161: I Still Have Nightmares



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“I Still Have Nightmares,” Amanda

I wished I had died. But I survived. Living had become a foreign concept. How did I do it, again? Had I even known what it meant? I held no joy, no peace. The path I had set up for myself in the before was pulling me along. My parents had so many concerns about my life in the after, but I didn’t move home, didn’t drop out. I stayed. I kept moving. Like a train stuck on the tracks that laid before it, unable to change direction.

I existed. That’s probably a better word for what I was doing. I watched too many shows that I used to care about to try and distract me from the monster of my nightmares, whose hands were just moments away from latching on to my throat once again. It was in this stupor that I found a light, a clarity. Julia, on the other side of the screen, had a goal. She had vengeance fueling her will to live while I sat on the couch with no purpose, no life. As I watched her struggle towards her objective, I felt something move inside me. Week to week, I would sit down and watch her story religiously. It was as if my only purpose was to witness her fight, her setbacks. I had started to look forward to something. Soon enough, I was doing that in other parts of my life. I felt something when I saw people, when I talked, interacted with them. The fear I had felt around others for so long had started to give way to something else, something lighter. I wouldn’t call it happiness, but it was like that. It took me two months to touch another human being of my own accord. But I had started to wake up from my daze of crushing emotion before then.

Julia inspired me to seek my own vengeance. I would chase after my own goal with the ferocity that she did hers. A piece of me had been taken that night – I couldn’t give up the rest. So, I looked over my plan from before and adjusted it to fit into my After. I turned my pain, my anger, my shame into fuel and funneled it into my goal. I started living in the ways I knew how. I focused on building relationships, albeit very superficial ones. I focused on school. Now that I could envision a future for myself, I had to make sure not to mess up the opportunities I had in front of me. I focused on my health. It was hard to eat, but I made sure I kept up with it. I am moving forward with a life, achieving goals I set up for myself with a singular purpose: whatever form it takes, however I have to, I will live as much as I can.

I still have nightmares.

They feel so real that even when I open my eyes, I have to turn on the lights just to be sure. I check my locks obsessively. My only line of defense to protect my home from the darkness outside. I can’t have anything touch my throat or be in large crowds for too long. I can’t have too much physical contact with people without having a full-on meltdown. But I learned what I can do as well. I can say when I’ve had enough. Who cares if it hurts someone else’s feelings? I’m protecting myself. No one has the right to tell me what to do with my time and energy. I’m taking back the control that was stolen from me.

What happened to me will always haunt me – I’ll never be free from it. My vengeance is to live. What’s important to my goal isn’t how much I can take before breaking. It’s what I come back from – how I come back from it. I am always one moment, one step away from drowning in the current of my own emotions. But I keep getting up through every setback, every trial. I keep living. And this is my greatest revenge.

0157: An Open Letter to the Boy who Assaulted Me...


Content warning: The following story contains graphic details about someone being raped, which may be triggering for some readers.


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"An Open Letter to the Boy who Assaulted Me, the Lady Who Failed Me, and the Community that Held Me," Kellsei Tate

October 28th will always be a day that I have a hard time reliving. I write it out for the first time, as a way to continue to heal and as a release. It has been 2 years since my body was invaded in one of the most painful and degrading ways possible. I will always have to fight to remember that I am worthy of healing. I am worthy of love in the full capacity of which I deserve. To have my body forcefully dehumanized comes with a lot of aftermath and broken pieces that I will continue to glue back together no matter how many times they crumble.

To my attacker: you were stronger than me and must not have understood simple English. I guess that makes sense because you did not make it to your next year in university.  A two letter word that means so much meant absolutely nothing to you, no matter how many times I repeated it. I think about how I lived in a world of “what ifs” for the longest time.

What if I would have noticed you locking my door when you walked in my room?

What if I would have screamed loudly so that my residents could have heard me?

What if I had not shown kindness to you in the first place?

I have slowly learned that “what ifs” are bullshit and not necessary. What you did was wrong and I will have to continue to survive with the aftermath for the rest of my life. I remember the anger and frustration you showed at my unwillingness to comply. I remember my moments of freezing up. I remember crossing my legs to close off access to my body. I remember you finishing what you came in my room for and leaving like nothing happened.

I remember so much more, but choose to forget. I remember that there was no way to avoid seeing you because that is one downfall of being on a small campus, let alone being an RA in the building in which you lived.

You made my home foreign to me. You took away my safe space. You invaded my body. I remember seeing you the next day. Our eyes made contact and you quickly looked away. I remember the level of panic I felt. I remember feeling extremely dirty no matter how long I showered. No amount of soap and water could cleanse my body to feel pure again.

No amount of alcohol could numb the pain I felt physically many days after. I remember the bruises on my legs and flashbacks that constantly reminded me of how you selfishly destroyed my inner peace and self-worth. I remember having to throw away my sheets as a figurative way of removing the pain you brought me. It did not work. I remember skipping rounds on your floor just because I did not want to have to see you. I remember almost telling my hall director, but having fear you’d win.

My voice was silenced and I was not sure how to collectively put words into a sentence to portray what happened. I battled a hell that I never thought was possible to survive, while you most likely walk around to this day without an ounce of regret in your mind.  I suffered in silence until my last semester in undergrad in 2015. I learned quickly how sick secrets can make you and the internal battle that causes the dark to dim even more. I also learned how much love a small community can pour into you when you need it most.

To the boy who sexually assaulted me, I forgive you. You do not deserve to occupy another second of anger in my heart.

To the one school official that failed me, I forgive you, too. I became angrier at your lack of support and professionalism than at the boy who I thought destroyed me. I just hope you get it right next time because in this world, unfortunately there will be many next times until we get our shit together as a society and quit ostracizing survivors and their experiences. Being a female yourself, I am highly disappointed in the way you “handled” things and feel extremely ashamed to have trusted you. Your system failed me.

To my fellow undergraduate community and residence life staff, both professional and student: Thank you for showing me unconditional love when I was undeserving and stubborn. Thank you to my undergraduate family that sat with me through the silence and pain on days that I could not even get out of bed. Thank you for crawling into my darkness when I did not have any desire to see light.

To my current Student Affairs Family: Thank you for continuing the love and support as I continue to conquer. Thank you for those few that have helped me continue to heal and who have walked with me when I have hit some lows.

To the survivor in me: I know this will always be a part of my past, but I will continue to reach new heights of healing. I will continue to tell myself I am worthy and believe that I am going to be okay, until it is no longer rehearsed and simply who I am. I will not be silent to keep others comfortable.

I know that I will always live with triggers and that I may be a hard one to love. I also know that I am both a masterpiece and work of art all at once. I know that it is okay to have bad days, but not to let them consume the light that I hold within me. The walls that were created will crumble. I am okay holding the microphone as I am tired of society silencing people because of their discomfort. Try stepping into the level of discomfort you may feel having experienced it.

To my fellow survivors: I hear you, I see you, and we’ve got this. Here’s to healing and overcoming and the power of love.


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About the art:

Kellsei submitted this story nearly TWO YEARS ago and amid getting lost in the email shuffle and the back up of art we had been creating at the time, the story got set aside for TOO LONG. But here we have it - an empowering and powerful story from someone who has persevered and reclaimed her story. This piece was inspired her tenacity and reassured tone at the end of the story. I wanted to use this quote because it was so comforting and a fitting way to culminate such a piece filled with disappointment and frustration. You’ve got this, Kellsei.

- Craig.

0156: I Was a Statistic


Content warning: The following story contains references to sexual violence, slut-shaming, and suicidal ideation as result - which may be concerning and/or triggering for some readers.


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“I Was a Statistic,” Anonymous

I was a statistic. I was 1 in 6.

My story is not unlike many others. They were people I knew. People I trusted. People that have the opportunity to live their lives without any guilt, pain, or repercussions from their actions. I was a freshman in college at a small institution about an hour from home. When I stepped on the campus for the first time, with the intention of playing college athletics, I felt at home. A family member I looked up to attended there, so I was driven to also attend. The family member I looked up to had also joined a sorority while there. I fit in perfectly with that sorority and instantly bonded to those girls. I instantly felt at home again, especially since I hadn't felt as connected as I initially thought I would. I bonded with my pledge class, felt instant trust and love among my fellow sisters.

I was fun, I laughed, told ridiculous and dirty jokes, drank, smoked, danced, wore clothes I'd never dare to wear at home with my family and friends. I lived outside of my comfort zone constantly. I pushed the boundaries. I had also just discovered sex. And I loved it. If I liked someone, I flirted. If they flirted back, I flirted harder. I was really good at it, flirting that is. Well, I was also pretty good at sex. And it felt amazing. I guess I built up a bit of a reputation for myself. I enjoyed sex. I lived outside of my comfort zone. I flirted. I laughed. I had fun. Until I didn't.

