0152: I Still Stand

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

"I Still Stand," anonymous

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

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

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

I have always been strong,
on the outside. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I stand strong. 

I stand beautifully. 

I stand purposefully. 


About the art:

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

- Craig.

0102: All Feelings are Valid

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

“All Feelings are Valid,” Katie LaCourse

It was a glass plate shattering and dinner strewn across the floor. Name-calling, threats, and combinations of words I still don’t know the meaning of. Stepping in between or hiding in another room. Mom’s bruises and her numb foot due to nerve damage. When I was a baby, she was carrying me down the steps outside when she got a foot to her lower back. She twisted so I wouldn’t get smashed into the hard ground and she messed up her spine. I blamed myself for that for the longest time. If only I hadn’t been there…

Even after mom took us and left, I watched my dad do this to his girlfriends. One of them put him in jail which was humiliating. As an 11-year-old, I would go with my grandparents to visit him, sit across the table from a line of other inmates, just so he could swear and complain about the situation to his parents. It’s been a few years since then and a few years of trying to rebuild a relationship with him. It’s still very weak and very uncomfortable, but I was sure he had at least changed and become better. Recently, I found that was not the case. I can’t understand how he can look at me, his daughter, and not try harder. Has he ever pictured someone treating me the way he treats women?

I am ashamed to have this last name.

When I heard about Lesley’s Clothesline Project-shirts designed for and by survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault—I felt a strong pull to be a part of this project. I had it all planned out:

For my mom,
My sister,
My best friend.
But I told myself I didn’t survive anything. My mom did, my sister did, and my best friend did, so why should I make a shirt?

I didn’t want to say that I suffered from any of this. I have never been hit, threatened with my life, or been called a terrible name that affected me other than the moot insults of immature middle-schoolers. But for a while, when I saw a car racing by, I wondered if there was another one behind it trying to stop it, track it, or hit it. I felt sick to my stomach when I pictured kids in the backseat of the first car wanting it to go faster or to know which hotel they would be staying at that night. I felt guilty when people looked at me funny for not knowing the plot of Robin Hood or The Little Mermaid. Maybe I saw them, but I tried so hard to forget those years of bad that I lost a lot of the good.

And now, it’s still jumping at any loud sound and checking to see if it was something like a glass plate or someone being hurt. Or panicking when children do their screechy giggles that sound almost like cries. Feeling uncomfortable walking down a busy hallway, or making contact with strangers on a crowded train, or being in the pit for a concert and wanting to sit in a ball on the ground in the middle of hundreds of people.

Vulnerability, busyness, loudness—I’ll pass on that.

I’m beginning to learn that it’s important to acknowledge my feelings and my struggles. No, I have not been a direct victim of domestic violence, but growing up with violence in the home affects the emotional development of children. It is traumatizing and changes the way the world is viewed. I struggle every day with what I’ve heard, seen, and felt. Most of the women I’m closest to have been directly affected by relationship violence and/or sexual assault. I’m scared for my safety and the safety of other women. I’m frustrated that I can’t fully enjoy a concert or feel comfortable commuting to school. I don’t like that when I hear a loud noise I tell myself it’s probably nothing, but eventually I have to look anyway or I’ll worry about it for the rest of the day.

All feelings are valid. So are thoughts, fears, and everything else that’s a result from trauma. Regardless of what the trauma was or how direct, we’re allowed to feel things. We’re worthy enough to feel things, and we don’t have to tell ourselves to “get over it” because it wasn’t that big of a deal. It was and it still is every day. We are allowed to take care of ourselves, too.


About the art:

With this piece, I wanted to acknowledge the strength and bravery Katie demonstrated by opening up about her experience. It takes courage to share our stories, and to do so without judging oneself can be difficult.

But Katie’s willingness to share, not only for herself, but for others with similar experiences, shows just how significant and powerful these stories can be when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. I wanted to celebrate and validate Katie’s experience and the feelings she shared. With this piece, I hope she will continue to honor her feelings and keep spreading her courageous message to others.

