This series tells the story of my experiencing, hiding, and suppressing childhood sexual abuse. Each painting is 72" x 48".
From the outside, I was part of a happy family. In reality, I was being abused by my mother. Out of shame and confusion, I kept the abuse hidden from everyone. The weight of my silence led to eating disorders, self-harm, and ultimately a severe alcohol and drug addiction.
The combination of color with black and white is meant to represent the dichotomy between the facade I projected and the reality I experienced. The cracks within each composition symbolize the chaotic brokenness I felt. The evolving background colors—yellow to orange to red—represent the increasing severity of my experience.
On the outside we’re a happy family. We live in a big house on the ocean, my brother and I go to expensive private schools, we take fun vacations.
But the inside is haunted with her slamming doors and screaming. Her unpredictable rage, her constant need for validation. We appease her moods or deal with the consequences. But I’m nine years old and don’t know how to placate a narcissist.
The sexual abuse happens when my dad goes away on work trips and she’s the only adult in the house. I hold myself as rigid as I can, waiting for everything to implode. It never does, and somehow that’s worse.
I don’t know how to voice any of this, so instead I say “my stomach hurts”. Because it does hurt, from years of quietly trying to extinguish this fire eating me alive. Soon I’m complaining of my stomach so often my parents take me to the doctor. Tests are run, food allergies turn up. I change my diet, but the stomach aches persist in the form of headaches. Because the sexual abuse persists.
She’s supposed to be protecting me.
I determine the best way to handle the abuse is to never speak of it. No matter the cost, I will take this to my grave.
Hiding the truth from everyone is difficult. Hiding the truth from myself is harder. It’s a frantic game of hide and seek. At 13 I try starving myself, wasting away until my period stops for years and my bones protrude. It works until it doesn’t.
By 15 I’m addicted to cigarettes, savoring the heady rush that quiets everything. The effect is fleeting. I try cutting myself, making small incisions on my hips and upper thighs in the ugly yellow light of my bathroom. Stillness ensues, until it all rushes back louder than before.
I sink deeper. Nothing gets out, nothing gets in. I clench every muscle in my body, grind my teeth, white knuckle the lid shut on the words screaming inside me. This silence is supposed to erase what happened, but the volume keeps turning up. It’s deafening.
Then I discover drugs.
The first time I get drunk is at a party in 9th grade. An older boy hands me a plastic cup filled with lukewarm vodka and orange juice. I stumble into the bathroom and stare at my dumbstruck reflection. I’ve found the solution, I feel safe now.
Soon I realize alcohol isn’t just for parties. I take Advil PM and shots of vodka before bed, just to get through the night. At 17 I’m given Zoloft and genuinely feel a little better, until I need more to feel safe again.
I add pot to the mix and feel at ease until—again—I need more. Gradually I add more and more substances—both legal and not.
I continue this for ten years, constantly upping the ante to whatever makes me feel safe. I drive blacked out hundreds of times. I approach strange men on dark streets for drugs. I have sex with people who repulse me. I combine dangerous levels of substances. I battle nauseating hangovers in morning meetings, my coworkers glancing knowingly at one another.
One day when I’m 28, I wake up with my usual breakfast of vodka and pot. I attempt laundry and find I already need more. I always need more. I sit down and cry, because nothing is strong enough to keep up the facade any longer.
I'm so tired.