"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!

0143: I am Ready to Live


Content warning: the following story contains references to a person's process of coming out as gay, there is uncensored use of derogatory and homophobic language, as well as references to depression and anxiety, which may also be triggering for some readers.

"I am Ready to Live," Nevan Doyle

So. It’s been a year since I came out as gay I guess. That’s pretty wild. To be fair though, it also makes sense. It’s been one of the craziest things I’ve ever experienced. I can now confidently say though, that whole ad campaign with the “it gets better” stuff?

Yeah. It’s super accurate.

Basically every day there’s something I do/say/experience that I never could’ve imagined a year ago. Becoming myself in the public sphere is one of the most exciting and life-changing thing I’ve been through. Things that I once saw as weird and almost fetishized behaviors are now just a part of my public self-expression.

An example would be my long-time enjoyment of tighter clothing—especially within the pants department. I used to look forward to spirit days because it meant I could wear tights without anyone questioning or giving me weird looks. I felt incredibly uneasy about how much I liked the feeling of tight pants, as if it was a sign of femininity or something that was just not okay. This was during a time I focused all my efforts on avoiding being asked the dreaded question “What are you, a fag?”

Just a few weeks ago though, my literal BFF Alex gave me a pair of her jeans. They just so happened to be one of the most comfortable and better looking pairs of jeans I’ve ever worn—they’re also skin tight as heck. Being able to wear them in public AND feel great about it is one of the more liberating things I’ve experienced.

I could go on and on about all the ways I’ve been able to truly express myself honestly in public. I imagine to others I’ve changed considerably over the past year, but I really feel like that change has just been me becoming more myself and learning to be more in tune with my true personality/mannerisms.

Even things like being conscious of how my voice sounds every time I talk have started to fade away. I probably sound slightly more “gay” to the average straight person since coming out, but it’s really just me being able to talk the way my brain sounds when I have all my thoughts. To be able to allow myself to let go of that careful analyzation of my voice has allowed me to really break free of my shell in social situations.

10/10 do recommend.

It’s been amazing to let go of so many of the social anxieties I had before I knew I was gay. I’m able to comfortably and confidently talk to strangers and engage in meaningful conversation for the first time in my life. The connections I’ve made since have helped to expand both my career and personal life.

For most of the time since I came out publicly I’ve worked as a cashier and barista at a coffee shop. It’s been an interesting way to be forced to become more comfortable with myself. Interacting with hundreds of strangers every day has given me a lot of insight into the types of micro-aggressions marginalized people have to deal with every frickin’ day.

From being hit on (I was usually oblivious unless my coworkers said something) by total strangers to comments like “wow you dress so well for a guy” to the countless times people assumed I was straight and made creepy comments about my female coworkers (typically involving how much self-control I must have working with such pretty women… More like please throw up in my mouth you pathetic horny asshole.)

I’ve also slowly worked through the checklist of things people (sometimes white girls) say to gay guys -

“Oh I love the gays! I had a gay friend who blah blah blah blah”
“Oh I totally know another gay and you two should meet!”
“We should go shopping sometime!”
“I wish you were straight”
“Fucking faggots!”
“You two are so cute, you know I totally have always supported gay marriage”

It’s honestly been a slight source of entertainment to check all of these off. I’m excited to see if I can get BINGO or something with this shit.

While there’s been some depression, some annoyance/frustration, and a lot of emotional roller coasting all the way the heck around this place, I can’t believe how much better my life is compared to a year ago.

It’s been so frickin’ wild to go from thinking of sex as something that I might have to do some time if I met a girl I cared about enough to realizing that actually I’m just really great at putting penis in my mouth.

I spent the majority of my life assuming that I’d never feel physical intimacy with someone on that level. It actually really messed with me. When I watched the 40 Year Old Virgin I remember thinking “yeah that wouldn’t be too bad honestly.”

After learning what it’s like to be a physically intimate person, I’ve realized how much I was denying myself out of fear. As I’ve had the time to ponder my upbringing I’ve realized how much resentment and disgust I have for my hometown and the kind of culture that’s brewed there and remains stagnant for generations on end.

I’ve realized that through my adolescence nearly every behavior I had was carefully crafted to avoid anyone possibly thinking I could be gay. For example, I wanted to wear those skinny jeans like all the cool kid punks but there was no way in hell I thought I’d be able to get way with it. Folks woulda been calling me a "gay fag" all dayyyyy. I wasn’t ready or able to confront that AT ALL.