I attended a fraternity event, called Formal. I got all dressed up with a borrowed dress from a friend and a brand new pair of red high heels I begged my mom to buy me. I did my hair in curls, I had my friends do my make up. I drank a little beforehand. I drank a lot during. Honestly, I drank most of a handle of rum. Mixed with soda, mixed with water, mixed with rum. I drank to a point where I couldn't remember drinking anymore. I don't remember how I got outside. I don't remember how these two males got me outside. I don't remember who pulled my underwear down. I don't remember who bent me over. I don't remember who penetrated me from behind. I don't remember who put their penis in my mouth.

I do remember realizing what was happening and saying no. I do remember staggering away, confused, barefoot, back inside. I remember seeing my "sister" and immediately crying. I remember being put into a car and taken back to campus. I remember trying to explain what happened, through tears and vomit. I remember waking up the next day, feeling the pain in my head, all over my body. I remember feeling disgusting. I remember my "sisters" explaining how much I drank, how the guys who did it were physically assaulted by their "brothers" for what they did - specifically that they tried to have sex with another brothers date. I knew that it wasn't just sex. Because I didn't remember it. I didn't remember flirting. I didn't remember liking it. How was it really sex?

I remember being approached in the dining hall by one of the guys, who told me "If I knew you were that drunk, I wouldn't have let that happen." I remember nodding my head and saying "okay."

I remember approaching the school counselor, explaining what happened because I couldn't remember much, but I didn't think it was sex. I remember being asked "what were you wearing?" and "how much did you drink?" and "what did you do to make them have sex with you?" I remember feeling like I was the one to blame.

I remember in the days to come, my "sisters" turning on me. They "heard the real story". How I threw myself at both guys. How I'd had sex with one of them a few weeks back, so of course he thought it was okay. How I had drank so much that I was putting myself at risk.

I remember being slut shamed by an ex-boyfriend. I remember getting text after text from him one night about how I was a SLUT, WORTHLESS, ASKING FOR IT, and that I should KILL MYSELF.

I remember feeling so alone. I remember wanting to die. I remember trying to die.

I also remember finding strength in those who believed me. I remember the time that it took for me to realize that it wasn't my fault. I remember hearing the stories of other victims, of other survivors, of other people just like me. I remember understanding that I was more than my experience. And now I know that I am not simply a number. I am one person who overcame. I am one person, among many, who experienced trauma, survived, and thrived. I am one person who takes each day as it comes, and understands that I will never really feel okay, but I will be okay. I am more than what I remember.


0155: Boy Afraid


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


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“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.

0153: Scarred


Content warning: The following piece contains references to depression, self-harm, suicidal ideation, abuse, and suicide attempts, which may be triggering for some readers. Also, note that all names have been changed by the author and are replaced with letters.


"Scarred," Anonymous

I am scarred. I’ve had my essence cut away since birth. I’m not even supposed to be here and I don’t know how I’ve made it this far. My life has consisted of so many ups and downs. Saviors and damnation. Friends and abusers. Significant others and cheaters. Family and monsters. Honesty and deceit.

I was born with a rare genetic illness that I almost died from. I spent 10 days in the hospital when I was just 1 or 2 weeks old. No one knew what was wrong, they just knew I may not make it. But I was saved after 10 long days. By a doctor I don’t know the name of. A doctor I hope to one-day meet. To tell that I’ve made it this far. As a reminder I have a scar on my stomach. 3 inches long. Ugly. Abnormal. Weird. Different. Anytime someone sees it they want to know about it. I always told them because they were curious. I leave out how it makes me feel. Undeserved. Mistake. Undead. Survivor. Fuck up. The one bad gene.

I was born to my mother and father. A loving mother. And a fucked up father. A mother who stayed with me no matter what. A father who left. A mother that talks to me weekly. And a father who hasn’t reached out in 18 years. A mother who has been there for me. And a father that tried to run me and my mother over with a car. One who loved me. And one who drank. One a nurturer. The other cursed me forever. One who has been hurt and survived time and time again. And one who went crazy and left.

It was soon after the divorce that a new person entered my life. My dad. Not my real dad but my adopted dad. He was strict, aggressive, had money and… urges issues. He also had a daughter, my crazy sister. But… he loved me. But I guess my mom didn’t love him enough. He went off a lot, he was in the military. My mom would sometimes go off on business trips. Trips to R. The only business was sex. My mom cheated on my dad. Someone who loved me enough to adopt me. To try and give me a father figure that I wouldn’t have ever had. He brought home my first dog, he introduced me to video games which quickly became an escape for me. The funny thing is… after my mom destroyed their relationship, my dad never left me. Another funny thing. No one ever told me he wasn’t my father. He wasn’t blood. I didn’t know until I was 10 or so.

My family has a history of lying to me. When I was young I had to take pills regularly. “Allergy pills.” Code word for ADHD meds. I took allergy meds too but these brain altering pills were fed to me as well. It wasn’t until much later maybe 12 or 13 that I found out I wasn’t normal. I wasn’t like other kids. I was a special case. Unique. Different. Sick. Mental. Fucked up. A wild card. A menace.

The lies continue.

My family lied to me about my genetic illness. They told me it was a simple birth defect. It was much more. They told me the truth this year. I almost died. I could pass it on to future kids. I don’t think I want kids. What if they’re as fucked up as me? What if I’m like my real dad? I go crazy and try to kill them? What if my genetics kill them before their birthday? My mind is a monster waiting to infect any offspring I have and my genetics are a weapon waiting to kill them. I couldn’t do that to a child. But now with the knowledge of my genetics… if I ever wanted kids… its much scarier. What if they die? What if they can’t be saved like my uncle? What if they’re scarred like me? An ugly ugly scar. It would match mine.

After the second divorce my mother stayed with R. I despised him. He was mean and evil I could tell. I was beginning to get good at reading people. They were dating. They were in love. Honeymoon phase right. I knew there was something wrong. It was confirmed when the beatings started. He would hit me for mouthing off, for not using manners, for making bad grades. I quickly learned to follow orders. To do what I was told. My mom found out. What did she do? Married him. He never hurt her. Just me. Sometimes she would see. Sometimes not. My mom tried keeping me away from my dad at the time. R never attempted to be a father figure like my dad did. He’d just give orders and beatings. Never drunk either. He was always knowledgeable of it. He knew, he was in control, he was powerful. One time he dragged me on a hunting trip. I accidentally got mud in his truck. I tried to act like it wasn’t me. I lied. But he didn’t believe me. I got a special hit that time. He took the butt of a gun to me. Cracked my chin open. I needed stitches. 4 I think, maybe 5, I can’t remember. But what it left, was another scar.

After a year or so my mom got pregnant with my brother. My half-brother. Their marriage ended a year after he was born. Now he’s forever in my life. The son of my mom and a monster. They got a divorce because I guess hitting me wasn’t enough anymore. He started hitting my mom too. That was when she had enough. Her… not me. I was so alone. This divorce left me with a scar, a devil spawn half sibling, and the feeling of being empty and alone.

This divorce left us with nothing. Barely any money, low amounts of food, my mom had a terrible job. I was 9 or 10 by now. Already been through so much right? Guess not. Around this time was when I was first introduced to bullies. And the word fag. That word stuck with me for a while. I never knew how mean other kids could be. About everything. Even the little things. Whatever made you different. And boy was I different. I was small. I was the shortest kid in class and I had my ugly scar. Kids are mean. They shun the new and the different. They made me hurt. They made me hate myself. And the bullies never left.

A year after the divorce with R my mom met a new man. M. I could tell he was just like R. But my mom wouldn’t listen. He hated me, I could tell. I had gotten very good at reading people. I hated him too. It wasn’t even a year that they had shacked up. My new step dad. Dad number 4.

I was right about him. He was just like R. Hit less, but just like him. He also only hit me when he was drunk. Otherwise he would just scream or call me names. By now I knew how to handle people like him. Stay away and act like I don’t exist. I thought my mother would act different this time but she didn’t. Thinks were okay financially after almost a year. But things weren’t alright in my head. I don’t remember what set it off, maybe it was learning about my ADHD, maybe it was one-time M yelled too much or hit too hard, maybe I was just feeling too empty. I took a knife to my skin, and dug. Right on my right hand. Just over my right wrist. I didn’t want to die, maybe I did and was scared. All I know was I was 13. And I had scarred my body once again.

The feeling was… sad. It didn’t make me feel. I cleaned it. I played it off like it was something dumb. I picked at it. It scarred. It has never gone away. It’s hard to see. But I see it. I look at it. I know it. It’s another ugly scar that belongs on my disgusting body. Middle school the bullying kept going. It got worse. I was a fag. I was short. I was new. I didn’t play sports. I read and played video games. No one wanted to be my friend. I was an outcast.

