Content Warning: This post contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to some survivors.
"Tell Your Heart to Beat Again," 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 few years of college were spent happily rooming with my older sister (and BFF), being extremely involved with the leadership of each organization I was a part of, focusing on my goal of becoming a middle school teacher and being active in my church. Over the summers I led retreats for high school students where I talked about how to remain true to our Catholic beliefs, even when in tempting sexual situations.
The summer before my junior year, I went to a statewide educators’ conference with a friend and quickly connected with my fellow teachers and stayed up late talking and playing games in the hotel rooms. One of the guys I had met that day had started flirting with me and I began flirting back. Everyone else eventually went to sleep and he and I continued to talk, and he continued to put his hands on my legs and they kept creeping up closer to my shorts.
We talked about the fact I was a virgin because I wanted to be. I told him I didn’t want to let anyone have that part of me until I was married to my best friend. The touching continued and we started kissing. I was ok with that part. He kept touching and I told him to stop. I told him I really didn’t want to. I should have left and went back to my room, but what would he have thought of me? That I was just a prude? He was older and very attractive. If he wanted me and was attracted to me, he would take care of me and not do anything I didn’t want him to. He was so nice.
So, so wrong.
It happened. All night. He did things to me and forced me on him.
I went back to my room so confused. I had just had sex. I should be proud and happy right? Everyone talks about it and I was the only one not doing it.
Over the next 8 months I began drinking heavily and sleeping with any guy who tried to sleep with me. I had a job to do right? That’s what I was good at and got attention for.
I was living a double life. I ran for higher and more prestigious roles on campus and regionally and my friends kept telling me I had ‘come into my own’ and that they were seeing the real me at night and on the weekends. I would go hung over to class but still went to every single one. They wouldn’t know. I lived close to home and had always been incredibly close with my family but when I would now visit I was acting out. I was angry. I yelled and swore at my parents and siblings.
At the end of spring break I got into a huge fight with my parents and went to my room, sat in the corner and sobbed. Moments later my mom walked in, came over to me and asked, “what happened to you? Were you raped?” The sadness and desperation in her voice, face, and heart was overwhelming.
I said, “yes”.
I sought out counseling back on campus that week but with waiting lists it was hard to see someone regularly. I talked to campus police. My attacker attended another state university and would be graduating shortly. I was told the most that could happen if we pursued my case was for him to not be permitted to take courses at his current institution after he graduated. I was told too many months had passed since the assault to do anything else. I did what I was supposed to, didn’t I? You’re supposed to tell the police these things and they are supposed to help?! I felt defeated. I felt betrayed. This man would be employed as a high school teacher in a matter of months and the fact that he raped me didn’t matter. I pray every single day that he keeps his hands off the young women he teaches. It is my fault if he doesn’t.
Fast-forward and I am in my second professional role in student affairs after graduate school. As a hall director I helped a number of students through sexual assault and domestic violence experiences and I know my personal experiences only made me better at helping them.
I am often told in the workplace by supervisors, peers and supervisees that I am too forward. That I speak my opinions too loud and too often. That I ask too many questions. While I continue to grow and learn how to express myself in more ‘appropriate’ tones and spaces, I will not stop. I will not stop speaking up for myself or for those around me who cannot when that ability was torn away from me unwillingly. I had no voice. I had no self-worth. I didn’t believe I had the RIGHT to decide with whom I would share the most intimate parts of myself with.
Now, I have that back. I listen. I reflect. I share. I provide feedback. I stand up for myself and I am strong. The front of this very notebook I’m drafting in says it perfectly, “She saw every ending as a new beginning.”
My heart beats again. I love, and I am loved. I give my life to God, my family, my friends and my future. I’m in control, even on those difficult days when I feel myself slipping backward. I heard the song recently, “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again” while driving and cried. It speaks exactly to my experience of having an incredibly difficult piece to my puzzle but not letting that piece cloud the beautiful picture of who I am.
About the art:
When this survivor told me their idea for their painting, I knew that I wanted to use a technique that I love to implore for paintings based on specific songs. I take ALL of the words from that song and write them out in sharpie in the background of the painting, as you can see in the detail below. And then I paint over it with my bleaching style and take one line and make it the forefront of the piece.
This technique creates a very dynamic look for the painting and gives the viewer the opportunity to see a visual representation of the song. This survivor wanted the words from the song, "Tell Your Heart to Beat Again," by Danny Gokey. Despite my VAST knowledge of music, I had never heard this song before, but I checked it out and it's definitely a beautiful track.
This survivor highlighted the chorus of the song as a focal point of their survival and what they felt I should focus on for the painting.
Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday’s a closing door
You don’t live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you’ve been
And tell your heart to beat again.
I am thankful this survivor wanted a painting done in one of my favorite styles and that they were even willing to share this piece to begin with. It means a lot when someone reaches out and specifically asks for a piece in my style. It reminds me of why we started this project—to give back to those who have survived trauma through art that has helped me survive my own trauma.
Thank you survivor, keep on surviving!