During one night of heavy thought I realized that the first time I can remember the idea of being gay becoming something I knew about was on the school bus. I was in fourth or fifth grade and one of the older kids, Ted Vaughn, called one of my friends a faggot. When I asked what that meant some one explained to me that it meant they were gay and liked other guys and like, ew.

This memory resurfacing was huge for me. It made me understand that before I could even begin to have sexual thoughts or urges of my own, it was instilled within me that being gay was bad and something that other people would try to hurt you over. Whether verbally or physically, I saw plenty of evidence going through school that backed this up for me. There were countless acts of homophobic and downright intimidating behavior I saw within many of my peers. In a small town like that, it’s dangerous to not fit into the norm. Any challenge to thought or perspective is immediately dismissed. Talking to many of my friends of color, I’ve realized how much I hid out of fear, and how much less I was personally attacked because of it. It’s like my brain was denying my sexuality to keep me safe.

My bully on the school bus is one of the biggest reasons I become so afraid to be myself so early on. Luckily for us he’s now a police officer in my hometown of Philomath. It’s almost like, TOO predictable, right? I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I found that out, but it perfectly encapsulates the small-town rural way.

All throughout my teen years I defended marriage equality unabashedly with my Christian friends. What I didn’t know was that all that time I was actually defending myself. When the Supreme Court ruled marriage equality to be a constitutional right, I cried. I didn’t really understand why at the time, but even then, I think at some level, I knew.

To sum it all up, for the first time in my life, I feel confident and comfortable in my own skin. I’m ready to tackle the world and ride it all the way to the top or until I get bored and move to the woods or whatever. Fuck Philomath, fuck the conservative christian mindset that fucks up so many rad young queer people and imprisons them with fear, and fuck anyone that tries to stand in my way after all the mental gymnastic-ass bullshit I had to go through to reach where I am today.

A little more than a year ago I was at the darkest point in my life.

Today, I’m ready to live.


About the art:

Nevan gave me A LOT to work with in his writing, and I definitely identified with pieces of his story - especially since I'm from a rural farm town where no one was out and any references to queerness were derogatory. I loved the idea that skin-tight skinny jeans were freeing, and I knew he wanted bright colors - so I took that and ran. 

After some trial and error, I liked how this piece turned out, shot it over to Nevan whose first response was "lmao I fucken love it."

-Katy

Tattoosday 023: Equal


Content warning: The following story contains references to a person's coming out story, which may be triggering for some readers.

"Equal," Matt Carpenter

Sunday April 8, 2012. Denton, Texas.

I was about one month away from graduating from the University of Oklahoma with my Master’s degree. I traveled down to Texas because my parents had driven up from San Antonio to visit my brother while he went to school at the University of North Texas. I had just finished my comprehensive exams, and it was a good weekend to see the whole family before graduation weekend.

Two months prior to this, I came out to my fraternity brother, the first person to whom I ever said the words “I’m gay.” I had chickened out two weekends in a row prior to this, and it was distracting me at work, in classes, in every facet of my life. He was my roommate at the time, and it was one of the most terrifying and wonderful experiences of my life. He already knew, because my internet history and data management skills on a computer were less than stellar back in the day, but he never pushed me and possessed the grace that a true friend should have and let me get to coming out at my own time. I’ve since been his best man at his wedding, and he will be mine, but back to the story….

One month earlier, I spent one weekend of my Spring Break to drive down to Denton and come out to my brother. Like every other person I had come out to, the themes were the same. “I have something important to tell you; it’s been eating me up inside; I just really want to be truthful with you.” That weekend was one of the best weekends I ever had with my brother, because I finally felt I could be myself with him. We went out, I probably had a drink or two too many, and I probably told him things he never needed to know about me. And that was a freeing experience as well. 

But this Sunday was special. This was the only time I knew my family was going to be together prior to my graduation, and I knew I didn’t want to drop this on them during graduation. So this weekend would have to do. 

Did I forget to mention… this was Easter Sunday?