High school was the same. The bullying got worse. So did me cutting myself. And upon coming into high school I had 2 friends to my name. 2 friends that didn’t turn out to be fake, or backstabbers, or bullies themselves.

High school got better in some ways though. I eventually met amazing friends that helped me have a reason to stay alive. To ensure the knife never went too deep. I delved more into video games as an escape from reality. I also learned about comic books and dungeons and dragons. More escapes.

Nightwing was my favorite super hero. He was funny, charming, daring, an older brother to the other Robins. He was everything I wasn’t but also everything I wanted to be. The best thing was he was normal and he had a terrible upbringing like me. I related to him and his story. He was important to me. Comics still are. I have a huge collection now. I hold each book, each story, each escape close to me.

Dungeons and Dragons was amazing. It was a chance to leave life and delve into a fantasy world where I was a hero. I always liked being a paladin. I liked being righteous and a destroyer of evil, a defender of the week. My love for dungeons and dragons only grew. Now in college I play with 5 close friends and I have written my own fantasy world and story for them to experience. Now I act as the dungeon master. I make them the heroes.

These escapes kept me alive.

The knife was different. I had gotten smart. I knew to cut under my sleeve where no one saw. I would leave the marks alone. I would treat them. They didn’t leave visible scars. But even now it’s as if I can see them. The ugly invisible lines from where I hated myself enough to tear away at myself. Ugly invisible scars. Disgusting, awful, different, ruined, terrible scars. My body a canvas and a blade as a paintbrush. The art I made was disgusting.

One time on Christmas I got a knife as a present. In a moment of disassociation, I pressed too hard and it slipped. It cut my thumb open. Boy, did I bleed. It got stitched up quick. By the time I was 15 I was scarred in so many places. Some intentional. Some accidental. I was a dumb kid and I didn’t care if I got hurt. What’s another ugly scar on my disgusting body? My knee from a fall. My chin from roller-skating, running at a pool, and a wrestling mistake (they were in the same spot as the one from the rifle. Cover up one scar with others I suppose. My shoulder from a skin thing. My thumb from a burn. Next to my eye from a friend being stupid with a sword.

Numerous scars everywhere. I’m disgusting. Undeserving of life. Ugly. Awful. A monster.

I think I was 15 when it happened. M cheated on my mom and they got a divorce. M cheated on my mom with 3 other women at the same time. Funny right. I guess it comes full circle. Maybe she deserved it. We were once again left with nothing. This time even worse than before. My cutting got worse, I gained weight, I got acne. I was ugly outside and inside. I was disgusting, scarred, a burden. My anger issues developed around now. I got angry, I would scream and break things. I was terrifying. No one saw me like this. I made sure of it. This year was a time that I had begun to seriously contemplate suicide.

My mom eventually found a job. It was steady enough. Around this time, I got my first girlfriend. K. She was amazing and I thought the world of her. It was long distance. It was the beginning of my senior year of high school when we started dating. I saw her every chance I could. She was the first person I fell in love with. Someone I trusted. The first person I told everything too. She made me promise to stop self harming. And I did.

High school finally ended and I was off to college. Everything was changing and looking up. I was off to New York for school all the way from Alabama. My mom had found a better job and was moving. I had a girlfriend and we loved each other. We were going to be closer to each other when I moved. I lost weight, got help for my acne, and finally stopped self harming. I was finally out of the place where I had been tortured and abused all my life. I was beginning to be happy. In the first week of college I met people that I still consider my best friends. Hell, I met my closest friend ever. My best friend C. He’s like a brother to me. I never drank the first year. I never did drugs. Never smoked. My whole life I was against it. Then it was the end of the first semester.

Around the middle of my first semester my sister, my dad’s daughter decided to disown the family. She left and went to Texas. I haven’t seen her in years. Anytime she talks to me she just wants money. This year she got pregnant. She’s 19 or 20. About a year younger than me. And pregnant. She’s not married either. The dad is her ex-boyfriend. The baby is due very very soon.

Towards the end of my first semester of college I had been dating K for almost 2 years. I had begun to notice changes. Emotional distance, less talkative, spending more time with other people. I felt distant too. My feelings changed. I was a different person. K was too. So… I broke things off. I felt like my world was ending. We tried staying friends but that didn’t work. We just drifted apart. She dated someone else. I dated around before finding my next girlfriend Ra.

Ra was cool, dangerous, punk rock, awesome. Everything K wasn’t. She fed the darker side of me. Encouraged me to go out, encouraged me to have fun, fed my anger, fed my lust. It was fun while it lasted. 3 months I think. She ended up dropping out, moved back home, left me alone. After that… I started drinking. I drank a lot. Every time I got the chance. I also developed an interest in men. I came out to my friends as bisexual.

During both my relationships I was always scared to take my shirt off. I didn’t like them seeing my scar. I didn’t like it when anyone saw it. I didn’t want pity or anything. I was afraid of my own disgusting self.

School ended and I went home to Alabama for summer and sometimes I’d snag a little alcohol from my mom. She was dating someone new. Terrible guy. She had horrible taste. It was that summer I found out I had been betrayed again.

My ex K. Cheated on me during our relationship. She was dating this new guy. We broke up 7 months ago maybe. She made a post saying happy 9-month anniversary to her and her boyfriend. To my knowledge 9 is more than 7. She had been dating him 2 months before we broke up. I was destroyed. I broke a chair, screamed, took a knife to myself but I didn’t cut. I wasn’t going to let her scar me like so many others. Someone like her wasn’t worth it. It was now that cheating became a taboo to me and honesty became a must.

Coming back to school was amazing. It felt like my real home. I was an orientation leader for this year. My sophomore year. It was this time that I met someone important in my life. I met N. My third girlfriend. I also began cosplaying as a hobby.

N and I started off slow, we would drink together, hang out, we had fun. It was nice. I drunkenly kissed her and I would never take it back. We started dating. My friends disapproved, I didn’t let that affect me though, at least not yet.

That first semester of sophomore year was perfect, wonderful, amazing. I was really and truly happy. It felt like something I had never had before. N was the second person that I told everything to. My entire life story. Some parts I told her that I never even began to tell K. She was also someone that I didn’t care if she saw my scar. I never felt embarrassed around her. She never pitied me. Just… loved.

Then came second semester. I met new people. New friends. New backstabbers. New manipulators. New cursed awful people. Under the guise of friendship. I met them through cosplay. The worst one was A.

N and I had our share of problems but this semester I grew to distrust aspects of her life. She didn’t seem to understand; she didn’t really care to. And I never really gave a good explanation. During our problems, A was there for me. He would talk to me about any and all of my problems. He was great. And twisted.

Any time I had a problem with N, A would feed it he would manipulate me and tell me the worst things, things I didn’t want to hear or believe. But I trusted him so I let him sow the seeds of distrust into me. N and I argued more and had 1 or 2 huge fights. By the end of the semester I had had enough. But I didn’t realize that there was nothing that I had had enough of. I left for a while to Canada. I left after an unresolved fight with N. During my time in Canada N and I could barely talk because of cellphone restrictions. Our fight never got resolved. The entire time every chance he could A would tell me horrible things that were probably happening with me away. He made me distrust N more. He played me. He pushed my buttons. I was stupid.

When I got back still nothing was resolved with N. And I believe a week or two later it finally happened. We broke up. Over... nothing. It was stupid. And one of my biggest mistakes. I’ll never forgive myself for how those words hurt her. And after A made his move. He told me he loved me. And he wanted to be with me.

I was week. I was stupid. I was so alone. I fell into it. After the breakup N got drunk and screamed at me. A used this as an opportunity to confirm everything he said. And I believed him. A and I lasted about 3 days. Before it all came crumbling down. He told me he had no feelings for me. Later I found out all of it was a plan to make his ex-boyfriend jealous. Additionally, it turns out that while he was in love with me and we were having a very very short thing he was sleeping with his ex as well.

I had had enough. I contemplated suicide. I took the knife and I dug it into my hand. The blood was fresh and new. It had been so long. I broke such an old and well-kept promise. I had never felt so dead inside. I had messed up with someone I really and truly loved and who loved me back. I had been betrayed by someone who I thought held me so close and dear. I had never in my life wanted to die so much. I thought N despised me and wanted me dead. I wanted A dead. I felt so alone. So very very alone. And once again my scar was present again. I picked at it to keep from cutting again. Another scar. Another reminder of how ugly I was. I was so cruel. Disgusting. Awful. Abusive. Terrible. Unwanted. Alone. Ugly. Scarred.

