Acknowledgements ............................................................................................................... 3 Introduction .......................................................................................................................... 5 Art/Stories A New Perspective .......................................................................................................... 8 A Year In My Life ......................................................................................................... 10 Angels Along the Way .................................................................................................. 12 As I Am ........................................................................................................................ 14 Breaking the Cycle ........................................................................................................ 16 Calm After the Storm. .................................................................................................. 18 Connecting the Dots .................................................................................................... 20 Finding Balance ............................................................................................................ 22 Flame of Hope .............................................................................................................. 24 For the First Time in My Life ...................................................................................... 26 From Scars to Stars ....................................................................................................... 28 Grandma Love .............................................................................................................. 30 Henry’s Story ................................................................................................................ 32 His Love for Others ...................................................................................................... 34 I Can Breathe ................................................................................................................ 36 Found My Love ............................................................................................................ 38 I Have Presence ............................................................................................................. 40 I Never Regret ............................................................................................................... 42 I Never Would Have Made It ....................................................................................... 44 Jacob’s Ladder................................................................................................................ 46 Kaity’s Way.................................................................................................................... 48 Key to Freedom ............................................................................................................. 50 Lens of Light ................................................................................................................ 52 Letting Go .................................................................................................................... 54 Life. Love. ..................................................................................................................... 56 Lisa Continues to Live in Our Hearts .......................................................................... 58 Looking In The Mirror.................................................................................................. 60 Looks Can Be Deceiving .............................................................................................. 62 Making Lemonade ........................................................................................................ 64 My Life Has Been Nothing But A Game ..................................................................... 66 Rising Up from the Ashes ............................................................................................. 68 Service to Others........................................................................................................... 70 Social Awareness – Social Empowerment ..................................................................... 72 Song .............................................................................................................................. 74 Standing My Ground .................................................................................................... 76 Teaching by Example .................................................................................................... 78 The Sun is Shining ........................................................................................................ 80 The Will to Live ............................................................................................................ 82 There is No Shame ........................................................................................................ 84 We Wear the Mask........................................................................................................ 86 What Could Have Been................................................................................................ 88 White Tiger Soul .......................................................................................................... 90 1
Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending. â€”Author Unknown This book is dedicated to those indomitable spirits who work daily to make themselves and their communities a place where people can live with freedom, security, and love. With Special Thanks Funding : Jay Duetsch, Linda and Bob Wallace, Frances Ortiz, Bonnie Black, Christy and Mitchell Moore, Lee and Janet Florschuetz, Karen and Doug Stites, Karen Angelo, David H. and Mary Allice Copp, Linda King, Sue McLeavy. Bravery Project Board: Christy Moore, Kirstin Flores, Stephen Hall, Karen Stites who supported the book project. Our wonderful volunteers: Jill Shepherd, Scott Haskin, Dominic Medina, Erika Mora, Frances Winfree. All the amazing and brave survivors who have contributed their time and truly unique, powerful, and uplifting stories. Credits Dominic Medina: Video editor for artbook video fundraiser Scott Haskin: Music Composer for artbook video fundraiser Lisa Vrandenberg: Printlynk Publishing
MEDIA DEVELOPMENT RESOURCE
Jill Shepherd: Book Graphic Design
Erika Mora: Spanish Translation Tim Florschuetz: Editor and loving husband Vickie Florschuetz: Founder, artist, E. D.
Change begins with conversations at the breakfast or dinner table, and Bravery Project is a testament to this clichĂŠ because that is exactly what happened. The concept of survivor art was created from a conversation I had with my husband, Tim, on a patio table in Prescott as we watched the sun go down behind a beautiful forest. As a college professor, he has experienced students who would suddenly disappear from class, show up with injuries, and break down in tears while explaining that a significant other wanted them to quit school. Iâ€™ll never forget an incident when a student called his office apologizing profusely for missing a writing assignment because her boyfriend had pulled out her fingernails. His compassion for people gave rise to the idea that my meager art skills could bring awareness to the all-toocommon and complex issue of domestic violence. Consequently, Bravery Project was born. Each portrait is created through a process that allows the survivors a voice. . In other words, they get to choose the art medium and imagery, as well as express a narrative in their own words to share personal messages to the community. Local survivors model for me in a three-hour session, just like DaVinci did with royalty in his day. Together we create something unique that brings a message of hope and healing to the world. An awakening occurred as I learned that domestic violence is twice as common as breast cancer, yet domestic violence awareness is almost non-existent. Abusive relationships and neglect affect women, men, children, seniors, the disabled, and even pets. I have learned that we hear about domestic abuse daily by many media names: murder-suicide, child abuse, animal cruelty, assault, and homicide. In fact, even if you have not experienced it or know someone who has, you pay for this problem through billions of your tax dollars that fund police and fire departments, medical and mental health care, child services, and legal and court costs as well as unemployment benefits. It is a very expensive community problem. It is also solvable. There is an embarrassing social stigma associated with domestic violence and the victims who live through it, yet it is a root cause to many problems. Domestic violence is all about power and control over another person. Abusers break the spirit first before using the fist and become master manipulators over their victims. Personal freedom is stripped away. The Bravery Project philosophy is that domestic violence/ abuse is a human rights issue. Period. Furthermore, I have produced pieces that represent high profile, wealthy, and highly educated people in the mix, proving that there is no such thing as a socio-economic status when it comes to domestic violence. Breaking stereotypes and myths is key to changing public perception. Photo courtesy of Dianne Ross
This misinformation and lack of awareness I aim to address in partnership with the dozens of survivors who have bravely volunteered to tell their story publicly through Bravery Project. They have taught me personally what it means to live by the example they set as strong, beautiful, powerful, successful, and free people- everything their abusers did not want them to be. It is their hope and mine that you will join in their joy of life, learn from their experience to avoid abuse, and most of all, do something about it. Getting involved is simple. You can volunteer at a shelter, donate to non-profits that provide victim services, learn how to appropriately respond to someone you know is suffering, and even simply talk to your children about healthy relationships. Let victims know they are not alone and that they deserve better. Encourage them to report the crime, no matter how difficult. Place the blame where it belongs and encourage the legal system to hold abusers accountable. We cannot rely on only the police or government to stop the horrible cycle of abuse or expect that someone else will handle it. If not you and me, then who? Change begins with you, the community member who can learn first-hand from those who have experience.. Share the art and stories with others and help us build a community of social change by getting involved, shedding the shame, and having that conversation at the breakfast or dinner table. The results may surprise you. This book is our gift to you. It comprises all the work produced over the past four years through nothing but volunteer efforts. It is my pleasure and honor to share with you our first portrait series of real individuals who have shed the shame and overcome the hardships of abuse. Enjoy and pass on the bravery! Vickie Florschuetz Artist/Founder of Bravery Project
I was born and reared in Mississippi. The first thirteen years of my life was a horror story. Here is how my life went. My alcoholic father would beat my mother almost weekly, and he would put us outside, so we slept under the porch in the winter. When he died in 1968, I had no feelings for him at all. My mother passed in 1970 when her stove exploded on her. She lived a month and passed away. I watched her leave me, and there was nothing I could do to help her. I was raped at thirteen and shunned because of it. I married another person at age thirteen because I thought he was going to take care of us: me, my child, and my mother. With my last beating, I was left for dead. He went over to his niece’s home and told her to go and see if her aunt was still alive. I woke up in the hospital and stayed for almost two nights. The second night is when the social worker told me about the battered women home. I made a decision to go there. I lived there several weeks and lost my children for ten years after this due to the fact my husband/children’s father was a 33rd degree Masonic and had lots of leverage in the city we lived in.
seemed like every man I got with thought I was a punching bag. An old lady I met some years later told me, “If your self-esteem was not so low you would not allow yourself to continue to be with the same old things. You need to clean your act up, change your friends, and alter your whole life-style.” At that time I did not know what she meant or how to do that. Someone took the patience to tell me what I needed to do. I needed a completely new life, like changing my thought process and all the people that I was associating with. This way I could start meeting healthy people. She told me if someone could not tell me where I could find a job then they were not for me to associate with. Most women that were on welfare love to talk about the kids and the man. These types of people were not who I needed to be around. I needed to be around someone that could help me get on my feet without having to be on the system. So this is what I’ve done. It’s changed my life. To this day, I still feel that same way. If I cannot be around someone that is positive and can tell me how to better myself and talk about positive things, then I have no time for them.
He had me banned from my kids for over ten years. After that, it Artist’s Note: I have had the pleasure of getting to know this person as a beautiful, strong woman. Meeting her, you would never know what she had been through because she is such a positive and proactive person. She is also an accomplished artist, and her beautiful handmade jewelry pieces are created based on the emotions of the day and have played a big part in healing from the past. She is a treasure who offers and exceptional lesson in perspective.
In June of 2007, I jumped out of a moving car and ran into a dumpster with nothing but the clothes on my back. I feared for my life after my spouse threatened to kill me and my whole family. Using a fictional piece about domestic violence amongst Indian Brahmin families I had published several years ago, he said he would make my story come true. Since then, I have not looked back. I had no help, with the exception of an elderly couple that happened to “find” me that night I left my spouse. My family tried to persuade me not to go to the police and to resolve things over coffee—maybe even go back to him (for, they believed, it was my fault). It took a lot of strength for me to finally say goodbye to my father and mother and do what was right—file a report and press charges. Sadly though, the prosecutor in the town I lived in could not prosecute with limited information available, especially with my family and friends in the Indian community refusing to come forward. Having previously “worked” in the field on women’s issues, I started thinking about how I could help make changes in the
law that would help me to prosecute my case, make my parents understand, and give money back to people (women AND men) who didn’t have other resources after they left bad situations. In October 2007, I joined the Purple Ribbon Council because this is exactly what it’s about: support women and families who are victims; benefit organizations that help victims; empower the community to understand the issue of domestic violence and mobilize them to move forward, socially and politically. Through its Girls Night Out and Everyday Democracy Study Circles, the Purple Ribbon Council has the ability to bring together the community, locally, nationally, and internationally; to raise funds for prevention and assistance organizations; to raise awareness amongst the mass public; to educate the community members and mobilize the community towards positive social and political changes. The Bravery Project brings back the power to me. I get to choose the style of my portrait, when, where, how. My message is simply this: Be happy.
Artist’s Note: Unfortunately, the nature of domestic violence is very difficult to understand. Feeling alone is one of many reasons a victim returns to the abusive relationship, especially when divorce is frowned upon. When I met this survivor, I was struck at what an easy-going and loving person she was, with a strong desire to reach out to people and help them. She has worked one step at a time to rebuild her life and now lives with abundance, including her dignity and freedom. She is truly an inspiration for following your inner compass.
I never considered myself a victim of Domestic Violence. I thought it was just fighting with my husband when he came home drunk or didn’t come home at all. I was very much in Lust with him and wanted to stay true to my wedding vows: in good times and bad; however, the bad seemed to outweigh the good. My first child was born in 1980 and had open heart surgery at seven months old. While she was fighting for her life, her father was fighting me and wanting to live the single life. God sent the Angels to wrap their wings around me and give me the strength I needed to focus on her. My daughter was the Star that shined bright in the midst of all the darkness. Even after all that, I still wanted to honor my vows for better or worse. I was ready to leave with my child and raise her by myself when I found out that I was pregnant. For richer or poorer--now how was I going to take care of two children by myself ? In 1982, a son was born who became the Sunshine in my life in the midst of all the storms that I was facing. When I came home after working overtime that Saturday, I opened the door to find my children (both under two years old) left in the house alone. I was the one working while they were at home with their father, but because I did not get there in time for him to go out, he left. I finally understood after the police officer told me that I needed to consider leaving (that was the Angel of Safety), so I began to plan my escape after he was arrested on other charges. He called me at work, threatening to kill himself and the children. He left jail on work release, came to our home, and cut up all my clothes. While he was at work, I packed up all I could with the help of my brothers and moved into my new apartment. After about six months of living a peaceful life with my children,
he found out where we lived and wanted his family back. He was moving out of state and wanted us to join him for a new life. By this time, I was out of Lust with him and wanted nothing to do with him. What about the children? Don’t they have a right to have the total family package? I was raised by my Mother and had always dreamed of the happy family with Mommy and Daddy and the house on the hill surrounded by the white picket fence. So I moved to Reno, Nevada, in hopes that my children would have the life I had always dreamed. Till death do us part-- After the honeymoon stage was over, he stopped coming home from work. We only had one vehicle, so I was isolated, I only knew the people he knew. He accused me of sleeping with his friends and actually blackened my eye one night. He would say to me that if I didn’t act like a man and fight back that he wouldn’t hit me. The final straw was a knock at the door with a woman asking me to tell my husband to stay away from her. He was asleep on the sofa and would not respond to my calling his name. So, I picked up the machete and began to chase him around the house. It was not until I heard my four-year-old daughter screaming at me and telling me that we don’t have to take this and we can move back to Kansas City (the Angel of Wisdom). I began to put my plan in place, and we left heading to KC. I never looked back, and I prayed for God to take the hatred out of my heart and turn it into Love for my children. I am a “Survivor” of Domestic Violence, and it is because God sent his “Angels along the Way” to guide, protect, and love me. He carried me on those long journeys through life when I didn’t have the courage or strength to walk. Looking over me, I now have the Angel of Love, my Mother.