If there ever was an odd coming out story, it would be a family dressed in their Sunday best, after Easter Mass, having lunch at a Fuddrucker’s Hamburgers, with a very large (6’3”, 270 lbs.) man crying and barely muttering out words. Not my prettiest moment. But that day was the start of a new portion of my life.

I felt like I could be honest with my mother and father and not lie about who I was or was not dating. I could be honest to all my friends on a level that I had never done before, but that they all had done to me. I was able to actually share my personal life with others. 

Over the past five years since coming out, I have been lucky enough to find someone who is odd enough to say yes to spend the rest of his life with me. And while most would say, “Oh great, you got your storybook ending,” the coming out process has not ended.

I come out when I have to correct our vet when I take the dogs in for an exam because the bill is in my fiancé’s name. It happens when I get asked how close in age we are apart because we look remarkably similar for brothers. It happens every time people see my fiancé’s full name and use female pronouns. I never take it as an affront, but it’s just a reminder that a part of my identity can be easily ignored if I don’t have Mack right next to me with our engagement rings on.

In summer 2013, I walked in to Main Street Tattoos in Norman, OK to get my first tattoo. It was probably an impulse decision to get one, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. I got an equal sign, the symbol of the Human Rights Campaign. My identity as a gay man was very important to me, and I wanted to put it out there for all to see. Unbeknownst to me, a week before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, it ended up being exactly one week before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act. I have jokingly referred to it as my “gay barcode” for the government to track me, and one told a bunch of sixth graders that I got it because I “really like math.” But it means so much more to me as time passes.

My equal sign is my visible representation of my identity. While I cover it up at work due to its placement on my left calf, it’s visible most of the time. I don’t always think about it, but it’s always there. And that’s something that can’t be erased. 


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!

0142: Figuring out Why


Content warning: The following piece contains references to a person processing their identities as a nonbinary human being, which may be triggering for some readers.

"Figuring out Why," Karyssa Bickford

When I was in the sixth grade I started to realize I'm not straight. My best friend at the time, Alicia, was bisexual and when I would talk to her about her sexuality it kind of made sense. Back then, I didn't know much about sex or sexuality or gender expression so I didn't really understand what was happening with what I was feeling. It wasn't until freshman year of high school that I came out as bisexual.

Everyone told me I was just doing it to be trendy, because all my friends were, and it hurt because I had suppressed it for three years prior. Nevertheless, I dated my first girl. Her name was Sydney, and kissing her was magical. When I came out to my parents, my mom was angry and forced me to break up with her, which I did. The day before Christmas break. She came into school with my Christmas present, a gothic cross necklace, and I made her cry. I still have the necklace in the top drawer of my dresser.

I went back into the closet and suppressed my feelings for girls. My friend Breana, who I had been friends with since diapers, and our friend Amanda were like the three musketeers end of freshman year/beginning of sophomore. They were both a grade above me. Amanda was also bisexual and I had feelings for her and they were mutual. We started fooling around and my sophomore year we dated. I walked her to her classes, we shared a locker, we kissed each other goodbye in the halls.

She was also the first girl I was ever sexual with.
I didn't know it then, but she was my first love.

We wrote each other love notes and passed them off between classes to read in the next. We'd hang out at her house after school and cuddle in her bed and talk for hours. She always smelled like daisies and honeydew melon. She wanted me to come out and be Facebook official, tell my parents, have a real relationship; so I got scared and I ran. I left her a note on her bedside table while she was showering and left her house. Our friendship wasn't the same and we weren't really the three musketeers anymore. 

I suppressed being queer until I was 20. In the summer of 2015 I came out as pansexual, and I wasn't going back in the closet. I realized I wasn't bi, rather identified more with pansexuality it had been more present in our society so I had the chance to learn about it. You can definitely tell times had changed, because my mom was supportive and asked me questions and listened. 
I was in a long term relationship at the time, and experimented a little bit with gender nonconformity, which I had wanted to do for years, but was scared that he would leave me if I did it in public, so I did it in private.

When he left, I experimented more with it and came out in the summer of 2016 as nonbinary. At the time I was under the impression that I was genderfluid. As I continued to grow, I realized I enjoy being feminine, but my issue is just that I feel uncomfortable being boxed into a gender binary. I always have. It just took me a long time to figure out exactly why. My family still has a hard time using my correct pronouns, but my boyfriend whom I'm with now does it effortlessly and I'm accepted by his friends and mother as nonbinary. It's taken me a long time to get to a point where I'm okay with who I am, and why. But I'm here, and I'm queer.


