"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.

set two.jpg

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

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.

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

0134: My Rape


Content warning: The following story contains references to someone being raped, and the trauma that followed them thereafter, which may be triggering for some readers.

"My Rape," TeMeka Estrada Williams

Where do I begin when revisiting the past?  It has been eight years since I finally opened up about being raped.  In some ways, it has gotten easier to discuss yet the tears always eventually surface because I know I am a smart woman now just as I was when it happened.

It - my rape - happened while I was visiting a Florida college for their homecoming festivities. My plans were to first travel to Miami where a close girlfriend of mine was attending undergrad.  We were then going to drive up to northern Florida together to attend homecoming at another college while also visiting and staying with my friends from high school to help us manage our limited funds which is part of the whole college experience.

Well, my friend felt unprepared for an upcoming midterm exam and at the last minute decided she no longer wanted to drive up.  So I was faced with a dilemma but completely understood my friend's decision.  In fact, I was having a great time in Miami and tempted to stay too.  However, I am a woman of my word and when I make plans, even to this day, I will move heaven and earth to keep my word.  So, I called my friend to find out his preference because I also knew he was going through the black Greek pledge experience and the timing may not be good for him either.  His pledge status also technically meant he was not supposed to be socializing.  Little did I know his intention was to get me drunk and fulfill his desires with me.  

When I got there, I felt comfortable and safe.  He decided to host a party where I had too many shots.  And when I knew I was done drinking and socializing for the evening he encouraged me to this room because the party was still going on and I was crashing on his couch prior to that.  When he came in the room later that evening, I still wasn't concerned because I had known him for years.  His best friend back then, another mutual friend of ours from high school, is still a good friend of mine.  I had attended his father's church and knew his family.  Well things changed when he made his move.  After that night, a lot of internal questions would plague me.

He made his move to penetrate me and I was too drunk to say anything.  I do remember stopping him eventually.  My body was not responding; I knew it was not what I wanted.   I managed to push him enough to indicate to stop.  He used me visually at that point to "finish" on his own.  I remember going to the bathroom afterwards to clean myself up.  I had a long bus ride back to Miami to push what had happened out of my mind.  I mean it was my fault for being drunk and trusting someone I knew, right?  One of, if not, the hardest part has always been admitting to myself and reminding myself that what happened wasn't my fault even though I was drunk.  That sex was never wanted on my part.

He even knew that he had intentionally got me drunk because months later I was again confronted by what happened when ex-boyfriend - my first boyfriend ever called to tell me was going to beat up the very guy who raped me because he was running around our home town telling everyone he gotten me drunk and had sex with me.  At that point, I still wanted distance from what happened and I knew nothing good would come of me speaking up. Also, my Dad was and till is a high profile executive with the Chicago White Sox.  Nothing good would come of this especially if was a slow news cycle.  So, I asked my ex-boyfriend to do nothing.

My rapist was never prosecuted and had the nerve to call and apologize to me years later.  His apology simply served his own selfish purpose.  His apology didn't stop me from feeling uncomfortable at our mutual friend's wedding where I was the bridesmaid trying to remain on the opposite side of the room from him at all times..  His apology didn't stop my Dad from walking out on my therapy where I expressed my anger.  His apology did nothing to repair the loss of self-confidence and doubt I still fight through on many days.

To learn more about RAINN, visit  www.rainn.org

To learn more about RAINN, visit www.rainn.org

I was raped and I talk about it with the hope that I can help someone else.  Time has helped but my rapist's apology means I let him knowingly get away with hurting me for far too long.  WE must change rape culture.  Rape remains a polarizing topic.  I am now a volunteer speaker for RAINN's (Rape Abuse Incest National Network) Speakers Bureau and every time I participate in a speaking opportunity I feel like I'm given the opportunity to heal by taking back some of my confidence and some of what my rapist stole from me by overcoming my own doubts and fears about using my voice.

Maybe one day the tears will stop coming to the surface when I speak up about my traumatic experience.  my hope is that even though my own family members are reluctant to acknowledge and talk about my rape- that my words will guide someone else's support system to do better for them.  It is difficult for any of us to even begin to understand how each survivor feels about such a delicate, private matter.  We are encouraged to more or less go public and act quickly particularly if prosecution is to be pursued.  I wasn't strong enough to ever even consider going down the road of prosecution.

