0127: The Faith Component


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

“The Faith Component,” Ben Huelskamp

This isn’t the first time I’ve said it, written about it, discussed it openly with others, yet each time I spend days processing my emotions to get to the point that I can write the words: when I was sixteen years old I was sexually assaulted by a Roman Catholic priest. 

To understand this trauma from my eyes you have to know that I am a person of faith. Raised in a Catholic parish and in thirteen years of Catholic education, I was an altar server, choir member, read in church, and led campus ministry. I was that guy and I thought I was called to be a priest. What do you do as a boy who wants to be a priest? You go on retreats at seminaries and with religious communities. It was at one of these retreats—an intentional space for spirituality and discernment—that I met and had my only interaction with the man who assaulted me. 

I went with a group of boys and two priests. Built more than a century before, the local seminary had plenty of small rooms to accommodate each boy for the weekend. A bed, a desk, a chair, a closet, and a single light overhead. I don’t know why I had gone back to my room, but I realized that the light was burnt out. The only person I could find was an impeccably dressed younger priest. He smiled, found a new bulb, and replaced the light himself. He said something about rolling up your sleeves and doing work. He touched my shoulder, slid his hand down my side. I stepped back. He reminded me that good Catholics do what priests say to do. I looked at the ceiling. He finished, patted me on the shoulder again; left without another word. 

Whenever I tell this story I have to pause here. It would take me nine years to remember and begin to address what happened that night. I buried the trauma, unconsciously forced myself to forget. There it sat, a slowly leaking vat of psychological toxin polluting my sense of vocation and my engagement with faith. I couldn’t express why, but after the assault I stopped looking at seminary, even at Catholic colleges.

Finishing high school I attended an Episcopal college, I came out as a gay man, I left the Roman Catholic church, and I struggled to make sense of all my new experiences. Only once did the assault ever flash in my memory: a mentor, noticing that I was unusually withdrawn during my sophomore year of college, looked me in the eye and said: “I think you either were sexually assaulted or you think you’re gay.” For a moment I wanted to answer “yes” to both. Wholly unconsciously I denied being assaulted and for the first time came out to someone.

Sometimes I wonder if coming out at that particular time in my life—and not before or after—was not a psychological defense to the burgeoning memories of trauma that were trying to expose themselves. 

Near the end of my first year of graduate school at the University of Vermont (UVM) we were strongly encouraged to attend the Dismantling Rape Culture Conference (DRCC) held each year at UVM. I strongly resisted attending DRCC 2012. Interpreting my resistance as male privilege I decided to at least give it a chance (I also found out that “strongly encouraged” really meant “required”). At the opening session and subsequently at the workshops waves of memories and emotions nearly incapacitated me. I wandered through the day eventually ending up at a workshop led by the keynote speaker Marta L. Sanchez. During an activity we were able to select and keep a small copy of one of her paintings. That piece has stayed with me since the workshop. I’m looking at it as I write. 

I knew I needed help and knew I couldn’t process these memories alone. Ever since the assault I found it difficult to interact with most older men, particularly older men in positions of authority. My relationships with male faculty members were particularly rocky as were relationships with male supervisors. However, it was in all male communities that I would find the greatest level of support and the space I needed to make sense of what had happened. I was fortunate to encounter two excellent male counselors who worked with me to confront and begin to recover traumatic memories from the assault. One helped me work through the faith component and the other walked with me as I addressed the maleness of being assaulted by another man. However, it was in an all-male space with other men that I was able to begin healing. 

In addition to my other identities, I am a fraternity man and a member of Phi Mu Delta Fraternity. I joined Phi Mu Delta as a graduate student around the same time that I began to remember and address the assault. I never meant or even wanted my fraternity membership to get caught up in the messiness of trauma. However, I felt the safest with other Phi Mu Delta men. My biological family had to wrestle with their own emotions—often quite strong—regarding what had happened to me and what they felt they had “allowed” to happen. Many of my close friends who I might have otherwise turned to are themselves clergy of multiple denominations or people of great faith who too dealt with significant doubts when they learned that a friend had been assaulted by a Catholic clergyman. It was in my fraternity with other men that I transitioned from victim to survivor.

I took a break from religion and God-worship. For approximately four-and-a-half years I drifted between calling myself an Unitarian, Humanist, or Atheist. Never blaming God, I simply couldn’t identify with religions. How could a person call themselves a follower of an all-loving entity yet perpetrate sexual assault against another human. I couldn’t accept that ordination either granted one unquestionable power or immunity from grievous fault. With the help of several friends I identified the priest who assaulted me and learned that he is now the pastor of a large congregation that touts its youth ministry.

I wrote to his bishop and reported the assault. Though the statute of limitations had not expired, I knew that my at best fragmented memory was not nearly enough to sustain a criminal proceeding. The bishop’s office insisted that none of my information was correct and that even if it was the priest could not have assaulted me. Adding insult to injury they requested that I apologize in writing to the priest for putting him through so much suffering. In no uncertain terms I refused.