Artist’s Note: A major reason why survivors stay or return to abusers is children. They want their kids to have a healthy family, but wanting and getting are two different things. Often survivors find themselves in this emotional entrapment of cultural views, i.e. wedding vows, and lose themselves in trying to make the relationship work. In the case of this beautiful and loving person, she listened to the Angels around her, telling her that she “doesn’t have to take it.” With all that in the past now, the Angels have spoken again, and she has chosen to use her experience to help others by developing Moma’s House, a transitional living facility and healing program for young women. She is an Angel herself.
I never knew much about domestic violence growing up, so when I met this person I had no idea what he was doing. He was so charming and told me he loved me so much during the first few months. Not knowing what the relationship would become, I stayed, even after he became emotionally and then verbally and later physically abusive. It took me years to have the courage and strength to leave. The emotional, physical scars became too much. I couldn’t continue to stay hoping that one day he would stop. He had said that the first time, and then I just didn’t count anymore. I guess everyone has that moment when they realize that this is not what love is nor is it enough to sacrifice yourself anymore for the abuse. My realization came at work. The night before, I had talked back, and he didn’t want to have it. He decided in order for me to stop was to choke me. I recall him on top of me with fire and hate in his eyes as he choked me until I passed out. I literally thought
that this was it; this was how I was going to die. I woke up the next morning to go to work and looked in the mirror and saw the bruises on my neck. I covered the bruises with make-up hoping that that would heal the emotional pain, and no one would notice as they have for the past years. Not only was I tired of covering the bruises with makeup but tired of pretending that this is what love should be and feel like. It’s been two years since, and I can now say that I am very fortunate to have that realization and have been able to escape with a second chance at life again. There are so many women that don’t get that second chance. It’s been a tough two years, but understanding what I know now has enabled me to love myself again and to see that it wasn’t my fault. I hope that women learn that no one has the right to abuse you regardless of what they say. Love me as I am: That is how I know love should be without any conditions.
Artist’s Note: While talking to this survivor, I saw an unbelievably sweet, responsible, and smart person, It boggles the mind as to how anyone could be cruel to her. Abusers always take advantage of a person’s good nature because post-abuse apologies usually receive forgiveness and promises that it won’t ever happen again are believed. Many times, survivors are surprised to find themselves in abusive relationships because of this trust. That’s why it’s important to never judge, but listen and support efforts to a better life.
After a whirl-wind courtship, I began living with a man who seemed perfect at first. We did so much together and we were always the life the party. He seemed to accept me just the way I was. Everything seemed perfect until our tempers clashed for the first time. One night while out bowling and playing pool, I told him that I was ready to go home. He became enraged and accused me of being a sore loser. I was not shaken by his hostility at the time. As we walked to the car, he began calling me names. Being a feisty woman by nature, I responded with my own insults. Then he stormed over to my side of the car and started choking me. I fought back as much as I could and he stopped. We got in the car and proceeded to drive home. My heart was racing fast. I’d never experienced anything like that. I’d always said that I would leave if a man ever put his hands on me, but I was so torn. We’d just moved into an apartment that I could barely afford on my own, and to top it all off, I was in love. He was such a loving partner when he wasn’t angry. I didn’t just receive flowers after an incident; I received flowers, cards, and poems all the time. I forgave his temper and hoped that things would get better, and they were for a short period of time. In addition to buying my clothes, he started picking out what I should wear each day. We began to argue more and more about finances. While he paid the bills, he was financially irresponsible in other ways. He spent money like most people drink water. One night when he came home, I knew he would be drunk and want to have sex, so I locked our bedroom door. While I put up with a lot of verbal and emotional abuse, I had never experienced extreme violence from anyone. He kicked open the door and my legs, side, and face were on fire from the carpet burns as he dragged me through the hall and into the living room. He pushed me out of my home barefoot with
only panties and a t-shirt on. I walked to the convenience store about two blocks away and called the police. This time he went to jail. After I let him come home, he promised to enroll in anger management classes, and we planned a trip to see his family. This vacation was supposed to be a rebuilding journey for us. The trip was amazing at first. While I was there, two significant shifts in my clarity occurred. First, his mother and father got into an argument, and it was as if I was watching myself being talked down to, only the roles were reversed. His mother was verbally abusive. She said some of the same hurtful things to her husband that her son said to me. Later on that evening, my ex got into an argument with his sister. His language was so abusive that she left the room visibly shaken while he and his mother went on conversing like nothing happened. I followed his sister into the kitchen and tried to comfort her. She told me that he always got away with talking to her like that and hitting her. She said he could do no wrong in their mother’s eyes. The light bulb went off. I realized at that moment that I could not help him. He’d learned this behavior at home. Unless he made a commitment to really get help, I’d always be his victim. I made a commitment to leave if he ever hit me or called me names again. I am alive today because I kept that promise. I was one of the lucky ones. The months after a woman leaves a violent relationship are very dangerous. My ex never stalked or harassed me. When I reflected on the ways he had controlled my life and the escalation of the violence, I realized that I could have easily been one of the thousands who die each year at the hands of the men they love. I kept my ordeal secret from my family for years. I have learned that love does not hurt and that I am worthy to receive it. As a Domestic Violence Counselor, I tell my clients who are dealing with abuse those same words all the time. I hope that some day they will believe me because it has taken many years for me to believe it myself.
Artist’s Note: There are many variables when it comes to why a person abuses another and how one deals with the abuse, but a common denominator is learned behavior. Children model their parents. Although the abuser is the one to change, the survivor must draw the line in the sand and follow through. Breaking the cycle is more than just severing ties in a toxic relationship; it is internalizing the newfound knowledge of self-worth and setting boundaries for healthy relationships in the future. This survivor learned and listened to her intuition that love isn’t enough. She could not help him change his behavior. For this reason, she chose to have the third-eye chakra symbol on her gold necklace, which represents the spiritual intuitiveness that saved her life and continues to guide her today.
The symbolism behind this portrait is extremely powerful to me. Behind me are the dark clouds and a thunderstorm, literally representing how I felt in the relationship with my abuser. I felt like I was in the midst of the worst storm ever, and anywhere I went while I was involved with him the storm followed. On the night of February 5th, 2008, I was ending the relationship with my abuser and asked him to please leave. That night was the worst thunderstorm (beating) ever. For an hour and a half, I was body slammed, choked, and smothered head-first into piles of clothes or a pillow. Several times, just as I was about to pass out, he would let my head up to gasp the air. The only thing I was thinking was to scratch him and get his DNA under my skin, so if I died, they could know that I fought back.
When I finally escaped that night, he ran. The police came and arrested him. Two months later, he was put on probation and asked to complete domestic violence classes. He failed to do both, and there is currently a warrant out for his arrest. That night, I went to my friend’s house; I stayed there for five days until I found a place to move. With the help of a very dear friend who lent me money and church members who moved me, I left my house with my yard for my dogs, took my dogs and the bare essentials, and moved to a small apartment. Immediately, the dark clouds lifted. Although leaving was the hardest thing I ever did, I am so grateful to start over. There are many nights I miss the good parts of him, but the part that nearly killed me that night will never be forgotten. I am now in a calm river and out of the storm.
Artist’s Note: The Jekyl and Hyde story is very true when it comes to abusers. When dating, naturally we put our best face forward, trying to impress. In domestic violence, when the relationship gets underway, the Hyde part comes out in episodes. When a person cares for someone, understandably the relationship isn’t always rosy or the person isn’t always pleasant. Still, with domestic violence, the cycle of abuse continues to spiral downward until the nice Jekyl personality becomes more scarce, leaving the survivor with only memories of what once was a kind and loving relationship. In the case of this survivor, she had the courage to take that final step toward permanent freedom and keeps the reality of her ordeal in perspective. She remembers the “good parts of him” but loves herself enough to remember who he really
We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” — Mohandas Gandhi
Details that we learned after the fact—dots that are easy to connect going backwards:
In a mystery, events are like dots connected backwards. It is easy to understand the picture after the fact, but, for most of us going forward in a mystery, the dots are separate disconnected points.
A restraining order was started by Susan for herself and her two kids in November, 2010, but was not completed.
Our beloved Susan was full of life. She was a mother, daughter, wife, sister, aunt, cousin, coworker, and friend. She was extremely athletic, had a passion for traveling and adventure, loved to read, enthusiastically recruited and inspired people for projects and teams, generously gave to all those around her, and laughed easily. Susan’s life was ended by her on-again-off-again boyfriend. He was, in our opinion, a jerk, but we never dreamed he was capable of murder. Neither did Susan. Nonetheless, there was always great skepticism about their relationship amongst those closest to her. More than once, our family sat with him, sharing meals and listening to his juvenile jokes, fulfilling his need to be the center of attention. Susan was incredibly smart, and we all wondered what she saw in him. During an off-phase, Susan had invited her youngest sister to join her on a work reward trip to Hawaii. Susan’s brilliance shone brightly at work, and her efforts were valued as evidenced by this trip. A week before the trip, Susan informed her sister that she and the boyfriend were back together, and that she would like to take him instead. On the second night of their trip in Hawaii, he brutally beat her to death with a piece of granite from their hotel room. Both her co-workers and hotel staff tried to break into the room after hearing cries for help, but he had barricaded the door. When a housekeeping employee was finally able to get onto their balcony through an adjacent room, the employee witnessed him beating Susan’s seemingly unresponsive body. The hotel employee then entered the room and, with the help of others, contained him so that he could not leave until the local police arrived. According to police reports, he was calm and sitting on the bed while on his computer and phone when they arrived. He was arrested and is awaiting trial in Hawaii.
He had threatened to kill our beloved Susan and her daughter (age 16) several times, but she strongly believed that he could never physically hurt anyone. He had threatened to harm her son (age 11) and Susan’s exhusband (father of her two children). After a break-up, he had taken Susan’s possessions out of his house and carelessly destroyed and threw them on the street. His previous wife has a restraining order against him through 2020 due to a tumultuous relationship. He was not allowed to visit his daughter (age 7) from his previous marriage. Verbal blow-ups occurred in private but were not discussed. Our family has a history of “respecting” others’ privacy. Susan was very caring and honestly believed that he was capable of changing. No known physical confrontations occurred between the two up until the night of the murder. Some facts about violence against women in the United States: A woman is battered every 9-12 SECONDS. Four to five women are murdered each DAY by a male intimate partner. (U.S Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, FBI, National Women’s Coalition) These women are from all walks of life. These women are your sister, your wife, your daughter, your mother, your aunt, your cousin, your grandmother, your friend, your coworker, or even your next-door neighbor. Violence is not love. Ask questions. Listen. Speak out. Connect the dots. Be the change. In loving memory of our beloved Susan November 27, 1966 – May 24, 2011
Artist’s Note: I had the pleasure to travel to Seattle, Washington, to meet with this wonderful family who welcomed me into their home and fed me a home-cooked meal as if I were one of their own. Susan came from a loving environment, and she was smart, strong, and adventurous. So, how did she end up with such a person in her life? Sometimes people believe they can help heal the wounded soul of another, not realizing the danger they place upon themselves. Not much emphasis is placed on prevention of domestic violence in our culture, so it is up to us to learn, see, and heed the warning signs of an abuser. We honor Susan’s memory by sharing her story in hopes that we all will learn from it and save a life, maybe even our own. 20
I am doing this project because I want people to know that abuse may not start at the beginning of a relationship but several years later, and they need to watch for signs or changes in the relationship, whether intentional or not. Once a change shifts toward abuse, the abuse may never stop. I was fourteen, going out with someone who was eighteen. This is the individual that I lost my virginity with, and he said he lost his with me. For at least four out of the five years we were going out, everything was fine and good. I got my way most of the time with little resistance. He smoked marijuana, and I wanted him to stop. His smoking caused lots of problems in the relationship. He kept saying he would quit, but evidence was found otherwise. His frustration probably built up from year to year. We got a newspaper route together in the fifth year of the relationship. We were delivering for a couple of months. One of the Sundays I told him I did not want to work that day. He said it was the biggest Sunday and that I had to go with
him. He knew I didn’t want to be there and got angrier with every newspaper we put together. We argued, and then his fingers went around my neck. I was shocked and surprised. I never expected him to do something like that and was very frightened. It was about two weeks before I broke off the relationship because I did not know what to expect from him. Not long afterward, we got into an argument over the phone. He walked into my house and started throwing things at me. I asked, “What the hell is wrong with you?” He started to choke me again. I fought back, and my brother, who heard the commotion, jumped in between us. From them on I avoided associating with him at any cost. My portrait was done to portray that I am more watchful in my relationships with others now after this incident in my life. I try to compare relationships to see if they are balanced and safe, without harm to either party. This has helped me with the relationship and marriage I am in right now, and we have been married for almost twelve years.
