This womxn is one of the bravest people I know.
She has endured so much hurt in her life, so much trauma. And not the type of trauma we talk about to one another everyday. I’m talking about things you only read about. Or hear about. Things in crime shows, things that make you and I well up with tears of both discomfort and sympathy. And yet, despite these traumas, she remains this radical symbol of strength, perseverance, and independence for those around her. She is a Mother. She is a business owner. She is a survivor.
All of which are fiercely independent and creative positions.
We cried together during her session. There came this intense movie like moment during her shoot where the therapeutic affect of it all hit her like a pile of bricks. She began to cry as I took her photograph in the garage. We were getting ready to take the last photograph of the session. The one of both of us together. And we just, stood there. Letting it all sink in, letting conclusions, of which I know she needed help getting towards, boil to the surface. She let some tears trickle out of her eyes, I joined her, so we could rest easy in our hearts about the experience. I felt her pain so strongly, magically. As I do with each person I photograph…but something was different with her. It was a deep connection. Inexplainable. As we both cried, and stared out the window, thinking of how far she has been. And it not only helped her on her healing journey…it helped me too.
I have been raped. I have been molested. I’ve been neglected.
I’ve been manipulated, gaslighted, and cheated on.
So my tears were knowing tears. I know that pain. It’s unbearable to endure alone.
Our moment together confirmed we were not alone. I think that’s why it was so powerful.
When you have that experience, and you’re with someone else who shares it with you; your heart reaches out to that person with all it has to embrace it within this emotional hug of knowing. You connect in ways those without these experiences could never comprehend the profound impact of. And profound is a great word for it.
Part of healing, I’ve found, is surrounding yourself with others who are healing as well.
It was a moment I’ll never forget. I took her hand as tears streamed down her cheeks and mine. The cameras timer went off. We capture the moment and we’ll remember were not alone now.
You aren’t alone, Ella. You’re never alone. And you are very loved.
You have come so far, and I am so happy to show you these beautiful images.
Find someone to share your pain with and heal with them. I promise, it will change you for the better.
Be Kind to yourself,
Why is this project important to you? Why did you want to be a part of it?
The self-healing part. I am in my journey towards self healing. I feel like whenever I feel extreme resistance to something; I need to do it. Chris posted about it and I had this extreme anxiety. I knew I had to participate. I feel like it will reveal something about myself that I need to face.
How would you rate your self-esteem from 1-10?
Like, a six.
What goes into that rating? Positive and negative.
I just had a baby. Right now, I feel really good about my body. I feel better than I have in a long time because I always loose weight when I give birth. I am just soaking in that I am skinny. I’ve never really been happy with how I looked, even as a kid. I didn’t look like my Mom. But I figure…I have a daughter who I want to have a really good self-image and I want to show her that she can too. So I try.
What parts of your body do you love?
I really like my hair. I like my hands, because they’re small and really feminine. I don’t know…it’s hard.
It is! So many people find themselves struggling to list something they love.
It’s a thing I’ve never really thought about.
What parts do you hate?
My skin. I’ve had really bad….wait I want to rephrase that…I’ve had skin that needs more attention. On my arms and legs I have something called Psoriasis. With some materials, I know I am going to regret wearing them. I’ve had it since I was a baby, it’s genetic. The cells regenerate skin and it stays in the follicles. I have to exfoliate tons. Black heads, pimples. Body and skin are never even. I’m a picker, too, so I’m sure that makes it worse.
I haven’t worn a sleevless shirt since I was fourteen. My legs, I used to be so toned but now its super flabby. My butt needs to be bigger, and lifted. Haha. I’ve always made the joke that if I had the money I’d get ass implants.
Are you nervous? If so, what makes your most nervous?
On my way here, I addressed that I was nervous to myself and asked myself why. It was because I was going to open the door to accept the little girl that has never loved herself.
How do you feel right now?
Really relaxed. It’s like I just meditated for an hour. I’m totally clean and clear. It’s like I let all my secrets out and you still love me. Haha. I feel like I wanna go tackle stuff now. I feel lighter. I can do anything. Super empowered.
It all sounds so cheesy until you experience the AHA! moment yourself.
The doubt and the fear and the anxiety and the “whats the point of this?” that’s completely…I don’t even remember feeling that. Because it’s so overpowered by this feeling, this moment right now.
How would you rate your self-esteem from 1-10 now?
Like an eight.
What changed that number?
