0153: Scarred

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

"Scarred," Anonymous

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

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

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

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

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

The lies continue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These escapes kept me alive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About the art:

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

- Craig.

"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

0139: The Postpartum Blues

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

"The Postpartum Blues," Alyssa Voyles


Hey there. 

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

I see you. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It does. 

And it doesn’t. 

It changes. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It gets better. It gets harder. It changes. 

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

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

And take all the photos. 

About the art:

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

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

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

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


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!


0137: Keeping Small Promises

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

“Keeping Small Promises," Ryan Ribeiro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the art:

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

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

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

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


0136: He Made Me

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

"He Made Me," Azure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the art:

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

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

- Hannah

0133: Subhuman

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

"Subhuman," Michael Maluk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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!


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!



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.


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!


0130: My Body is the Crime Scene

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

"My Body is the Crime Scene," anonymous

It was my freshman year of college—March 5, 2015. My freshman year was a little crazy, not going to lie. I was experiencing parties and meeting new people and in high school I was always the shy one and never really found my place. From some mutual friends, I got invited to an off-campus house party. I went with five of my friends and really didn't plan on drinking too much.

By this time I knew my limits, as I went to parties before, so I was pretty confident that I could watch myself. When we got to the house, it was packed and there were tons of Jell-O shots and a huge cooler of "askew juice.” I clearly remember this girl telling me to only take one shot of it. I'm not sure what was in it and I remember feeling very weird like I was already tipsy after just that one shot.

I ended up meeting a guy that lived there and thinking how cute and so nice he was. We had a really good conversation, and he was friends with my best friend’s roommate so I felt safe with him when he asked me to help him bring down some more Jell-O shots from his room.

I went in first and crossed the room to where he said they were in the fridge. I never noticed him locking the door. He started kissing me and pushed me onto the bed and I felt so weird I just remember staring up at the multicolored lights he had strung in his room. I started to freak out when I realized how heavy and slow I felt I got drunk so quickly, but I was still pretty coherent it was just my body not reacting.

He ended up taking off my clothes and I told him I didn't want to because I was a virgin and saving myself for marriage. His response to that was it was okay because he was a virgin, too. I couldn't even cry as he raped me. I just kept my eyes closed and repeated over and over again how much I wanted my friends.

One of his friends started banging on his door nonstop and he helped me put my clothes back on and stand behind the door as he talked to him. I know I could have said something but at the time I was just so numb. It was over and I was relieved that I had my clothes on, so it wasn't going to continue. I remember him telling me he had to take care of something upstairs and he would meet me downstairs in a minute and then he kissed my forehead.

I remember not being able to breathe and trying not to fall down the stairs I just walked out the door and somehow my friends saw me and followed. As soon as I hit the sidewalk I puked and then just laid in the snow and made my one of my friends call my roommate to come get me.

I was already struggling with depression when this happened and I didn't want to be a disappointment to my family by having them know what happened. I went to the hospital not knowing it would only be free if I went to the cops and the nurse told me "if you don't press charges, this will happen to other girls. Do you want that to happen?"

I ended up leaving crying, as my friend cussed the nurse out for what she said to me.

It's now been two years and I'm still in therapy, I'm slowly getting better and for the first time I feel like my body is mine. I deserve love; I'm not disgusting or broken. He used me and violated me but I'm strong and I will be okay.

I do have really bad days when I don't want to get out of bed and I just want to cry. I remember everything from that night. I know exactly what I wore and I could give you every detail of the house down to what the lamp in the corner of the room looked like.

I know I'll never forget but I'm slowly overcoming it. My body is literally the crime scene and I can't get away from it. I refuse to be called a victim, I am a survivor.

About the art:

This story is incredibly powerful and the survivor, who wished to remain anonymous, deserves so much love for sharing this piece with us. I wanted to make a dynamic piece for them because they gave me free reign for this painting. I took the last two lines of the story and made a piece of out them. Repeating the line, "I refuse to be called a victim," added a very cool layer to this piece! And then I blackout some lettering for the "I AM A SURVIVOR" to make sure it stood out prominently. I really like how this piece turned out and I'm stoked to send it to this survivor!