About the art:

Karyssa is a brilliantly outspoken human being who owns their identities. That's the Karyssa I've known, so it was illuminating to read how much work it has taken for them to find this voice and this confidence.

I was given complete control with this piece of art and I'm thankful for that because it allowed me to take Karyssa's most powerful statement at the end - a deeply queer sentiment - and make a piece of art out of it! I added the "and I riot," based on a protest sign I had seen once! I think it sends an even stronger message and it fits Karyssa's mentality very well.

- Craig.

0141: Queers in Love


"Queers in Love," Craig Bidiman

I came out as bisexual in June of 2010, to much celebration among my friends, and many jeers among my family. Since this initial coming out, I have revisited what queerness means to me. 

I had always felt an attraction to men, an attraction to women, an attraction to really anyone that intrigued me or made me swoon. But I never really spoke of anything outside of the assumed/the heteronormative – so I internalized my attractions to men/masculine-assumed folks. However, college changed this for me. I became more comfortable showing affection toward really anyone but still didn’t really know what it meant for me.

My exploration of sexual fluidity over the last few years has led me to understand this a little bit more. At first, I thought of coming out as this permanent thing. Once I said I was “bi,” that was it.

But nope!
I realized that coming out is a process.
Coming out can be fluid.
Sexualities are fluid.
Gender is fluid.
All of this shit blew my mind.

Because while I initially felt my attractions were toward two genders, I found that my attractions were much more broad and inclusive. Yet, I didn’t know what to call this feeling. I’ve always been a little effeminate for a dude, and my dad used to say that I “walk like a queer,” which at the time was funny to me and even slightly contributed to why I didn’t feel comfortable coming out. So I reclaimed this term, “queer,” and I started to think about it more.

I realized that I am queer. I am a queer.

And for me, being queer transcends my sexual orientation. Being queer is my personal/overall identity. Queer is how I perform my gender (which I do identify as a man); queer is the lens by which I interpret the world around me; queer is how I exist in the world. 

Here we are going to the bathroom together at the amazing gender-less bathrooms at Optimism Brewery in Seattle, Washington!

Here we are going to the bathroom together at the amazing gender-less bathrooms at Optimism Brewery in Seattle, Washington!

Now, insert Katy Hamm (Ken, Kenny) – my best friend and the greatest human being who has ever lived. I often use that phrase when I introduce people to Katy for the first time. 

Last year, Katy wrote this amazing piece coming out as being both agender and panromantic – on the asexual spectrum. While Katy’s identities might appear more complicated than mine, it’s been so important to me as their partner to recognize the significance of what this sort of coming out meant for them. It took a lot of unlearning of norms for Katy – I watched them and helped them process years of repressed sexual frustrations and anxieties about intimacy and sex. It was wonderful to hear them explain to me that they felt comfortable identifying on the asexual spectrum—because they were so happy to have finally figured it out! And for me, as someone with an active libido, it also meant reckoning with the reality that I love this human being more than I love sex.

We don’t hold hands too often in public, and we hardly express much affection in public – simply because 1. neither of us are big fans of PDA to begin with and 2. we are so keenly aware of our privilege in society as a couple that at least APPEARS straight. I dress and appear pretty masculine, and while Katy doesn’t necessarily dress femme very often, they still appear femme. So we get how that looks.

We talk about this all the time with each other.
We know that we are a queer couple that appears straight.
We’re just two queers that happened to fall in love.

It does get convoluted because when I refer to Katy, I use the term, “partner,” which throws some people off. It’s a term we prefer to use. We have never used the terms, boyfriend, or girlfriend, partly because Katy doesn’t identify as a “girl,” or even a “woman,” so it wouldn’t make sense. But it also doesn’t feel right to us. Boyfriend and girlfriend have always felt very temporary to me. Partner feels more attached, more comfortable, less childish – I mean, we are adults after all. Might not act like it all the time, but we are adults – and “partner” just feels right to us. We also reject heteronormative relationship troupes like those titles and the roles by which we are "supposed" to occupy within our relationship.

Nope. Not for us!