I will never be thankful to be a survivor, but I love myself. I love the person I have become. Choosing to forgive the man who assaulted me is not about him and it will never be about him. My act of forgiving frees me to be in community with others, frees me to welcome every man as my brother. Now thirteen years after the assault in a very different place that I have ever been before I know that honest doubt, not certainty, is the cornerstone of faith. I awoke one day in a church community of faithful doubters where love is bold and welcome is always extended. I could call myself a believer and a Christian again. As a friend and pastor tweeted to me on Easter this year: #ReclaimChristian. Assault ended my association with one community. Authentic love brought me home to many new communities. May it be so.    


About the art:

So Ben sent us this story ALLLLL the way back in July! And since we didn't have space for it then, we saved it for Sexual Assault Awareness month because this is rightfully where the story should have landed.

I'm very thankful that Ben shared this story with us because it reiterates an issue with the Catholic church that permeated through Boston, MA and was showcased in the film, Spotlight. Ben's story is not unfamiliar in the grand scheme of the controversy that surrounds the Catholic church, but it's a story of courage for Ben to reclaim his faith amid the trauma he experienced.

Making this piece was a long time coming, as I said before, so I wanted to make sure it was something special and something Ben could be proud to hang in his home or office or wherever. So I wanted the message to be powerful for him and endearing. I pulled both quotes on this piece from the last sentence of his piece in order to capture the essence of survival in his story.

Ben told me he likes blue, so I made sure to use as much blue as possible without over doing it. And you might notice the black in the background - that comes from Katy having attempted to make a piece with this canvas last week, and I repurposed the canvas for Ben's piece and I think it adds a very cool aesthetic to the painting. Throwing in the white streaks and splatter give it the universal flair that I like to attach to many of my pieces.

Thanks for sharing this story, Ben! It's not an easy one to share, and I'm glad you were patient with us for holding onto this story for so long. Be well.

- Craig.

Tattoosday 21: Not A Cover Up


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

"Not a Cover Up," Ariel Dickerson

I was 18. Just kidded out of my house for drinking and drugs and my grandfather had just passed away. As I lay on the floor of some strangers home all I could think about is how my family kicked me out in the most depressed state I have ever experienced. I was dating someone who was pulling me deeper and deeper into a very dark place and I needed was to be loved, but all I had was music.

Just like that I created my first tattoo.

It was to represent that all I had was my music to get me through a time when all I was searching for was the love of my family again. Luckily I grew further and further away from that dark place through a long journey of sobriety and forgiveness from my family.

Fast forward 7 years and I'm engaged and closer to my family than ever. One night I couldn't sleep and I laid in bed staring at this beautiful diamond my fiancé picked out for me and I couldn't help but reflect on the past 7 years.

Between the physical and mental abuse of others and my own abuse to myself and then to be where I am now. Happier than ever and I finally found what I was looking for. Love. From my family and my soon to be new family. That's when I decided that I had to get rid of the ink, but in a symbolic way.

So I covered it up, but ironically with the darkest lord of them all. Death Vader covering my tattoos helps remind me of the dark times, but also helps remind me of the love I have found. When I got home and showed my finance, now husband, my tattoo he mentioned how it really wasn't a cover up if you think about it, but more or a merging of two completely different times in my life to create a beautiful piece of art that I can show off for all to see!


About Tattoosday:

Tattoosday is way to demonstrate the storytelling quality of tattoos as well as the healing quality of tattoos.

If you would like to share the stories behind your ink, send us a picture of a tattoo or tattoos that have a significant story tied to your survival in life. Then write at least 400 words (you can write as many as you'd like) about the tattoo, it's meaning, and what it means to you today.

These stories will all run on Tuesdays!
One per week! So you have plenty of time to submit them to us!

The caveat with TATTOOSDAY is that we will not be making you a free piece of art, instead, your ink IS the art we will share with the story—which makes the most sense. BUT we will send you some stickers for sharing your story with us!

CLICK HERE to share your Tattoo story!

Tattoosday 014: For the Love of All that is Mighty and Good, Please Be Kind


Content Warning: The following story contains mention of sexual and emotional abuse, which may be triggering for some readers


"For the Love of All that is Mighty and Good, Please Be Kind," Ali Russo 

Kindness has always been the trait I value the most. It’s the first thing I look for when forming relationships with people; I like to watch the way they fold their hands and speak out of the corners of their mouths, holding doors with the tips of their fingers and rocking on their heels. I try to take all opportunities of kindness the universe has to offer, not for any other reason except the satisfaction in that helping someone else has made their day a little lighter. If I want to believe that the world can be kind, I need to be so, too. 

Conversely, this is much harder to apply to yourself—or, at least in my own personal experiences. Growing up with severe, undiagnosed anxiety, I became my own, worst, inner-critic. I believed that nobody would like me, including myself, if I did not bend to all of the requests, favors, and needs of the people I cared for in my life; I wanted them to undoubtedly know, throughout all the lengths of time, that I would love them and be there when they asked.

At the time, I couldn’t understand the damage this ideology would do to me, and certainly didn’t grasp that a healthy relationship should not leave one feeling as fatigued as I was. But this was my kindness. This was how I liked to show it. 

