The Scars series was born when I finally decided to share my story, when I freed myself up from the pain and shame I felt. It was then when I realized I wanted to help other women reveal their beautiful scars through photography.
Starting September 25, a series of stories will be shared every day from wonderful women who have allowed me to photograph their beautiful emotional scars. On October 1, those stories will be shown at the 2016 Slut Walk hosted by Amber Rose in Los Angeles, CA.
Nicole's scar is more spiritual. When her mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given two weeks to live, she questioned God. She constantly asked why. Confusion and anger invaded her soul. In the end, she realized that who she questioned so much was who ultimately helped her heal and understand that her mom had to leave us earlier than expected.
My deliverance back to the singles world the second time was far from willing. I was abducted. OK, not abducted as a matter of literal fact, but abduction is how it felt and how it is emblazoned for all time on the archives of my soul.
It was 1998 when I was abducted, there in the golden glow of a quintessential San Diego Summer. But for me, there was no glow. No warmth. No gladness as flaming ruby sunsets danced on cerulean skies. All that summer held for me was the bone chilling cold of a windy, black vortex. Each day, my body suited up and struggled forth to pay the bills. Locked in the vortex were my heart and soul, shackled, shattered, awash in hopeless agony. It had been that way since March. That’s when my husband of 18 years, best friend, soul mate, father of my youngest child and lover extraordinaire said our marriage was over. Throughout the rosy summer and months beyond, I gambled by night, freaked out by day. I had business on the books. The few scraps of normalcy still on the shelf got meted out for work. I looked like shit. My clients didn’t know who I’d been, just figured that’s who I was -- a hard edged, puffy, pasty, pissed off semi-flabette.
I spoke to clients and family as little as possible. Friends, not at all. When not pushing deadlines or on the road, my home office was my asylum. I couldn’t afford the total disassembly for which I yearned. In the chaotic unhealth of my office, I was always doing one or more of the following: eating, smoking, toking, snorting, sobbing, breaking stuff, moaning, shaking, screaming, sleeping, writing long, heaving, furious e-mails, performing destructive burning and shredding rituals with things my husband left behind or had given me, and obsessively spray painting flowers on the cinder block wall by my driveway .
On the afternoon of the abduction, I awoke from a deeply depressive mega snore-athon to see my 3 old pussy cats curled up on the bed, so comfy and content. This infuriated me mightily. I shook the comforter and dumped them on the floor. They eyed me with disdainful disgust and I went nutsoid. “I’m sick of hurting!” I croaked. They rolled their eyes and streamed out the cat door, taunting me with their undiminished grace and beauty though well past 70. I, on the other hand, looked and felt like something they had dragged in and discarded as too unsavory to eat and too lumpy to chase. A toxic wave of fear radiated from my chest. Fear that the happy, fun loving, positive, pleasure slut I’d always been was gone forever. Not just missing, but dead.
At that moment I was abducted. Plucked by a powerful, invisible force from my tear stained fortress and crammed into a dark, tiny pod like an overripe kishka, and spooned into the thick, creamy atmosphere of an alien world. Cradled on pillows of air, the pod rocked, floated, & gently touched down on the surface of the unknown.
My abductors had disappeared. I was alone in the unknown. I did what any mature, intelligent, self-respecting adult would do. I cowered, assumed the fetal position and sucked savagely at the dry, shriveled bosom of my past.
A series of unsettling images rolled across my mental screen. In one, I found myself in a village, high in the Andes, watching steaming streams of creamy lava roll sensuously toward me, inviting me to be engulfed in their hot bubbling currents. It was in that seismic state that I finally awoke, heaving and hissing like the hellhole of Hunan, shocked that I was not in the thick numbing broth of my piteous fetal lagoon. Rather, I was surrounded by the dull, cramped landscape of the pod. Anxiety exploded in my gut. I tried deep breathing. Tried inhaling reality and expelling something else.
I stared at the door. What was out there? Little people on helium maybe proclaiming me their savior? Without warning, the door slid open. There in front of me was a breathtaking night sky. Diamonds & sequins against indigo velvet. The faint strains of an Eagle’s song rode in on a perfumed breeze. My being spoke to me like a Greek chorus. “Go forth now”, it intoned. “Find for us fulfillment and joy, for we have been dry & empty lo these many months”.
I uncurled, moved stiffly to the door and across the threshold. The door closed behind me. Panicked, I pulled at it, threw my fists, clawed the lock. Hopeless. That chapter had closed forever. I looked out at the beautiful, terrifying world before me and felt a rusty spigot turn inside. It creaked open and started to trickle. Another turn and it flowed full force. Propelled by the current, I jumped off the pod, started down the path ahead, and never looked back.
