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.

099: I Found My Voice


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

“I Found My Voice,” Jenna Glazer

Most people look at me and see an overachieving teacher's pet, who tries to hard in school. Those people would be 100% correct. However, what many people don't know is that academics saved me. 

For my entire life school was my safe haven. The place where I was good at something. Where people would praise me and we're proud of me. The place I felt safe and loved. School was my home, because my home was a battleground. 

Although I didn't really know what that meant when I was six, I realize now that my mother and brother's physical and verbal abuse was not some form of tough love. It took me about 17 years to finally admit it, but I was (and still am) a victim of domestic abuse. Both my mother and brother suffer from anger management issues, and combined with my brother's drug abuse my home became a ticking time bomb. For the majority of my life I've had to worry every day about saying the wrong thing, entering a room at the wrong time, or even watching the wrong television show. My parents promised me for years that they would help my brother get over his anger management issues, that he'd stop smoking pot in the house, and he'd stop bringing his drug dealing friends around. As a young girl I believed them with every ounce of my being. 

I believed them until one day at the beginning of my freshman year of high school. I was watching a TV show called, "Beyond Scared Straight" about kids who were on the wrong path and needed a push in the right direction. Earlier that day I got into a fight with my brother about his own drug abuse and the family members in the episode were saying the same things I believed. My brother walked into the room and as soon as I looked into his eyes my heart began to pound and all my brain could think was "run."

While running toward the door I grabbed the phone, because maybe, just maybe I could find my voice. I make it to the door but it's shut and I'm cornered. “I’ll call them,” I say, but just like the times before, he knows it’s an empty threat. The anger between us scares me, and as I clench the phone he looks at me with hatred in his eyes. He snaps. The force of his body slams me backward and my right arm hits the handle of the door. The pain shoots up my arm, and the tears begin to stream. But through it all, I saw my chance to escape. I wasn’t afraid anymore. I dialed 9-1-1.

I had finally found my voice, but looking back it was almost all for nothing. According to my parents, I ruined my brother’s life by calling the police. That guilt convinced me not to testify at his domestic assault trial, but despite my silence, our relationship has never healed: anger still looms between us. I still fear for my life every time I walk into my house, and over the years my brother's issues have seemed to multiply. 

Sometimes I wish that I could go back in time, not call the police, and stay quiet. But then again, speaking out for my well-being, even if it meant betraying my family, made me stronger. Reaching out to my high school teachers, and discussing my options with administration, I discovered that my voice matters, and I hope to do the same for others.

That's why I'm now at Lesley University, becoming a teacher. I'm ready to pay it forward. School was my saving grace and I hope to make my future classroom the safe space that my students deserve. No one should feel unsafe, unappreciated, and unsupported. I found my voice and it is time to help others find theirs.


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About the art:

This is exactly what Jenna wanted!

We both like flowers and I suggested incorporating a hand or hands to simulate taking control and finding your strength. She was into some Ophelia vibes as well. The flowers pictured are representative of strength and poise.

- Kelsey

088: Carrying Separate Halves


Content warning: The following story contains references to drug use, a drug overdose, and the loss of a family member due to a drug overdose, which may be triggering to some readers

"Carrying Separate Halves," Jaran Stallbaum

On Halloween of 2015, I found myself swallowed by Sixth Street in Austin. During the day me and some co-workers were attending a student media conference, wide-eyed and diligent. On the last night, we celebrated the holiday as any twenty-somethings would. We drank too much. We crumpled into our hangovers on separate planes. That morning, I had an hour to get myself from a stranger’s apartment, to my university funded hotel, to a shuttle that would eventually lead me home. My mother and grandmother picked me up from the airport, a burrito and water bottle offering in hand. I scowled at them. I wanted nothing but my cat and the sinking hole of my mattress. An aggressive one-night stand in Texas left my body bent, ribs cracked. I was feeling awfully sorry for myself.