The first semester of my freshman year, I got out of a two-year relationship that was both emotionally and sexually abusive. I broke up with him over a phone call, and subsequently, he had to leave work because of the emotional distress I had caused. Over the course of the weeks, trailing my soles across the carpet of my therapist’s office, I expressed how the failure of our relationship, including the abuse and the break-up, was my fault. I remember clasping my hands between my knees, my shoulders hunched as I spoke to my therapist. “The way I broke up with him, the way I left him feeling—those are the cruelest things I’ve ever done.”
“Those are the kindest things you’ve ever done.” She corrected.

I remember feeling dumbfounded at her opposition, gaping at the confidence in which her ponytail swayed from both shoulders while she shook her head. “Whether you recognized it consciously or not, you knew you had to get out of that situation. You knew you needed a change, and to be kinder to yourself.”

Four years later, if you asked me the name of the college counselor who sat opposite of me in that tiny, warm room on campus, I couldn’t tell you. But I could tell you about the way her fingers wove into their own as she said this, the sporadic, faint spots on the back of her hands like prayer beads I could count with comfort. I could tell you about the eruption that followed, the flood that heaved; the collapse of comprehension at the ludicrous idea that I was just as important as those who held precedence over me—that I should hold precedence over me. 

I got my “be kind.” tattoo the following semester, squeezing my best friend’s hand as the ink settled into a reminder that remained forever. Now, in the year 2016 I am desperately trying to remind myself again, and again, and again, that being kind is always worth it, being kind is a reciprocal pleasure—it is the tangible mark of our humanity. We must never, ever lose it. 


About Tattoosday:

Tattoosday is way to demonstrate the storytelling quality of tattoos as well as the healing quality of tattoos.

If you would like to share the stories behind your ink, send us a picture of a tattoo or tattoos that have a significant story tied to your survival in life. Then write at least 400 words (you can write as many as you'd like) about the tattoo, it's meaning, and what it means to you today.

These stories will all run on Tuesdays!
One per week! So you have plenty of time to submit them to us!

The caveat with TATTOOSDAY is that we will not be making you a free piece of art, instead, your ink IS the art we will share with the story—which makes the most sense. BUT we will send you some stickers for sharing your story with us!

CLICK HERE to share your Tattoo story!

0103: I am scared of you


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


"I am scared of you," Anonymous

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

 

I am scared of you. 

“You’re too ugly to shake your hair like that.” 
“(My other friend) said you’re gross and that she won’t be my friend if I keep talking to you, so I can’t be friends with you anymore.”
A stranger saw my father’s paycheck and snickered at us. 
“You’re going to hell.”

My mom had to take care of my grandfather with Alzheimer’s, so I often needed to take care of my younger sister. She has high functioning autism. If you weren’t looking, my smart toddler of a sister would drag over a chair to unlock the child-proofed doors so she could go outside and visit the neighbors’ pond alone. While this was understandably dangerous, the neighbors, who did not understand the complicated behavior of autism, began to gang up on my family. They’d call the police whenever they saw my sister playing outside, even if my parents were outside watching her. They would stand by their mailbox and laugh as I tried to chase her down and bring her home. I was eight. 

“You’re disgusting.”
“You’re not as smart as you think you are.”
I was convinced that my family and I were worth less than everyone else until I was 13 years old. 
“You only got in because you’re a girl. You won’t make it at that university.”

I had a best friend in college. We both came from low-income families and were supportive of each other in our stressful academic environment. Then he wanted to date me. He wanted me to break up with my boyfriend for him, and I didn’t feel the same. To “convince himself I wasn’t good enough for him, he convinced everyone else.” Our mutual friends believed him. I had to move to a new living group. Several months later he later realized he was in the wrong, but the damage was done. I had lost 20% of my body weight, I almost failed out of school, and I completely stopped trusting everyone. I didn’t tell anyone how seriously that event had affected me until 2 and a half years later. I was scared they wouldn’t take me seriously, but I began to realize I had found truly supportive friends.

Abandonment from social groups is my constant, all-consuming fear. 
I can’t stay at parties with people I don’t know. 
When I first meet you, I am distant. I won’t speak up and share my opinions with you until I am absolutely sure you are a kind, non-judgmental person.
This is why I have anxiety attacks when people I’ve seen be maliciously judgmental come anywhere near my friends.
I don’t trust you. 

My boss had a different work strategy than me. Once when I didn’t meet an expectation, he talked badly about me when he thought I was out of earshot. My trust for this boss professor was lost, and we avoided talking to each other one-on-one for almost a year. Recently, he decided to blame a project failure on me by telling the head professor of the lab I wasn’t at work and that I wasn’t working with my teammates because I didn’t like them. The head professor asked my other lab members about these accusations and they were completely contradicted. When I first heard about the accusations, I was so scared I hid in my lab office and sobbed. Were people going to believe his false statements? Was I going to be kicked out of my lab? It was happening again. 

But it didn’t happen again. Luckily the lead professor wanted to hear my story and she saw the unprofessional bullying for what it was. I no longer work under that first boss, but some of my labmates still believe his words. 

Today, I will not change myself to fit the social expectations of others. 
I have a big nose, I get acne, and I wear mostly black and grey. I wouldn’t change a thing.
I have a wonderful, caring, respectful, and incredibly supportive group of friends.
I am not going to accept any malicious judgment towards anyone for any reason. 

I know I am a person who deserves care and respect, but there is a reason I’m scared of you.