And, even recently, I spoke with friend in law enforcement who expressed frustration with the difficulty of pursuing justice whenever a survivor delays speaking up.  Strength lies within us all but as matter of survival every rape victim needs a phenomenal support system to go from victim to survivor.  Hopefully, my story helps any one coping with the after math of rape to seek support.
 

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About the art:

While reading Temeka's piece, I kept hearing the song, "Say It," by War on Women in my head. "I will no longer be silent. Speak up, let your voice be heard," was the line that kept coming to mind while reading the reason she shares her story. I created the piece above to remind her that even if certain people are hesitant to believe or acknowledge her experience that she should not stay silent. 

Katy

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. 


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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.

 

0131: The Flood


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

"The Flood," Meghan 

I remember the rain. The news said it was a once in a decade flood, and as I sat volunteering during Panhellenic Recruitment, I remember feeling awful for all the beautiful girls dressed up in their finest. I typed out a message to him saying that I might not make our date because of the weather, and he assured me our date would be worth any trouble I met on the roads. 

After a bad breakup and even worse experiences dating in a big city, I was surprisingly happy to find another member of the Auburn family on a dating app. We had attended AU at the same time, had a million friends in common, but had never quite met. Even with the pouring rain, I felt some butterflies walking into the bar. In retrospect, alarm bells may have already been ringing. A smart dresser, a gentleman, a flirt – he spent the evening reminding me I needed to catch up to him in drinks and charming me (and the friend we ran into at the bar) with stories about our shared time in Auburn.

After I was sufficiently relaxed, he suggested we head back to his place (located across the street) and watch some tv. A quick kiss in the rain led to more kissing in his apartment, which ultimately lead to a situation in which I said no and he didn’t honor my answer. My body flipped into a state of shock and blocked out what was happening – I only remember the sound of my heart in my ears and the feeling of my palms shaking. He pulled me close after and told me I wasn’t allowed to leave. 

Weeks later, he texted me to try and return my jacket. Two days after that, he called me multiple times, offering to bring it to my apartment. His final text asked if I had got Plan B because he didn’t want a child. I typed back a frantic response explaining I was on birth control, to which he responded, “Smart girl.” 

In the days after my assault, I typed out a disjointed explanation of what happened to a friend, who responded by asking if I had been assaulted. How could I - the student affairs professional who had supported so many students through trauma and taught them how to respond, the sorority sister who encouraged classmates to report their crimes, the strong female who was affectionately called the mom of my friends – be raped? How could I be a survivor? 

But that’s what I am. I survived. I survived assault. I survived a fellow alumnus – a member of the family I had cherished so dearly - taking my security from me. I am a survivor, and it has become an essential part of my identity. 

For months, I struggled to find ways to regain the other parts of my identity. I began going to yoga, learning to enjoy my body again. I continued to go to therapy, and fought back the anxiety that threatened to consume me. I fell in love, with someone who loved me for all the parts of me – including my survivor status. I learned how to tell my story to those I cared about, and it slowly got easier every time. 

That night began with a flood – something destructive. And it was destructive – it was easily the worst night of my life. It changed me, in ways I will never fully be able to comprehend. But out of that flood came a stronger version of me. I gained compassion and understanding, I fought back against my challenges with more strength than I knew I had, and above all, I didn’t let this one night define me. Yes, it was a once in a decade flood, it was an assault that one out of six women will experience, but I, I am a once in a lifetime individual. The power that he wanted to exert over me was a failure. He doesn’t control me, he doesn’t own me, and he sure as hell doesn’t define me. 

The flood didn’t drown me – I emerged cleansed. I am a survivor.


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About the art:

Meghan's story hit me hard. There's a lot of great imagery and she uses it to share a truly powerful and heartbreaking trauma with the world. It takes a massive amount of courage to do so in such a thoughtful and compelling manner.

So I wanted to use her words - splayed all throughout the background of this piece - to make a statement that her words are dynamic and important. The quote she chose for the foreground comes from John Updike and perfectly matches the imagery and evocative nature of her story.

Thank you for sharing this with us, Meghan!

-Craig

0129: Justice isn't about Healing


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

"Justice isn’t about Healing," Elisabeth Rivera


"She will be okay!" Anthony promised to my mom on the phone prior to the party, after she confided in him to be trustworthy of my safety—little did she know later that night I would be raped. 

