow in the footsteps of notable men who've undergone sexual harassment and abuse like Terry Crews or Brendan Fraser, I'm often met with incredulity that a straight, white, able-bodied cishet man such as myself could have an experience many associate with women. I even had a woman in a multicultural social work class tell me that my experience was invalid because as a man I "don't experience things like that every day," as though the frequency at which I experience assault is a qualifier for being a victim. I talked about it in a journal paper that I had to turn in to my professor in hopes that maybe she might bring it up in class to show that in the social work field we can't make assumptions, but was met with silence. I was left wondering why I even bothered to share my experience in the first place, despite my professor prompting the discussion about sexual assault on men. Now I understand first-hand what it's like to have your experience invalidated by those around you, shutting down uncomfortable discussion with pointless qualifiers and platitudes that "it could always be worse." As though human suffering is quantifiable. All I seek is validation, a seat at a table where I can be vulnerable with others who've gone through similar experiences that I can learn how to heal from.

I've never felt I had a place in this world as a victim or a "normal man". I still don't know where I belong, as Jacob Bannon sings in the Converge song "Last Light":

"I need a purpose and I need a reason
I need to know there is trophy and meaning
to all we lose and all we fight for
to all our loves and our wars
keep breathing
keep living
keep searching
keep pushing on
keep bleeding
keep healing
keep fading
keep shining on
this is for the hearts still beating"

With tears in my eyes for the things I've lost, and resolve in my heart, I keep pushing on.

About the art:

David is one of my new best friends - we met in September and quickly hit it off. Since then, we’ve shared so much of ourselves in learning how to have a healthy male relationship. David is one of the most knowledgeable and insightful people I’ve ever met. For a story like this to come from David was a pretty big surprise for me.

When I first read his story, my heart sank - I hated learning about a struggle he’s lived with throughout his life. While he has this experience, I know this piece took a lot for him to write, but I’m so thankful he did because I know this piece will help many people heal.

So for the art, I went off his affinity for Converge’s “Last Light,” matched the colors from the artwork, wrote all of the lyrics in the background and focused on the last two lines as a symbol of motivation for David.

- Craig.

0150: Taylor of the Past

Content warning: The following piece contains references to sexual assault and coercion, which may be triggering for some readers.

"Taylor of the Past," Taylor, the Survivor

Dear Taylor of the Past,

You’re now at college, congratulations! New and amazing memories will be created here: you will laugh till you cry and smile till your cheeks hurt. I do ask that you pay attention to the meetings on campus safety, reporting an incident, and consent (especially how an intoxicated individual cannot legally give consent to engage in sexual activity). Why do I ask this of you? Because college means experimenting with your limits and this will include alcohol limits. I am sorry to say you will not always be smart when testing your boundaries with alcohol. For there will be a night come winter quarter that will taint your memories for the remainder of your life. 

The night will be cold as snow blankets the ground, but you will be warmed by the alcohol pumping through your veins. It starts out innocent as you drink with your girlfriends in one of their rooms, but then you will receive an invitation to a party, your first college party! It’s a small party with music and more alcohol to add to what you drank before coming over. While there, encouragement to continue letting drinks slither down the throat will echo in the ears. A guy will muster up courage to ask to dance, and a drunk agreement will escape the lips because who doesn’t like to dance?

In your haze you will remember to tell him that “We are not having sex”, quiet yet still audible. As the party continues, the ability to concentration or perceive surroundings decreases and blurs. Suddenly, the guy grabs your hand, leading to his bedroom in the back. You’ll start to realize what is happening when you are laid on the bed and panic will grip your heart. “Do you want to?” is thrown into the air, “No. No.” But suddenly clothes disappear and now how can you leave the room to your friends 10 feet away with nothing to cover yourself? A corner deep in the mind will welcome you and hold you until it is over. Desire for memory to cease to exist is strong as tears hinder the ability to see, making it difficult to leave the now forbidden apartment. Walking back to the dorm, a comparison is made between yourself and a newborn deer stumbling on unstable legs. You are now another statistic, one where alcohol was consumed when the assault occurred.

The next day while talking with a friend the word “Rape” escapes her lips, said in a gentle tone-yet it cuts the surrounding air. Shock arises as she confirms your fear. People will radiate with doubt as the words “Drunk mistake” are whispered, but you know the truth, you know you said no. With a strong mindset, a report will be filed and the exhausting process to healing begins. Several conduct meetings will be held with the school and him; I can tell you that he did not fully comprehend his actions that night.