My brother would be dead in less than 24 hours.

The following evening, I unpacked just enough to visit a friend-or-something-like-it’s house for overdue affection. I’d been single for two months at this point, and craved an exit from loneliness. 

My mother has always called me too much. My phone buzzed somewhere on the mattress, between blanket folds. I let it ring six, maybe eight times before I couldn’t kiss through the sound anymore. She needed me home. She refused to tell me why. I yelled my apprehension at her until it ran out. My guessing game fizzled. My grandmother didn’t die, or my cat, dad was fine. Her car hadn’t broken down on the highway. Possibilities were running out. I knew then.

And then I was driving on a dark highway, sobered from the call but still whiskey punched. I was calling my best friend for 20 minutes straight, but she wasn’t answering. I walked into my house at quarter to 2 in the morning. My parents had their shoes on. We were going, somewhere, we had to, but where do you have to run to when your brother is dead? Where do you go now? I can’t remember if the car radio was on.

My brother’s fiancée found him slumped in her bathroom, blue and sticky with puke, all needles and dried blood and stillness. 

We stopped at my eldest brother’s first. My dad banged on his door and collapsed with sobs when it opened. When we all reached the hospital, the secretary pointed with no sounds to a closed door.

I went in first. I still don’t know why. They warned me about the tubes shoved all inside him, taped to his lips. He still had color, no heartbeat. My dad came in just to scream at his dead face. “Look what you did to yourself!” And then he wept.

I stood there and felt the blood dripping around my stomach. I almost threw up my own heart. I didn’t cry until the next day. The sun rise looked ugly through the gaps in my bedroom. I could not rise with it, not for hours at a time, and then days. Everything I ate tasted like salt.
Justin was my half-brother, but the fraction never counted. His mother asked me to compose a eulogy and I did, unblinkingly, read without one tear in front of a hundred people. I sat down next to my mother after and collapsed in my own cries. People I’d never met told me how beautiful it was. They blinked around tears and said they liked my dress. I was being complimented in front of a body. It felt wrong.

I bawled over the casket when everybody left. My father was more worried about my dead brother’s fiancée than me. At the cemetery, someone’s little niece handed me a flower after the casket hit the dirt. I stepped on it with my heel. It felt as though someone had aborted all my emotions, except for numb and angry.

Between edible arrangements and sympathy cards and the solemn, understanding eyes, I found myself sick of saying “I’m okay,” or even worse, “Thanks for asking.” So I stopped apologizing. Eventually, they stopped asking – about me, anyway. “How’s your father?” “Is his mother doing okay?” “Your mom, I know she wasn’t, but…she knew him his whole life.” 

My own ball of grief weighed even heavier when no one wanted it anymore. 

And then I just floated in this new version of routine—my father wearing Justin’s clothes and my mother picking out flowers for the stone, the way you’d pick out a new blouse. Christmas morning two months later and all eyes on Dad, sullen in the space at the table where his son would have sat. Forget about the way my oldest brother keeps his eyes on his plate, how he can’t look up at the gap.

Forget about me, Justin’s only sister, how I sat detox program lobbies with bags of socks and underwear and new toothbrushes, or courtrooms with crumpled proof that my half-blood enough could section him behind bars. Baby sisters to their brothers are just play-things or parasites, sometimes both, never more. “At least now,” a drunk family friend tries to relate to me once, “You don’t have to see him suffer anymore.”

They were wrong. I see it every day. I can still hear how my feet sounded on hospital tile. I remember how glassy Justin’s eyes got when he got off his bike and barreled into my house for dinner, and how angry his highs made me. I can recall the hung silences as he walked away injured from my bedroom door when I didn’t want to talk to him, not really, because he was so selfish in choosing the needle over me. When I look in mirrors I see his tiny eyes and his sneaky grin because they match mine; because in ways we were the same, after all, since now I’ll just go out and drink to forget him just like he went out and got high to forget me--

And the rubber band snaps back, because that’s grief.  It’s harsh and then it disappears. When, for a second, I feel almost at peace, but there’s days where my lungs just don’t fill up right and I want to sit with him again, feet crushed under his weight. How I’d rather him here and hurting me over hurting me while being gone.