Yet, it’s disarming for some folks when I call Katy my partner because that term is often associated with couples that are same-sex or appear same-sex. So it especially disarms people when they hear me use it without any knowledge of who my partner is or how they identify because I almost always see their expression changed—seeking out if I might be gay—and I often use Katy’s pronouns (they/them), so I can tell it might confuse them. And then if I refer to Katy by name, the person tends to ease up a little. As if they are piecing it all together.

I know that this stuff isn’t always easy for folks who don’t live with a queer identity or in a queer relationship. But I try to be as normative with how I refer to our relationship and the queer community because that’s a form of resistance. I refuse to accept heteronormativity, so I’ll queer this shit up at any chance I get.

I’ve even had people say things like, “you’re gay? but I thought Katy was your girlfriend.” In this example, queer is inexplicably synonymous with gay.

Nope! That’s not how that works. 

At no point do Katy or I feel like we need to justify our queerness to each other. We have helped each other become more and more comfortable with our identities through the three years of our relationship.

Yet, within the queer community, it can feel sort of disengaging to feel forced into proving and acknowledging our queerness just to feel as though we belong.

Honestly, I’m not always comfortable in overtly queer spaces because of our relationship presenting so hetero—and that sucks! It’s an internalized stigma that I haven’t gotten over and am still unsure of how to get over it. Because when alone, I am very comfortable in these spaces. Even within the queer community, there are still a lot of unnecessary stigmas and prejudices that exist toward certain identities—especially toward the bi- population and the Trans- population. There is identity erasure within the queer community – sadly, the same as in many communities – that shouldn’t exist, but it is rampant.

And I think a major contributor to my frustration and apprehension toward our relationship being present in some of these spaces stems from having felt his erasure firsthand from fellow members of the queer community who make assumptions—when the crux of our community’s inclusivity is predicated on not making assumptions of anyone’s identity.

One particular experience stands out like a sore thumb to me and Katy and it’s a circumstance that happened early in our relationship – and has sadly stuck with me ever since.

I brought Katy to a meeting with a colleague (who I was meeting for the first time) who worked in the queer resource center at the campus in which I worked at the time, and I introduced Katy as my best friend and partner (to which this colleague laughed—which I thought the timing was odd), shook our hands, and we began chatting. At one point in the conversation, this colleague, a queer woman, said, “well, we over here in the queer community have specific support and resource needs” - which is obviously very true and I agreed with them completely. However, I transfixed on the emphasis my colleague put on we — “we over here in the queer community.” It hit me real hard because in that moment I didn’t feel comfortable in calling myself a queer — years after I have owned the identity and the label that accompanies it.

Again, we are very aware that our relationship presents very hetero – so I’m not saying this colleague wasn’t in the wrong to assume – but again, these assumptions are hazardous to the queer community. And I was fairly confident that I had informed this colleague that identified as a queer through email correspondence, but they might’ve forgotten. Because as the conversation continued, this colleague continued to refer to a separate “we” in reference to the queer community, as though Katy nor I were included and spoke down to our knowledge of queer issues in society – again, as though we hadn’t lived it.

I recognize that every queer experience is different and our exclusion might not have been intentional – nor did we attempt to correct this colleague because we were made so uncomfortable that making a correction would feel like overcompensation of some sort. Which, in hindsight is a stupid thing to think – we likely could have made some sort of comment about our identities in order to relate and to connect, but we did not.

It made me think back to those times when I wouldn’t confront my queerness out of fear of persecution or confusion, or that no one would believe me because I don’t necessarily look or act stereotypically queer. It’s internalized shit like this that made me contemplate suicide in high school because I couldn’t figure out my sexuality. It fucking sucks.

Almost immediately when we left the conversation, Katy and I turned to each other and said, “was that weird?” “yeah, that was weird!” “are we not queer?”

It sucked to ask that question after I had spent YEARS questioning this shit.
Are we not queer enough?
Am I not queer enough?
Is our relationship not queer?

Fuck, this sucked.
Feeling as though your identity was invalidated sucks.

But it's not just this example. This sort of stuff happens quite often in the queer community.

During college is when I realized I was queer. And it was when I started being an activist for queer rights and awareness. I even started an organization while at Oregon State University called the Campaign for Understanding, which did awareness campaigns, actions, and spread the message of intersectional inclusivity.