I didn't drink much; I didn't do drugs—they’re not my thing. I didn't really know anyone there accept 2 other people beside "Anthony,” So I stuck with Daryll Lady friend MOST of the night. I didn't want to suffocate my brother Jonathan and Daryll was doing his own thing. At about Midnight or so, I decided to call it a night, I felt ill not drunk ill, just really ill. I go to Anthony room because he gave up his room for me and my brother Daryll and Daryll Lady friend.

In process of changing into my pj's, I collapsed to the floor, I started foaming out my mouth I became so disoriented and became unconscious. If you ask me, I thought I died. But what haunts me is how nobody cared to check me and get help, or cover my body I mean I fell unconscious half dressed, someone had to had noticed me. How did Daryll not care to cover me or get help or alert my brother? He came to the room later that night. Nobody cared. But another question, why did Anthony betray his words like promising my mom I'll be okay and decided to come in the room when he gave it up for us to sleep in?

(I’ve been struggling with flash backs prior to waking up to be raped, one flash back of him saying "no!" "stop!" as I was pulling away before going unconscious. Another flash back was of me noticing me being raped "orally" & "vaginally") makes me wonder what else he did or if he was hurting me I haven't had those flashbacks yet or just wasn't conscious & will never know)

Morning of October 20, 2013, I woke up to being raped, I was in so much pain. I noticed I was stripped of my clothes. I grabbed a blanket to cover me while I dressed myself, I'm crying and hysterical screaming "you raped me" he just left the room. I wake Daryll up he seemed shocked but nothing less or me, like nobody really cared. Daryll went MIA the rest of the morning. I go to the bathroom where I realized I was bleeding down there, my arms had bruises from finger mark bruises to a bruise so big covered my left forearm half of it. And nail embedded nicks on my skin.

At this point I wanted to run away, my brother wasn't at the house Daryll lady friend wasn't there, I couldn't believe what happened to me running away felt like the best plan to me so I packed my stuff headed to the porch to figure out where I would go and then Mark a roommate one of the guy's I knew and knew my brother told me to go to his room to get away from Anthony. 

I went into his bathroom and laid on the floor and cried and screamed, “Help me!" I'm not okay!" Nobody cared, they were just worried about drinking and going to the beach. I was in so much pain and didn't feel good, I was SCARED for my safety and ALONE in a house of people I didn't know and I was HELPLESS. I had to save me, only way I knew how was by calling 911, so I did. 

More questions haunt me—
Why did nobody care to call 911?
Why didn't anyone comfort me?
Or come when I was crying for help?
Why did they continue to drink acting like a girl wasn't just raped?
Why didn't I matter...?

Police came with the EMS team and interview me just asked what happened which was extremely difficult because my officer was a male and I literally was just raped. They escorted me out the house into the ambulance, as I walked out I seen all the people from the party just staring, these were the same people left me on a bathroom floor crying for help the same people who left me on a floor unconscious and half-dressed prior to my rape, not one word from them just stares, I guess I was expecting "I'm sorry" "keep your head up" not nothing but stares. 

Is it possible to die without dying? I mean how I felt in that ambulance. Everything was slowed down, voices the siren sound. I found myself just lying there as the EMS team was hooking me up to the BP, and found myself with tears flowing down my face and my eyes in the longest stare out the window. I literally don't recall blinking. The flashbacks began as if I was ready to die. One flashback was of me at a beach park, swinging on the swings high smiling at my dad I looked so happy I felt so happy my dad looked so happy like he never found out his daughter was just raped. The other flashbacks were of me and my sibling's in happy moments. And flashbacks of all the happy moments in my life. Then we arrived at the hospital everything returned to fast pace and loud. A forensic photographer cane to take pictures of my arms and then I was transported to the crisis center for my "rape kit." 

Just been a few hours after being sexually violated and I have to get naked and be examined. The nurse put this florescent light over my body where it exposed bodily fluids and semen. She told me I looked hurt "down there" all I could do was cry and feel disgusted, he was a monster and treated me as the monster he was. After the examination I was able to shower. I laid on that shower floor crying, I didn't even want to look at my skin or touch my body I remember crying for my parents in my head. I was alone during all this I just wanted someone who cared to be there, as I laid there all I could think of was how I will never be normal I worried about how this was going to affect me from here on out. 

That is the story now to the aftermath. 