After the assault, a single touch can cause the body to shiver in fear, and the thought of seeing the man on campus creates anxiety that squeezes the heart. Schoolwork will become strenuous and difficult to focus on and it will not be easy waking up or going to sleep for weeks. People will scrunch up trying to hide from the word rape; trying to hide from you. But deep down is the courage and the strength needed to push past all of the negative feelings, because I know you, and I know that you do not want a single man to determine your life. I also know that you would rather handle this than have it happen to one of your friends, but please don’t forget to take care of yourself. Over time the feelings of anxiety and fear will start to deplete but never completely leave. While the road may get bumpy, use it to educate and help others. Just remember that I will never stop believing in you.

Taylor, the Survivor


About the art:

This story was sent to us by a colleague who solicited a number of stories from their students - for an upcoming event on their campus. So I wanted to share one of them now in preparation for sharing the others next week! This piece is meant to be a powerful reminder for this survivor, who is clearly using the letter format in an intentional manner for this to be related beyond just their experience. Which, as unique as everyone's experiences can be, many of these stories begin to sound eerily similar. And those similarities serve as valuable reminders for folks to look out for each other and to find ways to take care of ourselves.

- Craig.

094: Finding the Comfort of Yourself

Content warning: The following story contains references to bullying, self-harm, suidical ideation, and violence, which may be triggering to some readers.

"Finding the Comfort of Yourself," Brian Walker of A Day Without Love

Since the age of 14, I have never felt exactly comfortable with who I am. In someways you can say it's because of growing up in an environment of where I was bullied, I witnessed urban violence and saw gunshots time to time in my neighborhood. But at 14, I moved to a safer neighborhood. I moved to the suburbs and I transferred to a suburban school. Did I change much? No things got worse. 

My only outlet was martial arts, I didn't have many friends but I felt empty. I was bullied, I was not exactly considered dating material and beyond all of the outside factors in my life that were not going very well, I did not feel very good about myself. 

At the age of 15, I started to verbally speak out about my own self hatred and how I did not like who I was. I did not like the fact that I was black because of the racist jokes that were made against me. I was not accepted by people in my own community and people of other races did not accept me. No matter what it was I didn't feel acceptance with myself. I then started to drink alcohol and found fairweather friends. 

Many of these people were not real friends, at 16 I started to find a deeper sense of hatred. Not only was I poisoning my body, I tried to kill myself. I tried to drink an entire bottle of mouthwash and took pills from my grandparents closet hoping that I wouldn't wake up the next day. I wanted to kill myself in my own high school, I wanted to get run over by a car. I confessed these thoughts to my friends and started to get into therapy. 

At 16, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was given pills to "fix me." These pills did not fix me, they destroyed me, I tried to take these pills with alcohol in hopes I would kill myself. I continued the therapy and I found out later that I was misdiagnosed. I switched doctors and was diagnosed with major depression. 

I found out that I had issues with trusting the person that I was and not being comfortable with who I was. My behaviors manifested this depression through insomnia, overeating, addiction to alcohol, and living a relatively balanced life. 

Ages 16 to 20, I went to therapy to try to improve myself. In some ways I made progress, but in other ways I still remained dependent, depressed and rife with self hatred. 

I didn't wake up feeling like I wanted to die everyday, but I still hated myself. Sometimes I medicated with alcohol. Other days I medicated with sex with strangers that I wasn't intimately or emotionally involved with.I looked for a medicine and nothing worked. I started playing music at 18, but I wasn't confident in whether I had the ability to even help anyone. 

You can check out Brian's new album,  Solace , as A Day Without Love on his bandcamp page, here:  https://adaywithoutlove.bandcamp.com

You can check out Brian's new album, Solace, as A Day Without Love on his bandcamp page, here: https://adaywithoutlove.bandcamp.com

At the age of 20, I stopped going to therapy, mostly this was due to the demands of my academic work. I haven't been able to go since because of time or the lack of financial abilities. But I have found a very healthy coping skill, music. 

Music has opened doors for me that I never thought I could have done and because of music among many other life changes and growing pains I have learned how to forgive myself and learn about myself. I recognize that my illness should not hold me back and I should never be a person who latches on to the idea of hating myself. I am learning how to think outside the box of myself and trying to tell a story to help people. I am taking strides to live healthier and treat my body better by living a non drinking lifestyle. I don't engage in harmful actions, I try to engage in more healthy intimate relationships. 

I still have hard days, but through music, playing and sharing my story I feel that my pain is less, and I am learning to find safety in my own body by trying to improve and allowing myself to feel. For so long I never allowed myself to feel and I am now more aware of what my depression has taught me and how I can now help others with the gift of music.


About the art:

We've held on to Brian's story for a minute. He submitted it back when we first interacted in July, shortly after I came across his powerful piece on being a black man in a white DIY scene, which you can read here.