Summer passed, I dated people. All the dates were empty. Just to waste time. I felt nothing towards anyone. I was empty. School began. N and I began talking again. But it was angry passive aggressive talking. She despised me and I still had the seeds in my head from A. One night. She invited me over and we got so very drunk. We almost had sex so many times that night but we didn’t. Not that night anyways. Later N and I talked. I was ready to confess that I still had feelings for her. Before I could say anything she told me there was nothing left between us and that she moved on. About a week later we began having casual sex. We were friends with benefits. It was awful. Because I still had feelings and I wanted to be with her. This felt like the only way how. So I kept quiet about my feelings, played them off, it hurt. I didn’t even understand how much it hurt until later.

This semester was bad. I drank more, I tried weed, I had self harmed again. N and I argued a lot during our time as friends with benefits and eventually broke it off. She confessed she thought she still loved me. I confessed too. But we didn’t do anything. Other things happened with her and other guys. I began slowly trying to find dates very unsuccessfully. But the whole time I was still madly in love with her and it was driving me crazy. Not to mention the amount of school work and stress I had. So I cut again. 2 gashes under the sleeve. But this time they were noticed. N noticed them. I had to tell her. Tell someone. I picked at them. I picked at them to keep myself from cutting more. But picking at it made them scar over.

Two more ugly reminders. Ugly. Disgusting. Bad. Evil. Awful. Reminders.

The semester was coming to an end and I confessed everything to N. I begged for another chance. I got it… I think. A small chance to remedy us before it’s too late. It was my first step to bettering myself.

I’ve decided for myself that I have to seek help. I have begun regular counseling appointments. I will be attempting a trial run of anxiety medications. I have close friends I love and trust. I have my mother who is finally dating a nice guy that I like. N and I are friends again with hope for a possible future maybe. I also finally learned about my genetic illness. I learned things about my biological father. Things that one day I can use to find him and get answers. I am also contemplating possibly being demisexual.

So many times I have thought to myself that I should end it all. I’m disgusting. I’m a burden. I’m ugly. I’m too scarred for this world. But… I’ve never let myself go too far. I’m not dead yet. For some reason. I have hope, goals, dreams, aspirations. I have people in my life that I never want to leave.

I’m determined to get my life on track this year. I know I can. This time I promise to myself to never cut again. To never harm myself again. I want to learn to trust again. To love again.

I have been beaten, broken, cheated, bruised, bullied, scarred…
I am P. I am 20 years old. A junior in college studying what makes me happy. Apart of the LGBT community. And I have survived.


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About the art:

This survivor gave an incredibly detailed account of a life filled with trauma, illness, and perseverance. The survivor told me that he was a big fan of Nightwing - a character in the DC Universe, connected to Batman and an alter ego of Robin. So I whipped up a piece that contained a quote from Nightwing and his brand/logo in the background. I did it in a more expressionist approach in hopes it'd look less realistic and more beaten and battered to resemble the struggle our survivor has experienced.

- Craig.

0152: I Still Stand


Content warning: The following story contains references to sexual violence and coercion, which may be difficult for some readers.

"I Still Stand," anonymous

To this day I still remember every detail. I remember how they used my innocence and thirst for adventure to their own selfish amusement. 

I drive past the hall where my innocence was taken, where my foundation was cracked, and I flashback to the scene. I try to convince myself once again that I am okay, that this event did not alter who I am. But I know that is a lie, I know that I am forever changed and will never again be the person that I was originally set to be. 

At first I was shocked. I was not able to understand what had just been done. I was embarrassed to tell anyone because I was so uncertain about the pain that I had just endured. I wanted to be strong. 

I have always been strong,
on the outside. 

But inside I knew that I was not capable of dealing with this.
I was never taught how to deal with this situation. I was not ready for this storm. 

Isn’t it funny how the hardest lessons in life are those that come from a moment that you were unable to prepare for? I think to myself if I had only known that he was going to force himself on me I could have prepared an exit plan. 
I could have prepared a firm counter argument that made it clear that I did not want him inside of me.
I could have prepared for the pain that I would have to endure.
I could have prepared for the pain that my loved ones had to face. 

Yet, this type of tragedy is not one that allows you the courtesy to prepare.

Without preparation my world shattered, 
The thought of him on my body still haunts me. The memory of how it felt to be ripped apart still shatters me. 

 But I can’t let that control me. I can’t focus on that feeling of hatred, disgust, guilt. 

This is my body. 
This is my body. 
This is my body. 

I will not let myself continue to be his victim. I will proudly stand tall against his lingering shadow because I know that I am okay.

I know that I am strong, 
that I am wonderful, 
that I am courageous.

 I am not afraid of him because I know that he is weak. He bowed down to his own weakness and prayed on mine. From this I learned where I was weak and built up supports to ensure that no one would ever lean on this weakness again. 

I have become so strong. Even through my strength I still remember my weakness, like a childhood friend. 

Time always freezes in a moment of misery. No words could ever describe what I endured.

I think about it and my heart shrinks. It shrinks and hides away in fear of the pain that it had endured. I make myself small again in fear of standing out to another predator. Once again, I feel myself become scared and fragile. 

But these thoughts are only my fears coming to limit my passions, to halt my success. I know that these fears are not valid, for I know that I am strong. 

Today I stand tall. Today I walk with a purpose. Even though there are cracks in my statue I continue to stand. Each crack fills with courage and hope and makes me stronger. 

I am not willing to let myself be held back by the storm that tried to knock me down. Others in my situation may be scared of the rain after coming face to face with a storm, but I embrace it. I let the rain wash over me and take away the grime that the world has put on me. I embrace my pain because that is what makes me who I am.

I am a girl, standing on a solid foundation, looking for the next opportunity. 

I stand strong. 

I stand beautifully. 

I stand purposefully. 


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About the art:

This piece is pretty straightforward - and it's somewhat deceptive at the same time. I wanted to use the affirmations - "I know I am strong, I am wonderful, I am courageous" - as the forefront of the piece, with "This is my body" in the background because it combined both of the major strengthening moments of the story. This survivor is determined and brave to share as passionately as they did and I'm so thankful we got to share this piece.

- Craig.

"Emo Music Kept Me Alive" (Community Post)


Content warning: The following community post contains references to suicide, depression, anxiety, and sexual assault - which may be triggering for some readers.

"Emo Music Kept Me Alive,"
Boston Emo/Pop Punk Community Post

Hello friends! Craig from Art of Survival here!

We're taking a break from our July vacation to share something very special we had the opportunity to participate in over the weekend!

But first, some context -

After the news broke of Chester Bennington's suicide on Thursday, we were shattered - as were many other people from our generation. The lead singer of Linkin Park - the band that spawned a reawakening of rock music in the late 90s/early 00s - had died by hanging.

I cried. A lot. I also sat in much confusion.
And I tried to grasp how we lost another great musician so young.

We've received a great bit of information concerning Chester's personal life over the last few days, and it's clear there was a lot we didn't know about him. I hate knowing he suffered so much in private, and yet, music is where he vented it all - even on the band's latest/most stripped away album, "One More Light." While I wasn't a fan of it musically, I went back through it the other day and truly, he poured himself into that album.

The signs were there.
And today, Linkin Park released a heart-breaking letter to its fans.

As a two-time suicide attempt survivor, I understand, to a degree, how difficult it can feel to live with varying levels of depression, anxiety, trauma, and a desire to live anymore. I came up with Linkin Park - from 2000-2005, I could be found screaming Chester's lyrics into my bathroom mirrors. So this loss really impacted me harder than any of the recent celebrity deaths.

That brings us to this weekend.

In Boston, the we have a booking collective called Coach and Sons Old Time Family Booking. These great human beings put on a near-monthly event called "Live Band Emo/Pop Punk Karaoke." It is exactly what it sounds like - there is a live band, filled with loads of talented humans from various Boston-based bands, and they play setlists like the ones below. And audience members all have the chance to perform their favorite emo/pop punk tracks of yesteryear.

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We were asked to table at the event and supply information on suicide prevention in our community, as well as collect donations for the night's special charity song, which was aptly chosen as "In the End," by Linkin Park.

We raised $309 for the Trevor Project through just this one song! And you can watch the performance that Francis threw down by visiting the event page - Click here.

Throughout the night, we asked people to share their stories of how emo/pop punk music impacted or saved their life - or, they could share specific bands or songs that got them through the hardest time of their life. We would then take their card and place it on the wall behind us so that people knew to add to the wall.

As you can see below, the wall filled up throughout the night, and it was beautiful. More and more stories were added and Katy and I were continuously holding back tears as we put a new piece on the wall. And it was even more powerful to watch folks in the crowd come over to read the cards as well.

There was an air of solidarity that evening.

These are their responses...

 

Some people shared how the emo and pop punk scenes have impacted their lives...

Lots of people shared specific bands that have meant a lot to them and/or have saved their lives...

Others shared the song or songs that has helped them through the difficult times in their lives...

...while many paid tribute to the band and man that helped many of us discover ourselves...

Ultimately, the theme of the night was perfectly summed up with one comment...

