The Reclaim Project is an initiative to help sexual violence survivors to feel comfortable in their skin again. We're partnering up with photographers to provide these photo sessions in the hopes that we can help to portray female bodies as belonging to actual human beings, instead of objects. We'll be sharing lots of these sessions over time, each one paired with a statement from the survivor about how their experiences have shaped their body image, mental health, and view of their sexuality. Click here if you're a survivor interested in setting up a session, or here if you're a photographer who'd like to participate!
content warning: rape, abuse, PTSD
About me: My name is Emmy, I’m 22. I’m working on finding empowerment through the identity of “survivor”. These writings are reflections of how I’ve been working through my trauma in the past year. During this time, I started therapy, fell deeply in love, and moved forward in healing in a number of ways, but I also experienced new hurts and struggles as I navigated the symptoms of my PTSD. I wanted to share these words as a contribution to the community of survivors that exist, struggle, and thrive, both separately and together.
Being a survivor is...
Endless cycles of non-linear growth. Lots of escapism and desperate running from the pain. Feeling the fear slap you in the face when you least expect it. Clinging to anything that makes you feel safe. Months you spent on depressed self-care. Watching your back a little extra when you walk home. Checking all the doors are locked twice. Loving so hard even when you know what love did to you. Embracing the dark pit inside your heart. Loving yourself as hard as you can. Spilling out too many words to people who don’t understand and feeling guilty for making them uncomfortable. Romanticising weapons you don’t know how to use. Appreciating the little things that warm your soul: the sun, the moon, the ferns. Wishing you were a plant or a wave in the ocean. Noticing deeper levels of irony but not understanding coincidence. Wanting to help all the girls. Buckets of guilt for all the bullshit my parents had to witness. Loving them so much. Loving everyone that supported me in both direct and infinite subtle ways. Being able to recognize and deeply appreciate good listeners. Realizing purity is more than what is done to you. Being grateful for the spirits of animals. Wondering if the world is inherently good or evil and realizing nothing is black and white. Having convictions that evil is real but good is stronger.
It’s Easter Sunday and my mental health feels like walking on a tightrope over a canyon and underneath there is a vast ocean which is both beautiful and terrifying. It all hurts and then it all feels like magic and I acknowledge that however I feel is temporary but I still can’t quite convince myself of this fact. The past is a huge weight on my heart and I want to run again. No one knows how it feels. Not the liberals not the conservatives not the atheists not the christians no one fucking knows and the people that get the closest to understanding live over 2000 miles away and I want to go home. But I left and I showed everyone how brave I was for fucking leaving and I can’t go back now. This is home now and fuck, it feels so empty.
I was thrown down and pounded into the fucking ground physically and emotionally for 3 fucking years. 3 y e a r s that I’m never going to get back. And some days it’s okay and I know that what is yet to come is far greater than what has been and I am destined for something far greater and what i’ve been put through doesn’t define me. And other days I’m in far deeper than that ground, I’m underneath it, struggling for air and trying to convince myself that each breath needn’t be laced with the agony of survival. Today was one of those days.
Was my soul meant for nostalgia? Why am i so susceptible to the perils of the heart? My spirit is so bright, full of fire and joy, so much joy it gets annoying sometimes. The hyperactive, open joy never lasts but it always comes back. It gets crushed but it grows from the remains. The darkness grows and swallows me but I claw my way out. I’m learning to live with it instead of run away from it. I’m learning to tell myself, everyday, things aren’t always going to be amazing. Some days I don’t feel well and I’m trying not to get mad at myself for it. You don’t blame your body for getting a cold. I don’t want to blame my mind for it’s symptoms. It’s not my fault. The most powerful thing I’ve learned this year might be: “The only reason this happened to you is that someone chose to do this to you. That’s it. It has nothing to do with you.” I tell myself this over and over and contemplate why I feel like it’s something more. Like i’m destined for this suffering. Whether or not it’s destiny I think that I will do something brilliant with what I’ve been through. I think I’ll use it to make a change. Somehow I’ll find power in my soft, resilient heart.
My heart, the reservoir
Today I attempted to open my heart, thought it’d be easy. I focused on my breath: in, out. I reached inward towards that bloody organ in the center of my chest. My heart allowed a peek of itself to my mind and it allowed me to feel its memories. My memories. My heart has not forgotten. My mind puts up its mental blocks, to keep me sane. Keep me functioning, keep me moving forward. My heart beats and sends blood to my brain but it doesn’t forget. In, out, expand, contract. With each thunderous beat it remembers.
Crying myself to sleep next to a man-shaped piece of ice. The reason blocked from my head by another valiant attempt of my mind to retain my sanity. I am not crazy. It’s not that bad. It’s better than being alone. The reason I’m crying is a blurred burst of anger and forced sex. Curling up into the smallest ball possible, it’s too cold to walk home. The warmth in my chest a dull flicker.
I open my heart and it remembers.
Swimming to the raft and playing for hours with my best friends and any random kid that would join. Ego swelling, 10 years old, queen of the raft. Swimming to the bottom and picking up muck, trusting the pull of my own buoyancy to find the surface. I want to trust my world now like I trusted it then. I was safe, I was in control. My heart rate increasing with excitement, not terror. Back then I had yet to know terror.
I have now known terror.
Your presence is always sitting with me. I understand a bit more now why I reach for someone every time I’m alone. Another presence distracts me, promises me my life is not over. Did not end. It’s strange to feel like it’s a miracle that I’m still here. My heart didn’t stop. I didn’t cause my heart to stop. I just want to believe that you won’t stop my heart. I want to trust that your final beating has come and gone. I want to trust that I am free.
With each breath, my heart beats. I have found where these memories live. Where the trauma sits, within me. I want to crack open my heart and wash away the pain. The rushing flood of years of tears my mind has helped me hold back. Pain i’ve been too reluctant to accept. I am nervous to break down the levy and release the dam of my memories. I am afraid of the flooding veins. It is daunting to face the wave and trust you will survive it. Even when you know the paradise of spring is on the other side. Saturate my cells with the blood of my pain and the tides of my healing. I look forward to the day I am planting flowers where my arteries once ran dry.
I want to announce that I have now experienced a full year in its entirety, 2017, without being subject to any form of abuse. A whole year, no manipulation tactics, no screaming insults, no forced sex. I want to celebrate but I am holding my breath because the year is not yet over and somehow I cannot promise myself the next 14 days will be safe. The dreams keep coming back, reminding me of the memories still live within. Reminding me that I will never forget, no matter how many years go by. I am 22 and there are 7 calendar years of my life that are tainted by at least some flavor of abuse. In case I forget, start to feel lighter, these memories pull me back. These things happened, it wasn’t nothing, it wasn’t just a couple of times or a couple of years. Seven. Nearly a third of my life, touched by men who thought they owned me.
But it is this darkness that illuminates the light. Today I congratulate myself a bit early. For 2017, a full year spent recovering. Feeling the pain. Kissing my wounds. Taking care of myself. A step forward. Growth. Hope. A promise of a new era, safe from those who’ve caused me harm.