I find Brian's writing incredible reflective and evocative of an experience that I can relate with on a number of levels, but also have no idea where to begin conceptualizing. I think that's the power in the storytelling approach that both he and I equip within our writing and our music. There's a vulnerability, a comfort in letting it all out and being free to share the innermost frustrations and fears.

I took to creating this piece by focusing on Brian's new A Day Without Love album, Solace. It's a gripping and heartbreaking exploration of a life riddled with anxiety, grief, love, and peace. I took the lines for this piece from the opening lines of his song, "Capacity." Which funny enough, I misquoted on the painting - instead of "brain," he says, "mind." But in talking with Brian, he said that "brain" was actually in the initial lyrics. So perhaps he and I aren't as dissimilar as lyricists as one might think.

I tried to emulate the color scheme from the album cover as well, which makes this piece pop in a way that many of my other pieces haven't. And I like that. It's an imperfect, messy, and vulnerable piece. Which I feel is all the more fitting.

- Craig.

086: In the Darkness

Content warning: The following story contains references to alcohol and alcoholism, which may be triggering for some readers.

“In the Darkness,” Tat Hatase

Eight years ago, I was wasted. In every sense of that word. Wasted. One particular day—August 27th to be exact—I believe I started out that afternoon by ordering two pints of beer and three shots of tequila for appetizers. Who knows what I ended up eating. I probably didn't. But I made sure to have a full serving of alcohol. Probably had some dessert too. And that was just the beginning.

The rest of the day was just dreadful just like my mindset was that summer. I had to drink to help me ignore the voice in my head. Or in my heart? Where does that voice even come from? My past, perhaps?

Anyway, I was spiraling out of control. I hated myself. I wasn't sure why this was happening to me. Why was my life doing this to me? Why must everything be so painful? That was pretty much how my thought process went around that time. Or for years and years leading up to that day.

I was so selfish.

Anyway, I kept on drinking that night. Well into the night, I drank. In the darkness, I drank.

Later that night, I came to realized that I had locked myself out and in at once. Literally and metaphorically. I got home, and I had the key in my hand, but I was not able to use it open the door. (Note: the house is a metaphor for my inner self.) A part of me was locked outside, and a part of me was locked inside. If I were a better writer, the whole metaphor would be worked out and presented in an amazing way, but revisiting that time of my life makes it difficult to concentrate, so you have to excuse me. The point is that I had lost control.

I don't know if I had hit the rock bottom, but I sure did not enjoy the way people were looking at me. I was being judged. I was being pitied. I was being a complete fucking idiot. But there was nobody watching me.

Eight years ago, I woke up and hated myself as usual. So... I said no more. I am stubborn enough to maintain that stance this entire time. It hasn't been easy, but it made sense. I had that logic thing on my side which is nice.

Am I a better person for it? I don't know. Probably not. I'm still not all that great. Still an asshole; that didn't really change. But I feel more functional. Even when I am pissed off and/or being an ass, I feel that I am doing those things with good reasons and some sense of purpose.

It was never about fun or anything like that with me and drinking. It was more about my past and memories and following the family tradition. Alcohol made me feel free from many of those things for a while, but the pain comes back. It comes back stronger, or maybe I was just weaker each time the pain came back to visit. And you can never trust the way you feel while you are drinking because... You are drunk! Either way, it was that whole downward spiral thing which was getting out of control. 

It was the shitstorm tornado of fucking up.

So, you know, I quit.

Now, the pain hurts in the right way. Now, I get sad, and it feels awful. But it's real. It's all real, and I'm living with it. It feels like shit.

I really don't know what will happen to me in terms of drinking. There is a good chance I will go back to it. That's just statistic; we always go back. I am not going to deny that. I think it's dangerous to look away from what is basically a certainty. Know thy enemy or some shit.

But, for now, while I am clean, I will continue to... Yeah, I still don't know how to finish that sentence. After eight years, I still don't know where I am. I have a vague idea on where I am not, and I know where I don't want to be. The only things I feel certain about are not entirely in my control. Because life sucks like that, and I have to live in this real world and face all of that without giving myself excuses.

What goes up must come down... Is that really true? Sure, if you throw a rock, it will come down. Because of that gravity thing science likes. But if you blast the fuck out of something with enough momentum, it can leave this planet forever, right? We've done that. There are some stuff we've shot out into the space and that shit's never coming back. Things that go up do not necessarily have to come back down. It's just basic rocket science.

And I'm still going up. Going up strong, baby! (Doing my best George Costanza impression.)

Maybe I will come back down. Maybe I will head straight down to the bottom again. Stay tuned, because if that happens, it will be a great show. I guarantee it.