Artist’s Note: When I first spoke with this survivor, she didn’t think that she had experienced domestic violence. The surprising thing about her story is that it is an example of teen dating violence that is now escalating at alarming rates. What we think are short experiences of mean behavior are actually domestic violence episodes that will continue to escalate if unchecked. Awareness is instrumental in recognizing the signs and learning the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships.
Hope can be the smallest flicker of light in a life disrupted by abuse and violence. I have learned that the light can be easily snuffed out. I have learned that a kind word, compassion, the support of caring people, a hug from a friend, or the joy of a loving partner can fan that flicker of light into a flame, the flame of hope. Healing from the aftermath of violence and abuse from a “trusted” family members and intimate partners is a process of moving from the darkness into the light. I have learned that letting your light shine means taking risks and that healing is fraught with challenges and sometimes danger. I have learned that love is the end result of that process. The ‘knowing’ of joy, being blessed with fitting into my own skin, and knowing my heart is where the journey is leading me. The move towards a peaceful life means a continued lighting of the candles of hope with everyone I come into contact with. Without hope, there
can be no love; without love, there can be no peace. Without the light, there will be darkness. Working towards peace is a lifelong commitment. Let the light of hope illuminate our paths toward love and peace in our homes, communities, and world. Let us walk together, holding our candles high, and, with the culmination of those flames, may they turn into blazing torches leading us from the darkness into the light. “Allow yourself to be a torch, and allow the flame of your torch to be transmitted to other torches. Practicing like that, you can help peace and joy grow in the entire world.”—Thich Nhat Hanh Peace and Love Doreen A. Nicholas April 29th, 2008
Artist’s Note: The creative process of making Doreen’s portrait came easily when I consulted with her over the phone—truly a positive, peaceful, and giving person; a giver of light. Like all of these wonderful individuals in the Bravery Portrait Project, Doreen chooses to use her past in a positive way by igniting the candles of others.
I was born into Domestic Violence and lived a constant cycle of abuse for thirty-six years. My mother was sixteen when she had me in a small Alabama town. I was adopted at the age of two by my stepdad. I only have small numbers of memories of my childhood--my mother’s loud dominating voice and my father standing 6’ 4” and weighing around 350 pounds. I lived in fear of my parents. They were physically abusive and used everything to beat on me, sometimes just for simply spilling something. I remember being called a whore, stupid, pathetic, and worthless by them throughout my life. At the tender age of five, my stepdad sexually abused me. I have no memory of when it began or ended. I became responsible for my three younger siblings early in my youth. My responsibilities consisted of cleaning the home, cooking the meals, taking care of them, and working to pay rent. As a child and a teenage, I would clean dead bugs out of my ears due to the state of our home. I used to go to school with bruises from my neck to my feet. Teachers saw the evidence but never asked or said anything. It was common practice to hit your children. Children are to be seen and not heard. Spare the rod, spoil the child my parents agreed with. My mother has told me many times that she hates me, and I ruined her life by being born. When my father’s nephew began molesting me around the age of eleven, I found my place of refuge only when I was allowed to visit my grandmother. She always showed me love and kindness. Some of my happiest memories are with her working in the garden, watching birds and setting out the bird feeders for hummingbirds. I never told her what went on to protect her from the consequences. She was a saving grace in my life as I was not allowed to have friends over or participate in activities outside of the home. I was allowed to date when I was sixteen. My first boyfriend raped me during a drunken rage. I graduated high school and escaped my parent’s home by moving into an apartment with a boyfriend. I would be awakened in the middle of the night by being beaten, raped, and sodomized, and drugs littered the apartment. I lived with this for two years. One night he came home and began hitting me when I found out he was having an affair. He continued to beat me in front of the police. Even though he was a convicted felon, the police did not arrest him for the violence. After I left him, a whirlwind cycle of additional abusive relationships followed. I had given birth to my daughter and was raising her with the help of my grandmother, still unaware of the abuse I was experiencing. My first husband was an alcoholic and would fight with me over his drinking. After divorcing him, I began a relationship with someone. He came home one night and beat me in front of my daughter and his children, almost breaking my back. I left that relationship and moved further out of the city limits. In my new place, my landlord’s son became angry with me for getting a dog. He shot at me on several occasions. I called the police, and they
took a report. The next time he came back, he shot at me, tossed me around the yard, and held me at gun point. That same night he shot and killed a cow. He faced felony charges for killing the cow and a misdemeanor for holding me at gun point. It was later discovered he had planned to rape me with a fence post. Shortly after, I had reconnected with a friend from high school. Upset, he called me one night, and we discussed suicide. When I arrived at the home to help him, he raped, sodomized and choked me until he passed out from being intoxicated. Three months later, I married my second husband. We moved to the west coast. Throughout our marriage, my husband drank daily and became abusive. When I left him, my daughter and I escaped to a shelter. I had nothing except my daughter and my clothing. I began learning about domestic violence and abuse. I also learned I had a bipolar diagnosis. The shelter helped me begin services to help recover and begin healing. Before I could begin making progress, I met someone who pushed to have me move in with him after only being in the shelter for two months. Throughout the relationship, like so many times before, I was not allowed to go anywhere or to have friends. I was given an allowance; intimidated; and sexually, verbally, emotionally, and physically abused. On Oct. 8th, 2010, I left that relationship. During the relationship, I had begun working with an organization that supports families whose children have special needs. We support families by providing them with direct support, support groups, and parenting classes. They helped support me to find resources to leave the relationship, and they listened to me without judgments. That’s how I found Shelter Without Walls, an organization that helped me find housing and a car. They taught me how to get out safely and how to obtain an order of protection. Expectedly, he began to retaliate against me for leaving. During court proceedings and with the support of the agencies, I was able to stand up to him in court. I gained housing through a transitional living program along with a vehicle to maintain my job. The services and my agency helped me learn what abuse is, and I gained therapeutic services, acquired budgeting skills, and learned how to stand up to an abuser. I have gained a family of friends who have supported me and have taught me what a family truly means. I developed boundaries, gained my own apartment, and filled it. I have learned to stay safe and recognize the signs of abuse. I’ve learned to take care of myself and love myself for the first time in my life. I have been Domestic Violence free for over a year. I have taught families about the types of abuse and assisted them to gain support and resources. Without the support of the agencies, friends, and coworkers, I believe the cycle would have continued. My daughter and the spirit of my grandmother have been a huge driving force for me to break free.
Artist’s Note: The strength of a human spirit is something to behold. Not only did her own parents train her to be a target for predators, but the very culture she lived in was misogynistic and had no regard for abuse against women and children. There were no services available in this small town. When a court cares more about shooting a cow than attempted murder and rape of a human being, where does that leave her? It wasn’t until she made her way to a larger city that her options opened up for support. Now she has independence, peace, and purpose. I was honored to paint this portrait of her and her grandmother, represented as the red hummingbird, always watching her back. She is an inspiration on so many levels, whether it is the people she helps with her story of survival or the parents of autistic children with whom she works. I have no doubt that if she can make it to health and wholeness, than so can anyone.
My journey, which began in my childhood when I was scarred by physical and mental abuse from both parents, has brought me to the beautiful star-filled life that I enjoy today. It was not a “walk in the part,” but breaking the cycle was worth all the pain and effort. Saying and meaning with all my heart, “I’ll never be like my parents,” or “I’ll never lay a hand on my children,” or “I’ll never fight and argue” was not enough to break the cycle. It took me years to learn parenting skills and how to re-parent myself. From my teen years on, I made a strong declaration to many people: “I will NEVER get married!” Well, along came a man who didn’t drink alcohol or smoke and was a college graduate with a good job. As a pillar in the church, he portrayed his family as perfect. He possessed an amazing gift of salesmanship. Upon learning my future did not include a plan for marriage, he asked me why. He seemed trustworthy so I shared my experiences of living in constant fear with fighting and abuse in our house because of my father’s drinking and raging anger. Later, that trust would be betrayed when he used it to shame me, so I never shared my story again for many years. I told him it was easier for me to take the beatings than to watch the beatings of family members, so I stepped in trying to protect them. My dad would beat me until I cried and then say, “Now stop that crying or I will give you something to cry about.” I learned to stifle my sobbing and steel my body so as not to feel the pain. The defense mechanism of dissociation became my blessing and curse. It worked for me when I needed it, but later I had to learn to feel again. The “perfect man” who came from a “perfect family” conned me into marriage, and I was blessed with four delightful children who became my teachers and grew up to be fine adults of
whom I am very proud. The fairy tale ending—They lived happily ever after—was not a reality in my world. As the veneer of perfection peeled off, behaviors were revealed that were as unhealthy as those of my family of origin because the emotional abuse was more harmful than the beatings. I had experienced a very powerful, life-changing conversation as a sixteen-year-old and had a very close relationship with my creator, God. Consequently, to be subjected to such harmful behaviors from supposedly devout Christians was devastating. The workaholic behaviors that we both possessed were a serious dysfunction by themselves, but his spending of money that we didn’t have and need for power and control were even bigger issues. I bailed him out of financial messes and enabled his unhealthy behaviors until the day came when I learned he had forged my name on a $60,000 loan. Enough! I also discovered his fascination with pornography and learned of other things he had done, for which he could have been charged and jailed had he not had a good attorney. I left the twenty-five-year marriage, with him taking what he wanted, basically everything of monetary value. My motto became, and still is, “Choose Life.” After the divorce, he stalked me so I had to file for a civil protection order and feared for my life. But I survived it all! Later, when I was out from under his influence, I thrived! I vowed, “I will NEVER marry again!” It seems that God had other plans for me. I did marry the most wonderful man I’ve ever known. He is trustworthy, loving, and kind, and encourages me to be me. We laugh, cry, worship, and play together. I never dreamed that such a blessed life was possible. But thanks to God, it is!
Artist’s Note: While I was working with this survivor, she explained to me how the domestic violence that her mother, she, and her siblings suffered was recognized in the community, but considered normal. Spare the rod, spoil the child was the type of parenting in her time and her town. The child cupped in the hand of nurturing was taken from her baby picture. She is a testament of amazing personal power to control and manage her own personal worries about parenting and living the wonderful life she deserves.
Today my heart is breaking for Grandma. I miss her so much. We had such a close relationship that was fluid over time and easily developed from my childhood to adulthood. In my adult life, I knew and enjoyed our relationship, but in her death I remember and miss my childhood and the part she played in my developmental years, years that I had largely forgotten because I hadn’t visited them in so long. Since she died, that’s the time period that I find myself thinking of all the time. Her final weeks were difficult because she was supposed to have been recovering from surgery; instead, she was diminishing from dehydration and neglect. My family and I routinely demanded better care, but it never came. On May 4th, 2009, Grandma passed away from dehydration, but . . . for now I don’t want to dwell on the nursing home abuse and neglect that killed her. I want to focus on the woman she was, the woman she made me, and the ways in which she lives on in the hope and promise of the children she adored. The memories I routinely have now are ones of childhood. My sister and I would play for hours in Grandma’s backyard using old pie plates, spoons, and pans to make mud pies, using
the bountiful hydrangeas as bouquets as we pretended to get married and spending time helping Grandma pick vegetables out of the garden. I find myself resurrecting these long-sinceforgotten screen shots from the movie of my life that I now realize are more than just forgotten memories. They are the building blocks that fit together to mold the future. They are so seemingly irrelevant to adult life, as if childhood and adulthood exist separately, and somehow there’s an unnoticed door that is passed through to leave one behind and continue with the other. Now, in the pain following her loss and in the subsequent analysis of Grandma’s contributions to the lives of those around her, I feel myself reconnecting with a simpler time, accepting life’s pleasures and joys where they exist. I find the most amazing, overflowing cup of joy in watching the simplicity of childhood through my daughter and nephew, reliving my own through memories of childhood with Grandma. Grandma adored kids and always knew just how to entertain them and make them smile. She saw the future in her grandchildren. They were her survival when she was not able to carry on. She lives on through them. For them, she is the foundation upon which their futures are built.