Looking at my body. Having you get naked…and being naked together and feeling that sun on my skin…I felt like that’s my skin again. It’s my body. Its not that thing I’ve always had an issue with. It’s mine, and I can feel it as a unison. That’s really empowering. I’m okay…like I’m okay. I can’t stop smiling. It’s this bliss of “This is me”.
Have you experienced any unhealthy/dysfunctional family structure?
I grew up with my grandpa when I was a kid and he was a crazy alcoholic. Me and my Mom would go take him out of the bar and take him home. As soon as I was strong enough to start carrying him. I had to.
People with alcoholics in their life have a hard time growing into adulthood and dealing with their residual emotions from the experience.
When my Dad died, my Mom moved here illegally. With no papers. We were forced into a home with her parents. My grandfather didn’t want us there. He felt we were a burden. Especially me, as a girl, he was ready to push me off as soon as possible to breed. I feel like that has a lot to contribute to my trauma.
Do you find yourself relating and gravitating towards friends with similar situations?
Yes, similar backgrounds. Absent parent. My friends parents passed too, and their from Chicago too. It always has to do with our partners. Daddy issues, haha. It always contributes to the partners we choose.
People who come from abusive or dysfunctional family relationships tend to seek out people who will reinforce the negative coping patterns and behaviors learned up from the experience. You don’t notice how your mind makes you gravitate towards people who experience trauma and stress the same way as you. It can be good, or bad. Depending on what they take from the experience.
When everything happened with my Dad, the abuse and when he left when I was pregnant, all my friends didn’t contact me. That really really hurt. I always depending on them to have knowledge and reach out to me…and that really hurt me. I’m at a place where I understand why, it’s not me or them. It’s them not knowing how to deal with what happened.
People like your friends have trouble addressing how to best help when the stress and trauma you experience is beyond their emotional comprehension.
*she cries and nods* It was so much of a trigger that they couldn’t help.
The best way to handle trauma is surrounding yourself with people who will cater to your emotional needs but also call you out on them if they’re unhealthy. Therapy, for that reason, is incredibly important to recovering emotionally from a very emotionally distressing experience, like yours and mine.
Literally, I was pregnant and I had no job. My midwife told me I’m not a person who sits on my ass and I need to go to therapy. She said, “Why don’t you go to a therapist?” and sitting through therapy is how everything came and unraveled.
Things get very rough in therapy. All those little things we’ve repressed from our pasts unravel bit by bit, or very quickly.
I’m very happy…no thankful…that the trauma of everything happened while I was in therapy.
What trauma specifically?
We weren’t married legally. We had been together for four years. The last year had been really tough for us. I was working. He was a stay at home dad. He started having conversations with strangers and we were both unhealthy. And it turned into physical violence.
What type of violence?
When I was four months pregnant we were arguing. It turned physically abusive and that is how I got my scar here and here. (points to eyes) That was in March, when we completely separated from each other. Him on the couch, me in the room. I found out that he had a girlfriend and was sleeping with many women off craigslist ads. It was July 9th, I was driving away from him with my son in the car, I was eight months pregnant…he tried to hit my car with his car. The night before he came into the room and forced himself on me. I cried, told him I had a high risk pregnancy. I didn’t want to be with him…he just stuffed my face into the pillow. And he raped me.
How has that changed the way you feel about your body?
My body hadn’t been good enough for him because he saw other women…but it’s his to take whenever he wants without asking. I haven’t felt like my body is mine since I was a child but that happening really solidified how I felt like I had no control. Especially since we have children. I was pregnant and I cried and said, “Your daughter is right here” and put his hand on my stomach…but he kept going. I’m sure that has led to the way I’ve felt postpartum.
Having her here…I want to change it all. I don’t want to live my life as the victim. I’m more than all of that. Than all that has happened.
You are a survivor of sexual assault, domestic violence, alcoholism, and depression. You feel like it was all caused by something you did. That it’s your fault. That’s our story; it’s my fault. But once you realize it isn’t your fault, you start to feel powerful again. And you stand up and you say confidently; it’s not my fault!
My therapist has been teaching me to be mindful of my thoughts. My grandpa was going through his things, my boyfriend was. I’m more than that.
Anything you’d like to the people reading this?
Change is possible. It’s okay to hide the little girl. I always think back to the little girl that I was. It’s okay to go back and hug that little girl and acknowledge the pain. A lot of people say, “You can’t change that” but at the end…when I looked in the mirror during this session, I knew I was changing that. It was just making that choice. I’m going to get to know that woman. And love that body.