For several days I had nightmares which I still have. I couldn't be touched, I didn't eat, I struggled to shower, because I hated seeing my arms and being naked. I was a mess and engaged in self-harm, I swear it was god who saved me this one night because if not I wouldn't be here. This one night I was going too far and I wasn't spiritual like I was today back then, somehow I just found myself in prayer and I stopped, it was like something took over my hands and stopped me and I haven't self-harmed since. I do still struggle with anxiety, social anxiety, PTSD and Depression. 

I have spent my 20's living the life I didn't plan. Before this happened I had a fresh new start to life, a new city, new jobs lined up and college was being worked on now I am struggling to have a future and then been struggling with my health on top I could "possibly" have an Autoimmune illness if you don't know how dangerous an Autoimmune illness can be research, if you don't know how everyday a struggle from Autoimmune illnesses research. my health isn't making anything easier. Nor is my case.

It wasn't until 3 years later I was contacted by an attorney.

Feb 2016—I had my first meet with my attorney and yeah I broke down it was so intense for me.

May 2016—Anthony was arrested but bailed the same day. You’re probably wondering how 3 years later it was so obvious he raped you from the start? Yeah I ask myself the same. But in America, rule is victim has to prove and even then does that not guarantee "justice.”

December 2016—I was forced to do a deposition with Anthony attorney. I had no interest to talk to him and I didn't want too I wasn't ready to be attacked and recorded all in the process but the fucked up part is if I didn't do this I would had been arrested and my case dropped. I did it and broke down even worse than the last time, seeing the attorney not get emotional was like " wow" how are you not bothered?

I'm bothered hearing myself. I looked at the case reporter than my attorney and wondered why I had to be tortured this much, it's so obvious what happened. I tried so hard not to get really hysterical as my family was in the waiting room, I didn't want them to see me this way. But when his attorney was asking ignorant question's like "would you say he was drunk" I was like wow really?

All I get are pre-trial letters and have been since last year. All this is about is my attorney going at his because this is the only time Anthony attorney has to save him the easy way before the judge declares trial. The state is pending my case to go to trial at the moment as of April 2017.  But even if it goes to trial doesn't mean justice will be served. 97% of rapists don't do time most get off with a slap on hand.

Justice isn't about healing; we never heal just learn to live while trying to stay sane. Justice is about feeling like we matter to the system and about taking one predator off the street's. Probably wondering "no way you would lose your case it's so strong and you were raped" yeah well we live in a fucked up world where rape can be debatable and victims shamed. But I do dread this day if it comes, to have my family see these pictures and hear me breaking apart and attacked going to break me more and if I lose I will really break because I already felt like nobody cared I mean these people at the party left my body unconsciously and half-dressed on the floor and left me on the bathroom floor crying for help.

No one at that party reached out to me. I even post about being raped, post about rape related posts, or my struggles with mental illnesses and posts related posts, and a few to no one acknowledges & reaches out. I get more acknowledgement from strangers on the internet than those I know. I feel hard to love but I thank the few who don't make me feel that way you all know who you are, I feel most this world just isn't understanding or supportive, again can't expect people to understand. I see a sexual predator as president, rape jokes on social networks, victim shaming etc, pretty hard being a victim trying to "survive". bad enough I can't even walk to the mail box alone, because I don't feel safe how can I scary truth is we aren't safe.

If I could rewind time I wouldn't have gone to this party. But there has to be a reason I am still here right? why my case went this far right?

But then I realize that 2% only 2% do the time. Can you blame me for getting a little discouraged? But I leave my faith in God's hands and remind myself you came far and you're still here. I do know if I go to court I won't allow no victim shaming and I will fight for my justice even if my voice stumbles and my eyes swell of tears I will fight. and I will continue to push for that future I desired. 


About the art:

After talking with Elisabeth about her hopes for an art piece, she described how waves are an important symbol to her. They can represent strength as well as things that are out of our control - but we can learn to choose which waves we want to ride, instead of fighting the tides. I hope this piece of art will remind Elisabeth of her ability to ride the waves of life, even when things feel out of control. 

~Becca

0126: Betrayed


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

"Betrayed," Sarah N.

I was betrayed by two of my supposed friends in college. They knew this guy and his background and had every intention on helping him. They did everything they could to get me into the same room as him, saying nasty things they had done on the bed and floor. Once they finally had me with him, they left the apartment and locked my things in the other room where I couldn't get to them. The guy made advances, continuing to move towards me as I backed away.