Artist’s Note: The portrait of Grandma Love represents an amazing individual who made the world a better place. In her nineties, she was independent, sharp as a tack, funny, and positive. She was a shining example of how we would all like to be in our advanced years, yet her shine was rubbed out by institutional neglect and abuse in the hands of her caretakers. Her family did everything they could to protect her, including hiring a private nurse to see to the basic needs she was not receiving. Elder abuse is a crime, yet marginalized by society and rarely ever investigated. If a parent would be prosecuted and imprisoned for allowing a child to DIE of dehydration, why would we allow this to happen to another person just because she was in her nineties?
On April 26th, 2006, Marc Vincent, my ex-husband, cornered Henry with a leaf blower. An adorable dachshund-chihuahua mix puppy, Henry was only six months old at the time. Marc’s exaggerated delusion of machismo cost Henry his left eye. A month later, on May 25th, Marc escalated his attacks, placing Henry in a two hundred degree oven. Marc watched as Henry ran around the inside of the oven until finally he fell through the grates. Five long minutes passed before Marc opened the oven door and let a severely burned Henry out. I came home that evening to find a tortured and terrified Henry hiding in the corner of his carrier, the smell of burning flesh and fur lingering in the kitchen. The pain that Henry endured that day left him not only severely scarred, with his front toes fused together, but emotionally traumatized, from which he has never fully recovered.
Marc Vincent was charged with intentional animal cruelty, a crime which in Utah today is only a Class A Misdemeanor. The maximum penalty Utah law currently allows is one year in jail and a $2500 fine. Marc Vincent was sentenced to six months in jail and fined $500. Of the six months, he served only four. Marc was released from his two-year probation only two months after leaving jail. Three attempts have been made in recent years to upgrade this law, all have failed. In September 2007, Governor Huntsman convened a Special Session where Henry’s Law met with opposition and stalling tactics, eventually forcing the bill to be shelved. HelpusHelpthem was there. We will not accept anything less than a first offense felony. We are again moving forward with our campaign.
Artist’s Note: Rhonda Kamper, Henry’s mom, explained that her husband had hurt Henry to get back at her because he was jealous of the dog. He claimed that she “loved the dog more than him” and became increasingly resentful of her time with Henry. Rhonda would come home from work to find mysterious bite marks and scratches on Henry. Later, she would discover the incredible brutality and promptly filed for divorce. Since then, Henry’s story is not only being used to change animal cruelty laws in Utah, but also as a prime example of how domestic violence abusers will attack an innocent family pet to control a family member. Accounts of animal abuse as a precursor to human abuse are well documented. Animal abuse is an early warning sign of domestic abuse and should be taken very seriously. (Visit www.helpushelpthem.org for more about Henry’s Law.)
Artist’s Note: There are many types of domestic abuse and different types of victims who are often viewed with unfair judgment as some members of the community blame them for the crime or see them as being flawed or damaged afterward. For this reason, survivors continue to feel the burden of shame long after escape and can make choices that continue the cycle of suffering. Most survivors are reluctant to admit that they too have been a victim, especially when it comes to men. The common denominator of domestic abuse is the power and control an abuser has over the victim. This can be in the form of emotional manipulation, mind games, threats, and physical force. An abuser will build a dependent relationship and use the victim’s love against him or her by threatening to harm a family member, pet, friend, or something meaningful to the victim. This is proven time and again as mothers stay in violent relationships to keep fathers from harming her parents or children. They think, “I can handle it…as long as he only hurts me.” Abusers use victims’ love for others against them. In the case of this amazing survivor, his abuser did the same—by threatening his family. The threat came from a major religious authority figure who had done the same to two hundred other people. This was an institutionalized abuse situation, where power and control over victims became a culture for predators.
Yes, this is domestic abuse. The relationship dynamics are the same; the people and environment are different. He had held this pain inside himself in order to be strong for others. Eventually, he came to understand that silence allows abusers to continue harm, so he managed to find the courage to break that silence and come forward. Not only did he share his story privately, he did it publicly by using his love for others to try and bring his abuser to justice. Ever since, he has received many communications from people who were grateful to see him shed the shame and demonstrate that it is okay to talk about painful experiences. Opening up does not make one less of a man, in fact, just the opposite. He exemplifies that abuse does not have to destroy one’s life, but can be a catalyst for justice and change. Unfortunately, the public does not see things the same way, for his abuser was never brought to justice over the many lives he had damaged—not only the innocent victims, but their loved ones as well. It is my honor to create this portrait of a beautiful spirit who serves our country as an Army Major, a member of the National Guard, and as an elected public servant who has dedicated his life to protecting people and using his love for others to make the world a better place for us all.
I have my life; I can breathe. The morning I received a message that my abuser had been shot and killed, I felt as if something heavy had been lifted off of me. I could breathe again. For seven years I had been his victim of verbal, mental, and physical abuse, not to mention five children to care for and love. I had not completed my education nor was I able to have my own employment. Not having my family or friends involved was hard. I felt alone with no support because they couldn’t understand why I didn’t leave. There was so much pain and abuse that I knew if I didn’t leave I would die. So I left and always went back because he would promise things would change. I didn’t think he’d hurt me again, but I ended up in the emergency room not once but twice. The second time, I almost
didn’t survive. Given emergency blood transfusions due to a kidney punch, the year of 1988, left me with Hepatitis C. Over the last few years, I have received medication treatments to delay Hepatitis C and prolong the disease. Over the last fifteen years, I’m able and grateful to have my life and a wonderful husband, five adult children, and six grandchildren. To this day, monthly doctor visits and medication is helping me to sustain my health, and I’m able to continue my life. I have received my education and am employed by a wonderful company. Many women are not as lucky. They don’t make it out alive. Programs are available now, and funds are in desperate need to keep them available. I have been working on art projects with my jewelry, hoping to raise money in supporting these programs.
Artist’s Note: The medical implications of domestic violence are quite serious. The number one reason for emergency room visits by women is domestic abuse, and the medical aftercare can last for years, as in this survivor’s case. For fifteen years she has been fighting for her life; nevertheless, she is such an upbeat and fun- loving person that you would never know it.
Hi. My name is Mary Carroll. I’m a forty-nine-year old truck driver who was once a battered woman/wife. What do I mean by battered woman/wife? Well, first I was his woman being battered, and then, as if that was not a big enough title, I became his battered wife. Simple? Well, not really. I’ve seen it all my life--mother, sisters, aunts, cousins, etc. It was a way of life, but it was not a life that should be continued or passed on. I became involved with an older man at a very young age. He was twenty-three. I was thirteen going on thirty, but I fell in love, and no one was going to keep me from him. Oh, they tried, but he raised me, and I was in love. At least until I got tired of him beating me and cheating, etc. I left but not for the better. I met another abuser, and, several years later, this man became my husband after years of his beating me. Yes. I married him. That became the worst time of my life—the things this man did to me. He beat me with wire hangers, punched me like I was a man, and kicked and stomped on me. Oh, did I mention he was a black belt. Yeah, he used it on me too. I was his 102-pound punching, kicking, and stomping bag. I would sit and wonder why he didn’t love me. I was pretty. I dressed nice, kept the house clean, and cooked. What was wrong? I found out later that there was nothing wrong with our house, my cleaning, or the cooking. What was wrong? I found out later that there was nothing wrong with me, except that I had stopped loving myself. I had completely lost myself somewhere between the name calling and punches. One day, I had had enough. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, and was losing weight. I was even thinking hard about murder. I dialed 911 and told the operator that I was a battered woman, and I
did not know what to do or where to go. Immediately, I was on the line with a lady from the Gateway battered women’s shelter. Oh my God! The best thing I did was make that phone call to 911. God had gotten tired too and put me in touch with some of his Angels on earth. They sent a cab for me that took me to one of their many safe houses with other women who were just like me, some with children. They gave me clothes, food, and safe passage back and forth to work. I had to leave everything behind, and my real life started at twenty-six years old. I received counseling and classes from women survivors who also helped me understand why I was so attracted to men who beat women. It really was not just one thing; it was several reasons, and they are not the same for every woman. I started to learn about myself. I found myself and I loved myself. I had survived. A few years later, I married again and started team truck driving across country. The marriage did not last, but the trucking did. I found my love in 1989, and I’m still in love with trucking. I’ve learned that you should never give up your identity for anyone but share life together. After all, isn’t that what attracted you to each other in the first place, the person you are? I would like to say to any woman or man who is in a domestic violence relationship to get help now. Don’t stay because it will only get worse. It’s like a disease, and if you don’t find a cure, it will get worse . . . or kill you. I love and pray for you all. See you on the road, drive safe, and look out for us eighteen-wheelers. Mary R. Carroll
Artist’s Note: This survivor explains that domestic violence was “a way of life” in her world. This confession is a disturbing truth for many people. No matter what upbringing, all of the survivors in Bravery Project have explained that they escaped permanently because many people had helped them. Both of these facts prove that domestic abuse is a community problem as well as a toxic relationship dynamic. My pleasure to work with this beautiful, strong woman is testament that with the courage to ask for help, the community responded with what she needed toward the path of recovery. She has worked very hard to unlearn the beliefs she grew up with and sings praises to the Gateway organization that saved her life.
Many years ago, I became pregnant and married the father. He was an over-the-road trucker. During pregnancy, the abuse began. He came home from off the road and had a syringe filled with meth. He was very high on it. Along his route from Wisconsin to California, he would stop in Vegas and see a stripper. By that time, I had had enough when he came to the apartment and tried to inject me with the meth, saying he wanted me to feel as good as he does, that we could work it out. Our son was in his baby walker. We wrestled around on the floor and my adrenaline kicked in. In an armwrestling-type match on the floor, with him on top of me, I managed to push his arm away and the syringe landed on the sliding door track. I managed to smash the tip, rendering it unusable. I have much remorse for those days, because I did, leading up to that point, do cocaine with him in that manner. Fast forward to divorce, rehab, and moving away. I tried not to think about those days and moved with my small daughter from the next relationship I found myself in (again, an abusive one), leaving my son with his paternal grandparents, for which I will forever be remorseful. It was the only way to get out and save the rest of us. I lived on an island in Florida for sixteen to seventeen years and raised my beautiful daughter there. She is now in the Army as a Sgt. in Germany. She has issues to this day regarding the
abusive men in my past. We are very close. I thought I had escaped. I had changed where I had lived to get away from triggers, received counseling, and become successful in raising my daughter. She is much loved by all. I was working in a very conservative position at a bank on the island and went to the ER last February. I was diagnosed with Hepatitis C. It shattered my life and my world. Liver biopsy showed that I was in stage 4 of 4. I made calls into my past and learned that my ex has it as well. He knew about it for ten years but did not inform me. A new bank manager did not understand Hepatitis C and fired me over the phone while I was at an ultrasound appointment, possibly assuming that using was something I was doing now. The community had a benefit for me, and we fought unemployment for six months. I just completed a one-year course of interferon (a form of chemo). I feel because of my heart, karma, and God that it was a success. I am in the twenty percentile of survivors of this disease. Statistically, 80% of people do not respond. They say I have stopped the disease in its tracks, and my liver is regenerating. It has been a horrible year of punishment and reflection of the dark past and the abuse. I lost much through this, but I get to live. I have faith. God would not have had me get through all of this to have it end badly. I have presence and am a survivor.
Artistâ€™s Note: Leaving a relationship is the most dangerous time for a victim of abuse. This is a common time when the victim is killed. In this case, the abuser tried to hook her on meth, one of the most horrific and addictive life destroyers of our day. It is not uncommon for abusers to kill their victims with a drug overdose, thus portraying her as a drug addict and possibly lightening a punitive sentence if caught. Something deep inside gave her the strength to protect herself, get out, and seek help. It is up to the survivor to make that decision and first step to freedom, but it is up to us in the community to provide much needed resources. In the case of this lovely person, her community members helped save her life in more ways than one.
It is difficult to write about my story. My dream was to find the right man, get married, have children and make a difference in the world with kind deeds. My dream would soon turn into a nightmare. I never thought that I would get into an abusive relationship. I dated my husband for a very short time. I didn’t get to know him too well. I always viewed life through pink glasses. I saw some small warning signs when we were dating. However, I chose to ignore them because I thought it was nothing. I made excuses and washed down all the little negative things I saw. I would say that he was nervous because he was dating. I rationalized his negative traits and saw what I wanted to see. I created castles in the air and made my own image of who I wanted him to be. This is the biggest mistake a woman can make. I soon saw when we married that the insignificant warning signs became big problems. I had the time to see his true identity when we were married. He was not shy anymore to show his true self. I was comforting, and he felt that he had a full opportunity to open up. He would break things at home and come close to hitting me. He had pleasure in my fear, and I was dying inside. I didn’t want to upset him. So, I tried becoming more dedicated in trying to please his whims. I tried cleaning
more and making sure dinner was served in a perfect way. I worked incessantly at being the perfect wife. I understand that perfection was never enough for him. I had no control over anything. He took control of the ship. He made all decisions, and I had no right to object. If I did, it would rock the boat. So, I hid my true self and became someone I did not recognize anymore. My family would say, “What happened to you? I can’t believe you’re like this.” It wasn’t me. Who was I? I thought that it was just me, and who said I deserved any better? Finally, my true self came out when the abuse touched my daughter. My breaking point busted, and I said that enough is enough! I would not allow anyone to abuse my daughter, even her own father. I was frozen in a decision when more abuse happened. The idea that went through my mind was “Should I report it or not?” Woman in abusive situations are faced with difficult decisions. We are caught in thinking of the hurricane to face if we report abuse, or keep silent and then pay for it. I never regret separating from this abuser. It is better to have to fight than to lose my daughter or myself. It is an ocean out there, and one can be swallowed up if not equipped to survive.