- Becca

0101: There Were Warnings

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

“There were Warnings,” Anonymous

It required a whole family of narratives. It required a whole family to be fooled. A whole family to buy in. And a whole family to play the part. It worked because it fell under the guise of just a child of narratives of care: The child who is spoiled and charming and impish the siblings who bicker and fight and “provoke’ the mother who sees herself in her son.

We all learned from his behavior. We all bought into it in some way.

I laughed along when he mocked my friends. I joined in when it came to Jeremy. And I sure as hell didn’t stick up for mom. The strangest thing is he never “blew up” he didn’t scream and was only very rarely sad. What I remember more often than not is sarcastic laughing whether he was happy or what. It’s not like he angrily shouted when he hurt or blew up it was just a force to get his way. Quiet and simple. Jeremy learned it from him doing wrist grabs and throat presses. Playing light-sabers. Winning enough to not lose. Maybe she was more vulnerable to abuse because it was all she had ever known. But her credibility as a parent rests on denying it on crafting alternative narratives and denying what I remember. I asked her what she remembers…

I just remember it was really cruel.

Like, one time I said, “I’m trying to eliminate trans fat from my diet”

And he just kept repeating it over and over again.

The physical turned verbal and financial. Not working but consuming more. Were the guitar lessons the beginning of it all? Doing swim team was like pulling teeth.

I just remember the paper bag. Sensing his tension. Him sitting next to me. wanting to know what was inside. My refusal. His gnashing. The bag torn but unopened. But if not the bag then, my hand. Bleeding from the braces.

But where did he learn it? how did he know it as he grew and aged?

The goose's nest during the soccer game. The hood ornament. The sexual assault. There was something. There are have been and will be warnings 

I deserve to speak out loud. To unload what you have loaded onto me. I deserve to voice your guilt; I deserve to name your violence. I deserve to name what I am holding and to heartily give it back. I deserve to be disgusted by your behavior and to say it to your face. I deserve to expect more and better from you. All of the women who you have harmed deserve to be treated better than that. Hitting, rape, mean jokes, escalation, cruelty is never okay. We deserve to be treated better. We deserve to break out of this bullshit of acting like we’re all on an equal playing field. No. there is not sameness, and when you feel upset that I am bringing this up is very different than me feeling upset when you put me down. Indeed what you have done, the harm you have caused cannot be taken back and so the dynamic cannot be undone. It’s about time you more than apologize for your behavior.

In my morning pages I asked you, “when does my worth come before his? When? When? When?” and I know that there is no one to answer. I’m holding and carrying around his silence for him. He is a RAPIST! My twin brother is a rapist. My twin brother raped a girl who I know. My twin brother rapes people. My twin brother.

Fuck that bullshit! Fuck it.

Fuckin fuck it. Piece of shit, bullshit.

Hey mom, do you know what your son did?
Do you know that your son is a rapist?
Are you even surprised?
Do you care? Do you still have an excuse for him this time?

It’s not one woman and it’s more than two. It’s too many to be sure how many. Do you remember when I would come to you crying after he hit me and you would ask if I provoked him? Did you know your son has continued to hit long after you, after we thought he stopped? 

He continued to hit when he mocked Julia and he continued to hit when he made fun of you. He continued to hit when he laughed at me and Jeremy. Did you know that he continued to hit when he told me that I was his lifeline? Did you know that it is up to my beating heart to keep him alive?

That you hit back when he told you he thought he might be bipolar and all you did was tell me that maybe he wouldn’t be a rapist now if you had taken him to a doctor. That maybe you and he should leave me out of it. Maybe you and he should do better. Maybe I am enraged. Maybe you have no fucking clue because you are oblivious and you live in denial. Did you know that I hit myself? That sometimes I feel as though someone’s got to. That I hope my pain will emerge and just come out and escape from this skin.

It feels as if anything I do for myself for injustice is against /// is hurting my brother. He wore that stupid teal ribbon on his graduation cap. But I am holding his shame and silence. I’m holding his guilt. His behavior is not okay like fuck this bullshit. HE COMMITTED the violence. How could you trust someone with this crap that he pulls? And when can my own self-preservation and rage and ethics and wisdom and strength and worth come before his?




