Expressing Damage to the Soul

The following are images created with the subject to depict their internal struggle, the trauma they endured, a significant aspect of their ordeal or the lasting emotional damage. Each women has written their own statement to illustrate the photo. It is my hope that we all can learn, grow and influence others to change our attitude towards abuse and control of others. These images do not tell the subjects story, only a glimpse into their past. 

The photographs we took for the abuse project captured a horrific moment in time, for my four children and myself. I was suffering from Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder and weighed down by so much depression, that even the smallest task was overwhelming. I was in such unbearable pain from shock. It started in my heart and was leaking toxins throughout my body. I was trying to make our escape, but still getting pulled into abusive trauma, causing my practical mind to tell me to give up. To end my life would have been so much easier.

During my darkest hours, convinced that no human could survive my turmoil, my spirit would push me forward. The Lord above was giving my spirit hope and a desire to overcome. Until finally, my fighting spirit was loader than my mind. I became determined to heal and make a full recovery. I wanted it for myself, my children and others who have been abused. Being in a photograph at the start of my recovery, was monumental in motivating me to keep fighting for our freedom. All who knew me or even met me for the first time, could see my empty, faded eyes had been poisoned by betrayal. Capturing a tiny slice of my horror, somehow made me feel more brave. I wanted to be able to look back at the photographs and remember how crippling abuse had been to us. I also felt empowered by the idea that I was not the only one.I was an abuse victim, but I'm proud to tell you that we escaped and I'm grateful each day. When I look at the photos, I'm amazed at how far I've come in my healing process. I've been able to forgive, protect myself from being abused by others and learned to be good to myself. If I have come this far from the starting point, when I was photographed, I know I can trust that my children and I can live a peaceful life.

Down the street from my mom’s house is a tree on the edge of the canyon, overlooking the river

draining into the bay. It is no special tree, not very old, but it was beneath its scrawny branches

that I would often escape when things were too crazy at home, dad was too drunk, or I was to be alone with him.


I found strength and safety with that tree and I always knew that life would be better some

day when I was done there. Years later and with a different perspective, I still visit that tree.


Today, it is grown and strong. It full branches providing shade to rest and play in. It has

weathered many storms and the evidence of abuse has scarred its trunk and branches. Many

have laughed, loved, and cried there, with it. The tree that never wanders and is always there,

always strong against the sunset. Always growing yet somehow unchanged. Totally free. Just

like me.


I forgave something unforgivable and I freed myself. I thought I would be stuck in my old story

for life, gripped by the same fears and bound by silence. But this is not so. I am never afraid, for

I have spoken, and I am grateful.


I never thought I’d be here.

Since being a victim of abuse from childhood, the feeling of not being able to breath in my own skin was constant.  I had no sense of self, identity, or voice.  It took a night of literal suffocation from a lover choking me to realize how much I needed to break this cycle. 

 Doing this photo shoot allowed me to revisit the feelings of pain, sorrow, fear, anger, and captivity, but this time with the added feeling of empowerment.  Today, I am grateful for my experiences, because now I truly appreciate what it means to be free.    

It wasn’t bruises or broken bones, no, I was dying by 10, 000 cuts to my soul. Words yelled at me, words told to me. The constant belittling, demeaning words. Words that were breaking my soul and destroying me. Others saw it, but did not know what to do. I even fled once, only to return. I am still in it….I can’t escape…I can’t leave. I can’t even pose for this photo, or he will know. I am stuck in a cycle of hate and despise all directed at me. 

The Prisoner

I feel blessed for the opportunity to be part of such a meaningful project. I was eager to share my pain with the others who might need to know they are not alone.

It has been many years since I felt entombed by the feelings of self doubt, isolation, hopelessness and despair. My world got smaller and smaller as my abuser either hit me or used words to convince me that I had absolutely no value or reason for my existence. It is hard to explain how or why I stayed in such a dangerous and detrimental relationship. I thought that it was my duty to make my marriage work no matter what the cost. So I stayed and became less of a woman day by day.

Then one day I began to hear other people telling me that I wasn’t the one who needed help. My abuser was the one with the biggest problem. It wasn’t my fault. In time, I gathered up the courage to leave. It wasn’t easy but neither was staying. I remember the night that I took a stand against evil. It felt so good to remove the shackles from my mind. It was so empowering to break out of the prison cell. No one could do this for me. I had to do it for myself. I have never regretted my decision. Freedom from abuse is like going from Hell to Heaven! I can now thank God for sending me friends who could see who I really was. I thank them for the encouragement to deliver myself from the horror of domestic abuse. I walk in the light of God’s love everyday. Never again to return to the dungeon I once lived in… Thank you Lord!