Artist’s Note: This portrait does not do justice to the beauty of this survivor. She is not only beautiful on the outside, but also tender and giving. There is much hesitation in reporting a crime within a family, especially when traditional religious values come into play. During this portrait, she was in the middle of a custody battle and ready to fight for her daughter’s safety and her own freedom, regardless of what strict religious practices require. She told me it is a silent social disease and that women need to support one another in encouragement to stop abuse from happening. With a quaking heart, she has become a beacon for other women who are repressed and fearful of stepping into that journey.
I never would have made it I would have lost it all but now I see how you were there for me and now I’m stronger, wiser, better, so much better When I look back over my life I see you were the one I held on to I would have lost my mind if it had not been for you but I made it, I made it, I made it I never would have made it without you God Artist’s Note: Believing that you are not alone, that there is someone who understands what you have been through, is paramount in overcoming hardship, especially one such as domestic violence. There are so many people who understand this experience and want to reach out to help another, as this incredible person has done through all of her volunteer work and her participation in Bravery Project. If you know someone who still suffers, listen and let her or him know that we stand united. They are not alone.
Several weeks ago I met a little boy named Jacob who was living in one of the SEEDS houses with his mother. I was asked if I could go over there and spend some time with him, and maybe bring my guitar to play for him, as well as help him with his cello, which he had just started learning to play. Jacob’s story is one much like my own. His father was both physically and sexually abusing him, and his mother ran away with him to Arizona. I was told Jacob did not trust men, which also a trait I carried as a child. I played my guitar for Jacob, taught him how to play his cello a little bit, and played and sang some songs for him. I also gave him a harmonica, which he loved right away. After about two hours, when Jacob was comfortable enough with me, he was sitting and kneeling on the floor next to me, playing the harmonica as I played the guitar. Together we played Sweet Home Alabama, a song he knew and requested I play. At the end, I asked him to sing with me, and he did! He sang the chorus with me and little Jacob managed a little smile. I ended up letting him keep the harmonica, and I promised him I’d be back in about a month. I later heard that Jacob played that harmonica everyday for a week straight! Meeting Jacob reminded me so much of myself, and many memories came flooding back of the men in my life as a child— those who were there when I was ten, whom I wished I had
reached out to and told them of my abuse but was too afraid to tell. I was so moved by Jacob, that when I sat down to write a song, this just poured out of me as did the tears. I think there is a special, unspoken connection when two survivors meet. Without saying a word, you reach out to that place buried deep in your chest and everything you do or say comes from a place of love—a complete feeling of empathy and compassion. It is both healing for you and the person you’re sharing with. By reaching out to Jacob, I was in essence reaching out to my ten- year-old self and saying to him, “It’s OK, as long as I’m here with you, nothing will hurt you. You are safe.” For me, music is just one way to reach out to survivors and, in essence, everyone who is hurting in some way. It’s a message of hope, recovery, healing, and forgiveness, all sung in a language that is understood by all people. That is why my portrait is called The Connection. All living beings in this universe suffer in some way, and every one of us is on our own path towards healing and enlightenment. When I meet someone, I try to recognize their suffering and approach them in the most compassionate way possible. That extension of peace brings God’s light into the world for all to find and brings me one more rung up on Jacob’s Ladder.
Artist’s Note: For survivors of abuse, reaching out not only helps heal another victim, but it also provides a path to personal healing. The road to recovery is usually a life-long experience that can reap many good things if one is at peace with the past and learns to forgive, but not forget. As a male survivor, this beautiful person will help break the cycle of suffering as a role model for a little boy by being there, sharing, listening, and utilizing the wonderful healing powers of music. He is a role model for all of us.
The morning of January 28, 2008, was the last time any of us heard “I love you” from Kaity. On that day, Kaity’s ex-boyfriend took her life as she was on her way home from school. She was nearly home when he took a gun from a duffle bag, shot her point blank, and then killed himself. She dated this young man for a year. He seemed nice in the beginning, polite and respectful. Then, about six months into the relationship, he turned. Unaware of what was happening, Kaity thought she could help him; she thought she could fix him. She thought she could transfer the love she knew and grew up with. Eventually, with the support of her family and friends, she realized she could not. In late December, 2007, Kaity decided to end this emotionally and physically abusive and unhealthy dating relationship. After ending the relationship, Kaity moved on with her life and made a fresh start. A weight had been lifted. She was hanging out with family and friends more often. Shortly after New Years in 2008, Kaity and her Aunt Lorie decided to wash away the old to allow in the new. They did this by jumping in the backyard pool, and then right back out. Brrrrrrrr—but refreshing! We all laughed and had a great time. Kaity was raised in a loving, blessed home. She had two sisters and two brothers. Kaity enjoyed sports, art, playing games, and especially loved playing with the six dogs—Sedona, G, P-nose, Bandit, Harley and Piddly- Poo—and the cat of the household, Ebony. Kaity was in her last semester of high school and had been
accepted to NAU to study Wildlife Sciences. She was fun loving and everybody’s sweetheart—a gracious, giving person who only wanted to help others. It was her nature. In the wake of the terrible tragedy, Kaity’s parents formed Kaity’s Way, a nonprofit tax-exempt organization, in honor of her name and memory. The mission of Kaity’s Way is to promote understanding and educate the community to lessen the instances of violence amongst or against children through P.E.A.C.E. (Patience, Empathy, Acceptance, Caring, Equality). Kaity put forth these characteristics when she was here with us; therefore, Kaity’s family will continue to cherish and promote these characteristics through Kaity’s Way. As part of the mission and service to the community, Kaity’s family shares her story in detail with any group, organization, or individual that feels they could benefit from it. If you have a young person in your life—a daughter, son, niece, nephew, grand-daughter, grand-son, sister, brother, cousin, etc.—Kaity’s story could very well help you identify the Red Flags of an unhealthy, potentially violent relationship. Feel free to call upon us; we are here to help. In addition, Kaity’s Way provides important and valuable resource information for the community with brochures and through a website: www.kaitysway.org Arizona Kaity’s Law, passed in 2009, is named for Kaitlyn Marie Sudberry. Kaity’s Law allows others in violent dating relationships to be better protected under the law by allowing them to file an Order of Protection instead of having to settle for an Injunction Against Harassment, as did Kaity.
Artist’s Note: Kaity breaks stereotypes. She was not abused, and she did not see her parents abuse each other but still fell prey to an unhealthy relationship. Her parents did everything they could to protect her, yet the law did not. That is why Kaity’s Law was passed. Some people believe that an Order of Protection does nothing, but this is not true. It provides documentation (very important) of the abuse and allows the police to intervene. Kaity’s parents could not get one to protect against the death threat made by the exboyfriend. If it had been allowed, the police could have searched the young man’s belongings and confiscated the gun before he could use it. Kaity’s parents worked to provide this extra level of protection to other people in unhealthy dating relationships. Now, they use her story to raise awareness. For parents, there are several important lessons here that could save your child’s life.
For fifteen years, I lived under fear, control, intimidation, coercion, threats, isolation, minimization, blame, economic abuse, emotional abuse, and physical abuse, as well as my children being used as pawns.
increased my self-esteem and taken control of my finances. I feel very happy and find abuse in any form totally unacceptable. Now my children know what healthy and happy relationships should be with anyone.
Today, I live in LOVE with no fear. I will not tolerate being controlled. I laugh at intimidation, walk away from coercion, cover my ears from threats, and refuse to be isolated. I have
We all now have the key to our freedom and will forever hold the key! With a new start, education, and love, I have stopped the cycle of violence in my family forever.
Artist’s Note: When I met this person, I was amazed by her organization and professionalism in everything she does. She spent four years carefully planning her escape with her children and has successfully built her life of freedom. The intuitive decision to leave an upper-middle class life with her abusive husband was strong in her heart when she learned of an acquaintance who was murdered by an abusive spouse. The figure in the keyhole represents the abuser who is now behind her.
Artist’s Note: For many of these survivors, the portrait process can open some old wounds, bringing long buried feelings rushing back with a fury. One of the primary reasons as to why this series is entitled Bravery is because these feelings are very uncomfortable. It requires a lot of courage to come forward and tell complete strangers that you were a victim of child abuse or spousal abuse or even elder abuse. This amazing woman, pictured here with her camera and a very special award-winning photograph she took, survived
severe family dysfunction and child abuse. Over the years she has built a prosperous life alongside a wonderful husband and has raised two beautiful daughters who are doing very well. She has just recently come to terms with her past and is undergoing the healing process of recovery. The art of photography became a catalyst in her quest for peace with her past, and the beauty of her work really shows a loving, soulful, and deep-feeling person. I am truly honored to have her in the Bravery series as part of that recovery process.
I wanted to participate in this important project because I want the world to know that I happen to have feelings: I hurt; I have a heart; I am a human being. I have a face and a name. I am real. I have the right to live a peaceful life without fear. I am a fortunate survivor of domestic violence.
I like the charcoal drawing because it transmits the seriousness of the cause, the same cause that nearly destroyed my life. Now that cause is part of my past—a part of my life I choose not to remember because it brings back horrible memories. Now, all I would like is to enjoy life one day at a time. Life is beautiful.
Artist’s Note: I enjoyed working with this wonderful person and not just because she supplied dark chocolate during her portrait sitting, but because she really understands what it takes to move on with her life. Looking to the future, she chose the Supreme Court building in her background as a reminder of her dreams and goals of going to law school and becoming a judge some day. That’s what Bravery is all about.
Jennifer Ann Crecente was a high school honors student that was murdered by an ex-boyfriend on February 15, 2006. Our group will keep Jennifer Crecente’s memory alive through good works and by fighting Teen-Dating Violence. My daughter, Jennifer Crecente, died the day after Valentine’s Day, 2006. She didn’t die from a childhood disease and wasn’t killed in a car accident. She was murdered by a classmate, somebody that she’d grown to know, trust, and eventually date. She was murdered by somebody who had problems—problems that at the invincible age of
eighteen, Jennifer thought that she could overcome. Don’t you remember? In high school, we are immortal. But for Jennifer Crecente and those that love her, we know all too well how very painfully mortal we are. Abuse isn’t a very special episode of our favorite television show. Problems don’t disappear during the commercial break. Good, decent people who want to help out a friend are sometimes murdered in cold blood. And the bogeyman isn’t always under the bed. Sometimes he’s the kid that lives down the street.
Artist’s Note: I took this story from the jenniferann.org website for a couple of reasons. Drew ( Jennifer’s father) has already written plenty about Jennifer, and he is currently deep into law school with a focus on domestic violence issues, including stronger accountability for abusers and advocacy for victims. His terrible ordeal with losing his only child was compounded by the lack of quality and service he was given by the legal system. He knows firsthand that there is much work to be done; consequently, he has started the Jennifer Ann Crecente Memorial Group to raise awareness about teen dating violence, which, unfortunately, is on the rise at an alarming rate. We are so pleased to create this portrait in honor of Jennifer Ann’s memory.
Linda King and her husband John have been through a parent’s worst nightmare—the loss of a child. Not just one, but three. John lost a son, the result of a car accident; and a daughter, the result of a violent criminal act.
Linda decided to step forward to work on prevention. With quiet assertiveness, and a calm yet passionate voice, Linda formed fixthehurt.com and began to speak out against domestic violence.
Then John and Linda lost a daughter, Lisa, to an act of domestic violence. With a sweet and giving personality, she was the type of person who enjoyed doing for others. When the birthday party was planned with a big homemade cake, it would be Lisa behind the scenes putting the event together and making it a special celebration. Being the athletic person, she would take her dog, Tennessee (also a victim of domestic abuse) on long fivemile runs to stay fit. She loved being active and living life to the fullest. The news of Lisa’s death was a shock when this vibrant young lady’s life was cut short for what seemed like no reason at all.