Slowly as he unbelted his belt and unbuttoned his pants he said "shall we do this now or wait for them to get back?" When I didn't say anything and stared at my hands he had made the decision to do it right then, he pushed me against the couch and proceeded to insert his genitals into my mouth holding my head with his hand refusing to let me pull back. I couldn't catch a good breath for a good 15-20 minutes, thankfully sneaking in some air when he moved. If I gagged he would push in farther to keep me from doing so.

He ejaculated 5 times and once he was finished he fixed his pants and left the apartment. I wasn't allowed to leave until the next day when they knew I didn't have time to tell anyone because of classes.

Others noticed that I didn't look and act the same and insisted that I talk to an adult that I truly trusted which happened to be my Resident Hall Director, where from that point on she did everything she could to help me, by breaking the rules to bring me to the hospital herself, along with a community advisor that I trusted to have a rape test done and talk to the police.

The police didn't do anything to the guy because according to them they didn't have enough evidence, when in fact they had the entire outfit I had on that night.

I spent the rest of that semester scared. I had to walk past his dorm hall everyday with him watching me as I did. I had to have someone walk with me every time just to feel comfortable.

Today, I still struggle with PTSD and some nights have the dream of that night. I have my supporters who will sit there and listen, some can relate and some want to become advocates to help others or truly care for me. He still walks free and has yet to be punished for what he had done to me.


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About the art:

After reading Sarah's story, I felt the art equivalent of speechless. I felt for her. I know how difficult dealing with PTSD can be, especially when flashbacks impede everyday life. I wondered if she had something that kept her going every day, even when things were at their hardest.

She shared with me this quote, "Overcoming abuse doesn't just happen. It takes positive steps every day. Let today be the day you start to move forward."

I thought it was beautiful, and perfect to sum up her survival. So I drew a ton of thumbnails, tried multiple concepts, but this simple version was the one I liked best. I hope she can use it as a reminder that recovery takes time and effort - but it is so worth it. 

Katy

0111: Flashbacks


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


"Flashbacks," Anonymous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About the art:

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

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

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

- Craig

078: Dealing with Traumatic Loss as an Atheist


Content Warning: This story contains some language pertaining to violent experiences that might be upsetting or triggering for some survivors. 


"Dealing with Traumatic Loss as an Atheist," Katy Hamm

So, I’m an atheist. I always have been. But in high school I went to a Christian youth group with my best friend from school, Emily. Mostly because many of the kids in the group were into the alternative music scene. We became close with a few of them, and a group of us even went to our first Warped Tour together. 

When a new group leader came along, I didn’t think much of it. I walked in wearing my black winged eyeliner, Silverstein hoodie, ripped jeans, and Avenged Sevenfold shoes as always ready to hang out with my friends. Instead I was sat down, and told that the skulls on my shoe were a sign of my sin, and that I would go to hell if I didn’t change my ways.

I left with a bitter taste for religion in my mouth, and never came back. 

On July 11th, 2008, I received a phone call from one of our friends from youth group. He asked if Emily’s parents had called me yet. I said no, and thought something might have been wrong with her mom. I told him I’d call Emily and find out what was going on. He said, “it’s Emily.” I stayed silent in confusion. “She was in a head on collision last night,” Adam said, “She didn’t make it.”

I lost focus and everything started buzzing.

Life was never going to be the same. 

After her funeral, I watched as so many found peace in God, and felt it was His decision to "bring her home." But I was angry. There was no reason for me. There was no higher power in which to look. There was just an end to a life that had been really important in mine.

I spent years grieving. My depression and anxiety spiraled out of control. I spent countless hours in therapy, suffered from panic attacks so intense I would be incapacitated any time I couldn't get in touch with a loved one. I felt a spot of emptiness in my heart that could never again be filled.

Luckily, I found my a wonderful sense of self and purpose while on my college programming board planning concerts featuring local musicians. Things were tough, but life was looking up. I found life-long friends, and someone I wanted to spend my life with in my partner Jon. We had started a clothing company together, and I was about to head into my fifth year of college.

After nine months of making things work with the distance, he left me, citing not being over his ex of 7 years. My soul felt crushed, but I still wanted him in my life - so we continued running the clothing company together, with my hopes that eventually we would be together and things would be perfect. 

Then on April 4, 2011, I received another phone call. This time it was 4:00 a.m., and I just missed answering it. “Lori Kwiatkowski,” my phone read right before the screen turned dark. I picked up the phone and began to text Jon, “why is your mother calling me?” Halfway through that message, it hit. This was THAT call. It was happening again.