Throughout the night, we spoke with hundreds of people who had been impacted by this music scene in one way or another. We're used to fielding stories here - we've shared nearly 150 in just over a year, so you can imagine that we've heard a lot. And creating a space where complete strangers felt comfortable sharing these stories - and many others that were not written down - was amazing.

Our scene was still reeling, still in pain from this recent loss of Chester, but there was so much optimism in the air as well. So many people were willing to talk with each other that night and it was so inspiring.

We love doing this work, and a night like Saturday completely confirmed it. We paid homage to the music that has helped us heal over the years - the music that has kept us alive. We also paid homage to a man that made music that helped many of us discover ourselves.

We don't get paid to do this, we do it so that people know that they are not alone in the various struggles we all face and are often afraid to confront or discuss.

But that's how we saved ourselves and save our friends - we must be willing to discuss our mental health in order to destigmatize the taboo behind the issue.

I want to heal,
I want to feel,
What I thought was never real
I want to let go of the pain I felt so long

- "Somewhere I Belong," Linkin Park

The next Live Band Emo/Pop Punk Karaoke event will take place on August 26th at the Middle East Downstiars in Cambridge, Mass and we will be out there with information on sexual assault prevention and bystander intervention in the scene!

The next Live Band Emo/Pop Punk Karaoke event will take place on August 26th at the Middle East Downstiars in Cambridge, Mass and we will be out there with information on sexual assault prevention and bystander intervention in the scene!


About the Art of Survival:

We are a Boston-based nonprofit that serves to share the stories of trauma survivors in hopes that story-telling will help our community heal. We then make a unique piece of art for each survivors thanks to the generous work of our talented team of artists!

If you'd like to share a story with us, please visit SHARE YOUR STORY!

0140: She Wanted It


Content warning: The following story contains references to a survivor's experience with rape, incest, suicide, depression, and PTSD, which may be triggering for some readers.


"She Wanted It," Cathrine Holt

My story begins with three words that still haunt me today, “She wanted it.”

Almost two years ago, I made an appointment that would change my life completely. I made an appointment with a therapist that just so happened to be coming to my small town from her practice in San Antonio one day a week and was taking on new patients. I have suffered from anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember, it is actually pretty hard for me to remember a time that I was not feeling this way. I also suffered from suicidal thoughts, I thought about ending my life on a daily basis. In fact, I don’t remember when I began thinking about ending my life, but I do know that for more than ten years of my life it was the only way to get some peace into my head.

I came to a point in my life where I could not take it anymore, physically, emotionally, mentally and in just every way possible, I was done. I was so tired of being a prisoner of my own mind that I knew if I did not get help; it was only a matter of time before I jumped off the cliff that is suicide.  That was until I met my therapist, she saved me. From that first day I met her I knew she was going to change my life. For the fifteen years prior to meeting my therapist, I had been carrying around a debilitating secret.

When I was thirteen years old, my biological father began molesting me. He raped and molested me from what I can remember for about two to three years. This man would rape me in the bed that he shared with my mom, while she was in the bed sleeping; I was in the middle between them with no way out. I don’t remember the reasons why I began sleeping with my parents at thirteen, but I was and that is when he would rape me. He would wait until the Tylenol PMs that he gave to my mother would kick in and she would fall asleep and then he would rape me. I hated myself for it and blamed myself for many years. I wanted to tell my mom what he was doing and when I told him, he picked up his revolver, put it to his head and said “Let’s go tell her.”

I chickened out, I could not watch him kill himself right there in front of not only brother but also my mother and me. I remember that as this was going on and my menstrual cycle was even one day late that I would worry that I had gotten pregnant. I would stress out to the point of a panic attack, then one day he whispered into my ear “don’t worry I use condoms when we play.” That’s what he called it when he raped me. It was then that I remembered that when we had gone to Wal-Mart that I say him purchasing them, I thought that it was odd since my mother had had a hysterectomy a few years prior. However, I was too young to connect the dots.

After my appointment, I told my husband, who has never thought less of me. His thoughts went immediately to the protection of our son and myself. I told him that if he wanted to divorce me, I would understand and never hold it against me. He looked at me as if I was crazy, he didn’t care that I was in my mind “damaged goods.” He has been amazing, through this entire thing. He has to put up with a lot and we have had to learn together how to communicate. Me especially I never learned how to communicate not only with my partner but also with others around me.

One week after my first appointment, mother was talking to me and she knew something has changed in me. She was crying on the phone, begging me to tell her. So I ended up telling her what my father had done to me. At first, she did not believe me but after we hung up, she called him and confronted him. He told her “She wanted it. She liked it.” She left him that day.

Later on this day, I was talking to some of my family when they informed me that CPS had investigated my father when I was three years old for molesting me. I immediately called my therapist, she asked me how old my son was, when I told her three, she told me that it made sense that I had come forward then. I do not know exactly how to explain it but she said that it was connected. It was such a shock to learn that he had being abusing me my entire life.

In August of that year, I filed charges against my father for raping and molesting me, in Texas there are no statute of limitations for these crimes. In March of the following year, he plead guilty to nineteen charges from indecency with a child to aggravated sexual assault of a child. As part of the plea, deal received ten years probation, lifetime sex offender registration, ninety days in jail and he will have to pay for $10,000.00 of my therapy costs. When I read my victim impact statement in the courtroom, he never looked at me, he kept his back to me, his head bowed as if he was sorry the entire time. He wasn’t sorry the only thing that he was sorry for was that he was caught and I told the truth.

Since his sentencing, I have been focusing on myself and the journey to fix the damage that was caused by the rapes. I learned so much about myself and why I am the way that I am. I have learned why I do certain things and why I avoid certain things. I have learned to stand up for myself and I have learned to set boundaries. I know what healthy relationships look like and I can recognize the signs of ones I need to leave behind. I am ever grateful to my family and friends for their love and support, during these difficult years.

These days I am living my life and I write about it on my blog: myscarsandtears.com.

I know that what was done to me was not fault. I intend to change the perceptions of incest victims. I want to give a voice to the survivors of sexual assault. I want others like me to know that they are not alone.

 

About the art:

Catherine came to me without an image or picture in mind for her piece.  She wanted to leave it totally up to me, and see where reading her story takes me.  After reading her story, an image of a lotus flower came to mind.

The lotus flower begins its growth underneath the surface of the water in murky, muddy conditions.  Maintaining it's strength, it slowly grows, pushing aside these obstacles and making it's way to the surface.  Once above water, the lotus flower blooms and opens up in the clean air, rising above the harsh conditions in the water.

In Buddhism, the lotus flower is a symbol of potential, representing spiritual awakening, growth, and enlightenment.  It may appear fragile and delicate, but the lotus flower is strong and resilient.

In many ways, Catherine is the lotus flower.  She never gave up.  She pushed on and learned to thrive despite the world around her.  Out of the murky waters of her past, she continues to grow and bloom to the beautiful, wonderful lotus flower she is.  She is strong.  She is resilient.  I hope that whenever she is feeling down, she can look at this painting and know that she is the lotus flower; beautiful and strong.

- Emily

0139: The Postpartum Blues


Content warning: The following story contains references to a person's experience with postpartum depression, which may be triggering for some readers.

"The Postpartum Blues," Alyssa Voyles

 

Hey there. 

I know it’s late. 4am is rough…especially when you are bouncing a grumpy baby in your arms, pacing the bedroom and begging the little one to go to sleep.  The front of your shirt is wet with leaked breast milk, you have ice packs tucked into your bra, your hair is falling out of the bun you twisted up yesterday, you’re wincing in pain with each bounce because you are still recovering from the delivery, and a few weeks after that delivery – you are still bleeding out of your wherever. 

I see you. 

I see you trying to keep your sobbing quieter than the baby so you don’t wake up your husband. 

I see you frantically reading any and all parenting book you can find on ebook through your library app while the baby nurses, hoping to find some nugget of wisdom – some catchy phrase you can rely on to get through the long nights. 

I see you fighting back tears when your husband brings the baby into the bathroom while you are taking a bath, because the baby is hungry and upset and needs to nurse RIGHT NOW. Because the baby doesn’t care if you have finally settled into the tub. Because the baby doesn’t care that all you want is to close your eyes and shut out the world. Because the baby needs you.

I see you struggling. Struggling to convince yourself you are enough for the baby, that you are doing things the right way, that the decision to bring a baby into the world was a good decision. 

You have friends on Facebook telling you both “congratulations” and “the first 12 weeks were the worst time I’ve ever experienced” in the same post. The Facebook group of women you met on the “What to Expect” app is full of women gushing over their newborns, and how they are feeling deep, immediate bonds with their babies, and you feel an immense wave of guilt. 