Ashley grew up being the only black girl in a suburban white community. Ashley expressed that her emotional scar is that she auto-compares herself to "white beauty" knowing that she isn't white. She feels that she's never the first choice. Also, when dating white men she often hears things like "Is that your real hair?" or "What are you mixed with?" and her personal favorite: "Do you like white chocolate?"
As far as women shaming words in general, she's heard the "look at that booty" and expressed that she was bullied when she was young because her breasts developed when she was in third grade. "Imagine being the only girl with boobs in the classroom" she shared.
Now Ashley wears her big breasts and natural hair proudly and just like most of us, she continues to fight that small voice that tries to tell us that we are not as grandiose as we truly are. She continues to fight all the stereotypes that our overwhelming society expects her to fulfill.
During her shoot, Ashley expressed that she wanted her story to be reflect that she is "pretty for a black girl" I think she's beautiful.
I was dating my High School "sweetheart" and he became emotionally abusive over the years. I was "too fat" because my skinny legs were jiggly and I didn't work out. I wasn't pretty because I didn't wear make up. I was too much of a tomboy and I became insecure because of all of that.
Because of this emotional abuse I became dependent on him. That was how I'd feel good about myself. I didn't believe anyone else would love me and that he was the best thing that ever happened to me... because he truly loved me. I hated my body, I felt like I wasn't pretty and I was always putting myself down. I stopped loving myself to love someone else. I put all of my happiness in the hands of another person, only to realize they were slowly squeezing the life out of me. I became a robot, emotionless and dead on the inside to not have to feel. His words used to cut into my soul. I doubted my own beauty & worthiness because someone else made me feel inferior. I had no voice. When I finally got the courage to walk away I still carried the burden. I became sick, depressed and lost over 20 pounds on my already skinny body. It took me years to overcome it all and the support of amazing friends to realize there was nothing wrong with me.
I finally believed that I was enough no matter what. I was finally able to love myself again and it wasn't until then that I became fully healed. No one can break the relationship that I have with myself and the love I carry for me now.
Sybil and her brave heart
I was 14 when it happened to my mom. After spending the night with my best friend, I came home on Sunday morning. My dynamic, bright, attractive mom, divorced for 5 years from my dad, had a date Saturday night. I was excited for her and asked how it went. "Kitten”, she said to me, “he brought me home, came in, and he raped me”. She was stoic. I did not fully know what it meant and certainly not the implications. It was an abstract concept. I was a virgin and a boy crazy make-out queen but sex was nowhere on my mind. I didn’t know enough to hug her, to offer support, to insist she go to the police, to find the guy and smash his face in. We never spoke of it again. I wish I would have asked about it as an adult, we talked about so much during her last years, but this event got filed away in a dusty mental drawer that never got opened. It was only in light of this event it surfaced.
Scars, Stories and Theme Songs
It was dark and stormy night….no wait, not the right beginning.
He looked at her with passion, as the bells of the citadel rang in the distance, and he began to slowly unlace her corset….nope, definitely not the right beginning.
The gravitational pull of the neutron star was fierce and the reality of the crew members began to spread thin and break apart like a spider web pulled into sticky nothingness by a curious child...OK, that beginning is getting much closer.
We all have the story of Us, at least we should. Stories are all we are made of and all we leave. We should all have a theme song too. The story, and the theme song, change over time, but we should all have them. However it feels to me that my stories, stories I told for years, stories that I wore like a mantle of me, stories that I was made of, have turned into a tattered coat that has fallen away into the wind and my theme song has turned dismal. Instead, wounds are all I am made of, and scar tissue is my coat of arms and my theme song is a loop of Veteran of The Psychic Wars. Scars are tough, thicker than the skin before. They show you have survived. Some of my former stories had survival in them. However scars also show you have suffered. That you were a victim. I loathe having been, sometimes still being, a victim and I don’t use that word in my stories. I’m really not that fond of the word survivor either, and when the scars are on the inside you can cloak both of these states in stories with different words. Yet the words fail me, the page is blank and stained, and I can’t tune in my theme song right now, all I hear is this in the background.
You're seeing now a veteran of a thousand psychic wars,
My energy is spent at last, and my armor is destroyed,
I have used up all my weapons, and I'm helpless and bereaved.
Wounds are all I'm made of...