In her book, The Power to Break Free, Anisha Durve tells the reader that perpetrators are narcissists. Perpetrators are master manipulators. Perpetrators are deeply insecure; they have a fragile sense of self, they have an inflated ego, and distorted thinking patterns. The victim can raise herself up with this knowledge. She can laugh once she knows it’s a messed up performance.

Perpetrators are pathological. He is evil.
But where does that leave Eli?

Anisha tells me that abusers are often playful, fun-loving, have a great sense of humor, loving, and warm… I think about how assertively affectionate he can be.

I think about the way humor has operated as a way to deplete my anger and deplete my drive to ignore him, the way humor operates as a way to minimize what he has done and mock others’ pain, the way humor operates as a way to make him irresistible and redeemable, the way humor has been his saving grace. I think about how I have loved the fun.

I think about the way Anisha Durve pathologizes abusers and maybe even strips abusers of their humanity… much like they do to others. I think about the way my laughter encourages him.

The way my laughter tells him that I still love him even though he is a rapist. The way my laughter never held him accountable. I remember looking him in the eye telling him: one day you’ll go to jail for this. Eventually you will be too old for this. Or I remember threatening to call the cops. Sometimes maybe even having the phone in my hand. But we all still smile, knowing I was powerless. Knowing that one day, it wouldn’t be okay.


About the art:

This survivor's style of writing really gripped me. What I wanted to do is take inspiration from its tone and make an image that evokes the same kind of frustration and righteous anger.

The ink splatter, toothy hyena and text all try to achieve that.

- Hannah

0100: Enough is Enough

Content warning: The following story contains references to bullying, depression, and suicidal ideation, which may be triggering to some readers.

“Enough is Enough,” 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

My first memory of being bullied was in 5th grade. The first time I seriously considered killing myself was in 6th grade. Sometime after that, while in high school, my mother would “jokingly” refer to me as bipolar. From there, I moved onto college, and later graduate school, continuing to alternate between depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation. During all this I never sought out the help of a therapist to help me with my mental health issues. I’ve just endured and waited for it to pass.

My first recollection of being bullied starts back in the 5th grade; I was at a new school after being moved away from what I had grown up knowing. I started over-eating because I was being bullied and I was being bullied because I was overweight. Circular, I know. Time kept moving, I kept gaining weight, and sometime in the 6th grade the idea of ending it all became more and more appealing. I can’t remember specifics but it somehow came out that I was thinking of killing myself, and while I don’t remember everything that went down after it came out, I do know that my parents never took me to counseling.

Life kept going, I continued to be bullied, and I continued to deal with suicide ideation, but I kept it to myself just trying to endure it all and lived with the glimmer of hope that it would get better someday. Things seemed better in high school, but it really wasn’t; the bullying had just changed forms from being outright to being subtler in the guise of exclusion. The glimmer of hope started to waver as I kept trying to endure it all and anxiety threw itself into the mix. Anxiety joining the party was when my mom started to “jokingly” refer to me as bipolar. Yet while she called me bipolar, she never sought out counseling for me, but constantly reminded me that I wasn’t the only one to be bullied in the family and I just needed to deal with it. So I kept enduring.

I went out of state to college, hoping for the best and praying that things would get better. It did get better, but I never stopped struggling with suicide ideation, anxiety, and sometimes depression. I think the worst bout of suicide ideation was my second semester during my first year of grad school. I didn’t go a week without considering ending my life, because it didn’t feel like anything was getting better. In fact, things were getting worse, but something kept me holding on. Thankfully I did because one thing that I desperately needed turned out in my favor which gave me the strength to keep going until the next thing turned around.

Now here I am, over a year into my career field, and I am still struggling with my mental health. This weekend was the most recent bout I had with anxiety and suicide ideation, but this weekend is also the weekend that I finally told myself it’s time, “You have to go to see a therapist about this, because this isn’t healthy.”

I don’t know why I haven’t ever seen a therapist. I don’t attribute a stigma to taking care of your mental health, but for some reason, stubbornly, I have never gone. Enough is enough, though, I am tired of enduring, because enduring isn’t living.