I don’t know why they aren’t asking anymore, but I think I’ll eventually stop wondering. It’s just, I think people assume that loss is concrete, and since someone says there is nothing worse than a parent losing a child, that means all the other floating victims of loss are only hurting for a phase. That phase could be a month, or a year, or on the schedule of whenever his birthday comes around, but a phase nonetheless.

I would like to stand up and say that my grief as a sister is not a phase. My panic late at night or my memory bites making me ache until I’m dry, and hard, and then soft again, it’s not going to leak out.

I no longer feel resentment for the people that don’t ask me if I’m okay anymore. I should have known this a lot sooner, but now it’s definite – not asking doesn’t substitute for not caring. Just like, not crying doesn’t substitute for not hurting.

While I appreciate your tip-toes around the subject and the way the air hisses between your teeth when you think you’ve said too much, I sincerely disagree. Losing him hurts me all the time, every day, nearly every second. You can numb me up or hug it out, but the ache’s not going anywhere.

My grief has taught me that my brother’s death has not caused a bruise. It’s broken something in half. I’m learning to carry both halves now, that’s all.

The first time after my brother’s death that someone asked if I had siblings, I stammered. I almost cried. One was still alive, after all, but where do I go from here? I tried to explain. It felt artificial. Now, I say two, there’s two brothers I love, and I leave it there.

Grief breaks you forever. You won’t heal, and that’s okay. You’ll learn to carry your separate halves.


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About the art:

I ran through a few ideas for this piece before coming to this concept.

As someone who has also suddenly lost someone close to me, I really connected to the idea Jaran had about floating through time with a constant ache, and hitting hard ground on certain anniversaries or birthdays. The pain never goes away, but you learn to live a new normal. That new normal can sometimes feel unreal, or like you're floating and watching everything happen around you like you aren't there.

I created an image of Jaran floating in what could be sky, space, or water - finding herself hovering over and looking down at time passing below her as the seemingly unreal reality continues around her.

It may be damn near impossible on some days, but I hope Jaran continues to float on.

- Katy 

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. 


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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.


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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.

~Becca

082: Addiction Doesn’t Let Go


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

“Addiction Doesn’t Let Go,” 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.

 

You know the quotes people share about their sisters? One I see a version of often is this―"Having a sister is like having a best friend you can’t get rid of. You know whatever you do, they’ll still be there." ~Amy Li

These quotes always make me wonder what my relationship would be with my sister if her relationship with Meth had not started. Sometimes these quotes are nothing more than a painful reminder of the relationship I still wish for, but do not know how to create.

My sister’s addiction started young, at age 13/14 with a plethora of different substances before she picked her drug of choice, Meth. As a sibling of someone with addiction I don't want to tell you her story, only she can do that. I do think often siblings of addiction are in a hard spot. Watching your parents relationship bend and almost break time after time over what to do, and how much to support, enable, or let go of their child. Watching the sibling you love fall deeper and deeper into their addiction, logically knowing they are sick, emotionally being so angry, scared, hurt, and even at times jealous. Not hearing from them for months, even years at a time. Being so afraid to answer the phone after a certain hour. Knowing it could be the hospital again, and this time not to release a live person.

All the attention of your parents and family are going to save the life of the sibling you love. At times it felt like there was nothing I could do to redirect. Every phone call from family revolved around my sister’s addiction. I moved to Michigan, and no one could visit me, my sister was pregnant and all the time, money, and energy needed to go to supporting her. My brother got lost in the shuffle. I started avoiding phone calls because I couldn’t handle hearing them complain about my sister, or hear about the most recent disagreement between my parents about what to do for her. Worse was when there was a good day, I knew would be followed by disappointment.