During college is when I realized I was queer. And it was when I started being an activist for queer rights and awareness. I even started an organization while at Oregon State University called the Campaign for Understanding, which did awareness campaigns, actions, and spread the message of intersectional inclusivity.

This is a reminder that even in the queer community, we are capable of micro-aggressions toward each other – and I’m not innocent in this regard, it’s something I know I am still working on. But this is an example where it can feel pretty erasing. It sucks – and you may even think it’s a little overdramatic to feel that way – but after you spend years working on your identities and you are finally comfortable with your body, gender, and sexuality, it can hit hard.

As though, my queer credibility, Katy's queer credibility, and our relationship's credibility was in question. It's a frustration we live with and reconcile every day.

It goes to show that there is still a lot of work to be done. There are still problematic performative expectations of queerness. I’ve legitimately had people say to me, “oh, but you don’t look queer,” or, “you don’t act queer.” I hate that these types of comments exist because it’s the same reason why so many members of the queer community are afraid to come out – because of these unnecessary expectations of what it means to be or act according to a certain identity. These connections are harmful and can make our community unsafe.

There is no right or wrong way to perform or present your gender, and/or demonstrate your sexuality/preferences/or lack thereof.

Even now, as a sexual health educator, I work with college students to understand their bodies, their attractions, and how to be safe sexual beings. I talk with male students who have sex with men but don’t consider themselves gay – and I tell them that’s fine! I talk with nonbinary students who identify as lesbians and ask me if that’s how they “should” identify, and I tell them that I cannot tell them how to self-identify.

How you identify is a process of learning and unlearning, as well as an evolutionary personal understanding of who you are attracted to and who you aren’t attracted to—either romantically or sexually. Or, again, if you have no interest in any of those things! And that’s okay!

This process is not easy – trust me, I know.

Yet, we gotta help people become more and more comfortable processing their identities publicly. Even within today’s political landscape, we need to resist the politics of hate and self-hate that keep us from living authentically.

Happy Pride month!
Let’s be queer together.
 


About the art:

This caricature of Katy and I was commissioned from our friend, Matt, who lives in Montreal. Matt is a friend I met on vinyl instagram and eventually became friends on Facebook and in human form when we visited Montreal last year. He also designed the screenprinted b-side for the vinyl release of my upcoming EP. Which you can preorder by clicking here!

He is an amazing artist and was willing to do this for us in like no time since I was giving it to Katy as a gift! After giving him the picture, he asked what two of our favorite things are and I said one of mine is vinyl records, and Katy's favorite thing in the world is pizza. So he made an amazing patterned background of those two things and placed us in front of it to make the whole piece look like the greatest image ever created.

HE EVEN GOT THE DETAILS OF MY TATTOOS! Come on!

You can contact Matt through Instagram at @txdrmst or @txdrmstvinyl

Here is the original image of us, for context. Matt really knocked it out of the park. 

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!

-Craig.

0138: Robbed from Me


Content warning: The following story contains references to a survivor's experience with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and sexual assault, which may be triggering for some readers.


"Robbed from Me," Elisabeth Rivera

I had everything going, ya know? Until it was all robbed from me. 

This is the reality of anxiety, depression and PTSD for me.

[Note: In case you missed Elisabeth's previous story, check it out here!]

I fear being raped again, reality is it can happen again, who is to promise me that it won't?To this day I face sexual harassment online also in person from cat-calling, sexualizing to men being creeps in the store. Behavior like that only provokes fear in me it triggers my anxiety, that behavior reminds me how vulnerable I am.

Sadly, I am very skeptic of all men rather I know or don't know them, even if I feel comfortable I still worry. I heard of a girl being raped at my brother's old job - a place where I thought of working - and that taunts my anxiety. And on top of sexual harassment & sexualizing I face, this makes it hard for me to get out there and not be paranoid, which is a reason I have been unemployed. I fear for myself in public and at work, anywhere that makes me feel vulnerable. But at the same time, I have this passion to conquer & rise, I want that future I had going for me, I can feel the rise in me trying to come out, because I'm so passionate about my goals, I want to inspire. I am so much more than what the eye sees & the minds of those who think I am just "bumming in life."