- 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. 


0128: Doesn't that Hurt?

"Doesn’t That Hurt?" Jackie Lewis

Let’s break down the question.

“Doesn’t that hurt?” Yes, it hurts. Now you look away awkwardly, unsure of the appropriate response. Maybe a well-intended offering of “I could never do that.” Yes, you could, and you would.

“Doesn’t that hurt?” Sometimes. Now you change the subject, my non-committal response allowing the conversation to shift with ease. We acknowledged the blood, or the holes in my body, and you feel better.

 “Doesn’t that hurt?” No, not really. Now that I uphold my side of the social contract, hiding my truth in order to defend your comfort, you look relieved. “You’re so brave!” No, I’m not.

Once, I tried “Yes, but it doesn’t matter.” Why? “I still have to do it.” This is your least favorite response. It evokes a heavy feeling we go to extreme lengths to avoid. Powerlessness. You can’t carry that. You try to shove the feeling back, attempting to find a solution or at least justification. (See also: “Have you tried…?” or “Did you eat a lot of sugar as a child?”) I don’t blame you.

That sinking, anxious, almost guilty feeling is the unanswered ringing of cognitive dissonance. It’s the endless, fruitless loop of trying to reconcile suffering without cause. I understand. The mind wants reason, order, or at least faith in a higher purpose, but chronic illness is a bottomless chasm of senseless chaos.

My body doesn’t understand. Pain is the body’s warning that something is wrong. It tells us to stop. Every infusion site, injection, lancet, needle and tube in my skin, is physical dissonance. Inflict pain to feel better. It fits in the sick theme of autoimmune disease. My body, in trying to help, hurts itself. I have to carry it.

“You get used to it” or “It gets easier.” These are empty promises to a 12 year old. The burden doesn’t get lighter the longer it’s held and I don’t get stronger either. I find ways to shift the weight but I can’t put it down. During a particularly hard week 14 years later, I wrote that my condition is:

“That feeling of carrying all your grocery bags in one trip, seeing the treadmill tick down the last minutes of an intense workout, being an hour away from your weekend on a Friday afternoon. Except there are no kitchen counters, there is no 0:00, and there is no Saturday.”

I have Type 1 Diabetes. I have an insulin pump and insulin pens. I have a fear of door knobs and drawer pulls (look up insulin pump tubing). I have calloused fingertips. I have scar tissue. I have a shorter life expectancy. I have an aversion to pocketless dresses and being touched on my hips or stomach. I have anxiety. I have depression. I have wondered if death would be easier. I have no idea if I can have children. I have to eat. I have to test. I have to test again. I have to stop eating. I have to count carbs, count bites, count units, count to 5 before pulling the needle out. I have to ask for help. I have to explain. I have to be patient. I have no more strength today.

I have learned how to carry on when there is nothing left. So, I will tell you it hurts only sometimes and we can close that door and move along, isolated. But, if you want to stay, if you don’t mind holding something heavy, ask, “How does it feel?”

Hurt that doesn’t feel futile fuels my future. Sometimes we do what is painful in order to survive. 

image1 (1).JPG

About the art:

After reading Jackie's story, I looked to my book of stones and did some searching on stones with relatable healing properties. Jackie also indicated that she wanted burgundy or blood red incorporated, as those colors represent to her both pain and vitality.

I found Tiger Iron, which not only had some of these colors, but also had significant healing capabilities that reflected some of the issues Jackie shares in her story. So this painting is of a slab of Tiger Iron - this is a stone of strength, stamina, and courage. Tiger Iron is useful for self-healing, especially from chronic illnesses.

It can instill vibrational harmony in the kidneys, lungs, intestines and pancreas. It aids in strengthening the blood and muscles, and reinforces patterns of health, personal power, focused will, mental clarity and groundedness. I then included a quote by Gerda Weissmann Klein which I felt powerfully summed up the essence of Jackie's story.

I hope this piece will bring Jackie continued strength, vitality, and courage in the midst of pain.


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.


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.