If you grew up in an alcoholic home, you never know what to expect from one day to the next. When one or both parents struggle with addiction, the home environment is predictably unpredictableRead More
Some of you have read some of my past blogs. Just to recap, I grew up with an intellectual alcoholic father and a very emotionally unstable and overtly strict mother. Each one of these things has its own emotional results on the development of a child.
At 14 going on 15, I met an older man. He was only 20 or 21 at that stage, but he was big and strong and I was looking for love and protection. A 5-year difference at that age is huge. He was also an abuser and a rapist.
I am not saying that I was not also to blame. I rebelled against my parents and started a relationship with this man without knowing what I was getting into. The night he first raped me is a blur in my mind. All I remember is standing in front of him and he is wiping the blood from my legs. I don’t remember anything else. Things got worse from there. He would beat me black and blue, and then come cry in front of me.
He would threaten to kill himself when I tried to get away from him. He would follow me to school and threaten to beat up anyone I spoke to.
He successfully isolated me from everyone and everything. He became obsessed with me.
Twice a week he would drag me off to his room and the sexual assault would continue. I did not have a choice. I was slapped or beaten, or dragged by my hair. I learned to just disappear into my own mind.
Some have asked me; Why didn’t you ask for help? You have to remember that I grew up with alcoholism and emotional trauma. The roots of my despair were already sown. I knew from an early age that my parents would not be able to help me, and frankly, I didn’t trust them.
How could I?
The lesson was learned from an early age…your feeling and opinion does not count.
Effects of Violence
Those who have suffered this violent crime of rape feel ashamed and guilty. Despite all we know today about psychology, the psychology of rape, i.e.: that it is not a sexual but a violent crime and the fact that women who have suffered this horrible fate were not at fault, so many of them persist, for years afterwards, in feeling guilty and ashamed of themselves. I guess, that is the main point, that rape is a crime that damages the self esteem and dignity of a person at the deepest levels.
Each survivor reacts to sexual violence in their own unique way. Personal style, culture, and context of the survivor’s life may affect these reactions. Some express their emotions while others prefer to keep their feelings inside. Some may tell others right away what happened, others will wait weeks, months, or even years before discussing the assault, if they ever choose to do so. Whether an assault was completed or attempted, and regardless of whether it happened recently or many years ago, it will impact daily functioning.
Survivors thinking they are bad, wrong, dirty, or permanently flawed.
Survivors feeling that the abuse was their fault. It is very difficult for survivors to place the blame on the person who assaulted them. Often the offender was a person close to them that they want to protect. Conversely, it may be that by placing the blame on the offender they then feel helplessness.
Survivors saying, “It wasn’t that bad.” “It only happened once.” “I am fine, I don’t need anything.”
Minimizing the assault can be a coping strategy. It might include survivors thinking that their abuse was not as bad as someone else’s. Those supporting a survivor should validate the impact of the abuse and that it is appropriate that the survivor is upset, traumatized, or hurting from it.
Because sexual violence is such a boundary violation, it impacts the survivor’s perception of when or how to set boundaries. Survivors may be unfamiliar with boundaries in general; they may not know that they have a right to create and reinforce them.
Sexual assault is a betrayal of trust. Most survivors find it difficult to trust other people as well as themselves and their own perceptions. On the other hand, they may place an inappropriate level of trust in everyone.
Survivors’ sense of safety has been altered; they may assess unsafe situations as safe and perceive safe situations as dangerous. It is important to explore with a survivor what feels safe by asking specific questions about safety.
This is a big issue for adult survivors. Many feel that they do not deserve support, that they are tainted, and that others will not want to be their friends or lovers. A survivor’s culture and (lack of) community connections can, at times, compound feelings of isolation. Survivors may have been shunned or avoided by their families and/or communities because of their disclosure.
A survivor may not remember what happened. In the long-term, if the sexual assault happened before the development of language, the survivor may not have memory that can be verbalized.
A survivor may have dissociated during the sexual assault incident(s). They may describe “floating up out of their body” or “looking over their own shoulder” during the abuse. Dissociation can happen even when the survivor is not being assaulted/abused; an event or memory can bring up emotions which trigger dissociation.
The body is where the sexual abuse took place and many survivors feel betrayed by their bodies in various ways. They may have tried to numb/dissociate from their bodies in order not to experience the feelings brought on by the abuse. Sometimes in connection with the experience of numbness, survivors may seek out experiences that provide more intense physical sensations like self-injury.
Survivors may have somatic (body) complaints, eating disturbances, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and physical symptoms related to areas on their body affected by assault.
Survivors may be very expressive (anger, sadness), disoriented (disbelief, denial), or controlled (distant, calm).
Survivors may be unable to block out thoughts of the assault, or alternately, forget entire parts of it. They may constantly think about things they should have done differently. Nightmares are common. Survivors may also have thoughts or fantasies of being in a similar situation and “mastering” the traumatic event.
Other related issues that may emerge are eating disorders, physical changes, changes in sexuality, substance abuse, self-harm, thoughts of suicide, anger, and mood disorders such as depression and post-traumatic stress.
How did this Influence my Art?
My aim to make art that not only tells my story but all our stories. To speak to the abused, the down-trodden, the hopeless, the lost, the lonely, the shamed, the orphan, the abandoned.
We are the sum total of our past…but we don’t have to stay there.
From the age of four up until my late twenties, I suffered abuse in my closest relationships. At eighteen, I went to varsity in Potchefstroom to study my life’s passion – art. As I tried to find my feet as a student/artist/young woman, themes of angst, despair, anger, and abuse filled my paintings. I won prizes this way. I won respect and admiration for my talent. But I was also reliving the suffering and continually victimizing myself, which ultimately dug the pit of hopelessness deeper.
At the age of 29 life came to a turning point, as I had come to the end of myself – I gave up on trying to build life my way. I turned to my faith (which I had rejected along the way) for help and became part of a faith-filled family which is where I met and married my wonderful and loving husband, Rob. I never looked back.
In the past, I had used my story and negative feelings as the source of my artistic inspiration.
You see, everyone can resonate with negative visual language – we all drift towards it because it is a reflection of our imperfect selves. The Bible speaks of it in this way: “Sin gives birth to sin, but Spirit gives birth to Spirit”. I became a victor instead of a victim. I saw light and wanted to speak light in my visual language.
The more I began to see what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable through my walk of faith, the more I put it into practice – both in my personal life and in my artistic practice. I realized that the dark paintings I had painted before were not inspiring the viewers to a higher calling or glorifying the Creator, nor even showing what is good and lovely.
Painting is a strange business.
J. M. W. Turner
I now see my work as contemporary Romanticism rendered in an Impressionistic style, sometimes to the point of complete Abstraction. I enjoy applying bright colors in thick, multiple layers of paint to bring out messages of hope on canvas.
Insight Into the Artist
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