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About the art:

I felt a really personal connection to this survivor, and their story. I immediately took to the idea of fear being a monster that controls the way you view others perceptions of you. A monster that no matter how hard you try you can't ignore.

I took some influence from artists I admire - including that of Hannah Gaucher, one of our own artists. Using watercolor and ink, I portrayed a young woman unable to release the grasp of her own fear even when she understands that what the fear is telling her is wrong. 

I loved making this piece, and I hope it can remind this survivor that she has the strength to get through, even when it feels like this dark cloud of anxiety is hovering over her. 

0102: All Feelings are Valid


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

“All Feelings are Valid,” Katie LaCourse

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

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

I am ashamed to have this last name.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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About the art:

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

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

- Becca

0101: There Were Warnings


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

“There were Warnings,” Anonymous


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

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

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

I just remember it was really cruel.

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

And he just kept repeating it over and over again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuck that bullshit! Fuck it.

Fuckin fuck it. Piece of shit, bullshit.

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

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

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

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

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

When?

When?

When?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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About the art:

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

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

- Hannah

0100: Enough is Enough


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

“Enough is Enough,” anonymous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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About the art:

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

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

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

- Emily

099: I Found My Voice


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

“I Found My Voice,” Jenna Glazer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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About the art:

This is exactly what Jenna wanted!

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

- Kelsey

098: Break the Silence


Content warning: The following post contains references to sexual assault, abuse, self-harm, and depression, which may be triggering for some readers.

"Break the Silence," Javier Negrete


Hello. I want to share something very personal in hopes that if you or someone you know has struggled as I have, may you find hope as I did. This is my story. 

I am 22 years old. And I am a survivor of sexual abuse.

When I was seven years old, I was sexually abused by another male. The abuser was around his mid-teens at the time and was a friend of the family. A complete stranger to me, but to the rest who knew him; he was a son, a brother, a friend, probably trustworthy, and just a kid. It all began at what should have been a fun day at the pool, but I left confused and afraid.

He said, "This has to be our secret if you tell anyone, I will hurt your family.” I was really afraid, what would happen to me if I lost my family. I was afraid of being sent away. He also said, "If you don't do what I say, I will do it to to your little brother."

I thought I was safe when we finally left his house. Until him and his family showed up at every gathering my grandparents (dad's side) threw at their house. It continued for that whole terrifying summer of 2001. Something I would have to live with the rest of my life. I told no one. Summer was over and the new school year began and I never saw him again.

I started 2nd grade at my new school where I began with what appeared to be school phobia. I began to worry every Sunday night worried having to go to school or, at least, that is what I said at the time; I just remember being afraid. After a few months of this, I was taken to therapy and I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and were apparently it was not caught that I had been abused though I did learn breathing exercises to help control the "anxiety". I still shared nothing of the abuse and continued my third, fourth and fifth grade without further incidence.

I culminated from elementary and started middle school where I was in the Magnet program; I joined drama and other school activities. I completed 8th grade and started high school in Fall of 2008.

In high school magnet program, I busied myself with Link Crew and Student Government, organized the Blood Drive, Homecoming, and joined in the AIDS Walk in my Junior year to name a few activities. In my Senior year, I was voted School Secretary where I was part of daily school announcements crew, helped with fundraisers, helped with planning Homecoming to name a few school activities. I was a regular happy, outgoing, fun-loving teen with thoughts of graduation and enrolling in a local college with the regular thoughts and fears of what will happen after I leave high school and join the "real" world. 

I enrolled in college and started the semester with some minor anxiety. All my classes were on campus. As the semesters passed, a few memories of my abuse would pop up here and there but I'd brush it off. I think that at some point, I made myself believe that it did not happen; because men do not get raped. I do not remember any boys or men for that matter around me ever sharing anything like this.

Around the age of 20, a slideshow of images began emerging in my mind. I began to feel nervous, worried, concerned and constantly looking over my shoulder. The anxiety crept up again and the feeling that I was not safe lingered. In the back of my mind, I knew this person was still out there, and still, I told no one. I began to distant myself away from everyone. I only remembered the face of his younger self, I did not know what he would like all grown up. Could he be the man serving my food, could he be the older student sitting next to me, the mail carrier, or the Uber driver.

After years of silence. I've begun to fall apart little by little. Everyone around me knew something was wrong before I even knew myself. But I managed to put up a smile and say I was "fine.”

How can I share what I've hidden for 15 years? Would anyone believe me after such a long time of silence? The moment I finally shared with my mom was a huge blessing. No judgment. No blame. Just love. She persuaded me that therapy was the best option. I felt I did not need it, but I went anyway. The first session helped me understand I was not at fault. The only person to blame was my abuser. He took advantage of everyone.

With help from therapy, I was given the advice to share with the family. So I could know who the monster was and continue with a police report. I had the courage to tell my family but still had a fear of how each would react. Everyone was very supportive and made it clear to me that they will have my back no matter what. I shared with the family what I remembered. And we discovered who it was. With the support from my family, I was ready to make a police report ―
which I did. I felt better knowing the police knew and was ready to get my justice.

Now, for the hard part ― waiting.
It was a struggle.