Recently, Linda and John have created another unique way to reach out to the public through the arts. They have created Domestic Violence--The Musical? This is the first of a series of live performances that teach the public about the realities of domestic violence in a manner that is enlightening, humorous, somber, and powerful. Each performance raises funds to help other nonprofits who work with victims.
Domestic abuse is a hidden secret, but not without warning signs. It isn’t enough to treat the symptoms after the fact, so
Nothing will completely alleviate the pain of losing Lisa, but her memory serves as a catalyst to push forward in the quest to educate about domestic violence prevention. In a way, you could say that this exceptional person is still behind the scenes making each event a special experience, helping us all understand the issue of domestic violence and how to live life to the fullest.
Artist’s Note: I have had the pleasure to know the Kings personally as well as professionally. This tragedy could not have happened to a nicer set of parents, who tried to do everything right. Like all the survivors in the Bravery series, they have taken a bad experience and turned it into a positive, reaching out to educate and help others.
Looking into a mirror, I saw the image of a child and the physical body of a worn adult holding hands together, the woman beaten mentally and psychologically—looking tired and raggedy as if coming out of an entanglement or maze. Was this really me? Was this not a dream? There was still fear—fear of the man who was apathetic towards me. There continued to be fear that he may carry out his threat. Time and life were colorless, scentless. It was like living in a black and white horror flick, not being able to smell the flowers. Others said it was like living in a tunnel. Others knew. There were others out there. That I knew. They also said that there would be light at the end of the tunnel. And there was . . . gradually. I would finally have moments of joy during the course of a week; then later, they turned into minutes of joy, then
hours, then days. Color and sweet aroma came back into my life. From the mouth of one who knew, I was living again. During this period there was always a presence of love, hope, and support. There were symbols to which I clung that represented this presence. The arc was a symbol of survival. My child and I had truly come out of this and grown. The heart means healing through love, my love towards others as well as their love and support of us. The ray denotes the spirituality that has continued to shine during the tough times and beyond. Not only is there light at the end of the tunnel, but an inner strength of the spirit that is found, always there, only hidden previously. There is hope. We are not alone in this journey. This is part of the whole and the path continues.
Artist’s Note: Intuition is more than just an emotional voice steering you in life; it is a survival tool within all of us that encompasses our minds as well as our gut feelings. It’s an inner compass that tells us when we are in danger, and we had better listen. This amazing survivor is here because she listened. Her story is not one of chaos or adrenaline-filled pain; it’s a steady, cold, decline into a chilling end. At first she was concerned that I would think her imagery as silly, when nothing could be further from the truth. There are intuitive messages of self-discovery in our imaginations if we would only listen.
Abuse? Where would I start? I grew up in an upper middle class home. My father was president of a major corporation, and my mother was a model for Charles of the Ritz Cosmetic. It all looked good on the outside, but, at home on the inside, my father was always gone and my mother hated me. When I was six years old, we had just moved to Gross Point, Michigan. I came home from school, and outside my front door was a suitcase with a note on it. The note said, “No one wants you here, go away.” I did. I stayed at someone’s house that I had just met. A week later, my mother called the school and told them I had run away. She did countless and destructive mean things to me as I grew up. We moved seventeen times in eighteen years, and many times she would drop me or my sister off on the side of the road, forcing us out of the car. I grew up knowing I was never good enough, smart enough, or pretty enough. When I was thirty-eight-years old, I was kidnapped. I was bartending, and a customer took me away at gun point. He came up behind me as I was locking up the bar. He wanted to have me all for himself. I escaped nine days later. I had a broken leg,
two stab wounds, and the left side of my face was shattered. I was unrecognizable. The grace of God got me out of there. Both situations in my life were uncontrollable by me. I wanted to be loved by my parents, but they were incapable of that. The kidnapping—he was eight years younger than I and very good looking. You would have never expected that behavior from him. I knew he had a crush on me, but so did many others. It came from nowhere; I did not expect it at all. I had been working and was just doing my job. Domestic violence can be silent, waiting in places you would never expect it to be. When I was young, there was nothing like CPS. We moved so frequently that the cruelty in my home was never suspected. My sister has been in and out of mental institutions her whole life. I chose drugs and alcohol to kill the pain and hide my unworthiness. Today, I am in college full time, working part time, and living clean and sober. I want to use my experiences and knowledge to educate others about the many faces of domestic violence. My life is good and I am blessed.
Artist’s Note: A common myth about domestic violence is the socio-economic stereotype. The subject of domestic violence is still hushed in certain circles, making the problem more insidious. Now, we talk more openly than before, and there is CPS, but more work needs to be done. Talking with this survivor, I learned that she is highly intelligent and a born leader. She laughs easily, possessing resilience in her personality that will take her anywhere she wants to go.
Fear . . . anger . . . pain . . . emptiness. Those were the words that described my childhood. I witnessed domestic violence from both my father and step-father, was kidnapped by my father during custody battles, endured sexual abuse at age eight from a cousin and physical and verbal abuse by peers. All I wanted was to be loved and to have the fairy-tale marriage, a normal life. I met my ex-husband when I was nineteen, and we married three and a half years later. It was anything but the fairy tale I imagined. I loved him with all of my heart. He wanted his first wife with all of his heart. And, because I wasn’t her, I was never good enough. My jobs didn’t pay enough. This left me feeling broken and bitter. Holding my face in his hands, he would look deep into my eyes with lips folded into a sincere smile and say, “I love you, but I can’t stand you. You’re so beautiful on the outside. Too bad the inside doesn’t match. You need medication. I think you’re bipolar.” Like poison, the words paralyzed my soul, making me believe I was defective and unlovable, that God had somehow made me wrong. There were times I prepared myself to leave him, but reality held me prisoner. I couldn’t afford to live on my own, and I loved him. And then, it ended. After sixteen years of being together, he divorced me and left me for his first wife. Believing I didn’t have a future and that life wasn’t worth living, I tried to take my own life through starvation. Dropping to a
dangerous ninety pounds, I nearly succeeded. With no one to see me and save me, God intervened and saved my life. In January 2006, I moved to Phoenix, a city I had once seen, to start my life over (from finding a place to live to finding a job to support myself ). My only two companions were my dogs. I had no friends or family here. I found the strength and courage to face my past and embrace my future. Eventually, I established my new life. It was not easy to do emotionally and financially. With God, who made it all possible, I healed and found a great life and the love of my life. Currently, I am the author of Making Lemonade: A Spiritual Journey Through Pain and Divorce; a divorce care facilitator at Calvary Community Church; and a volunteer at Hands of Hope, a women’s domestic violence shelter. I am making something of all those lemons. Through a miracle of God, my mother and father have made peace in their relationship, and I have brought my father to the Lord, although he still struggles with his faith. Making Lemonade: 9 cups of tears 5 cubes of iced sorrow 5-6 of life’s lemons 2 cups of God’s sweetness 1 cup of God’s love Stir well
Artist’s Note: A common focus on the cycle of abuse is the child witnessing violence and then becoming an abuser, which does not always happen. Children want to be loved, and, as adults, they still want to be loved, but growing up in pain without selfesteem and good examples of healthy relationships, it is easy to attract unhealthy people. In the case of this survivor, learning to deal with the past through writing is a wonderful way to heal. Through her spiritual awakening, she helped heal her parents, which is not surprising with her warm and giving heart. Now she takes her experience to help others going through divorce and abusive relationships with her book at www.lemonadeforthedivorcedsoul.com
My life has been anything but a game. At age six, I was sexually abused by my stepfather. I jumped off a cliff and attempted suicide at eleven and still carry a metal plate in my head because of it. I began using drugs and alcohol at age nine. I found that if I drank before I went to bed, I didn’t have to feel the pain of what was going to happen at night. I smoked marijuana during the day to forget what was happening in my home. I was placed into foster care after the attempted suicide; they found out that I was being abused by the severe scarring from years of sexual abuse. I got involved with my husband while in foster care. The abuse started early on with him and just got worse over the next fifteen years. I’ve been thrown through walls, kicked in the stomach while pregnant, dragged out of a car in the middle of an intersection, and beaten. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been to a hospital, let alone the times I never bothered going. My life disintegrated further when he took my two oldest daughters after we had been on the run from him. I was at rock bottom. I got on a bus to find him. I screamed for him to come kill me. I was tired. I was done. There was no money left and no place to go. I began to wander the streets. I believe that I had a nervous breakdown. I slept behind a Walgreens in the bushes. I wanted the pain to go away so badly that I began using more and more to numb myself from everything that was going on. My troubles with the law spiraled and finally probation was no longer an option. I was sent to prison for five years. It saved my life. I remember calling my kids from prison, and they said “okay” as if it were no big deal because at least they knew where I was and wouldn’t have to worry. That was my moment of clarity—that I was going to miss five years of their lives. My children are my life. I love them more than the breath I breathe. This is where I
decided that I either lay down and die . . . or stand up and fight for my life. I wasn’t ready to die yet. It was time for change. It was time to start putting the pieces of my life back together again. I got a job with Televerde while in prison. I earned money that helped me pay my fines and pay for school. I signed up for all the programs I could and got my AA in Computer Technology. I fought with the prison to get a program for victims of severe abuse started and finally got the help I so desperately needed. I was released from prison on April 19th, 2006. I got a job as an office manager, and then I found a job doing what I am passionate about—helping to end domestic violence. I began working with the National Advocacy & Training Network and the SEEDs program, a national group that works to end domestic violence, sexual assault, and substance abuse. I am now self-supportive, and I’m helping other women like me. If I can tell my story and keep one woman from living the life that I did and meeting the ends that I did, then my whole life is worthwhile. I have a home, and my kids are part of my life again. I remember getting down on my knees in prison. I said, “God, I don’t want to be like this anymore. If you help me get through this, I will be the best person I could be.” He did that and so much more! I’m at peace because I’ve learned to love myself, and my children never gave up on me. I can tell my daughters to follow their own dreams, that you can do anything if you are just willing to stand up and fight for your life. There is always hope. Don’t ever give up! My name is Laura. Today, I am not just a number or a statistic. I am a survivor.
Artist’s Note: When I first saw Laura, there was something about her. I knew I wanted to paint her portrait and was happy when she asked me. She is an amazingly strong and resilient person and very protective of her children. When she requested to have the male lion represent her and the cubs as her children, I knew it would be perfect. And it is.
Have you ever heard these words? I am so sorry, baby! It will never happen again! I didn’t mean it! It doesn’t hurt that much! It will get better! Sadly, way too many of us have. What they actually meant was . . . I am sorry, until the next time! My ex had forty-three counts of domestic violence before he served more than twenty-four hours in jail. He had ten years of excuses to protect him from accounts of verbal, financial, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. I had stitches, destroyed precious belongings, countless broken bones, two miscarriages, job losses, concussions, and even a body cast, which was still wet by the time he came home from jail. It was a living nightmare. Finally, enough was enough, but he made the divorce difficult. I left on a Friday evening to go to work, and my three-day-old baby went with me. My boss would not allow me to go home because he was calling at work, threatening me because I took the baby to work and did not leave her with him. I feared for my life, but that did not matter in the eyes of the court. On Monday morning, I was served with papers telling me that temporary custody of my two older children was awarded to my ex because I abandoned them.
He got away with it because I was the only income in the family. He had not worked a day for over a year. He pulled out all the stops: conciliation for six weeks, a six-month waiting period, and any other stall tactic. It took over a year for the divorce to become final. By the time we had our final hearing, he was pretending to be an upstanding citizen, and he got custody of the two older children. It wasn’t long after he got tired of being a full-time dad. My only saving grace through the whole divorce debacle was a new Prince Charming. It was great for the first six months. The turnaround came one day when I disagreed with him. From then on it spiraled downward. After he knocked a car off the jack and broke my arm, he was so angry that he knocked my splinted arm into the wall. This is when I knew I had to leave. Once I left, he stalked me. He would find me no matter where I was. He made so much trouble for me that I ran out of friends willing to help. He said if he couldn’t have me, he would make my life hell and make sure no one would help me. He made good on his threat. I was stalked, kidnapped, shot at, and kicked out of shelters three times because he found out where I was. Today, I come to you a happy, confident person who seeks to end domestic violence. My girls and I look forward to new journeys in the fight against domestic violence. I have been happily married since Valentine’s Day, 1995. I broke the cycle, and you can too. I am no longer hiding after sixteen years.
Artist’s Note: Working with this amazing survivor, I learned that there was very little help for people in her situation. Not only were shelters and services nonexistent, but little information about domestic violence was even available. She had to figure it out and wade through the system on her own like many of these survivors in the Bravery Project. It’s so important to support the growing organizations out there fighting the good fight.