Guilt over being frustrated, or tired. Guilt over your decision to go back to work part-time at 8 weeks. Guilt over feeling a sense of relief after dropping the baby off at daycare. Guilt over just wanting a break. 

When you thought about what it would be like to be a mother, you never expected to feel this much pressure. Everyone has an opinion on parenting, but no one knows your exact situation. You are the only one awake right now, at 4 am, pacing with the baby. 

Through all of the guilt and pain, one prevailing thought comes through: “does this get better?”

It does. 

And it doesn’t. 

It changes. 

Right now you are struggling with going back to work and putting him in daycare. Later you will struggle with guilt that your time with him at home isn’t as engaging as his time in daycare. 

Right now you are struggling with breastfeeding, and feeling like you are tethered to your baby by your leaking sore nipples, and like your body isn’t yours anymore. 16 months later, the little guy is more independent and self-weaning, and you are struggling with the looming prospect of giving up this sacred time between the two of you. (and spoiler alert. I googled it tonight – apparently “post weaning depression” is a thing….and you can’t catch a break!)

Right now you are scared that you will always feel frustrated, and that these feelings will dominate any happy ones. Later, you will look back on photos from this time and see how happy and content the baby is, and how comfortable you look with him. You remember the frustration, but you also remember marveling at how his tiny bum fits in the palm of your hand, and how brave you felt when you mastered nursing in public, and the sense of accomplishment you feel after your first successful trip to Target with the baby. 

Right now you are wondering if you will ever feel the  “overwhelming love” that other moms feel for their babies. Later you will still wonder why you don’t feel a strong wave of emotion when you look at him…but then you catch yourself sneaking into his room at night just to look at him, or looking at photos on your during a quiet moment at work, or being so excited when the baby learns how to give hugs and kisses, even if those kisses come with a large glob of baby snot. 

Right now you feel overwhelmed with guilt and sadness, and lost. Later you will learn to manage these emotions when they come up. You will learn that it’s okay to put the baby in front of Sesame Street so you can have a few moments to breathe, or to let him sleep in the car seat for a little bit while you sit in the parking lot of your apartment complex for a few minutes while you scroll through Facebook. 

Right now you feel like you are trapped in the house with the baby, and all of his gear, and your healing body. Later you will take the baby on grand adventures all over the place. At 4 months, the baby will go to his first late-night event at your school. At 11 months, the baby will go to a NASPA conference.  At 16 months, you will spend your second mother’s day at work, with a pack and play by your side while you work at Summer Orientation. And…thanks to pokemon go, you and that baby will spend weekends going all over the Seattle, trying to catch them all. 

Right now you are rocking that grumpy baby, wondering what is wrong with you. Later you will be diagnosed with Severe Postpartum Depression. You will see a therapist. You will try some meds. You will slowly open up – first to your mom, then to your best friends, and then a few more people. You will read everything you can on the subject, and will try to seek out solidarity with others. PPD will be a part of you, and will be connected to most all of your early memories. But it won’t be your only memory. You will think of crying over frustration when the baby won’t sleep, but you’ll also remember how peaceful it was to nurse the baby – just the two of you in your own little world. 

It gets better. It gets harder. It changes. 

Through it all, your baby will still be there. Right now he needs you to make him feel safe, help him sleep, and keep him fed. Later, he will need you to cuddle him when he falls down as he learns to climb the couch. He’ll tell you to keep tickling him by waving his little chubby hand in the air, and he’ll give you a hug and a big sloppy kiss. 

One day at a time, mama. Just take it one day at a time.

And take all the photos. 
 


About the art:

I've known Alyssa for a while now - we both went to Oregon State together and did student leadership together, and she has always been a wonderful person to be around. After college, I saw that she had gotten married and eventually had a child! I saw nothing but smiles and happiness from Alyssa. So, I did what most people living on the periphery of the lives of others, I assumed everything was okay.

Clearly everything wasn't okay. Alyssa shares a story - wonderfully written in second-person, which is no easy feat - with us on a topic that we've never covered before! After 138 other stories, we've never had someone share about postpartum depression. It's such a valuable and necessary story and I'm so thankful that Alyssa was willing to share this with us.

Alyssa said reading this Buzzfeed article inspired how she would eventually craft this story. And upon discussing what she might want for the art, she said that something for her child's room would be great. There were a few songs she pitched, but nothing felt more powerful than the bright message that ended up on the canvas.

Thank you again for sharing this piece with us, Alyssa! Continue taking all the pictures!

-Craig.

0138: Robbed from Me


Content warning: The following story contains references to a survivor's experience with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and sexual assault, which may be triggering for some readers.


"Robbed from Me," Elisabeth Rivera

I had everything going, ya know? Until it was all robbed from me. 

This is the reality of anxiety, depression and PTSD for me.

[Note: In case you missed Elisabeth's previous story, check it out here!]

I fear being raped again, reality is it can happen again, who is to promise me that it won't?To this day I face sexual harassment online also in person from cat-calling, sexualizing to men being creeps in the store. Behavior like that only provokes fear in me it triggers my anxiety, that behavior reminds me how vulnerable I am.

Sadly, I am very skeptic of all men rather I know or don't know them, even if I feel comfortable I still worry. I heard of a girl being raped at my brother's old job - a place where I thought of working - and that taunts my anxiety. And on top of sexual harassment & sexualizing I face, this makes it hard for me to get out there and not be paranoid, which is a reason I have been unemployed. I fear for myself in public and at work, anywhere that makes me feel vulnerable. But at the same time, I have this passion to conquer & rise, I want that future I had going for me, I can feel the rise in me trying to come out, because I'm so passionate about my goals, I want to inspire. I am so much more than what the eye sees & the minds of those who think I am just "bumming in life."

But, then some love to add more weight on my shoulders as I try to climb out this hole, by making me feel as I am the perpetrator in my story because we live in a world that is all about status, victimization, the belief that you have to be successful to be valued, and that what happened to me can be avoided. I have came across relatives, friends & men who made me feel like I wasn't good enough of a person or they were embarrassed to be with me cause of my mental baggage & my incident the fact I am not successful yet, sadly having a good heart & mind wasn't important, what happen to accepting someone & helping them be better? But I am thankful for those who accept me, don't make me feel hard to love, don't make me feel like the perpetrator in my life.

"Time to move on"
 "Can it really still be bothering?" 
"Try therapy?" 
"Can't let it control you" 
"You just need to get a job already"
"You're dressing like you weren't raped"
"You too pretty to be a bum in life"

It hurts. I don't mind being told "Elisabeth, you know you can do this, I know your mind may hold you back that's understandable, but I know you have so much to show for in the world, it's going unseen because your mind taunts you, I want you to conquer and rise, I believe in you" there is ways to encourage people & be supportive without the insensitive lack of understanding comments. Or narcissistic opinions on how I should look and act after enduring rape or how I should handle my situation when they can't relate. This is also why I don't do therapy.

I never really had that type of positive support from most, just some. I felt rushed to heal, I felt I was being unrealistic with my mental struggle, I can't say I 100% felt understood by most, let alone supported or believed.

When the world makes you feel like the perpetrator of your own story, you bounce back-and-forth in your fight "I can do this / No I can't." But my mental struggle doesn't just affect my success in life it affects me in so many ways sexually, socially, etc. 

People don't realize, how hard it is to be in a mental war, while trying to pull it together to get back on your feet, while battling my health, my case, the idea of going to trial, other personal issues. I am carrying a lot of weight, I am not always happy. I seem fine on social media, but I am not, especially when I feel I have to prove myself worthy to the world. I know many are watching me like "let's see if she got back on her feet," because society is so status-driven and has no understanding of trauma.

Then again, people can't understand what they've never experienced. But I know one of these days I will conquer and rise. Yeah, I will still have fear. I will always be affected, but I won't let it get to the point of consuming me from living the life I had robbed from me. Time isn't promised; I don't want to keep letting it pass me by, I did try giving up on life but I haven't yet. I'm struggling, yes, but I really do want to live & be happy. I'm trying.

I am greater than my past, that's why God makes sure I keep pushing. Life is beautiful even through the bad. Even through the bad, I never let it change my spirit for the worse. I hope my story changes perspective on mental illness - let alone how affecting and consuming sexual assault can be. People in my life need to stop making me feel like my worth lays in success. I'm worthy without status, I am a good soul without status. Stop making me feel like the perpetrator in my life. Don't judge what you haven't been through. And even if you have, understand everyone is affected differently and mental illnesses can affect everyone differently. 


About the art:

Today's story is a follow up from Elisabeth's story last month, so it's nice to have her explore how her mental health has been challenged due to being sexually assaulted. Her tenacity for survival is inspiring and I was glad that I could make her art based on both her story and a song that she finds central to her survival.