Watching your parent’s hope crushed over and over is a hopeless feeling. 

Every time my sister got pregnant the hope would come back to my parents. This time! She will get better, because of the baby! And she did try every time. But her addiction also made it hard for her to remember others.

Leaving for a trip? She is likely to have a crisis and need you.
Birthday―no, addiction makes people some of the worst versions of themselves.
Holidays? Great time for a breakdown.
Death of a beloved grandmother―addiction meant stealing from your grieving mother.
Over and over again.

My mother was going to help me move for graduate school one summer, we were supposed to leave on a Monday, the hospital called Sunday night, she was there, we hadn’t heard from her in months. Instead of leaving for graduate school I got to help my mother find a rehab center that would take my sister and our insurance. I told my sister you either need to go to rehab or I am taking you to a women’s shelter because you can’t stay here anymore, my parents couldn’t do it, not to their daughter. While my mother sobs in the room next to us and while my father is outside speaking to the officer who came to let us know she was wanted by the police. Her one year old son toddled in and out of the rooms confused by the tension in the house that day.

Addiction doesn’t let go.

Have you ever resented a baby? It is a horrible feeling.

But knowing the child is enabling your addicted sister because no one will make her have to take care of her child, for a real fear for the child, and seeing the loss of your parents golden years to raising another child, sometimes two - is infuriating. Don’t get me wrong, I love my niblings like they are my own children, heck one or more of them is likely to come live with me at some point. Every time my sister is pregnant it is not the socially constructed celebration on a hallmark commercial.

It’s a devastating blow:
Will they be healthy?
Who will feed them?
Where will they live?
How will they live?

And since I work in higher education I go further and wonder―
Will they continue in the cycle of teen pregnancy and addiction?
How can we educate them and support them?
Will they have mental health support and opportunities?

The list goes on.

Sometimes her addiction has meant crying in an airport coming back from a work conference begging my parents to call child services. Sometimes it meant avoiding going home for holidays, or knowing holidays would not be restful but stressful. It meant throwing myself into positions where I could learn as much as possible about addiction and substance abuse.

It means working with students on college campuses around these topics and being able to watch people overcome and work within their addictions. It means wishing I could give my sister the same resources my students have. It means knowing all the right things to do, and still being helpless. Sometimes knowledge is power, but it also creates an understanding of when you are absolutely powerless to help someone. 

Recently someone told me―a mother can only be as happy as her least happy child. Nothing has ever made more sense to me and described our family dynamic over the last 7 years of my sister’s addiction. As the child who wants to make her parents proud and happy, it feels impossible at times with the overshadow of addiction.

After two different rehabs, Child protective services taking away one of her children for six months, three children, and countless sleepless nights as a family―my sister seems to be in recovery. She is asking for help, and using it. She is actively seeking what she needs to care for herself and her children.

She recently called me. The first time in 5 years. She asked what kind of dress I wanted her to wear to my wedding. After the phone call I broke down in tears, it was like having someone come back from the dead, well really worse than death since I believe when people die they are in a better place and I could see she was not in a better place. Sometimes I think I might get the sister relationship all the quotes talk about, but I always worry that addiction will come back to take it away.


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About the art:

The painting I made for this survivor is based on how addiction has changed their family's lives forever.

This painting is not my usual style but is much more messy and chaotic because addiction is messy and chaotic.  The darker colors at the bottom represent the isolation and depression felt during the dark times of addiction when it comes back and takes hold.

The trees growing at the top represent how something great can emerge even from the darkest times.  There's a quote at the bottom right that says, "Sometimes when you're in a dark place, you think you've been buried, but you've actually been planted."

I like this quote because even when life is especially difficult, great things always emerge out of them.  Often it's not easy to see at first, but takes many many years to show (much like how a tree grows).  I hope that whenever things are looking dark, this survivor can look at this panting and know that eventually, growth will arise out it.