But, then some love to add more weight on my shoulders as I try to climb out this hole, by making me feel as I am the perpetrator in my story because we live in a world that is all about status, victimization, the belief that you have to be successful to be valued, and that what happened to me can be avoided. I have came across relatives, friends & men who made me feel like I wasn't good enough of a person or they were embarrassed to be with me cause of my mental baggage & my incident the fact I am not successful yet, sadly having a good heart & mind wasn't important, what happen to accepting someone & helping them be better? But I am thankful for those who accept me, don't make me feel hard to love, don't make me feel like the perpetrator in my life.

"Time to move on"
 "Can it really still be bothering?" 
"Try therapy?" 
"Can't let it control you" 
"You just need to get a job already"
"You're dressing like you weren't raped"
"You too pretty to be a bum in life"

It hurts. I don't mind being told "Elisabeth, you know you can do this, I know your mind may hold you back that's understandable, but I know you have so much to show for in the world, it's going unseen because your mind taunts you, I want you to conquer and rise, I believe in you" there is ways to encourage people & be supportive without the insensitive lack of understanding comments. Or narcissistic opinions on how I should look and act after enduring rape or how I should handle my situation when they can't relate. This is also why I don't do therapy.

I never really had that type of positive support from most, just some. I felt rushed to heal, I felt I was being unrealistic with my mental struggle, I can't say I 100% felt understood by most, let alone supported or believed.

When the world makes you feel like the perpetrator of your own story, you bounce back-and-forth in your fight "I can do this / No I can't." But my mental struggle doesn't just affect my success in life it affects me in so many ways sexually, socially, etc. 

People don't realize, how hard it is to be in a mental war, while trying to pull it together to get back on your feet, while battling my health, my case, the idea of going to trial, other personal issues. I am carrying a lot of weight, I am not always happy. I seem fine on social media, but I am not, especially when I feel I have to prove myself worthy to the world. I know many are watching me like "let's see if she got back on her feet," because society is so status-driven and has no understanding of trauma.

Then again, people can't understand what they've never experienced. But I know one of these days I will conquer and rise. Yeah, I will still have fear. I will always be affected, but I won't let it get to the point of consuming me from living the life I had robbed from me. Time isn't promised; I don't want to keep letting it pass me by, I did try giving up on life but I haven't yet. I'm struggling, yes, but I really do want to live & be happy. I'm trying.

I am greater than my past, that's why God makes sure I keep pushing. Life is beautiful even through the bad. Even through the bad, I never let it change my spirit for the worse. I hope my story changes perspective on mental illness - let alone how affecting and consuming sexual assault can be. People in my life need to stop making me feel like my worth lays in success. I'm worthy without status, I am a good soul without status. Stop making me feel like the perpetrator in my life. Don't judge what you haven't been through. And even if you have, understand everyone is affected differently and mental illnesses can affect everyone differently. 


About the art:

Today's story is a follow up from Elisabeth's story last month, so it's nice to have her explore how her mental health has been challenged due to being sexually assaulted. Her tenacity for survival is inspiring and I was glad that I could make her art based on both her story and a song that she finds central to her survival.

So I took the words from "Phantom Bride," by Deftones, and put them in the background as usual, and went with some brighter colors that are inspired by the Deftones' album art for Gore, it's recent album from 2016. I then took some of Elisabeth's words from her closing paragraphs and formed the two lines that stand out on the front. I toyed with used some of the lines from the song, but I felt her words were strong enough for the piece.

So thankful for Elisabeth sharing two important stories with us over the last two months, we hope it inspires more folks to share their stories with us!

-Craig.

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!

-Craig.

0136: He Made Me


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

"He Made Me," Azure


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About the art:

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

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

- Hannah

0134: My Rape


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

"My Rape," TeMeka Estrada Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About the art:

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

Katy

0133: Subhuman


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


"Subhuman," Michael Maluk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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About the art:

Michael submitted this story us WAY back in October, and also threw a kind donation our way. But I held onto this piece for May because it fit the mold of Mental Health Awareness so well.

Michael's story is all-too-common among men in American culture. Seeking out all other sorts of comfort and coping strategies beyond reaching out for help. I know I struggled with drinking due to my depression, so it brought back some of my own memories to read Michael discuss his drug habits like this.

For the art, I was given free reign. I wanted this piece to be a bright reminder for Michael. So I used some vibrant blues and pinks, and for the quote, I altered the last line of Michael's story. I hate that we had to hold onto this story for so long, but it was worth it in the end!