Or, you know, I will just keep going up.

And I didn't get this far on my own. I did most the work, but some people helped. There are always some people who care for reasons I have not yet fully understood.


About the art:

Tat is one of my best friends. We met a couple years into his reclamation of sobriety, so I never knew THIS Tat. But I know a Tat. And the Tat I know is exactly this contemplative, witty, and self-critical. I learned much of how to be self-critical from observing and interacting with Tat. The constant desire to do and be better than how you were actually performing as a human being.

And the Tat I know is pretty private, but I reached out to him in hopes he would be willing to share. I asked him to share his story because, 1. I knew his sobriety anniversary was coming up, 2. I know a few of his stories from when he used to drink, 3. I knew that he'd present his experience in an incredibly clever, artistic and reflective manner, and 4. I know how proud he is of himself for remaining sober - even if he doesn't say those exact words!

So for this piece, I wanted to combine two artistic aspects that I know are near to Tat's heart, as far as influences are concerned - Ralph Steadman's art and the gonzo writer himself, Hunter S. Thompson. So I tried some splatter and water colors as an homage to the great Ralph Steadman, and I used a Hunter S. Thompson quote, "Morality is temporary, wisdom is permanent." It's a quote that certainly reminds me of Tat's approach to life.

And while he might not understand why some people might have helped and cared about him during his journey to sobriety, I can at least say that on my end, it's because he's a dude that always looked out for me. Even after we first met, he treated me like someone he had known for years. And that's something I love about this man, he treats the people he truly cares about like they are family - a family of which I know he has had to create on his own since moving from Japan nearly two decades ago. That's no easy task, but he's definitely created a great life for himself over the past few years.

And while we aren't in the same state together anymore, I always know that he has my back when things get rough, and I KNOW that he is often the first to come up with a witty retort to any of my tweets or comments online. Because that's how he shows his love - with wit and humor.

I'm proud of Tat for sharing this piece. I'm so happy that he did. I think it will help a number of people understand what it's like to get sober and stay clean. 

- Craig. 

084: Roseann

Content warning: The following story contains references to drug use, addiction, associated loss, and murder.

“Roseann,” Jessica

I’ve known my fair share of people who have lost their lives as a result of drugs, alcohol, or the lifestyle associated with such. There was Casey, who overdosed on heroin in a halfway house; There was Derek who tried to rob a drug dealer and was shot in the head. There was Anthony who died from falling off a roof – and no one is quite sure if he jumped or was pushed or just fell. 

None were as impactful as the death of a woman I hardly got the chance to know.

Roseann was 49 years old when she died.
Stephanie was 13 years old when she found her.
Robert was 29 years old when he murdered her.

On Monday, August 14 2006 I cheerfully walked into my home after returning from a hardcore show in New York City. I was a pipsqueak, just fifteen; My dad had driven and picked up myself and my buddy Zack. We felt like grown-ups at a concert in the city by ourselves. We were invincible.

I walked into the kitchen to let my mom know I was home before retreating to my room; That’s where I saw her hysterical at the table. I initially assumed my great-grandmother, Nana, had passed away. After all, Nana was ninety-something and the family somewhat awaited the still-dreaded phone call. 

“It’s my sister Roseann,” my mother managed to get out between tears. I did not immediately reply. I did not know my aunt well, or at all really. I did know she was the “black sheep," for lack of a better phrase, of the family. I knew that she had struggled with drugs and alcohol, and had left the house she shared with my mother, her siblings, and their mother, at a young age. I wondered if this distress was a result of the end of those struggles.

Over the next few minutes I learned that this death was not attributed to an overdose, or a drunk driving accident like I, and perhaps some others may have initially thought. My aunt was struck and killed by her boyfriend with a baseball bat the night before. He later noted alcohol and anger as the driving force for his crime, reporting that he drank a 12-pack of beer as well as most of a bottle of vodka prior. After killing her, my aunt’s daughter entered the bedroom. She was initially told that her mother was sleeping and not to bother her. After he fled the house, my 13-year-old cousin entered the room once again to find her mother bloodied and lifeless on the floor next to her bed. 

A few days later my family went to my aunt’s apartment to gather belongings and clean it out. Her daughter was there, as well as her older children. Many of the family members did not have a close relationship with my aunt, likely because of the path she took in life. Robert took away my aunt’s chance at ever repairing those relationships. 

Robert stole more than my Aunt Roseann’s life that night. He also stole her daughter Stephanie’s life, who has never remotely recovered from this trauma. She entered the foster care system after her mother’s death, and went from home to home. She was aggressive, belligerent – she was traumatized, and always will be. Robert stole a child from a mother, a mother from a child, a sister from a family. 

