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  • Leah Shelley

In Pieces


*Trigger warning. This post may contain triggers for some individuals. It describes the experience of growing up in a home dealing with a sexual assault. This is not to invalidate the experiences of those who have suffered, but to share the experience on the family as a whole and the effects of secondary trauma.


Hello again!


As I said in my first blog, I want these posts to you inform you, as the reader and viewer of my art, about my story. So here's the first piece.


I create from within, from the depths of emotion I feel or the experiences that I've had. Now, this isn't always why I create, sometimes I create simply because I see beauty and want to capture it. But I'm a pretty emotional personal with some pretty big feelings, and most of the time it's these feelings that move me to create.


Quite honestly, it's a scary place to create from because it requires diving head first into that emotion and allowing it to transform your art, allowing it to permeate every brushstroke, every colour choice. And the outcome of those pieces can be truly revealing to what is going on inside, whether that be turmoil or freedom.


I've realized now as I look back on early drawings that this has almost always been my MO. My big feelings become too big and I create. When I am overwhelmed with emotion or thoughts, when I can't seem to figure this thing called 'life' out, I create.


I had such a time when my feelings grew too big as a new teenager.


That time in life where all I should have been sketching was the faces of the boys I was crushing on or doodling our names in hearts, but instead I was sketching my world shattering around me, my face buried in my hands.


What I was going through was very real to me. And at this age, took precedence over crushes.

At this moment in my life, sketched on a piece of paper, I was able to experience my pain.


I could experience the brokenness I felt.


You see, I am the secondary victim of a sexual assault. No, I was not the one physically assaulted; sadly, my older sister was the primary victim. But that does not mean I was not a victim, that I did not suffer from what they call secondary trauma. Because I have, more than most people realize. With this sketch being just a glimpse of how much it impacted me while growing up.


You see, learning about what happened to my sister shattered my world. At 9 years old I learned what sexual assault meant. I learned that the places your bathing suit cover are not for anyone else to touch, that if that had happened to me or did happen, I needed to tell someone immediately. I learned that this happens even by people you trust. I learned that the world could be a dark place.


I found out that it was done by someone in our extended family. A family I thought hung the moon in the sky. A family we vacationed with, went to church with, did life with.


And it shattered my world. I learned what denial looked like. I learned what victim-blaming looked like. I learned what it was to live in fear.


In grade eight I went to court. The gentleman who assaulted my sister was pleading guilty and going to formally apologize to my sister and my parents felt it important that I go as well, as he hadn't just hurt her through this. However, I had to watch my baby niece who was not allowed in the courtroom, so I never heard his apology. Instead, I got to see everyone walk in. Forever embedded in my mind will be the image of the man who had blamed my sister for what had happened to her, holding his bible under arm, leading the man who had assaulted her, into the courtroom.


It shattered my world and I learned what bitterness was. I learned what righteous anger was.


I learned what it meant to truly hate.


High school started and a lot friendships became strained. I had lost a part of my family. I had lost a part of my childhood. I started to embody angst.


I had nightmares. I was afraid and angry. And I was broken.


Only sketched on a piece of paper could I feel safe to experience that brokenness.


So many in this family that I had adored had hurt my family, had hurt me. And I was torn between the love I had had for them, and my hatred towards them. I was torn between my sadness over losing them, and my desire to remain strong for my sister, siblings and parents. I was torn between wanting it to go back to how it used to be and the bitterness I felt knowing that it could never be the same.


So I became a master at repression and hid what was truly going on inside of me. The bitterness, the hatred, the questioning, the fear. I kept all these feelings buried deep, where the only one privy to what was going on was God. To the rest of the world it was hidden under smiles, laughter and all the courage I could muster. These big feelings bottling up inside of me.


I could not process what was going on around me, to my family. I could not process all these feelings inside of me.


So I picked up a pencil and opened my sketchbook.


On this piece of paper, in a simple sketch, a piece of my story was created.


And therein lies the beauty, it's just a piece.




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