So I took the words from "Phantom Bride," by Deftones, and put them in the background as usual, and went with some brighter colors that are inspired by the Deftones' album art for Gore, it's recent album from 2016. I then took some of Elisabeth's words from her closing paragraphs and formed the two lines that stand out on the front. I toyed with used some of the lines from the song, but I felt her words were strong enough for the piece.

So thankful for Elisabeth sharing two important stories with us over the last two months, we hope it inspires more folks to share their stories with us!

-Craig.

0137: Keeping Small Promises


Content warning: The following story contains references to someone's experience surviving with depression and anxiety.

“Keeping Small Promises," Ryan Ribeiro

I’ve spent the last couple days reading through some of the brutally honest and unbelievably brave stories that have been shared at The Art of Survival. My friends Katy and Craig have built a truly inspiring and breathtaking project that allows folx to tell their stories and begin the arduous, but necessary work that survival often is.

When Craig hit me up to suggest that I write something after talking with them about recent bouts of depression, I initially said sure, but within minutes I was sweating it. I was unsure of how my story would stack up with these other ones. These are brave people, I thought (and think) to myself, I am nothing in comparison. 

What have I done? What can I share? Who could possibly learn from me?

Depression is a condition that, for me, thrives on doubt. Years ago, I unknowingly built an ideal environment that it needs in order to exist. Using self-deprecation and distraction as the ultimate defense mechanism, I deflected the ever-loving shit out of anything that could come close to affecting me. One of the problems with deflection, is that ultimately, it’s not an effective strategy to overcome anything because you are always on the defensive. I’ve trained myself to assume that near everything is an affront to me and my existence, and as a result, I’ve hunkered down and become a trampoline; everything bounces off me.

For some of my friends that struggle with depression, this might begin to sound familiar. But for those that are still not following where I’m going with this, let me get down to it:

I’ve turned self-preservation into an art, to the point where I am fearful of anyone and everyone, treating all of you (yes, you) as a threat. I have terminated endless relationships, both platonic and romantic, because of my unwillingness to be vulnerable and authentic. Despite my natural proclivity to crowds and performance, I put up countless walls and I remove myself from potential social situations because it’s so much easier to hole up in my apartment and watch The X-Files. I’ve doubted the actions of those who reach out to me with kind words and actions because I’m suspicious of their motives. Worst of all, I’ve begun catastrophizing every, single, possible thing that crosses my path; to the point where I don’t know where to turn or what to do.

This is a waste of time and energy. Who would possibly want to read this? These are cool people and you’re embarrassing yourself. Make room for someone who has something more meaningful to share. YOU’RE TAKING UP SPACE.

Here’s the thing: my depression has been a relatively recent diagnosis. Within the last three years. But it was present long before that, and it’s honestly a miracle I was able to get through college and graduate school (and everything else) without disaster. And when you start learning a crucial fact about yourself and your mental health, you start understanding your behavior a little more as well.

You start understanding that your constant need for napping wasn’t laziness; it was a combination of undiagnosed sleep apnea and depression. You realize that when you were lashing out at your romantic partners over the course of the past few years; it was because you weren’t being honest with them, fearful that they won’t understand and will leave you. You learn a little bit more that the reason you are feeling more and more isolated isn’t because people don’t like you or are avoiding you, but that you are heading them off before that even happens; opting instead for another night, bored and alone. You hate yourself and call yourself names because if you do it, than it hurts just a little less when someone else does.

And that’s overwhelming. It’s almost too much. You realize just how much you have been fucking your life up, and you don’t know how to control it, and even worse you don’t know what to do about it.

Look at what you’ve done. You piece of shit, you’re nothing. GIVE UP.

I’m gonna be honest with you, because you deserve it. I don’t have an answer for you, and while The Art of Survival is as much a place for inspiration and affirmation; it is also a place for authenticity and honesty. Depression is fucking stupid and terrible and unbearable and awful. 

And I’m still going to struggle with it, because although this parasite has tricked me into thinking that I’m stupid and terrible and unbearable and awful; I’ve found a therapist who has worked with me to find a way to cope. Almost in spite of myself, I’ve reached out to old friends and I’ve made new ones because I know that the more I’m alone, the closer it becomes a death sentence. I’m learning to take solace in small victories, and to tell myself that patience when working on yourself is the path to meaningful change. But most importantly, at least for now, I didn’t back out when I told Craig that I’d “try to nd put something together.”

SUNDAY, 1:45 AM: Maybe I can try to put something down.

So, is this a story of survival? No, not really. It’s more of a stream of consciousness/essay of survival. I think maybe my struggle with depression has gotten in the way of being able to create meaningful stories … But, fuck … I love stories. Stories, especially ones like those featured in this project, are narratives that display the growth, change, and strength of those who have worked hard to survive the stupid shit that they didn’t deserve. That no one deserves. Stories are proof that we fucking did it, that we’re still here, and that we’re going to continue to be awesome and continue to survive with the help of storytelling, art, companionship, inspiration, etc. 

I went to college originally to become a better storyteller. Perhaps writing this and submitting it is an opportunity for me to make some stories and taking the time to share them. I haven’t been doing much of that lately. This, though, this is a start.
 


About the art:

So my buddy Ryan is one of the best dudes that I know. He is full of ideas, energy, and knowledge. When I saw him sharing his mental health stuff on social media, I asked him to share his story with us! This wonderful and honest stream-of-consciousness piece is the result!

For the art, I wanted to infuse Ryan's love for Jeff Rosenstock's music into the painting. I asked him which song would be best for this piece and he sent me "Teenager," a wistfully sardonic track that encapsulates Rosenstock's brand of dynamic punk tunes.

So I wrote out all of the lyrics on the back of this piece, like I often do with song paintings. And combined two of the lines that get to the heart of both the song and Ryan's story - "I Know I Have Too Many Feelings" (perfect line), and "I Know, I Don't Care." Putting these together created a wonderful juxtaposition on the painting.

I'm so incredibly proud of Ryan for sharing this story with us and I know that it was therapeutic for him and I hope that it helps other people!

-Craig.

0136: He Made Me


Content warning: The following story contains references to a survivor's experiences with rape, sexual violence, and the PTSD thereafter, which may be triggering for some readers.

"He Made Me," Azure


When I was born, my parents lived in a bus.  We lived in the bus until I was about 5.  When we moved into a house my father started sexually abusing me.  I don’t remember it very well, but I have PTSD flash backs of it. My parents got divorced in 1999.

When I was 14 I was raped.  He was my boyfriend, it was March 21, 2009.  For years I repressed the memories, and I didn’t realize that he penetrated me.  I thought he just assaulted me.  I was convinced.  I thought that I fought him off.  I didn’t.  When I started college, in Fall of 2013, I took a Gender and Women’s Studies weekend class, about sexuality power and relationships.  I got to know a girl who ended up being one of my best friends. 

Together we faced trauma, and dealt with PTSD, and how to handle it.  When I had sex for the first time she was the person I told.  When I was worried about become infertile, I asked her.  When I didn’t know where my clitoris was, or how to masturbate, I asked her. She helped me become a feminist, she helped me become an activist.  She had her own host of issues to deal with, in addition to over-coming her trauma.

When I was nineteen I started dating a boy.  It was November First, 2014.  He seemed perfect to me.  He was nice, he liked my family.  He loved my sisters.  He helped me make all of the choices in my life.  He picked out what I should wear, he picked out what I should eat, he packed my back pack and picked my classes.  I didn’t have any control.  I thought that this was normal, you see.  The girl I met in the weekend class didn’t say it wasn't normal.  She loved him, too.  We were the best of friends.  When my boyfriend and I started having sex he confided in me that he liked BDSM.  He wanted to be dominated. 

I was uncomfortable, I didn’t want to be in control.  I didn’t know how.  The idea made me anxious and have panic attacks.  He made me.  He forced me to be in control.  He made me lock him in a closet and leave him there for half an hour.  I came back into our room and I had to spank him.  I have never been so uncomfortable. 

Every time we did this, which was often, I felt dirty.  I didn’t want to do it.  I thought it was worth it to make my partner happy.  He would send me links to things to read, so I could help him climax better.  He loved sex.  We had it often.  I didn't love the sex.  I don’t think I ever had an orgasm in the two and a half years we were together.

Flash forward to March Third, 2017.  He dumped me.  Out of the blue.  We were about to sign a lease.  We were going to have an off campus apartment.  We were going to get married one day.  I went into a deep spiral of depression.  I seriously considered killing myself.  I thought about it.  I had an xacto blade, and a box cutter, in my hand.  I thought about it.  I almost did it. 

Sunday, March 12, he told me he never wanted to communicate with me ever again.  Up until that point I would have taken him back.  I would have dated him again.  Now, it’s been six weeks when I wrote this, I don’t know if I could say no if he texted me.  I don’t trust myself.  