He was charged with third-degree murder, also known as voluntary manslaughter. This crime is often referred to as a “crime of passion.” It is described by its lack of intent to kill prior to the time of the crime, an on-the-spot killing, and states the crime is committed under such circumstances that would “cause a reasonable person to become emotionally or mentally disturbed.” The intent to kill is present, however is not considered before the action. While I am aware alcohol and anger can certainly cause a lack of judgment, I cannot believe or understand the idea that his actions were reasonably provoked to the point that murder should be the intent. 

He did not address my family in court. News articles say my family agreed with the plea and the sentence. I think they were worried he could get off completely. I would hardly say the family agreed that his sentence was fair. He was sentenced to 10-20 years in prison.  When he gets out, he will be younger than my aunt was at the time of her death. He was recently denied a chance at parole; My mother was told he lacked signs of remorse. 

My family is strong, and has very seldom discussed the pain this loss has caused. My grandmother, a rock, sometimes recluses around the anniversary of the death, however remains stoic throughout the rest of the year. My mother, the strongest person I know, almost always holds her own. She does not discuss the impact this loss has had on her, but every year around the anniversary of her sister’s death, she struggles a little bit more. This year I expect the impact to be greater, as it is the 10-year anniversary. 

My family will never overcome the loss of Roseann, but will forever remember the time they had with her. Ramble on baby, settle down easy. Ramble on Rose. 


About the art:

This painting was inspired by the song "Ramble On Rose" by the Grateful Dead. This song is one of Roseann's sister's favorites and it has really resonated with her. Jessica wanted a traditional red rose because roses have become symbolic of Roseann to both her and her mom.

I started this painting by pasting dictionary pages to the background of the canvas to give it dimension and depth. The color splash behind the rose symbolizes the instability of her life with drugs and alcohol. But the white in the color splash surrounding it represents her purity and kind spirit. As this is the 10th year since Roseann has passed, I hope this painting will be a comfort to them as well as help keep the memory of Roseann alive.

- Emily Silkman

083: Survival Isn't Pretty

Content warning: The following story contains references to drug use, drug overdose, and recovery, which may be triggering for some survivors.

“Survival isn’t Pretty,” Andrea

My friends started dying my freshman year of high school, and it hasn’t stopped since. My grandmother used to call the obituaries the “Irish funnies,” and it was amusing until she had to hide the Herald when I visited because I’d immediately turn to the death notices to see if I recognized any names. 19 years later, I don’t even need to do that. My Facebook feed has become a roll call of the dead and barely-alive. I deactivated social media and, still, my phone lights up with texts asking, “Did you hear…?” 

I always know what it means: Another person I know has succumbed to the disease. Another coma that may or may not offer a second (or 92nd) chance. Another 911 call that doesn’t require sirens because it’s already too late. Another needle, another line, another cocktail of chemicals that an exhausted and broken body couldn’t sustain. Another one bites the dust.

Sometimes, though, we survive.

Survival isn’t pretty. It’s painful and non-linear and dirty. Survival isn’t just waking up from an overdose and breathing again; some of us never overdose. Some of us hit our bottoms in glass after glass of wine, or waking up and needing to smoke some weed before facing life. Some of us graduated from top-tier universities and got impressive jobs and then blew all that potential on prescription pills we didn’t get at the pharmacy. Some of us had families who cared, with resources to spare, and we ended up in therapy with counselors who said things like, “You’re growing up in a war zone.” Some of us lived in that war zone at home with parents who were also addicts. Many of us eventually lost every home and person and dream we’d ever had. Many of us ended up incarcerated, or in detoxes and mental hospitals, or dead in a train station bathroom.

But some of us survive. 

The people I survive with gather in dirty church basements, in police station conference rooms, and on the beach on Friday nights during the summer. We share our experiences: the places drugs took us, the feelings we suppressed in active addiction and have to face in recovery, and the ways our disease manifests when we stop using. But we also share our strength and our hope. We learn that whatever happens, we don’t have to go through it alone. We learn how to process trauma and loss, trust ourselves and others, and become responsible members of society. We form and develop our values, and begin to understand and apply the principles we want to guide our lives. 

We fuck up – frequently, and in catastrophic ways at times. But we welcome one another back with unconditional love.

We understand recovery is a process, and that we don’t get to graduate. We put an empty chair in the middle of the room to represent the addict who died before finding recovery. We laugh at really dark jokes and sit in silence while men cry for the first time and go out for ice cream to celebrate milestones. We find joy in life again and hold each other up during the really hard moments. We cheer each other on as those dreams we squandered turn back into possibilities, and we practice rigorous honesty and intimacy with people whose last names we may never know. We answer the phone during crises and when we put some time together, we help others. Service has become crucial to my survival; when I help others I also help myself.