About the art:

My inspiration for this piece started with the the meditation on the quote "this too shall pass". The story rumored to be behind the quote was that a king set out a challenge for someone to come up with a single sentence that would make him sad when happy and happy when sad. This relates to the two sides of anxiety. Anxiety never completely goes away. Even behind the most joyful of moods, it's there. Likewise, on the worst days, it's comforting to know that eventually it will fade away.

The blue/green koi fish represent joy and perseverance while the orange koi fish represents anxiety. Each of them are an aspect of this survivor and all are in a constant circular motion. At times, anxiety seems to be all-consuming, but like the quote, it will pass and joy will come around again.

While this painting was inspired by the quote, it is not the one I chose for the painting. The quote I chose, I chose because I wanted to include an uplifting message for is survivor. Anxiety is tough. It's even tougher when you're harsh on yourself. I'm really grateful that this survivor shared her story and I hope she enjoys her new artwork.

- Emily

099: I Found My Voice

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

“I Found My Voice,” Jenna Glazer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About the art:

This is exactly what Jenna wanted!

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

- Kelsey

084: Roseann

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

“Roseann,” Jessica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About the art:

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

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

- Emily Silkman

077: The Hardest Betrayals

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

"The Hardest Betrayals," 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.

The first time I was sexually abused, I was five years old. I was being watched by my uncles while my parents were out and I guess my brother was in school.

I was young so I don't remember entirely everything but I remember being naked in a bedroom with my two uncles who were also naked and I remember crying and trying to open the door. I remember their huge manhood trying to be put into my mouth. I remember the dark closet they put me in and feeling sick and feeling wet stickiness streaming down from between my legs. Also around the same time, I was staying with other family and I had to sleep in my aunt’s (she's actually technically my cousin but I've been calling her auntie forever) bed and she made me suck her breast until I eventually fell asleep.

So, let me break down these walls that society has put up
They will no longer be sound proof and you will finally hear our voice
The voices that have been calling out since BC
The voices of the trauma, illness, and disability laying under that rug
You swept the mountain underneath and turned a blind eye
This is the mountain that so many must carry

I moved from Egypt to the US when I was 6 and I guess as my body's way of coping, I forgot about everything till I was a bit older and later learned that it was dissociation. When I was around elementary school age my brother would watch porn and make me clean and tell me that I would do the things on the screen. He would squeeze my breast hard and tell me that that's how I'll get bigger breast and would even threatened to make me suck his penis in order to get me to do things for him.

When I was 9, I had an uncle that I looked up to and thought of as a dad and one day he came up to my room while I was just waking up and grins at me and somehow I knew something was wrong. He grabbed me by the hips and French kissed me for what felt like forever. It was one of the hardest betrayals.

After that, my memories from the past started to come back but I couldn't completely grasp and understand them, it all felt like a dream.

We may be strong, but running this race would be a lot easier without this mountain weight
Without constantly feeling like you're not trying hard enough,
when in actuality you're giving it your all
But your all compared to that person over there is a mere 60%
All you hear is "you're being lazy," "get over it," "you know you can do better," "maybe you just need to work harder"

When I was 14, I was sexually assaulted by a student when I went to my brother's high school to go get him after sports practice. I was in the 8th grade at the time and told my parents that I didn't want to go to that high school but I couldn't explain to them why. The worse thing about that event is that there was someone else in the room, a girl, and she didn't do anything to stop it. She just kind of laughed and told the guy that he was scaring me.

What I’ve learned is that rape and sexual assault does not discriminate against age, race, gender, location—it can happen to anyone, by anyone. It’s been hard to deal with and I now have depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Some days are just really bad.

But some days are also good. It’s okay to not feel like you’re getting anywhere with your healing and to just feel broken. But you should never give up because you might just miss some amazing things in life if you quit.

Maybe we need to understand that some of us have long term setbacks
This mountain that we carry, is too big to be swept under the rug


About the art:

This piece has been delayed since the beginning of this campaign, but we are glad to share it now with the Violent Crime month due to it's level of intensity and elegance with the weaving of poetry throughout the story.

Audrey created this piece in one sitting, which was absolutely mind-blowing to watch her talent on display. The survivor wanted a Black stallion because it signified strength and motivation for her survival after all these years.