No. No. No.

I called back, and I was met with my worst nightmare. Jon had been murdered. He had been stabbed in the neck by a monster of a man who lived a few houses down from their family right in front of their eyes.

There it was again. The buzzing. Everything was spinning, and I fell to the floor. 

The years following were some of the hardest years of my life. I developed Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, which was amplified after attending the trial. I feel like I remember every detail. The size and shape of the knife. The angle and place of which it entered and left his body. The sound of Jon's voice on the 911 call yelling, "he slit my throat!" The way his mother, father, and brother looked when they had to relive each horrifying moment with the monster who did it in the room. The explosion of anger I felt watching the lies and fake tears pouring out of the murderer to try and escape his punishment.

I found myself angry and frustrated daily as I was told by family and friends that Emily and Jon were in heaven meeting each other, and playing with their dogs again. That, “everything happens for a reason,” and it was their time to go. 

It SUCKS to deal with loss and trauma as an atheist. That comfort that others find in believing their loved ones are in a better place doesn’t exist. The comfort found in knowing your life is only the first adventure isn’t there. So what do you do?

Here’s what has worked (for the most part) for me.

-------

 
FUCKING BREATHE.

When you have lost someone, especially through senseless violence – you will often find yourself encountered with people who will think they are helping, but are in fact doing the exact opposite.

Maybe it’s a co-worker who says, “Oh no honey, my sister’s best friend’s cousin once knew a guy whose wife died from cancer. I feel you. So tragic.”  Or an acquaintance on Facebook who says, “Thoughts & prayers to you. She is in a better place now.”  Or even worse, a friend hits you square in the face with a big, “He’s in heaven now, and everything God does is for a reason.”

No. Your sister’s best friend’s cousin’s guy’s wife’s death from cancer is absolutely NOTHING like the murder of my partner. 

No. She isn’t in a better place. She’s in an urn because some irresponsible mess decided to get plastered before 9PM and drive home taking my best friend away from her family, friends, and a job she loved taking care of young adults with disabilities.
 
No. Everything doesn’t happen for a reason. If it did, why is this so called God giving me, and so many other marginalized folks the short end of the stick? 

Muscles tensing up. Heartbeat increasing. Hands shaking. 
 
FUCKING BREATHE ALREADY. 

You need to do this to live. 

It seems silly and simple, but concentrated breathing is the only way I kept myself from unloading a ton of anger and swear words on anyone who said these things to me. They are trying to empathize, trying to give you comfort, trying to assure you that you’ll be okay.

They aren’t doing any of those things, and may very well be actively hurting you by trying.

Just breathe, and if and when you find it in yourself - share with that person how those things affect you. They will most likely understand.

 
Stop asking yourself “What If” questions

Yes. They are tempting. I’ve spent my fair share of time with them.
 
What if he hadn’t broken up with me? He would still be alive. He wouldn’t have been coming home from her house. He wouldn’t have been out that late. He probably would have been across the state with me.

What if he had just stayed in the house when he called the police? He’d still be alive.  His family wouldn’t have had to see their son killed in front of them. I wouldn’t have the ringing in my ear of his voice on the 911 call.

What if they hadn’t given up their big dog just a few days earlier? He would still be alive. The dog could have attacked the guy. He could have saved him.
 
What if I had been there? He’d still be alive. I would have convinced him to not interact with the guy. I could have told him to stay inside the house.  I could have saved him.
 
What if he was still alive?

What if.

 
Give up your what ifs. Don’t let them haunt you. It just causes more pain, more flashbacks, more panic. 

Maybe each time you find yourself thinking, “What if…” – instead, think of one thing the person you lost was really passionate about, and share that thing with someone. Think of something that made you smile each time you were with them. 

One thing I like to think about is  when Jon and I would listen to The Devil Wears Prada's Zombie EP, and each time the music paused for the "Oh my god, they're everywhere," line, he would instead yell, "Oh my god, Pokémon cards," while miming a motion for making it rain. Makes me smile every time.
 

Cry all the cries.

Self-explanatory. Don’t hold back those tears. Even if you have to be the weird kid crying on the train, or in the bathroom, or on the sidewalk, or in the park, or under your desk at work, or in class, or in an elevator, or at the printer when you can’t get it to work, or any number of other places I have found myself crying over the years. 