Artist’s Note: Life can certainly get in the way when it comes to balancing priorities, but this survivor has figured out what her priority is, and it all started with the severe child abuse she suffered from her mother beginning at the age of three months. Sometimes, parents can be too young and immature to handle the massive responsibilities of a child. For many reasons, not everyone can make a good parent, and, as a society, we should remember it is one of the most important jobs we could ever have and protect children better than we do now. In the case of this survivor, she found safety at a local church where they gave her a key so she could escape at anytime. Many nights were spent sleeping there. The love, nurturing, and spiritual strength she didn’t get at home was found in this sanctuary, and she has never looked back. Today, she has dedicated her life to God and serving others. Choosing to remain childless, she primarily works with church youth groups in teaching them the spiritual and life lessons that saved her life and healed her heart. She is a true role model who practices what she preaches.
We start out with a God-given personal power and a hope for being happy and fulfilled. Our abusers didn’t come into our lives with a scarlet P for Predator on their chests. Just the opposite, they were often charming, charismatic, engaging, fun, loving, and attentive. They appeared to be the perfect partner, parent, relative—and were masters of deception and manipulation.
More and more control was subtly exchanged. Boundaries started being crossed, and we found ourselves making concessions and excuses, embracing denial, and losing touch with reality as we clung to our ideals of hope. The first incident was traumatic, and like all survivors of trauma, we experienced shell-shock. We became even more vulnerable with every abusive word or action. At some point, there was an unspoken paradigm shift in our concept of self. We became helpless Victims. We lost our personal power. We lost our hope for happiness and fulfillment. Most of us were children when this happened, and we carried the broken paradigm of self as Victim into our adulthood. Victims attract predators, and so the sick cycle continued. I came into the SEEDS program in Arizona (for Victims of domestic violence) from Pennsylvania. I’d been extradited for safety following attempted murder. The case took a year to get to court, and my perpetrator remained free on bail while I was forced to flee my family, home, and business with little more than the clothes on my back.
Through SEEDS and state funded programs, I received the services and support I needed to heal and grow. My fundamental concept of self was reborn, from Victim to Victor. I regained my personal power and hope for being happy and fulfilled. I learned to establish boundaries and define healthy relationships. I had an Awakening and have a strong sense of purpose and fulfillment in helping others to achieve the same. We spend our lives trying to hide our wounds and missing (stolen) pieces of self. Once they are healed and found, it’s intimidating to Show and Tell. Many of us fear society will judge us broken and defective—albeit as compassionately as possible. Just think how the term “baggage” has been carried into the description of people with painful histories. It’s seen as something highly undesirable. Who wants to hire or have a relationship with someone with heavy baggage? No one. What makes it worse is the stigma of mental illness, and many Victims of domestic violence usually suffer some form of it (i.e. depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder). The best solution is to prevent domestic violence from happening. The next best answer is to help the Victims become victorious members of society. I don’t know how to remove a social stigma, but I have heard ‘knowledge is power’. Perhaps creating social awareness will lead to social empowerment.
Artist’s Note: The best solution is social awareness and prevention when it comes to domestic violence, and this wonderful and intelligent individual I’ve had the pleasure to paint says it more eloquently than I could. When she requested to have the Japanese Kanji symbol of the Female Phoenix in her portrait, I knew that she had reached a place within herself that understood how far she had come in life.
My voice was silent though I longed to scream Scared of what would happen if I just stood ground instead I hid in a hole inside my heart I tried not to drown I believed a strike was the same as love so desperate for a feeling I had known as a child pride prevents a cry for help unwittingly I chose exile Promises told were no more important than the vows Neither one was sacred and broken with no thought Sweet words can’t hide bruises on a face that seconds before held no knot It took one blow in front of those I’d protect to galvanize me to find my self-respect to step away from what I feared the most . . . to be alone . . . Amazing to me as I glance at my reflection that though the eyes are older and my attitude bolder I sometimes still hide that broken girl Shame on me for not realizing the gift I am I am beautiful I am capable A Mother, A Sister, A Friend, I am my song
Artist’s Note: I really enjoyed creating this portrait because it captures a moment in creativity. This photo was chosen so that she would remain anonymous, yet it portrays personal aspects of her lifestyle and recovery mechanism: music. Writing about domestic violence experiences is a difficult process, but an important one in recovery because thinking about what message others may learn from is cathartic. In this case, Song describes some revealing points about self-esteem that all of us can embrace.
He was tall, dark, and muscular. His arms were ripped with muscles. He was the picture of strength, like looking at an oak tree. He was an ex-boxer. I looked at him as one that would be my protector, but instead he became my abuser. He was so nice, gentle, and sweet when I met him. Soon afterward, he convinced me to move out of state with him. I will never forget that his cousin told me that he will keep water in your eyes and wood on your backside. I did not know what this meant until later in the relationship. It was even a month later, after we had arrived in Texas. I remember the first slap from him. I slapped him back; he took my arms and told me to never hit him again. I told him, don’t you hit me. I knew then that I was in trouble. I was so embarrassed of my situation that I did not tell my family about the abuse. The days became unbearable with him. I had a certain amount of fear of him, and I did not know how to get out of the mess I had allowed myself to get into. Although we had little to no money, he did not want me to go out and find work because he did not want me to make friends.
Within a couple of months of us moving to Texas, I told him that I want going back home to Arizona. Before I made it back home, he beat me really badly in front of my threeyear-old daughter. I feared that I would die that night but Allah (God) saved me and my daughter. With the help of my mother, brother, and brother-in-law, I returned to Arizona. Shortly afterward my sister called me and told me to leave my home because he was back in town. She told me to go and stay with one of my sisters. Fear overtook me, and I began to run around the house trying to pack some of my clothing. Then I heard this voice in my head say, “If you run now, you will be running the rest of your life.” I stopped and said, “No, I’m not leaving.” He contacted me and told me he was going to take me to dinner for my birthday and that it would be best if I go. I told him that I had a peace bond out on him and that if he showed up to my house, it would be my pleasure to blow him away. “I’m not going with you, and I’m not running from you.” My daughter is now thirty-one, and have I never heard from him again. I took back my life and have kept it ever since.
Artist’s Note: People are surprised when they discover someone they know is or has suffered from domestic violence. They wonder why she or he didn’t say anything. Many survivors start out as strong and independent individuals who had never been mistreated before and didn’t recognize the signs until it was too late. Their silence is due to embarrassment about being conned and trapped by what seemed like a “wonderful person” who changed once she or he had control over the relationship. Domestic violence is all about control, and, in the case of this beautiful survivor, she took it back . . . permanently.
I had always been a leader, a strong girl who never backed down. I was the one everyone else came to for support when they needed something. Everyone who knew me was shocked to hear about my secret life. Even my closest friends didn’t have a clue. I married young, and from the outside we were the perfect couple. For the first few years of our marriage, I believed we were happy and that everything was all right. His business was going well, and I had a job I loved and was actively involved in our community and church. I didn’t know there could be abuse without physical violence. It was several years into my marriage with two kids that I was hit for the first time and realized I was in an abusive marriage. I knew the hitting was wrong, but did not understand that there was also verbal, emotional, financial, and sexual abuse in our marriage and that it was also wrong. I would not understand those dynamics until a long time after leaving him. After our second child, he hit me the first time and got increasingly violent. Luckily, the bruises were mostly on on my legs, back, or arms—easy to hide. Occasionally, I or a neighbor called the police when things got too out of hand, but I kept up the charade of the perfect life. Then one day a nice officer took it upon himself to help me by calling my pastor. My church stepped up and encouraged me to do whatever I needed to do to be safe. I did not understand what that would take. After that, I tried to leave, but I would go back for many reasons. One was life was so hard when we were apart. He stalked me, and I was so terrorized by him that I thought if I just go back, I can sleep again because I would know where he was instead of having to worry about where or when he would show up. Another is that I really wanted my marriage to work. I did not want to be a failure. I prayed he would change. One thing convinced me I had to leave him for good. My
oldest daughter started preschool. Soon, she came home everyday talking about this boy, whom she just loved! I found out from a teacher that this boy was the class bully. He was always yelling and throwing things; he was not nice to the other kids, and even cussed! I cried. I realized my daughter was learning from me to love a boy who was just like her father. I knew then that, even if it killed me, I had to teach my daughter that it wasn’t OK to have someone treat her that way. If I didn’t, eventually she would marry a man just like her daddy. I would have to live knowing that my precious daughter was living a life like mine because I had not taught her differently. I left my abuser for good shortly after that. It was not easy. It would be many years before I or my kids would sleep through an entire night. He stalked and threatened us. He physically attacked me, once leaving me for dead. I pressed charges, believing that would keep me safe. I was wrong. I learned that my abuser was not afraid of the court, and he had no reason to be. He has not done any jail time for his mistreatment and abuse to me. I try to teach my kids that freedom is worth any price, so I speak out against abuse. I refuse to stay hidden and afraid. I now volunteer to work on committees for domestic violence. I talk to everyone and try to raise awareness. I try to help by testifying on behalf of bills that will help other victims of Domestic Violence. I want to change things for our next generation, for my kids. Most importantly I have taught my girls by example that no one should put up with being mistreated. I have shown them to respect, love, and stand up for themselves, and to not live in fear. I am happy to say that my girls also speak out about Domestic Violence. They share a belief that laws should change, and men like their “daddy” should be in jail. My girls have learned that it is not OK to have to hide. It’s not OK to live in fear. They have learned, too, that we have gone through this so we can make change for others.
Artist’s Note: When people ask, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” they don’t realize that leaving isn’t the hardest part. The afterward is the most difficult time, especially when children are involved. Usually, the abuser will continue to stalk the survivor for years, unable to let go of the control. This is another reason why awareness is extremely important—so that communities will know how to help someone and not just tell them to leave.
I grew up the third of four daughters in a Christian family. When I was one week away from my eighteenth birthday, I was date-raped. This was my first sexual experience and I was devastated. I was overcome by guilt because I had gone out with this boy. I couldn’t tell anyone what happened because he and I were both part of our active youth group at church. I ran away to another state, met my husband, and was married at nineteen. We divorced when I was twenty-three. At that point, I felt like I was no good, undesirable, and unworthy of a good man’s love. I met and married my second husband at twenty-four. He made me feel beautiful, competent, and desirable. He was also addicted to prescription medication and, eventually, to alcohol. The beatings started before I even had my first child with him, but I felt that if I just tried harder in every area that he would be happy, and the beatings would stop. After each beating, my husband would apologize profusely and swear that it would never happen again. Of course, as is typical, it not only happened again, but on an escalated scale. He would involve ministers, women’s counselors, and child protective agencies. This man, who was an ex-policeman, took me out to the country, tied me up, and shot at my legs. He would imprison me in my room for days, only coming in to badger me about some imagined slight. With a gun to my head, he sold me to a strange man so that he could watch us having sex. I have been beaten, raped, sold, slapped, shot at, and
humiliated. When I escaped from the monster with my children, I went to a women’s shelter. He proceeded to call Child Protection and tell them that I abused my kids and wanted to kill them. My divorce went through the same week I turned thirty. Although I had retained physical custody of my children, the state didn’t return legal custody for two years. I have not remarried. I know that I had allowed some of this behavior because of the guilt over the date-rape. It took years to rebuild my self-confidence, but I don’t think I will ever be able to trust a man completely enough to risk marriage again. I have survived, but not without damage. In the twenty-five years since my divorce, I raised my children on my own (they are now thirty and twenty-eight) by working two jobs. When they left the nest, I went back to school and obtained my Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Theology. I am the very best Grandma ever to my five grandchildren. I love my job, providing accommodations for disabled students at a local university. I have a few close friends, many acquaintances, and no enemies that I know of. I am continuing to grow and take care of myself. I recently bought a house. I am saving now for the furniture I want to fill it with! I am only ten to fifteen years away from retirement, and I’m looking forward to living my dream in a small beach cottage on the eastern shore of North Carolina. The sun is shining for me again.
Artist’s Note: Low self-esteem is a common denominator for domestic violence survivors. Culture plays a big role, along with parenting, in how teenagers view themselves, especially when it comes to sexuality. In the case of this survivor, the guilt she carried victimized her repeatedly. Date rape can be looked at as a connection to domestic violence in that the person knows and trusts the person before the rape, just like one knows and trust his or her partner before the abuse. In the end, it comes down to the same thing—violating one’s human rights.
I am a survivor of domestic violence and so are my children.
me, then himself.
My abusive husband, who killed himself, shot me in the head. He used to hit me and bruise me as we argued. I learned not to argue, but the battering never subsided. Police came and arrested him. We were separated, and an order of protection was issued.
My oldest daughter was only two at the time, and I was pregnant with my second daughter. Now, they are both grown up and my eldest has a family of her own. My second is thinking of going to college soon. Since then (1987), I had my third child, whom I see as an opportunity to feel the joy I had missed out on with my other daughters. They are all blessings.