Audrey used an 8x12 flat canvas and oil paints to create this piece.

You can scroll through detailed images of the painting below!

076: Survivor

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

"Survivor," Rachel.

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.

“Survivor” was something I struggled with for a long time. Not because I felt more like a victim, or because I hadn’t healed enough, but because I felt like my experiences didn't really deserve a label at all. I hadn’t earned it.

I was sexually assaulted 9 months into my career as a sexual violence peer educator. I had spent an entire summer teaching incoming first-year students at my University about consent and sexual violence and respect and bystander intervention, but when I was sexually assaulted it didn't look like any of the scenarios that I had spent all summer describing. He was my best friend. I had just left my boyfriend of 3 years for him. And when it happened, it didn't feel scary. It was a blur. I froze. I didn’t know what to do. He just kept saying, “you're too sexy, you turn me on too much, I can't stop.”

It took me almost a year and a half to tell anyone that I had said no or that that night had been anything other than consensual. After it happened my friends congratulated me on hooking up with him for the first time. They hassled me because it had happened in my roommate’s bed. And so I didn't make a big deal of it. I stayed with him, for a while, at least, but as time went on, what had happened started bothering me more and more. I knew that putting distance between me and him would mean losing my entire friend group, the three roommates I have been living with for 2 years. And that was scary. 

I still didn't call myself a victim or survivor. I just said there was something bad that happened to me or that there were times in my life when people didn't respect my consent. It didn’t feel like what had happened to me was “bad” enough to label assault.  It wasn't until my senior year in a women's studies class when we started reading poetry about sexual violence, and I started having flashbacks in the middle of class, of myself saying no, of myself saying please just go to sleep I'm tired I want to go to bed, please, not right now. I started realizing that “survivor” was something I could call myself, that being a survivor was the reason that I was so afraid all the time, the reason I still didn't trust anyone, the reason why it was easier to avoid the friends I'd had all of college than to tell them what had happened.

I've been calling myself a survivor for a little over 2 years now and in that time, I graduated college, I earned my master's degree, and I started an amazing professional career teaching college students about sexual violence and consent and building workshops that empower people around these issues. Being able to do that is amazing and incredible and I'm so grateful for every single day, but there are still times when I'm reading research on my computer or listening to my students tell their stories and I can feel my hands start to shake.

Or I'm sitting in a presentation and the examples that are used are a little too close to home and I can feel myself start to freeze up again, start leaving my body again. There are days when I have to leave work as soon as I'm done and drive myself home and sit alone in my apartment and text my friends to ask them to remind me that what happened to me was real and I have a right to feel this way. There are days when I feel like I'm a fake, that I'm just doing it for attention, but then I have the unfortunate gift of my shaking hands and my flashbacks and I am forced to remember all over again. 

A lot of the people in my life, my family, my little sister, don't know what happened to me, and I prefer it that way. There are times when I try to separate my career from my personal experience because there are some days when I fear that people will think I can't be an expert if I'm a survivor too, or that I can't help people if I'm still healing myself. Even if I know it's not true, those fears still creep in.

So, to every survivor out there, to every not-yet-survivor out there, to anyone who's still struggling with the words, with what to call what happened to them, you are valid. You have a right to feel upset, to feel violated, to feel sad, to feel angry, to feel anything that you want to feel. Your story doesn't have to fit anybody's model of what a survivor story should look like. It doesn’t have to be “bad enough” for you to deserve being believed and supported. You deserve love and trust and belief and so much more. So please, have hope. 

rachel stew.JPG

About the art:

Rachel reached out to share her story back when we first launched this project. We were pretty inundated with stories, and I was bummed to see that Rachel's had to be delayed as long as it has. But here it is for folks to read!

Rachel breaks down the idea of being a "survivor," which is a central aspect of our work with the Art of SURVIVAL. So I genuinely appreciate this approach being included on our site.

Since this piece was made earlier in the project, I hadn't begun truly experimenting much the styles I created. But I still think this piece looks super cool. I love these colors and the quote is absolutely incredible and uplifting. Rachel has had this piece for a while, and I'm glad to know it's a source of inspiration for them everyday.