~Blue Oyster Cult
Yet who is this me that you see? Me is She and my name is Erika and I am artistic, and dramatic, smart and educated. I like hyperbole and prose and I feel with every atom of my being and I empathize like a Betazoid (geek mic drop). And I, dear readers, have survived some shit. Not cancer level shit, I have a dear friend living through that right now, but cancer of the soul and the spirit. Psychic Wars level shit that has most definitely left some scars.
I was abused growing up. I never was able to admit that until I was 40 and in counseling for one of my husband's affairs (immediately right after our counseling sessions, he drove to meet his mistress at their favorite motel, so one might say I was still being abused as an adult too). I loathe the term victim or abused. I was tough. No one hurt me, I took care of me thank you very much. And if I did get hurt, I didn’t make that mistake again. I learned. I survived. Bootstraps and Braasch start with the same letter for a reason, I would encouragingly tell myself. Yet I was still in an abusive relationship, still not seen as a real person, just part of someone else’s reality and if I just sucked it up more and was even tougher, it would get better.
You all know how that works, right? It does not get better by being tougher. I am not weak in that I was abused (I still despise that word by the way, so as much as I have evolved, I still have a ways to go!) I am strong in that I want to change the pattern. As Batman’s Dad said, in Batman Begins (thank you Mr. Nolan), “And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” I learned from every time I had to pick myself up. I learned from when I did tough love and cut my beloved, but abusive alcoholic mom, out of my life. I learned when after 20 years of betrayals and deceptions, I divorced my beloved, but abusive husband. I am getting better not by being tougher and super human, but by seeing myself as merely human and accepting that while someone always has it worse some round, I have had it bad too and it is OK to say that. Pain, loss and sorrow are not a competition and I am not trying to best anyone by sharing my pain, rather I want others to know it is OK to look your pain in the face and say “fuck you, you do not define me,” and while that pain may not be cancer, it is still eating at my soul and like a brave cancer patient that says “fuck cancer!” I say to you, pain I am living through and the emotional scars that make it hard to move in the morning, “fuck you, because it does get better!” (Thank you Mr. Savage.)
But as I get better, who am I? I have lost my story and my theme song is unclear.
I am starting say out loud that I am a Single Mom. There is significant pity for the single mom, poor thing has to do it all alone. Yet there is pride too. Strong thing, she does it all alone. Yet, I am also a homeschool single mom. I am a own my own business homeschool single mom. This part of the story includes the Freak part to the nth. Yet it is good Freak! Being Z and Z’s MOM is the best degree or accolade I could ever get. I love my children, my BoyZ, more than anything else on this planet. Homeschooling has been an amazing journey that has allowed us the most magnificent journeys and adventures, and fellow fabulously freaky friends. Yet I am the only single mom I know. That part is the bad Freak part. For a Woman, a Mom, that lives in a world that is in proximity with both Straight And Freak, but inhabits neither one, my children are the most loving, kind, diverse, funny, sarcastic, breathtaking beings that can inhabit all worlds. My children fit in everywhere and I fit in with my children. I don’t just like, I love, this part of my story.
I look at my children, and realize they are my best story. My best plot twist. They are my Thrive. They are the rose oil that soothes the scar tissue of my soul. They are Knights that stand at the vanguard of the Psychic Wars and they are the theme song that stirs the spirit and makes you sing out loud. My children are happy. You can see JOY radiate off of them. They turn up the music and sing loudly along and my theme song is no longer just the surviving psychic wars, it is accepting, feeling and being who I am right now and it sounds like this…
Listen, I know this one's a contradiction because of how happy it sounds,
But the lyrics are so down,
It's OK though, because it represents, wait better yet, it is,
Who I feel I am right now,
~Twenty One Pilots
Who am I right now? I am Erika. Where are my scars? They are everywhere and that’s OK because I know now that my Scars are my Story and my Children are my Theme Song.
Doris shared her story to a family member of hers and this is who we found out about it. Although Doris is still alive, she it not in a condition to be disturbed to remember this. Doris' story was shared by this family member of hers:
It was at a professional conference in a hotel. She had risen to the top of her profession and was a gorgeous, sparkling, fun loving redhead with a highly adventurous spirit. A male colleague walked her back to her room, forced his way in and raped her. He was extremely well connected in the organization and convinced her that if she came forward she would not be believed and her career would be over. This was likely the case as it was the late ‘50’s and things were very different in the workplace. This woman, no doubt carried scars of magnitude from this assault upon their being. However, Doris did not let this experience define her or embitter her, or stop her from being the powerful, brilliant, loving forces of nature she is.