I finally received a call Thursday afternoon in February. My heart racing and fingers crossed for great news. Sadly, the detective said they could not pursue with any charges. Why? The monster denied my truth. My stomach fell to the ground. Feeling defeated. Did he win? Not yet. I will continue to fight. I broke his sick minded agreement when he told me not to share our "secret". Well, the cats out of the bag. I no longer will be silent. This is just the beginning of my story. I am a survivor.

If you have been abused, please don't be afraid to speak out. Regardless of your gender. It can happen to anyone.

As you read my story, think of how you would protect yourself and your loved ones. Think about how you supervise your kids, nieces, nephews or grandkids. 
Break the silence. Let's end it.


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About the art:

Javier submitted this story to us MONTHS AGO! And after some miscommunications with who was making the art for it, I stepped up and made sure that his powerful story was shared with our project.

Javier told me he wasn't particular about colors for the piece, so I went with something brighter in hopes that it would bring some vibrance to his situation.

I chose the lines, "I am a survivor - Break the silence," because they not only appear in the story, but they align perfectly with our mission as a nonprofit and I'm so glad we're able to have this piece representative of our project.

Thank you for your bravery in sharing this story, Javier, and for being able to process such a challenging portion of your life.

- Craig

097: Skin of my Teeth


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

“Skin of My Teeth,” Eve

In my short life I have been no stranger to bullying and harassment. Some may shrug, others dismiss it as a part of childhood, some say that’s so sad, me? I say it’s a chance to grow and learn.

As early as middle school, seventh grade, I was unfortunate enough to have one of my best friends turn on me just three days after my Bat Mitzvah by sending me nasty email and spreading rumors around the school. She told people I was pregnant; I hadn’t even dated or kissed anyone at this point. She succeeded in turning one friend against me and tried to make others hate me as well. Together these two former friends “pushed” me against lockers by basically body-checking and tried to do the same with the trashcans. They did this right in front of teachers who just stood by and watched.

Somedays, I just went home and cried and I took my little candle cleaner to my arm but I couldn’t cut myself because I was afraid of more pain, so I just cried some more. I had chat logs from emails and instant messages and when I took them to the guidance counselor he told me that he couldn’t do anything other than a mediation or tell her a faculty member saw the way she was treating me. This actually got her to stop, thank god, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t still afraid until high school when she went to private and I was still in public.

I was lucky enough to use this experience to become a peer counselor in high school, it helped me decide that I wanted to be there for other students and not just as a peer but as a teacher too. My middle school teachers cared so little about what I was going through and my high school teachers cared so much I wanted to be a teacher like the ones I needed in middle school and the ones I had in high school.

Now, you would think that bullying like this wouldn’t happen to a college student, let alone someone that had already been through a friend turned bully, but it did. My sophomore year of college was a living hell for me that I am still recovering from. End of freshman year I thought I met a great guy and a good friend but the following fall I learned that was not the case.

I was told by the basically ex-boyfriend that the female friend I made didn’t like me, that it was just something about my personality that didn’t mesh with her. This was after she had been slightly mean to me about my performance in a video game consistently over the last couple months of summer. He told me to just not play with her but that meant isolating myself from other friends too. He told me something similar in the fall when it came to hanging out with people. He said that I would only be able to hangout with people when she was not going to be there because it was obvious that she didn’t like me or want to be around me.

When I told him how that made me feel second-rate, he got defensive and said they weren’t attached at the hip. Know how many times I hung out with him after that? Twice. That whole semester up until that point he had been blowing me off afraid I’d “make a pass at him” and then he’d tell me he’d need space only to tell me a month later he missed me and then that he was “overwhelmed with school” only to have her tell me a had a girlfriend, which he later confessed was a lie he had her tell me because he had actually felt overwhelmed by me.

Meanwhile this ex-friend was still bullying me and harassing me in the Facebook group about the aforementioned video game and belittling my skill and even though we weren’t friends, she was going off on me and harassing for me playing certain characters in that game that she played. The facebook group was meant originally as a way for us at this school to share our experience of the game with each other and when she started referring to everyone in this group as part of her “club” her “team” and wasn’t letting me be involved at all and basically forcing me out of this group of friends and these people to play with I felt so isolated and unlike in middle school I couldn’t go home away from this, I was home…

The hardest part was seeing these other people in the group in a way let this happen. My ex saw how she was acting during the summer and told me to just not play with her instead of being like “hey chill, it’s a game” and others jumped on board when saying “you’re *insert level here* “ and basically saying I wasn’t good enough to be in that current conversation. My ex also started one of the worst posts where only one person in that main group defended me in any way and then a couple of other people thankfully jumped in with him. That was the first time in 19 years, my entire life, that anyone ever stood up for me and I know I won’t forget it.

While this was going on other things were going on as well, I felt another group of friends at school had forgotten about me or didn’t want me anymore and my father was in the hospital again. I was broken by the end of fall semester. I had thought of suicide at least twice that semester I was so depressed but somehow I held on by the skin of my teeth. I hate to say it but I feel that part of how I held on was based on spite. The girl had that said that the club was hers but I kept thinking how it wasn’t an official club at school and I was going to beat her to the punch. As I was working on the club constitution I kept thinking to myself nobody else should suffer like this, I was bullied and harassed by friends and peers about a game! Nobody else. Not while I’m here.