074: Three Years Later

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

"Three Years Later," anonymous

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

I was sexually assaulted in graduate school on May 4th, my mother’s birthday.

I was “lucky” enough to be able to fight off a man who I had considered to be a friend. At first I thought to myself, you’re lucky that you didn’t drink more. You’re lucky that the only mark he left was a hickey on your neck. You’re lucky that you could still fight back. But the flashbacks kept coming. The doubt came in. Someone who was there that night said, “Shit happens when people drink.” And other friend told me “I don’t think it’d be a big deal for me like it was for you. It was just a kiss.”

But they fail to see that it was just a kiss because I fought. I pushed him off with all 120 pounds of me. The day after, I showed him the mark he left on me, the proof that he marked me like an animal. He told me that this had happened before with other women, and I felt afraid. He didn’t understand that his actions were unacceptable. No one had ever given him consequences for his actions.

It took me a year to decide to report the assault, a year of turmoil and doubt. On one hand, I felt that I forgave him as I know that people make mistakes. On the other hand, I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t report it. So I didn’t report the incident for myself. I reported the assault not to punish him, but in hopes that it wouldn’t happen to anyone else, ever again. I never wanted another woman to felt what I felt. I never wanted another woman to go through what I went through.

During the months that followed, I felt crazy. I felt as though I was making a big deal out of nothing. I couldn’t trust my emotions because everyone around me was telling me different things. I felt that I was losing and I couldn’t breathe.

I’m reminded in every moment that it could have been more. It could have been rape. The detectives who handled my case saw the fear in my eyes and my body and told me I was lucky it didn’t end in rape. But I no longer think I’m lucky. Because my assault falls in the grey zone where it’s sexual assault, but not rape. It’s not a clear incident, so friends don’t know which side to take. Where people stop talking to me and I don’t know why. Where alcohol seems to excuse bad decisions. So I brushed the trauma underneath the rug and tried my best to carry on. But inside I am crushed by the burden of the assault and the feelings of betrayal by those around me.

A year after the assault, he moved into my apartment complex and I fell apart. Being a victim is not my narrative, it is not my story. I am a strong, independent woman. I am a warrior. And yet I couldn’t get out of bed. I cried all the time. I had nightmares of him touching me and woke up crying and shaking.

But at this point in my life, I refuse to become stuck in this moment of my life. I refuse to allow one person to define what the most pivotal moment of my life should be. I refuse to become the victim. As I write this on the third anniversary of my assault, I am reminded of how far I’ve come. And while I’m not the same person I was three years ago, I’d like to think that I’m a Japanese Kintsugi bowl, broken down but then rebuilt to become something much more beautiful.


About the art:

I love the Japanese art of kintsugi/kintsukoroi which means "golden joinery/golden repair". The idea is to treat the breakage and repair as part of the history of the object rather than cover it up and mask the cracks.

For the art, I chose to paint two different pieces of pottery that have been broken and joined together. This represents the past and future self, both of which have cracks, but are joined together to be whole. I really enjoyed painting this piece for this survivor. I hope this painting gives her strength whenever she feels down.

- Emily Lopez

070: I Don't Want to Die

Content Warning: The following story is a detailed account of a home invasion in which someone is violently raped, while another is brutally attacked, both of these incidences may be very triggering for some survivors.

“I Don't Want to Die,” Greg

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.

Around 5:30 in the morning on April 30, 2015, my fiancee, Steph, was warming up our car.

On her way back to the house, four men ran around the corner holding guns. They slammed her to the door and opened the door. Steph yelled my name. I was up stairs on the laptop, but I threw it to the bed and went running downstairs, asking what had happened--I thought something happened to our dog. I turned the corner to the door and got punch in the face and fell to the ground.

They came inside and threw her to the ground and pointed their guns at us. They told her to take her clothes off. She was crying. I tried to reassure her everything was going to be okay, but in my mind I knew that it wasn't going to be. Two of the guys dragged me upstairs and then pushed me to the ground and then told me to undress.

I said, “are you serious?”
They said, “yes,” and put the gun to my head.

So I did.