Survival isn’t an upward trajectory, at least for me. It’s more like a heart monitor – there are going to be ups and downs, but as long as it keeps moving I’m going to be OK. Without drugs clouding my thoughts, I now have a lifetime of pain to address. I’ve been sexually assaulted. For years I blamed myself for the death of my boyfriend. I still struggle with self-harmful behaviors like cutting. I’ve caused others harm and don’t know how to forgive myself. I’m learning how to negotiate my sexual identity and define what being queer means to me. I’m responsible for the life and safety of a child as I do all of this. There are times when I think I’m starting to figure it all out, and the next day I’m so overcome with fear I can’t move from my bed. 

But I keep going—I don’t have any other choice. In recovery I’ve learned to begin letting go of some of the guilt and shame that kept me using for so long. I’ve started turning those lost dreams into reality. I found a career I love, I’m in graduate school, and I plan to pursue a PhD. I am the best parent, friend and partner I can be. I’m not perfect and much of the time I’m unsure I’m even worth the effort, but I’ve surrounded myself with people who remind me I am.

Survival isn’t pretty, but I was never big on traditional beauty standards anyway. There’s something to be said for landing in the gutter and crawling back out, for wiping the dirt off and remembering how bad life can be if I turn around. There isn’t a finish line. It’s either survive, or don’t. Today I choose to survive.


About the art:

This survivor’s story emanated resiliency, and so I wanted to create a simple piece that would remind them of this. Throughout their story, I heard the repetition of “I survive” and thought of a heartbeat, as they describe in their writing.

With every heartbeat, I hope this individual is reminded of their joys, their struggles, their progress, their community, their resiliency, and most importantly their survival.


081: The Choices You Make Affect More Than You

Content warning: The following story references an incidence of drunk driving, and associated loss, and the grief thereafter, which may be triggering to some survivors.

"The Choices You Make Affect More Than You," Amanda Myers

There is one specific day in my life where absolutely everything changed. I don’t mean in a poetic sense where I had an epiphany, or in a reflective looking back, what I know now way. But in a truly life shattering way that caused a schism between my old self and who I am now that runs incredibly deep.

On July 10, 2008, I had gone to bed somewhat early after a day of running errands. A phone call on our apartment phone rang in the distance, and my husband came into the bedroom, and told me my dad was on the phone. It didn’t alarm me immediately- this was far from normal, but I was sleepy. After I said hello to my father, he told me my sister was dead. After a stunned moment of disbelief, he told me she had been killed in a car accident. That she was hit by a drunk driver, head-on, about two miles from my parent’s home, and was killed instantly. I told him I was coming home as soon as I could, and hung up the phone. And then I started screaming.

I had read the word “keening” before as a way to explain a profound grieving cry, and I realized in that moment that I understood what keening really meant. It was heartbreak leaving my body through my voice.

We left almost immediately, and drove for 15 hours to get back to my parents. Once the sun arose above the horizon, somewhere on the far side of Nebraska, I had to start making phone calls. I called friends. I called family connections. I called neighbors. And I listened as I broke their hearts, one by one. As they started crying and didn’t know what to say. I listened to their shock. And I hurt.

My sister was 18 years old when she died; it was just over two weeks before her 19th birthday. She had been out for dinner with her fiancee, and was killed on a Friday night by someone I vaguely knew from high school, who was incredibly drunk by 9 p.m. It was the other woman’s birthday, and she did not have a designated driver. She was leaving one bar and heading to another when she crossed the center lines, and hit my sister. The other woman died shortly after the accident and left behind a young son.

Emily and I at an early morning family breakfast. This was the last time I saw her.

Emily and I at an early morning family breakfast. This was the last time I saw her.

Emily was my only sibling, and was truly one of my best friends. We were very close throughout my time in high school and college, and I was lucky that we spent most weekends together my junior and senior years of college. Even though I had spent the last year in Denver, Colorado, quite a distance from home, we still talked regularly and saw each other as much as we could. I cannot fully describe the pain and grief the loss of my sister caused in my life. It changed everything. I no longer had my best friend. I was an only child. I was heartbroken. And it was someone else’s fault. Someone made the choice to drink and drive, and it didn’t only kill that person, but also killed my innocent sister who was trying to get home.

Emily’s death was also the first death I really experienced. I was too young to remember the loss of my grandfather or my infant cousin. I had no experience with death, and this was life altering change. Most of the first year after Emily died is foggy; I don’t have many memories. I know I felt disconnected, aloof, and overwhelmingly alone. I considered my own death, however, I never took any action toward it. I thought about how nice it would be if I was killed in an accident myself. I was so broken.