I got counseling, which then gave me strength to file for divorce. I was not afraid of him anymore. One fateful day, not feeling well (because I was pregnant with my/our second child—a forced rape by my husband), I answered the door without checking who was at the door. My husband barged in and wanted to kiss and make up. We argued, and then I realized he had a gun to his head. I began to cry. He shot
This portrait is to display (with use of my favorite color-Royal Blue) my victory of survival and the will to live! My daughters are also in the photo, taken just before my first grandchild.
Artist’s Note: Although Denice survived the attempted murder, the gunshot wound to her head left her partially paralyzed on the right side of her body. With a strong determination to live her life to the fullest, she has almost completed her BA degree at Arizona State University while raising a daughter on her own. She hopes to use her studies to work as a domestic violence advocate and liaison within the court systems.
I want the world to know that there are all different kinds of domestic violence. Men can also be victims and, it does not make anyone less of a person to tell and get help. In 1995 while I was in the Army, I met Susan while she was going out with a friend of mine. A week later, she informed me that they had broken up and she wanted to date, so we started going out. At the time, I was young with a pretty girl and did not care that it had upset my friend. Four months later, she told me she was pregnant with twins. Being raised the way I was, I took responsibility for my actions and we decided to get married. After moving out of the barracks and into an apartment was when the abuse started. Susan was always going somewhere. I asked her where she was going, and she would say to meet friends but would not let me come because she said I wouldn’t like them. I had a car before we got married. She traded in the car for $400.00 and got a convertible Mustang. Since I was on the title, I had to sign it over. Afterward, she took the money and spent it on things she wanted. One time, I was on my computer, and she didn’t like that. So, the next morning, I found the keyboard full of hot wax and ruined. I asked her why she did this and was told that she didn’t want me on the computer anymore because I had to take care of the house. Another time, I was watching TV and she wanted me to go to bed, but I was not tired. I remember waking up the next morning very sick and told her that I needed to see a doctor. She calmly said, “No, you don’t. It’s the side effect of Valium.” She had drugged my drink because she wanted me to go to bed. After four months, I asked about the babies and when I could go to an appointment with her. She told me I could go to next month’s appointment with her, so I requested the day off of work. When I showed up at home, she was not there. Several hours later, she showed up and told me that she had
had an abortion several months ago and was afraid to tell me because I might get angry. I was very upset. Luckily, my squad leader showed up shortly after this news and convinced me to leave the apartment and come to the barracks for the night. The next day, I made the decision with the help of my friend and military company to totally move out of the apartment and back into the barracks. The next day I discovered everything she had told me about the babies was a lie. I started the paperwork to get the marriage annulled. I had her served with papers. After she got them, she went to the Criminal Investigation Division and told them I had raped her several times and was beating her. The Judge Advocate General did not press charges because there wasn’t enough evidence. After this action, I received a letter from her that stated she would get back at me for what I had done. When she could not get me arrested, she went out and purchased a gun. Thankfully, the Military Police caught her on post speeding. They asked her what the gun was for, and she told them, “I’m going to shoot my husband.” They immediately confiscated the gun and detained her. I was told she ended up in a hospital for a while. I was able to get out of the situation with a lot of help from friends, family, church, and the Army. Most victims of domestic violence don’t have the help I got. I was very lucky. Recently, I just found out that Susan had serious problems and had done similar things to two other men in Washington State. She kept bothering one man so much that he committed suicide while his current wife was on a business trip. Her patterns are repeating. My portrait was done to portray that even after you are out of the situation, it is a long tough road to recover. The survivor is always healing and eventually will be fully healed.
Artist’s Note: The idea of men being a victim of domestic violence really surprises people. Since men are usually physically bigger and stronger than women, they expect the man to be the aggressor, but this isn’t always true. When I met this survivor, I realized that he is a sweet and gentle person without a mean bone in his body. When a man finds himself in an abusive situation, it can be such a shock and embarrassment because of this social belief. Domestic violence comes in all forms and always begins with mental and emotional control. That means it can happen to anybody.
We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes.—Langston Hughes Like a member of a minstrel show, I wore the mask to hide the scars of life so that I could perform among those closest to me. Domestic violence often forces you into the shadows so the wounds are not visible to the rest of the world. It took a long time for me to step out of the shadows and remove the mask that I held onto for so long. It was an evening not unlike any other. Dinner was finished, and my children and I were preparing to end the evening. My husband had been gone for a while, and the house seemed peaceful in his absence. I stood in the kitchen with my youngest in my arms and heard the car pull up in the driveway. A thousand knots twisted within me, and for a moment I could not catch my breath. I looked at my son who was smiling and realized I needed to exhale. The door opened, and I managed to release a hello that echoed throughout my body. No response. Something’s wrong. I stepped to the side as he moved through the room. Wondering what level of anger would be unleashed tonight, I stood holding my child even tighter. My husband continued through the house, and I could hear his footstep mount the stairs. A moment of relief allowed me to sit and play with my youngest. Within an instant, I heard the footsteps approach and fear made me rise. I had heard somewhere that a blow is easier to take if you stand up. I held onto my son, tighter. Surely he would not hit me with an infant in my arms. As he entered the room, I was questioned about a long distance call I had made to a family member. “Why?” No answer was good enough. I felt the rage fill the room, and without notice
he called my other son to come and get his brother. “Please don’t take him.” The words caught in my throat and once again I could not breathe. Before my son could leave the room with my youngest, a golf club came across my hand, once, twice, three times. I kept my arm in front of me to protect the place my mask would rest. Again the club came across my arm, and the only pain I felt was the betrayal of unconditional love. Really? No conditions? I hadn’t realized that the swinging had stopped. No words. He left the room and returned with my youngest, who was still smiling as if to ask, “Where is your mask, mom?” Within the hour, the swelling started, and I realized I had to take another trip to the hospital because of an unplanned emergency. I sat alone, and my son, who was now asleep, lay next to me. I looked at my hand and decided not to cry. My husband entered to room, looked at me, and proclaimed, “Bitch, don’t expect me to take you to the hospital.” He turned and left the room. Once again, peace settled within me because it was over, at least for the night. I grabbed my mask and prepared for my next performance. An audience of professionals. Encore. Stitches across my left hand. Bone broken in seven places. What new lie could I tell? That was one of my final battles. Courage had lived inside me in places I thought were vacant. I eventually went to court and realized a moment’s decision can change your life. On that day, I laid my mask down and looked in the mirror and realized that I did know how to smile.
Artist’s Note: We may not know someone is suffering abuse because the victim has learned to hide it from other people— for survival. Out of terrible fear, a broken spirit, and isolation, victims pretend that everything is all right, the same way that abusers pretend everything is all right. Here, a simple phone call to a family member wrought a painful experience, yet people continue to ask, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” This survivor was married to a well known Major League pitcher with children who looked up to their dad. She obtained tremendous courage to leave the money, get out, and go through the court system to get divorced and obtain custody of her children, all on her own. The fancy mask the abuser wore in court, along with his fame, brought the worst nightmare of losing her children to an explosive man. Commonly, victims will not follow through on court because of the trauma they have endured, the lack of advocacy, and the fear of losing their children. The frustration about this lack of follow through could be alleviated with understanding the nature of the situation and having a quality advocate to help victims wade through the legal system. Many victims believe the legal system will not help them. This must be changed.
As I look back, from the beginning, I see the hope, the trust, the friendship, and the love that was shared that led two people to long to share not only their lives together, but in their faith, all of eternity. She had been divorced once, and I had been engaged once. We were both looking for our best friend and were certain that is what we had found. It was a long distance relationship, and we talked sometimes four hours a night, e-mailed constantly, and had some wonderful weekends together. Ours was to be a companionship built on unselfishness, our faith in the Lord that would bless us, her three girls, our families, our church congregation, and our community. This companionship was to form a union that would withstand the inevitable struggles of life. We talked of maybe having another child together and looked ahead to go on a mission together when we got older. We would marry, and our lives together, with all of its stresses and trials, would begin. That is when the controlling behavior which leads to abuse began. Oh, there were signs before we actually got married. A few slugs in the shoulder and a couple of rage attacks out of nowhere, but surely, all the love we shared and were planning on sharing would far outweigh any issues we had. We would work them out together . . . surely we would!! We were in love!! However, it did not work out that way. The controlling behavior would continue as she had the inability to control herself, so she sought to control others. The rage attacks would increase in frequency; the putdowns began; choking, slapping, and hitting were to follow. Oh, the betrayal of a love so promising. See, while the words themselves hurt and while there was some pain involved with the physical abuse, the real pain was in the reality that the foundation of any loving, successful relationship—trust—was destroyed. With every controlling act, our companionship, our love, was dealt another blow. I could not trust that WE could discuss and deal with the tough issues, that she could handle not
getting her way, and that together, we would seek the Lord’s will. I became an unwanted stranger in my own home, and eventually the eyes that were once filled full of love and appreciation of the person I am, turned into eyes full of hate and anger. Because of the abuse and the eventual complete destruction of our marriage, many lives were hurt and many relationships broken. We would seek help through counseling, clergy, family, and friends, but I would quickly realize that because I was a male that was being abused that it would not be taken seriously. This would be driven home as I watched the movie Fools Gold, alone, after another disagreement in my marriage. I watched as Kate Hudson picks up a shovel and hits Matthew McConoughey full force in the face as the audience laughs. He deserved it, right? After all, he is a man! It was a slug in the gut, and every time I watch any form of media where a woman slaps, hits, or verbally abuses a man (and you hear laughter), it causes the same reaction. The message is simple. Relationships should be about unselfishly sharing love, and when the disagreements come, there is no room for control. Both parties, male or female, can NEVER let anger reach their appendages! I am so grateful for my loving Saviour and the healing power of forgiveness. My wish for all, especially for my eternal companion who I lost, is that they seek the help they need for them to be happy, because NO abuser is happy. I pray that all who have been abused, no matter to what extent, will leave that abuse behind, literally and figuratively, through forgiveness so that hearts, minds, and souls can be healed so that the past abuse does not continue to destroy lives. It is my deepest hope that we can realize that relationships are a privilege and not a right, and that abusive behavior has to be stopped BEFORE any relationship begins so that the “what could have been” will be the “WHAT IS”!
Artist’s Note: Stereotypes surrounding the issue of gender and disability is a constant barrier to individuals who don’t fit that stereotype. This amazing survivor was marginalized as a male spouse; however, like the accident that changed his life at seventeen, the abusive relationship that changed his life today was met with the same integrity and forgiveness that makes him such a beacon of light for others. He helps us realize that believing the victim is helping the victim, that forgiveness is a pathway to healing, and that prevention is the best medicine of all.
In the same way that I wear a ring to symbolize my marriage and a cross to represent my faith, I wear a tiger bracelet on my right wrist to recall the empowering belief that I made for myself: I am a clean, pure, saved woman who is worthy of God’s love and forgiveness.
acknowledgment of personal truths comes from accepting what is revealed with an open and understanding heart, while operating with the Higher Intent to change what is ultimately painful, or no longer of service, to the growth of the individual soul along its Life Path.
I am especially fond of the symbolism behind the beautifully unique and powerful creature known as the White Tiger. He exudes power and grace, careful to not let his stripes overtake or define him, but rather to serve as a constant reminder of what he has overcome. In that same way, I refuse to be defined by my past but rather to be empowered by it. I choose to use this power to make positive changes in my life and in the lives of others whom I have influence.
Once this self-examination and soul-level cleansing has been accomplished, White Tiger soul may then become the gleaming example of the gift and beauty of operating from personal truth.
White Tigers are said to be survivors with extreme rare abilities to overcome their circumstances. Their gift is their beautiful uniqueness as they seek to find personal truth. To find personal truth, one must first acknowledge the shadows that exist within, represented by the dark stripes of the White Tiger. I believe in facing personal truths free of judgment, being careful to not place the responsibility onto another. Instead,
The White Tiger is drawn to a soul that has a powerful sense of conviction and inner strength. They are here to teach us the importance of knowing our inner values and beliefs, and to instruct us to align the way in which we walk our path so it is in keeping with our belief system. The White Tiger is an advocate of balance, acceptance, and universal truth. As I faced struggles and disappointments in my own life, I chose not to be a victim but rather to be inspired by the White Tiger to persevere and be victorious! “I AM A CLEAN, PURE, SAVED WOMAN WHO IS WORTHY OF GOD’S LOVE AND FORGIVENESS!”
Artist’s Note: This portrait was a joy to work on. Not only because the survivor portrayed is just as sweet and beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside, but because she has a genuine sincerity that matches her words. She exudes a gentle strength and happiness that influences those around her.