I was the only one at the approval meeting and it was everything I could do not to cry. I cried when it was approved and I cried when I received an award the following year for all the work I put in to try to make sure my clubs were as bully-free and safe as possible.

That night I knew I made it out again stronger but still broken and that I owed a tiny thanks to my ex and that girl for what I accomplished that year. There is something I always say and I still after all these years to be true, “it is good to forgive but just because you forgive doesn’t mean you have to forget."


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About the art:

Eve shared a powerful story, and wanted the last quote of her piece to be reflected in the art. It reminded me of a simple quote, one that captured the message clearly. Eve suggested that the image associated with the quote represent helping to lift others up, and requested a calming blue palette for the art.

I imagined the many different ways we show support and help others rise, and wanted to embody that forgiveness is a skill that needs building. So the bottom of the piece includes a climbing rope, a hard place to start. By the top, the ladder represents an easier route to forgiveness that often comes with practice.

- Beth Paris

096: Black Sheep


Content warning: The following post contains references to bullying, self-harm, depression, and anxiety, which may be triggering for some readers.

“Black Sheep,” Zack Scheibner

Ever since I was old enough to speak, I have been tormented, publicly ridiculed, and laughed at. For some awful reason, I developed a speech impediment at a very young age, and 24 years into my life later, it hasn't gotten even remotely better. 

Ever since then, I have experienced emotionally the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows. The first time in my life that I remember it being a problem was the 4th grade. My nickname was "Professor Quirrell", the professor in Harry Potter that infamously stuttered. Little did I know that this would affect me for the rest of my life to this point.

I am just like most every other decent citizen of the world; I try to be the kindest I can be to everyone, and I accept everyone for who they are. While growing up, it felt like nobody understood me (speech impediments like mine weren't exactly common), and I felt like an outcast from the rest of society. The lowest point that I reached was in the 9th grade, I would get thrown into a garbage can at my high school literally every single day. I just learned to try to accept it.

After the 9th grade, I moved to Redmond, OR which people were a LOT more accepting of me, despite my faults. It was a breath of fresh of air. From an outside look, I had no more excuses to be as self-conscious as I was about my speech. 

I kept thinking, "Wow..everyone is so nice here. Why does my speech keep slipping up?" While the overall experience was positive, it felt like I was constantly afraid of getting bullied or teased again. My speech continued to affect my way of thinking. It was taking over my mind.

I have had many highs in my life--I graduated high school and college, I have fallen in and out of love, and I've gotten to see and experience many cool things, but only one thing in my life stayed constant, and that was music. Ever since high school, music has spoken to me in ways that nothing else could. 

For 20 years, I have been at war with my brain. To the day that I type this, every single day is an individual battle, and I'm afraid that at some point, my brain is going to win. 

In the 9th grade (in the midst of all of the bullying and being trash-canned), I started to cut myself. It was nothing serious--suicide never crossed my mind. I just felt that experiencing physical pain would make me much better off than the mental pain that I have been experiencing every day of my life. I continued to do this until I discovered August Burns Red.

I am a huge fan of modern metal music, and August Burns Red is the only group that I have been able to relate to, and they have helped me through the entire process.

In August Burns Red's "Black Sheep", the lyrics state: "Pain must exist in order for healing to survive, neither one will serve their purpose alone". This message has stuck with me for a very long time. 

There hasn't been a day in 20 years where I haven't been completely humiliated by my speech. It is mentally taxing and has taken its tole on my anxiety.  My speech gets worse because of my anxiety..my anxiety is worse because I'm afraid my speech is going to slip up. 

It is an endless cycle every single day, but those lyrics from August Burns Red have helped me get through a lot of the struggle. If you are experiencing something along any of these lines, I can honestly say that you need to do literally what EVER makes you happy. I have come to terms that my speech impediment may never go away, but as long as I continue to enjoy life in every way I can and enjoy the company around me who accepts me for who I am, it will just make it more and more tolerable.

As August Burns Red also said in "Composure", "Life can be overwhelming, but don't turn your back on the strongest crutch you've ever had". 

For me, this crutch is happiness through friendship, music, and overall positive life experiences.

Every single day, I think about where I would possibly be in life if I would be able to speak normally. I have gotten very bad social anxiety because of all of this, and I am doing my absolute best every single day to combat this. I am terrified to speak publicly to people (including my friends), but in the end, I know that it's all going to be okay. 

I know that it's all going to be okay because without pain, there is no healing. I have learned that you can't ever reach an all time high if you haven't reached an all time low, first. 

Every single day, I think to myself, "Why do I do this? I know exactly what I want to say, but why can't I say it? And why do people tease me for it?"

Through pain, there is always recovery. August Burns Red taught me this, and this band is one of the main reasons that I'm able to stay afloat the way that I do. 

I could have chosen to give up at any point, but I have always chosen to keep fighting,

I am at war every single day with my mind, but I have found things in life that have made me happy, and I combat my social anxiety with personal happiness which has improved my life so much. Whenever I have doubts, I always think about those lyrics and what truly makes me happy, and that alone motivates me to just keep fighting.