A few weeks later I realized, and other people pointed out to me, that it was an abusive relationship.  He made me feel stupid, and wouldn’t let me do things.  I cut people out of my life.  He told me I wasn’t a real woman because I was missing an ovary, which I had to have removed due to a giant cyst.  He told me that I wasn’t smart enough because I went to a public high school, and I go to a public college.

He destroyed me.  I don’t know how to eat.  I haven’t had eating disorder problems like this since I was in high school.  I realized that he’d been sexually and emotionally abusing me.  I don’t know how to have sex with anyone, I don’t know if I’ve ever had an orgasm.  I don't think I have.

I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully.  I barely know how to live alone.  I had to rehome my guinea pigs because they were ours.  All of my friends were our friends.  The girl I met in the weekend class? Who I’d been friends with since my freshman year?  She stopped talking to me.  She cut me out of her life completely.  In the past month I lost my partner, the first person I had sex with after I was raped, two of what I thought would be my forever friends, a few of my other friends.  I barely know how to keep surviving. 

In the past month I have wanted to kill myself.  I have woken up and not known what to do next because I haven’t made my own choices.  I’ve shunned people.  I got a cat, and I started making art again.   

The only way I have survived is the knowledge that I can’t create anything, I can’t do yoga if I die.  If I kill myself.  I haven’t recovered.  I don’t know when I will, to be honest.  I am trying.  Everyday, I have to remind myself that I need to survive.  
 


About the art:

I thought that Azure's story was written very poetically, especially the last lines. They stuck with me long after reading their story. I used their flowers, narcissus (meaning self love) and the iris (meaning messenger) in a lithographic print series.

I felt that the repetitive action of print making echoed their final lines, "Everyday, I have to remind myself that I need to survive." I feel that, for myself, that mantra is inspiring. I wanted to cover that mantra in flowers, since it is worth celebrating.

- Hannah

0133: Subhuman


Content warning: The following story contains references to a person's experiences with depression and drug use, which may be triggering for some readers.


"Subhuman," Michael Maluk

I've always struggled with what is normal. Since the beginning of highschool I've always wondered how everyone else seemed to be able to seem so well put together. I never realized that I was different or struggled, but always just assumed everyone else was just better at dealing with the day to day. It wasn't really until after I enlisted in the military that I realized something was wrong. 

It started out with huge bouts of depression, worse than I've ever really experienced before, typically followed by periods of energy. I'm not talking red bull wired, either. I felt on fire. Everything was beautiful. I could do anything and help everyone. All I wanted to do was share this gift. I'd go days without sleep, without even noticing it. Then, I'd crash. Hard. The contrast made the depression unbearable.

After a few years of this, I managed to get into drugs to get out of my head. Nothing incredibly hard, or that would show up on a drug test. But, it did help. I was able to take vacations from my head. Was it healthy? Probably not, but it worked for a little while. 

I ended up opening up to my mother about what I had going on mentally and how I wasn't sure it waa sustainable. I think this scared her as she gave me the ultimatum of getting help or she'd call my supervision herself. A few months of psych drugs later and I was lower than I'd ever been. Seroquel, zyprexa, abilify... All these drugs managed to do was steal my sense of self. There was no color in my life. Everything was flat. I didn't feel happy or sad. I just didn't feel.

That's when I decided to take my life. I was home alone on leave. I spent the last week lying face down on the couch. I remember the moment when I decided I had had enough. I rummaged through the medicine cabinet and found a bottle of Percocet and took as many as I could manage and washed them down with a beer. The next memory I had was waking up in a hospital bed. I was apparently conscious before this, but I don't really remember it.

Then came the inpatient care. I've never felt as helpless and hopeless as I did in the days that followed my failed suicide attempt. I remember being put in a psych ward and watched 24 hours a day. They took my shoelaces and drawstrings from my clothes. I felt subhuman. There was very little empathy given and I felt extremely alone. It was hard.

Fast forward a few years and I'm about to separate from the military and go back to school to study music. I'm moving to a great area in KC and I honestly can't remember a time I've been this excited. Things get better. There are people that love you. Ask for help, it's not a sign of weakness. 


IMG_8928.JPG

About the art:

Michael submitted this story us WAY back in October, and also threw a kind donation our way. But I held onto this piece for May because it fit the mold of Mental Health Awareness so well.

Michael's story is all-too-common among men in American culture. Seeking out all other sorts of comfort and coping strategies beyond reaching out for help. I know I struggled with drinking due to my depression, so it brought back some of my own memories to read Michael discuss his drug habits like this.

For the art, I was given free reign. I wanted this piece to be a bright reminder for Michael. So I used some vibrant blues and pinks, and for the quote, I altered the last line of Michael's story. I hate that we had to hold onto this story for so long, but it was worth it in the end!

-Craig.

0132: Worthy of Love


Content Warning: The following story contains references to someone being sexually assaulted and drugged, which may be triggering for some readers.

"Worthy of Love," Erin O'Grady

This is my first time openly talking about that night. 

I was 19. I came home from college for the weekend to go to a party with friends. I saw a lot of people I haven’t seen since I started school. I was having a great time. I brought a water bottle half full of vodka that I stole from my parents. I had a few sips, I remember I didn’t want to get too drunk because I had work the next morning and I didn’t want to make a fool of myself in front of these people that I haven’t seen in a while. I wanted to seem cool. I wanted everyone to like me.

Then he came up to me. I don’t know his name. I don’t know who he came with. He approached me and complimented my outfit. He said I was the prettiest girl at the party, I giggled and said I knew he was lying. He said he was telling the truth, he liked my style, I was different and he was into it. He seemed nice. We talked for a little while and he asked me if I wanted a sip of his drink. I remember looking into it and it was a vibrant blue/green color. I asked him what it was. He said it was his special mix and that I would like it. It didn’t realize that the entire time we were talking that he never drank from that cup. I took it from him and had a sip. He told me to try more. I drank the rest of it. 

We talked a little while more but then I told him I needed to get back to my friends. He told me he would see me later that night. I went over to my friends who didn’t even realize I had been gone. They were quite drunk and having a good time. I didn’t tell them that I was starting to feel funny. I walked away and sat down alone on the other side of the room. Then it went black. I come to, maybe 30 minutes later, maybe an hour, I’m not sure. I remember being in a back room. I remember hearing his voice. My skirt was pulled up. I tried to pull it down and a hand stopped me. He told me to relax. He pushes me against a table. It goes black again. 

I wake up on a couch, alone. I throw up. I cry. My friend finds me and says “how much did you drink?!” They carry me to the car, they drive me home, they carry me into my house. I fall asleep. I wake up the next morning in the worst pain of my life. Everything hurt. I remember only bits and pieces of the night, but I pushed the thoughts from my head. I go to work. I don’t say anything to my friends. They joke that I only had a little bit to drink and don’t understand how I got so wasted. They jokingly say I must have gotten drugged. I laugh. 

Six years have gone by and there’s not a day that passes that I don’t think about that night. I wonder if I was targeted because I seemed vulnerable. I wonder if I wasn’t so flattered by someone hitting on me that I would have just ignored him and went back to my friends that none of this would have happened. I know realistically that none of this is my fault but some days that’s harder to believe than others. I have carried this insecurity with me ever since. It has affected my relationships with others. I have let men and women come into my life, use me, abuse me, and I felt like I deserved it. Some days I can’t get out of bed. I felt worthless. My last relationship was a real wake up call for me. I allowed myself to be degraded and disrespected past the point that any logical person would take. This was the first time I took a hard look at myself and said you don’t deserve this. 

I have my first therapy appointment in a few weeks. It doesn’t matter how long it took me to get to this point of acceptance, all that matters is that I got here. I am not dirty, I am not broken, I am worthy of love. I will not settle for less.


About the art:

Erin and I have been connected for a little while now thanks to the wonders of the internet, and I've even met Erin on a visit through New Jersey! When Erin reached out to share this story with us, I was surprised - as I often am when I see my friends' name appear in our submissions - because I always hate learning that someone I care about was impacted by any form of trauma. But with how prevalent of an issue that sexual assault is, I must say that my shock and surprise is beginning to dissolve as more and more folks share their stories.

So with this piece, I knew I wanted to create something that connected with Erin's love of music. Specifically, I know Erin loves the band, Sorority Noise. It's a band that I know has greatly impacted and supported her through lots of ups and downs, so I asked which songs came to mind - and when she suggested, "Art School Wannabe," I knew which words I wanted to paint for her.

I wrote the words to the chorus in the background of the pieces, as I often do with pieces dedicated to songs, and then covered the canvas in Erin's favorite colors and gave it the old splatter treatment! Then I carefully chose the words, "Maybe I won't die this time - Maybe I'll live this time," because they resonate completely with this story and with, perhaps, a feeling of hopelessness that does exist with survivors of trauma.

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Erin!

-Craig.