To cope with her death, I did find several things that worked for me. I wrote in a journal, and in the journal I not only wrote about my feelings and thoughts each day, but I also wrote down as many memories as I could think of about Emily. All the details about what she liked, adventures we had, music we sang to in the car, and what made us laugh together. Having that journal is a huge comfort to me now, as time marches on and I sometimes forget the details about certain events or things she liked. I go back and read about memories I have forgotten, and it makes my heart happy instead of sad.

My other major source for coping with Emily’s death was learning how to knit. I read a book about loss where a woman learned to knit after the death of her child (Comfort: A journey through grief by Ann Hood), and I signed up for a knitting class. I truly think that knitting saved my life. It was calming, and it gave me something to do that didn’t require a lot of energy or intense thought. I could just knit. In the book, it said that with knitting, “every stitch is a way to say I love you.” I would meditate on that as I knit, and would find some sanctuary in the repetitive motion as I created something from yarn.

It has been a little more than eight years since my sister was killed by a drunk driver. I am still passionate about driving sober. A choice to drink and drive doesn’t just impact you. It can potentially impact hundreds of others in profound ways that can never be repaired.

So I have two main messages:
1) Take an Uber. Call a cab. Get a friend to drive. Drink at home. I don’t care, just don’t drink and drive.
2) If you’re grieving, find what gives you some small semblance of peace. Write, read, knit, sing, write music, travel, get a tattoo, join a group, cry.

Take each day knowing that some days will better, and some will be impossibly hard. Eventually the hard days are fewer and further in between, although they never go away completely. Find a way to say ‘I love you.’


About the art:

Emily was my best friend in high school. Losing her was also a very huge shift for me, one that really affected the way I would live the rest of my life. She was literally the coolest person I have ever met, and had such a big heart for bettering the lives of others.

I met Amanda my senior year of high school, but we didn't become close until after losing Emily. We both found our own ways to cope, and eventually found a new normal together, years later. Amanda is now my closest friend, confidant, dance partner, inspiration, and most of all, my Skister - a title that had been held between Amanda and Emily growing up.

I've become a part of Amanda's family, but I always think about how things would be if Emily were still with us. I think about how much fun Emily would have with her nephew. I think about how much closer Amanda and Emily would have gotten over the years. I think about how I would fit into that picture.

With this piece, I wanted to be able to give Amanda a slice of that life by creating an image of Amanda, her son, and Emily were walking down a street together. I looked through old and new photos to make sure I created an accurate enough image that would make Amanda so happy she might cry (which she did). 

Although 'what ifs' can become a painful part of losing a loved one, sometimes imagining them as a part of your current life years later can be a rewarding experience. Thinking about how proud they would be of you, or how much they would love you regardless of where your life has gone, can be one of the most comforting things.

I like to think that Emily would be extremely proud of me, and I know with certainty, that she would be so proud of Amanda, thankful for her friendship and advice, supportive of the challenges she faces, and how much of a fun, loving aunt she would be to Amanda's son. 

I miss Emily every day, and I'm so thankful for Amanda. This project was really soothing to me in sort of a therapeutic way, and I'm so happy Amanda chose me to do this piece.

- Katy

079: Not to Fit a Mold

Content warning: This story contains references to drugs and alcohol that might be triggering for some survivors.

"Not to Fit a Mold," Tom Dickson

I don’t often think of myself as a survivor. Just someone who has experienced some challenges I tend to avoid discussing, especially in professional circles. I am going to break that silence today. 


First off, I am the child of an alcoholic – but that is only part of the story I am here to tell. The background is certainly helpful in understanding other factors, so here it goes. In middle school, I found out my Father had started drinking to excess on a regular basis. To my recollection, my Dad was never the type to drink. I can remember having the same one or two beers sitting in the fridge for 6 months or more; asking my Mom why we even kept them in there if no one ever touched them. He maybe had one drink every year; maybe. I never knew why it started at the time, but later I found out my Father had repressed memories of some unresolved childhood trauma. We think he did it to cope and dull the pain, but to be honest I don’t think anyone will every really know.

I have tons of adolescent stories of sneaking into his truck at night and stealing his alcohol in order to throw it out, of learning how to remove his keys from his belt while he was passed out so I could hide them, and in once instance, of carefully taking a loaded gun out of his hand while he lay unconscious in an armchair. Even after repeated attempts at counseling, interventions, and the support of his family, my father always returned to his alcohol. His alcoholism ruined a marriage, distanced him from his children, lost the family home, forfeited generations of family heirlooms and antiques, all his other possessions, and finally the respect of friends and family. My contact with him evaporated back around 2006 when he stopped replying to emails. I don’t know if he is still alive or not. I check the obituaries every couple of months, but haven’t found anything. 