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About the art:

I actually met Zack during his first week as a first-year at Oregon State University. He was wearing an August Burns Red shirt, and since I was in a metal band, I made sure to introduce myself to him. We chatted a bit about music, and then connected on Facebook.

We would cross paths every now and again on the OSU campus and some shows, but never too much else. So when he reached out to share this story, I was pretty excited to see that he had something to share. But in reading his story, I hated to learn that he has struggled with some pretty painful experiences.

I wanted to do something outside of the norm for me for this project. So I went to doodle something for Zack. I went off of the album art for August Burns Red's album, Messengers, which contains both songs referenced above. The cover is pretty iconic in the metal scene these days, so it was cool to put my own spin on it.

I used a couple black pens to complete this piece and some watercolor reds to give it a splash of color. It was a lot of fun to explore with this drawing.

And interestingly enough, Zack initially reached out to share his story back in July. And i made this piece almost immediately since my drawings often take me FAR longer than my paintings do. But this one flowed so quickly and I got it done pretty fast. So he has had this piece of art for a couple of months already.

Incredibly thankful for having Zack's as our first story for the month of October. I hope it helps someone heal in some way. Thank you, Zack.

- Craig Bidiman.

095: Body Count: a self-summary


Content warning: This poem features discussion of depression, self-harm, as well as references to the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando and the shootings of countless black and brown bodies each year by police.

"Body Count: a self-summary," Maggie Roque

In considering the prompt of survival as it relates to suicide and self-harm, the concept of "self-care" immediately came to mind. Often times, I am prompted to assess my mental health and practice self-care in my roles as a student services professional and as a community organizer focused on racial justice.

Having struggled with depression and cutting, assessing my mental health can be a complicated task, especially when coupled with my identity as a queer woman of color.

I wrote this poem to give life to my experience, to speak to others who experience this too, and most importantly, to remind myself that survival does not mean always being healthy and never reliving past trauma. Survival, for me, is committing to believing I am worthy, in all that I am, of love, of life, of hope.

"Body Count: a self-summary"

Is it oppression or depression
knotting my mind,
filling my body to the brim
with wet sand, sluggish.
Cumbersome. Heavy. My heart
pulls and breaks
strings stretched too taut from hurting too
deeply too often.

Is it oppression or depression
cutting into me like shards of broken mirror
echoing reflections that sigh
out, “I am enough.”
A therapeutic exercise turned habit.
A phrase we crave, but rarely hear.
A mantra necessary for resilience
for enduring
for walking through this world
brown and queer and womanly.

Is it oppression or depression
fueling motivation for the ink on my skin?
Tattoos dancing with each shift of muscle
and underneath them
near them
somewhere scars. I’m covered
in sentimentality
in stories of creating space, my refusal
to be defined by it, of temporary
feelings and impermanence,
of celebrating love and life.

Is it oppression or depression
counting in my mind?
Four tattoos to reclaim a body littered
in deliberate scarring.
Four times submitting to the healing
sting of a needle, soothing the bone deep
ache of an abandoned blade.
Four sweet stories to whisper
away self-hatred
I can’t wipe clean. 41,149 deaths
by suicide in the US last year1,
but not me, not me.

Is it oppression or depression
whispering anxieties in the dark?
Telling me things will never change,
asking me why I’m fighting
wondering does it make a difference?
682 people of color killed by police this year,
more by the time these words find life.
49 killed in Pulse with names like mine
with skin like mine and loves like mine
with the desire to live life intensely,
to find community as I seek mine.
And all the while, the quiet voice
crying what if? What if?

Is it oppression or depression
dictating my worth?
Undressing me with predatory eyes
with cold hands
raising gooseflesh on my skin
chastising me for wearing my bumps and
bruises so easily, so openly
for wearing my ugly so honestly
for finding my beauty amidst brutality.
Brown skin golden in the sun
and hair shorn short and soft,
it’s just too much.
I’m meant to be seen, not heard,
but no, hold on
I’m not meant to be at all.

Is it oppression or depression
distorting my world into one where
existing is resisting?
When each breath I take is an act
of defiance, each word spoken
a step further away from comfort, from home
each heart beat a rally cry
for justice for equity for safety for space,
I won’t let hope leave me again.
She’s worth the chase.

1 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
2 - http://killedbypolice.net/

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About the art:

I read Maggie's poem several times over and over to fully grasp the meaning of this poem to herself. I asked her about any motifs, stanzas and lines that stood out to her the most.

Though this poem does speak a lot about oppression and the depression that people of color may feel when tuning into different media on a daily basis, the last stanza, specifically the last two lines 'I won't let hope leave me again. She is worth the chase.' stood out the most to me.

The questions that remained were 'how do you define hope? How do you define oppression?' In this instance, oppression is a shadow that looms behind us. It appears time after time again and lurks behind you, or even in front of you. Hope is represented by the sunrise, which symbolizes a new day-- a new perspective and new ideas and approaches to overcoming oppression. Maggie told me that her favorite color is yellow and I thought of the sun when she told me this.

I am honored to have worked on this piece. The poem that this picture will accompany is a very powerful one and I recommend everyone to read.

- Elenna Geffrard

094: Finding the Comfort of Yourself


Content warning: The following story contains references to bullying, self-harm, suidical ideation, and violence, which may be triggering to some readers.