I know there is stigma with certain identities about showing sadness, depression, and anxiety. Do your best to not worry about what others think. Crying is good for you. 

I’m with you. You’re not alone. 


Therapy.

If you are lucky enough to have access and funding to go to therapy, go. I'm not going to lie, it sucks sometimes, because you’re reliving moments of your past you would rather keep buried, but doing so can help you process and have lasting benefits. 

There is a type of therapy called EMDR. I swear it is witchcraft, because it did wonders for my PTSD. I was only able to go once, but it helped immensely. I held these two vibrating things in my hand as I retold the traumatic event I wanted help reprocessing. My therapist would alternate the vibrations frequency and intensity throughout the story, and I guess it somehow helps rewire what parts of your brain fire when you recall that memory. Or something along those lines. I’m not a therapist. 

Either way. It can help.

Stigma is stupid. If you think you’re weaker because you go to therapy or take medication for your mental health, I’m happy to tell you that you’re wrong. It takes a strong person to take control of their health. This shit isn’t easy! Let’s be real, continuing to live after experiencing trauma is one of the strongest things you can do. 

And if you don’t have access to a therapist. Talk it out with someone. Find resources online for survivors of trauma. Never stop searching for something that could help improve your life.


Advocate for others.

Triggers are THE WORST. Those words, phrases or actions that send you spiraling into panic attacks, flashbacks, and tears. Those things that rip all the light from your eyes, and the energy from your body.

Don’t be silent. Don’t suffer to keep others comfortable. Tell those who use your triggers what they do to you. Anyone who cares about you as a person will quickly change their behavior. You’d be surprised at how willing people are to change, especially when they were doing something they didn’t even know was harmful.

Now that you’ve got the power to advocate for yourself, do it for others. Make the world a safer place for those who have experienced trauma. 

When you don’t believe in a higher power, karma, the good of the human race, or anything else; believe in yourself.

I believe in you.


-------


Things are honestly still tough. July is such a hard month for me with Jon’s birthday, the anniversary of losing Emily, and Emily’s birthday. It’s been years, but I still cry thinking about how Emily and I will never draw comic book notes to each other again, or how Jon and I will never smile at each other again. Or how neither will ever get to see their niece/nephew is as they grow up. 

In my victim impact statement for Jon’s trial, I wrote, “I feel as though I’ve had my one chance at lifelong happiness taken from me.” For years, I thought that was true. 

I’m really thankful it wasn’t. I’ve worked my butt off to make sure it didn’t. I made sure I surrounded myself with genuinely caring human beings. I’ve found a partner in someone who makes me a better person, and will never ever pressure me to do something I don’t want to. I made sure I landed a job that felt less like a job, and more like a calling. I made sure I discovered myself, and learned to be comfortable in my identities. I made sure to stay creative, and find an outlet for my expression. I've made sure to accept and embrace my mental health.

Happiness in the wake of trauma is not easy, but I promise it is worth it.
You are resilient. You are worthy.


katy breathe.jpg

About the art:

Nevan made this piece of art for Katy using massive amounts of sorcery and probably a computer because the man is an absolute wizard. No one truly understands the source of his craft, but we know that when he shares his magic with the world, we are meant to stare and take it in with awe and not question the methods by which it was created.

This image reads, "Breathe," which Nevan says was a reminder he needed more so now than ever. If you remember, he shared his coming out story last month. And he joined our artist team shortly thereafter. Since sharing the story, his life has been a bit chaotic, so Nevan said that this piece was actually incredibly therapeutic to create because needs this reminder when his brain gets all tangled up in itself.

And as you can tell from reading Katy's story, this is a perfect reminder for Katy as well.

- Craig & Nevan

050: The Gift


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

"The Gift," Lynne Marie Meyer


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

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

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

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

I did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her name was Buffy. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

I thought.

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

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

I was whole. 

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


About the art:

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

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

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

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

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

-Craig.

025: A Soldier, a Fighter


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

"A Soldier, a Fighter," Anonymous

Note: All survivors who reach out to The Art of Survival are given the option to remain anonymous in sharing their story. Any specific details about the survivor are shared at their discretion, and not the creators of the page.

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

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

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

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

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

In August 2015, we got a divorce.

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

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

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

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

Being a victim is not something I associate myself with.

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

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

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

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

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


solider.JPG

About the art:

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

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

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

Thank you for your story, survivor.

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

- Craig