- Emily Silkman

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. 

THE BACKSTORY

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. 

STRAIGHT EDGE

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.

HIGH SCHOOL & COLLEGE

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. 

MY PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCES

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.

049: Love & Heroin


Trigger Warning: This post contains information about drug use and addiction, which may be triggering to some survivors.


“On Love & Heroin,” 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.


I officially came out when I was 17; I knew I was gay when I was about 12.

That five year waiting period would be the longest and hardest five years I would ever experience. I later came to put words to what I was going through: anxiety, depression, self-medication. I always knew I did not have a desire to express myself in the feminine nature girls were expected to. I wore what I could feel somewhat comfortable in, which mainly consisted of jeans and band t-shirts. This was as close to normal and allowed. What I longed for was to cut my hair, to wear button down shirts like the boys. I read articles in magazines about transgender individuals. “is this me?" I thought. I knew I did not feel like a boy, but yet I did not feel like the other girls, and I knew I was attracted to girls. This caused great confusion and uncomfortability. 

When I was 13, I started experimenting with drugs. This helped me to cope greatly with the feelings I could not yet name. I knew I had these strange feelings; I knew sometimes I did not want to get up and do anything and other times when I did things the feelings in my chest and stomach were nearly unbearable. I began talking to girls from different towns around 14 and 15. This helped me to understand myself, however created additional stress as it was a part of me I kept hidden from my everyday life. I continued to use drugs and experience consequences of such use such as a great loss of trust, decline in grades, and began my run-ins with substance abuse treatment. 

At 15, I met a girl. She introduced to my first real love, heroin.

A warm wave came over me and the extent in which I liked the stuff scared me.  I had seen heroin ruin lives and kill my friends. After my first use I swore I would never touch the stuff again, but I guess we all made that broken promise. A few days passed and I began using it consistently. It started off great. Heroin provided me with the internal relief I had been searching for my whole life. That strange feeling went away; I no longer thought much about how I would be perceived for my sexual orientation or gender expression. I only longed to get high.

Heroin continued to hand out consequences like flyers. I dropped out of high school and lost nearly every real friend I had. It was not long before I began using the drug intravenously. I lied to those I cared about, stole from those I loved, and let everyone down. My parents, though divorced, co-parented effectively and did all that they could. They sent me to rehabs and attended support groups. They loved me with their whole hearts. 

At 17, I entered a detox for the second time, to be followed by another stay at an inpatient treatment center. I lay in a bed, experiencing the perils of heroin withdrawal, wondering how I got here. A few days later the van arrived to take me to treatment once again. I was greeted by a familiar face, who asked how I felt. Before I could mutter a sarcastic response about the awful feeling, he informed me I never had to feel that way again. 

I began working on myself and identifying ways to cope with the depression and anxiety I had been battling. I identified ways to cope with urges to use drugs and learned what led me to make the choices I made. Internally I did a great amount of self-reflection regarding my sexual orientation. Though not right away, very shortly after my return home I came out to my friends and family. I continued on outpatient treatment to manage struggles and identify continued ways to improve. 

Today, I have not used heroin for 4,180,32 minutes. 2,903 days. That's 7 years, 11 months, and 11 days. Today I have graduated college with a master's degree in social work with the plan to work with adolescents struggling with substance abuse and LGBTQ issues.

Today I have found love, in human form rather than substance form. Today, I love a girl, to the moon, who loves me back. Today I love the person I am, however acknowledge it is the person I was who helped me arrive here. 


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About the art:

This survivor's story shared a powerful journey of owning one's experience and defining yourself in the wake of adversity.  In discussing the quote and the potential imagery to accompany it, this survivor shared the following:

"RM Drake is one of my favorite writers and I think this short and sweet quote does a good job of conveying how overcoming your past can make for a beautiful future."

This piece speaks to the turning of the tides, and the fresh start that the sea embodies for me, as well as for this survivor.  

Beth Paris