Psychological Bondage

 It started very subtly. Little things said that I let slip by. It started with negative comment, belittling remark and an attitude of being superior. Telling me I wasn’t capable of doing things. Not supporting in my dreams or goals, and putting himself first. It was campaign to under mind the foundation of who I was. A campaign to under mind my self-esteem, my self-worth, so that I would question decisions I made and my own capabilities. It was a slow and successful attempt to control me. He used demeaning and belittling comments, and a constant attitude that he was superior and I was inferior. I began to believe it. The psychological bondage started to entrap me. So when the physical abuse started I was already trapped. Feeling as if this is I had no choice, I could not leave. I was doomed to be in this relationship that would destroy me. I remember how he glared at me with absolute despise and I would look in the mirror thinking that I just wanted to die. By the grace of God, there was intervention by the authorities saving the children and I years of being terrorized. Now I have my own life, a successful and fulfilled life. My life. 

Why Didn't You Help

 If you choose to ignore someone in need that may be the last time they need anyone. Don’t turn your back on somebody in need of help. When I was abducted I tried to escape by jumping out of the van. When I did that not one person stepped forward to help me. People  just stood around in disbelief as my capture grabbed me and put me back in the van. Don’t just stand there. It your  job to help.

The Observer

I listened and heard you being lost in the lies and manipulation by him. It was inconceivable that you couldn’t see how he was pulling you into his web. He drew you in with his charm, wit and charisma. I too, thought he was a fabulous guy. A guy who helped others and was so charming. Then your stories turned dark. No longer did I hear how wonderful and caring he was. I started to hear you question situations and events between you. You would ask me, “is this normal? Is what he is saying true about me?” That was when the alarm bells went off in my mind. He started to try and control your world, who you could see and what  you wore. Then he told you how everyone else was manipulating you. That you wonderful and caring family were lying to  you. You started to question what he was saying but you would talk with him again and back you went into his web. I remember one day you telling about how he was treating you, a theme I kept hearing over and over. How he threw  you out of his house in the middle of the night. Then he called the next day like nothing happened and when you questioned him, he said you deserved it. I remember telling you, “he treats you like a dog, yanking on your lease over and over.”


Hiding behind this Wall

This wall has been apart of my life for way too long. Hiding behind it, is all I know. It’s still rough and way too thick and I’ve been trying to knock it down but it still remains. How do I get rid of it - I think about sharing my story. I think about telling my story about the abuse.

I’ve been traumatized, was never allowed to talk about it and now I have this great big wall around me. I wonder if the more I share, well, the more I let go, just maybe parts of this wall will start to crumble. And then maybe, if I talk about what was done to me by those that should have loved me, those that should’ve cared, maybe my wall will start to fall. Maybe, just maybe, then my wall will collapse.

Until then, the abuse and the abuser’s are gone but the pain remains and so does my wall. 


After my son’s father slapped him, I went to rescue my son and his father hit me.  Throughout my marriage and even before marrying this jerk, he was abusive even to the point where he raped me twice.  I still stayed with him, because I had no power to be who I was supposed to be.  After that event, Catalyst rescued me and my friends who watched my pathetic life for years came out to hold my children and me.  It has been nine years since I have been free to be who I am.  It took so much work to look at myself and erase the feelings of being a victim.  I have had a wonderful man in my life for the past eight years who has treated my children as his own.  This beautiful man has helped me wake up and love myself.  Because of the work I have done and the support I have received, I have accomplished my dreams.  My life is now to serve God and help those who are suffocating in these relationships.  I have learned to not be a victim, but a teacher living a life with purpose.  Buddhism and Christianity have been good resources in learning to forgive and hold self-accountable.  I am still working on myself as any addict does, as it is easy to become attracted to that dramatic sad life.  This photo reflects my feeling of living in the darkness and pain while aching for freedom in the beautiful nature God has given us.


To the outside world, my relationship was something you would find out of a catalogue.  There was no room for doubt, because we were the picture perfect couple with the unblemished prospect of a deep, lifelong commitment to each other.  We were two highly successful people: intellectually blessed, physically attractive, and so in tune with one another. There could not be anything wrong…everything was bliss, until it wasn’t.

I was abused verbally, emotionally, and psychologically.  I was fearful of everything and everyone.  I could not think for myself, and I could not survive by myself.  I was a beaten down puppet that followed orders.  I allowed myself to become entrapped, because to me, the elixir of his smile and the embrace of his arms, washed away the hurt and confusion.

My life had become a tumultuous battle, and every essence that governed my character was reduced to guilt and shame.  It was never “you have made a mistake,” but rather “you are a mistake.”  I had lost myself completely. But what kind of life do we choose when our purpose and identity is governed by another person? I was not willing to live in chains any longer than I had, which is why I made the decision to escape my prison and start a life free of abuse where disgrace, blame and humiliation would never again be used as weapons against me.  When we can recognize that fear and love do not equate, and respect is at the core of every healthy relationship, we can find solace in our hearts and move forward.


