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. 

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.

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!

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.


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

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.


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