"Finding the Comfort of Yourself," Brian Walker of A Day Without Love

Since the age of 14, I have never felt exactly comfortable with who I am. In someways you can say it's because of growing up in an environment of where I was bullied, I witnessed urban violence and saw gunshots time to time in my neighborhood. But at 14, I moved to a safer neighborhood. I moved to the suburbs and I transferred to a suburban school. Did I change much? No things got worse. 

My only outlet was martial arts, I didn't have many friends but I felt empty. I was bullied, I was not exactly considered dating material and beyond all of the outside factors in my life that were not going very well, I did not feel very good about myself. 

At the age of 15, I started to verbally speak out about my own self hatred and how I did not like who I was. I did not like the fact that I was black because of the racist jokes that were made against me. I was not accepted by people in my own community and people of other races did not accept me. No matter what it was I didn't feel acceptance with myself. I then started to drink alcohol and found fairweather friends. 

Many of these people were not real friends, at 16 I started to find a deeper sense of hatred. Not only was I poisoning my body, I tried to kill myself. I tried to drink an entire bottle of mouthwash and took pills from my grandparents closet hoping that I wouldn't wake up the next day. I wanted to kill myself in my own high school, I wanted to get run over by a car. I confessed these thoughts to my friends and started to get into therapy. 

At 16, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was given pills to "fix me." These pills did not fix me, they destroyed me, I tried to take these pills with alcohol in hopes I would kill myself. I continued the therapy and I found out later that I was misdiagnosed. I switched doctors and was diagnosed with major depression. 

I found out that I had issues with trusting the person that I was and not being comfortable with who I was. My behaviors manifested this depression through insomnia, overeating, addiction to alcohol, and living a relatively balanced life. 

Ages 16 to 20, I went to therapy to try to improve myself. In some ways I made progress, but in other ways I still remained dependent, depressed and rife with self hatred. 

I didn't wake up feeling like I wanted to die everyday, but I still hated myself. Sometimes I medicated with alcohol. Other days I medicated with sex with strangers that I wasn't intimately or emotionally involved with.I looked for a medicine and nothing worked. I started playing music at 18, but I wasn't confident in whether I had the ability to even help anyone. 

You can check out Brian's new album,  Solace , as A Day Without Love on his bandcamp page, here:  https://adaywithoutlove.bandcamp.com

You can check out Brian's new album, Solace, as A Day Without Love on his bandcamp page, here: https://adaywithoutlove.bandcamp.com

At the age of 20, I stopped going to therapy, mostly this was due to the demands of my academic work. I haven't been able to go since because of time or the lack of financial abilities. But I have found a very healthy coping skill, music. 

Music has opened doors for me that I never thought I could have done and because of music among many other life changes and growing pains I have learned how to forgive myself and learn about myself. I recognize that my illness should not hold me back and I should never be a person who latches on to the idea of hating myself. I am learning how to think outside the box of myself and trying to tell a story to help people. I am taking strides to live healthier and treat my body better by living a non drinking lifestyle. I don't engage in harmful actions, I try to engage in more healthy intimate relationships. 

I still have hard days, but through music, playing and sharing my story I feel that my pain is less, and I am learning to find safety in my own body by trying to improve and allowing myself to feel. For so long I never allowed myself to feel and I am now more aware of what my depression has taught me and how I can now help others with the gift of music.


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About the art:

We've held on to Brian's story for a minute. He submitted it back when we first interacted in July, shortly after I came across his powerful piece on being a black man in a white DIY scene, which you can read here.

I find Brian's writing incredible reflective and evocative of an experience that I can relate with on a number of levels, but also have no idea where to begin conceptualizing. I think that's the power in the storytelling approach that both he and I equip within our writing and our music. There's a vulnerability, a comfort in letting it all out and being free to share the innermost frustrations and fears.

I took to creating this piece by focusing on Brian's new A Day Without Love album, Solace. It's a gripping and heartbreaking exploration of a life riddled with anxiety, grief, love, and peace. I took the lines for this piece from the opening lines of his song, "Capacity." Which funny enough, I misquoted on the painting - instead of "brain," he says, "mind." But in talking with Brian, he said that "brain" was actually in the initial lyrics. So perhaps he and I aren't as dissimilar as lyricists as one might think.

I tried to emulate the color scheme from the album cover as well, which makes this piece pop in a way that many of my other pieces haven't. And I like that. It's an imperfect, messy, and vulnerable piece. Which I feel is all the more fitting.

- Craig.

084: Roseann


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

“Roseann,” Jessica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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About the art:

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

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

- Emily Silkman

078: Dealing with Traumatic Loss as an Atheist


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


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

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

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

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

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

I lost focus and everything started buzzing.

Life was never going to be the same. 

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

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

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

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

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

No. No. No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FUCKING BREATHE.

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

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

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

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

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

You need to do this to live. 

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

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

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

 
Stop asking yourself “What If” questions

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

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

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

What if.

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

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

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

Cry all the cries.

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

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

I’m with you. You’re not alone. 


Therapy.

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

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

Either way. It can help.

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

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


Advocate for others.

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

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

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

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

I believe in you.


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

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

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

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


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About the art:

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

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

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

- Craig & Nevan