Around 5th or 6th grade, before my Dad became an alcoholic, I started going to punk concerts with my cousins. They introduced me to the world of punk and the philosophy of Straight Edge.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Straight Edge, it is a punk philosophy centered on the primary tenants of self-respect, respect for the beliefs of others, and most importantly in abstaining from drugs, smoking, and alcohol. Some take it to varying levels beyond potentially inclusive of abstaining from sex, caffeine, over-the-counter medicine, meat, and more. Let’s not get bogged down with the details; however we should talk about what the choice to not have alcohol has on one’s life.


In high school and college the mindset and scripts were nearly the same. You have people waiting around trying to find you slipping up, they purposely offer you drinks (or drugs), and they corner you into having arguments on the merits of inebriation. You constantly avoid the majority of parties just to avoid having to be someone else’s designated driver, to not deal with drunk people, to avoid being on clean-up duty after the latest drunken accident, and to not be the responsible talking to the cops and neighbors. Given my family history, I cannot sit by and watch others hurt themselves, so I inevitably will get involved. I also worry. I worry their control will falter and they will lose everything. Just like my Father. 

The most awkward is not being puked on, urinated upon, or yelled at by the intoxicated. It is simply in dancing the dance of avoiding explanations about your family history to every new acquaintance at the party. You can avoid the parties. Eventually if you stop going the invites stop as well. And if I am fully honest, this model doesn’t stop once you graduate. 


At times it feels like in the student affairs setting alcohol can be as pervasive with staff as it is among the students. Offices have happy hours as team-builders, host officially scheduled office meetings at local bars, retreats have drinks, and celebrations of accomplishments and events are out at the local taverns. Even professional networking outings and tweetups are done over a happy hour or in a bar.

If you go, you end up not drinking and inevitably have to explain why. You can come up with an excuse and not be genuine to yourself or honest to them. Or you can tell the truth and you leave everyone feeling awkward.

If you don’t attend, just like in high school or college, over time the invitations dry up and the network is cut off. In many circles, the social friends of administrators are the ones who have extra time to articulate their goals, plans, and ideas. Many of these discussions and decisions are made ‘over drinks’ and frequently, somehow, magically turn into promotions for those with access. If I choose not to attend, I cut off that professional avenue. If I do attend, I have to explain why I am not drinking.

Alcohol is just as pervasive inside the office as well. I regularly have to attend functions with donors, alumni, senior administration, and faculty. The majority of the time there are options for alcohol. A few years ago my college even implemented a happy hour in the middle of an afternoon during the doctoral student orientation week. A cash bar was open for any students, faculty, and staff. From the faculty and other administrators, I regularly get a few bottles of wine each December. 

Rarely does a day go by where references to needing coffee (mornings) and a drink (afternoons) isn’t mentioned. Right now on social media some higher education professional in my feed is posting a photo of themselves out with their colleagues, friends, or families out at a bar. I don’t feel like this is discrimination, but I can sometimes feel left out. For some quick stats on the subject - my twitter feed, filtering for only my personal contacts, had 31 references to ‘beer’ and 12 to ‘drink’ (alcohol) just today….today! Three of those included pictures. Two included references to supervisors drinking with staff. Most of the statements were made about going out for drinks to relieve stress or as a reward for suffering through workplace frustrations. It seems to be everywhere. 

If you know me or meet me, please know I am not against drinking or being around those who do. Know however that I will continue to worry for my friends and colleagues. Especially those who rely upon it. I have concerns they will need help and they might not get it. I also am selfishly concerned that my own career has/is being stunted because I am not going to have access to those side conversations that become increasingly vital in advancing ones career. Above all else, I will continue to agonize over what the loss of control could mean. I worry if they became an alcoholic, their friends, family, colleagues, and students will lose respect for them as others and I once did for my Father.

About the art:

So I made this painting for Tom a few months ago as he wanted a straight edge-themed piece for his office. Being straight edge, myself, I was very excited to make this piece for Tom!

I love this classic Straight Edge credo. It's something I think about every day when it comes to how I live my life and I'm so thankful to have a punk mentor in the field that knows where I am coming from and supports my lifestyle.

This piece was done in my typical splatter style with the not-so subtle edge X in the middle of the piece. This piece gave me so much strength while creating it, especially knowing it was going to a home that would love it and share a proud story behind it.

Thank you, Tom. For your inspiration to stay clean in a society that tries to make us compromise that value.

- Craig.