They asked me where all the valuables were located, so I told them. They started to go threw our stuff and found my 22. They pointed their guns at me and ask where was the ammo for it, but I told them I didn't have any. They didn't believe me, so they started to kick me in the head.

I told them I didn't have any and they continued to kick me. They told me to go downstairs. So I did. On the way down, I saw the other two groping Steph. Three of them took her upstairs and one of them stayed with me.

He told me to lie down on the ground with my hands over my head. A few minutes went by and I started to hear them raping her. Time went by and the guy that was watching me told me, “do you hear that they are raping her? There is nothing you could do to stop it.” He then put the gun to my head.

He stood up and started to kick me in the head. After a few minutes of that, he stopped and yelled upstairs if the other men wanted something to drink. Then he took sodas upstairs.

I got up and ran to the sliding glass door. I tried to open it. Then I heard them yell at him and told him to go back down stairs and watch me. I dropped to the ground and tried to act like I wasn't doing anything, but he saw me.

“What the fuck do you think you are doing?” he yelled at me. He grabbed a cushion off the couch and put it over my head and put his gun to it asking me if I want to die. I said, “No!”

He dragged me upstairs, and threw me in the bathroom, tied me up, and started to kick me in the head. The other three dragged Steph out of the room and tied her up. Then they pointed their guns at us.

“I don't want to die,” I yelled, hoping someone would hear me on the other side of the walls.

“Shut up! No one is going to hear you,” they said. They flipped us over on our stomachs and started to drizzle something over us. It smelled like lighter fluid.

I thought they were going to burn us alive. But they never did. They told us to count to one hundred. So we did.

They ran downstairs and grabbed what they wanted and left. I asked Steph if she was able to untie me and she could, so she did. I got up to see both of us covered in black nail polish. I ran into our room and put some clothes on. Then I told Steph to lock herself in the bathroom until I return. I looked for my cellphone but they took it.

So I ran to our landlord’s apartment and knocked on her door as loud as I could. She opened the door and yelled at me angrily. I told her that we had a home invasion and that Steph got raped. She immediately burst into tears.

I told her to call the cops, so she grabbed her phone and called them.

I went back to our house and told Steph that I was with the landlord. So Steph came down stairs crying and told me they raped her. I held her in my arms and felt terrible that I couldn't protect her.

“If you would have tried, they would have killed you,” she said.

It took 20 minutes for the cops to show up. They took us to the hospital, did a rape test on Steph, and did cat scans on my head. Detectives asked us questions and sent us home.

Three weeks later, I got a call from the detectives saying they had caught the men that did our home invasion. The same group of men tried to do the same thing to another couple. The guy tried to fight them off, but they shot him in the head. FBI tracked his phone to an apartment across the freeway from us.

About a month after our incident, my cousin started a GoFundMe on Facebook. It raised around five thousand dollars. Not a day goes by that I’m not thankful for our friends and family who helped us in our time of need. With that money, we put a down payment on our new house. Next year, we are getting married. And our love for each other has done nothing but grow since this incident.


About the art:

This story is incredibly tragic, terrifying, and heartbreaking. It's perhaps one of the worst nightmare scenarios that many of us worry about in our daily lives.

Which is why when Greg reached out to share this story, I knew that he and Steph made it out of this situation alive and perhaps more bonded and stronger as a couple, which inspired me to paint a phoenix for them.

I am very much tied to significance of a phoenix, as I have personally battled a few moments in life that have lead me to rise from the ashes, so to speak. And the imagery of the phoenix just felt right for this story, now that they are well on their way to a bright future together.

Many familiar with my style of art might notice that this is my first time attempting a piece like this, and it was super fun to create! I came up with the concept after practicing this style on another canvas--just playing around. And I had done similar pieces before (HERE & HERE), so this was a bit of an exploration in form and style.

I was going to leave the piece without lines, but Katy suggested I add them, so I did, and I'm glad I did because they add so much to the piece!

I'm so thankful for Greg sharing this story with us, and I'm so glad that he and Steph are doing much better a year after this incident. No one should ever experience what they experienced and I hope that one day, our society gets to the point where things like this do not happen any more.

- Craig Bidiman.