Identity as a Survivor: Trauma, Memory & Therapy

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Words of encouragement in my takeaway from a Break the Silence event earlier this year.

Heading into vital time for my graduate studies in between semesters this summer, I was at a point of conflict with my practice:  how to respond to the urgency and pervasiveness of sexual assault in the United States and what material form, if any, would it take?

Although there was a definite progression in the participatory work I had made thus far both inside and outside the program, I found myself disappearing from the work. In an attempt to find the balance between audience comprehension, agency, and self reflection with my own story and relevance as a survivor, I made it the subject of my last paper entitled, Rape Culture in Participatory Work: Maintaining Identity while Communicating with a Broad Audience. To rationalize maintaining an identity in my work, I briefly analyzed critiques and ethics of participatory work, reviewed current statistics of sexual assault in the United States, reflected on quotes from Foucault and Butler on power and sexuality, and finally, to tie it back into material considerations, I looked at the work of Wangechi Mutu and Tracey Emin. The paper itself convincingly says, yes, my identity matters in the relevance and comprehension of the works and concludes with
“The question then is not how I can engage an audience through my material choices, but what materials are most appropriate, as rooted in my experience as a survivor and for audience comprehension?”

The urgency, from reading articles, dissecting polarized responses, and being a part of a local survivor community, helped me realize that enough was enough for my situation. I no longer wanted my life to be run by fear, anxiety, and depression due to being sexually assaulted. Whereas for a long time I was able to suppress these barriers through an emotional numbing, dissociation, and self-medication, everything became completely overwhelming in the last few months. Thus, I’ve made major choices to help myself heal – through medication and a commitment to at least six months of therapy every week.

As so many others seek to reclaim their mind and body from trauma and oppression, I have begun documenting objects that I’ve kept through many states and many moves in my lifetime. More often than not, these objects are stand ins for people who are no longer in my life or I have kept at a distance because of my rape. They are records of a time that I can no longer identity with, however are integral to finding my place now.

Trauma is linked to memory loss and the distortion of reality.  

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A shot of me from high school where I had many misconceptions about relationship roles, sexuality, and self, not long before I was assaulted.
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It’s difficult for me to see these photos from my childhood, where my sisters and I would be dressed up; for me, like a fantasy or sexual object.
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