-Craig.

0132: Worthy of Love


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

"Worthy of Love," Erin O'Grady

This is my first time openly talking about that night. 

I was 19. I came home from college for the weekend to go to a party with friends. I saw a lot of people I haven’t seen since I started school. I was having a great time. I brought a water bottle half full of vodka that I stole from my parents. I had a few sips, I remember I didn’t want to get too drunk because I had work the next morning and I didn’t want to make a fool of myself in front of these people that I haven’t seen in a while. I wanted to seem cool. I wanted everyone to like me.

Then he came up to me. I don’t know his name. I don’t know who he came with. He approached me and complimented my outfit. He said I was the prettiest girl at the party, I giggled and said I knew he was lying. He said he was telling the truth, he liked my style, I was different and he was into it. He seemed nice. We talked for a little while and he asked me if I wanted a sip of his drink. I remember looking into it and it was a vibrant blue/green color. I asked him what it was. He said it was his special mix and that I would like it. It didn’t realize that the entire time we were talking that he never drank from that cup. I took it from him and had a sip. He told me to try more. I drank the rest of it. 

We talked a little while more but then I told him I needed to get back to my friends. He told me he would see me later that night. I went over to my friends who didn’t even realize I had been gone. They were quite drunk and having a good time. I didn’t tell them that I was starting to feel funny. I walked away and sat down alone on the other side of the room. Then it went black. I come to, maybe 30 minutes later, maybe an hour, I’m not sure. I remember being in a back room. I remember hearing his voice. My skirt was pulled up. I tried to pull it down and a hand stopped me. He told me to relax. He pushes me against a table. It goes black again. 

I wake up on a couch, alone. I throw up. I cry. My friend finds me and says “how much did you drink?!” They carry me to the car, they drive me home, they carry me into my house. I fall asleep. I wake up the next morning in the worst pain of my life. Everything hurt. I remember only bits and pieces of the night, but I pushed the thoughts from my head. I go to work. I don’t say anything to my friends. They joke that I only had a little bit to drink and don’t understand how I got so wasted. They jokingly say I must have gotten drugged. I laugh. 

Six years have gone by and there’s not a day that passes that I don’t think about that night. I wonder if I was targeted because I seemed vulnerable. I wonder if I wasn’t so flattered by someone hitting on me that I would have just ignored him and went back to my friends that none of this would have happened. I know realistically that none of this is my fault but some days that’s harder to believe than others. I have carried this insecurity with me ever since. It has affected my relationships with others. I have let men and women come into my life, use me, abuse me, and I felt like I deserved it. Some days I can’t get out of bed. I felt worthless. My last relationship was a real wake up call for me. I allowed myself to be degraded and disrespected past the point that any logical person would take. This was the first time I took a hard look at myself and said you don’t deserve this. 

I have my first therapy appointment in a few weeks. It doesn’t matter how long it took me to get to this point of acceptance, all that matters is that I got here. I am not dirty, I am not broken, I am worthy of love. I will not settle for less.


About the art:

Erin and I have been connected for a little while now thanks to the wonders of the internet, and I've even met Erin on a visit through New Jersey! When Erin reached out to share this story with us, I was surprised - as I often am when I see my friends' name appear in our submissions - because I always hate learning that someone I care about was impacted by any form of trauma. But with how prevalent of an issue that sexual assault is, I must say that my shock and surprise is beginning to dissolve as more and more folks share their stories.

So with this piece, I knew I wanted to create something that connected with Erin's love of music. Specifically, I know Erin loves the band, Sorority Noise. It's a band that I know has greatly impacted and supported her through lots of ups and downs, so I asked which songs came to mind - and when she suggested, "Art School Wannabe," I knew which words I wanted to paint for her.

I wrote the words to the chorus in the background of the pieces, as I often do with pieces dedicated to songs, and then covered the canvas in Erin's favorite colors and gave it the old splatter treatment! Then I carefully chose the words, "Maybe I won't die this time - Maybe I'll live this time," because they resonate completely with this story and with, perhaps, a feeling of hopelessness that does exist with survivors of trauma.

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Erin!

-Craig.

 

0131: The Flood


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

"The Flood," Meghan 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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About the art:

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

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

Thank you for sharing this with us, Meghan!

-Craig