My story rings true to the classic high school teenager dating the football star, who found herself in an abusive relationship. He was part of CIF's top ranked offensive line in our division, needless to say he was much stronger than I was, and had the support of the entire football team. I come from a small town here in California, where football made the town come alive every Friday night. Which made these boys almost untouchable. I knew at the time that it wasn't okay and that I didn't deserve that but looking back, a big part of me didn't have any idea what to do. Now that I think about it... I can't remember knowing any other girl that was being abused. Not only were we not talking about abuse back then in the high school sphere, there was nothing I could have really done any way. Most abuse happens on school grounds and if you don't want the attention of the whole administrative staff drowning you, there really isn't anything you can do. By my junior year I knew that the only real way out was to move away to college. Unfortunately, I didn't really have any one to talk to or to seek advice from but that was more due to the fact that I didn't know how to say it out loud. Not only that but I was not interested in how I was going to be looked at and judged, because some people are under the strong assumption that either one, I deserved it or two, I was just being a little over dramatic. My boyfriend was abusive for about 3 years and I would say that about half of the time was at school. But the majority of the time there, it was more of the pinch behind the arms or verbal abuse rather than the after school punches. Like most victims, I was easily persuaded by the "sorrys" and the "I'll never do agains" so moving away to college was really the only option I had at that point. And of course prior, my boyfriend made many attempts to "persuade" me to stay. I moved to san diego in 2003 and have not looked back once. As an SDSU alumni, I was really disheartened to learn that there are so many girls being abused during high school. As if being a teenage girl wasn't hard enough, we have to throw that into it too! Statistically speaking, 1 in 3 girls will have an abusive dating experience by 18, which not only affects like self- esteem but is something that will follow them into their adulthood and could potentially create an abusive dating pattern. One of the most problematic things to tackling teenage abuse is that the majority of the incidents happen at school and most of the time when they are alone with their partner. I worked really hard to keep it from my family and most of my friends but as you can guess that is not always successful. Honestly, I think I kept my mouth shut because it was easier. No one was talking about it back then and I think that was because it was easier to discard the situation entirely than the amount of work it would have taken for me, my family and the high school staff to make it stop. I am not angry that no one stepped in to help or make it stop, my only regret is that because of my silence this problem was silent longer.


Every night as I would crawl into bed, I would hear the sound of a drunk giggling my name breathlessly from the other side of my locked bedroom door. There was nowhere that I could hide. And there was no place on my body that was sacred. All of it had been invaded, beaten, and abused. I grew up ashamed, disgusted by my own skin, and terrified for years of human touch and intimacy. There was a layer of filth imbedded into my skin that I could never completely scrub clean, so I began hiding it. Covering as much of me as I could, hoping no one would ever see the truth.The only refuge I had from my living nightmare was the darkness inside of my closest. I would go there often, and let the darkness hide all the things I saw when looking at myself in a mirror.

Sitting in front of a camera, baring my biggest pain to a stranger was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I had to dig deep, and go places I told myself I never would again. After participating in this project I realized I had opened a door that I could not shut. I had spent years internalizing every feeling and emotion to the point of not truly feeling anything at all. I was walking through life numb, and not even realizing it. With the help of my husband, we decided to face my past together. It has been a long and emotional journey. It’s been painful, but strangely wonderful and reviving. And the journey is nowhere near done.

Every day, every challenge, and every person I meet, makes me a little bit better and a little bit stronger. I hope to one day help someone else the way that participating in this project had inspired me to help myself.

Second Hand Abuse

As a child…I felt alone and isolated. It appeared that everyone else had normal families and I was the only one without a mother. The only one that lived in an alcoholic home. The only one that was unloved, unwanted, disregarded. I felt different, like I never fit in. I was ashamed of who I was and felt that I was less than others. I lived in fear. Constant fear. I felt like I was always walking on eggshells. Life seemed to be out of control and I was a victim. I felt powerless to be myself. In elementary school I would have crying fits for no reason. I would be sent to the principal’s office. They and my stepmom would say “there’s something wrong with you.” I lived in what I now know was PTSD. I went from an abusive situation with my mom and her boyfriend to an alcoholic rage-aholic home with my dad and his wife; who treated me as if I was a burden. I felt like I was a nobody. I had no voice. I was never allowed to. I learned to hide within myself, which kept me from making friends as we moved from state to state. I lived in a constant state of pain, grief, and loneliness. I longed for my mom. I cried myself to sleep regularly.

Right before my fifth birthday my mom was murdered by her boyfriend. She had asked her parents for help to get her out of the situation but they told her “you got yourself into this, you get yourself out.” She had no way out, until her estranged sister, my aunt, offered to help in a desperate call for help. That same day she died. The day she died she knew. She knew that she needed to get out. She had come upstairs to say goodbye to my sister and I before she was shot. Her intuition said that something was going to happen. It did.

Bubble Wrap

Our mom was killed by her second husband when we were children. This completely shattered our world and we were forced to abandon our innocence and adopt an adult mindset at an early age. It was near impossible for us to trust men for the next 25 years and we became unhealthily co-dependent on one another. It wasn't until recently when we fully experienced our grief and moved through it, that we were able to find our individuality and start living our lives instead of reacting and surviving. 

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