We met 15 years ago, our paths diverging for 11 years, but our connection remaining unbroken. Sarah hails from Cheyenne, the heart of Wyoming, a place where echoes of the old wild west still resonate. From this land of legends, she took flight to Rome, Italy, and our reunion at the airport was electrifying, sending shivers through our souls. To me, Sarah is more than special; she is a symbol of strength and resilience.
We ventured to a timeless villa in the lush landscapes of Tuscany, a backdrop that mirrored our shared journey. There, we birthed our new photo series: ‘I’m Not Broken.’ This title is no mere phrase; it’s a declaration, a hidden narrative that Sarah harbored within her. A narrative she has courageously chosen to reveal.
These photographs are not just images; they are her retaliation, her triumph over adversity, and I couldn’t be more honored to be part of her revelation.
I am drawn to strong women, those who have the audacity to face life’s brutalities, rise, battle, and transcend. This is Sarah. This is her story.
Tell me about that crucial point when it all kicked off
My first childhood memories come at an age most people don’t even remember, two years old and my stepfather sexually abusing me. Two years old and my personal hell on earth began. Feelings of fear, not feeling safe, not feeling loved or protected. I have struggled with self-worth, feelings of inadequacy, and mental issues stemming from abuse so early on in life, and as years went by, consequentially, I found myself choosing men that would also abuse me in any possible way, mentally, emotionally, physically, sexually.
How has this traumatic experience shaped your view of yourself?
There is a different kind of self-hate and shame when you love someone who’s supposed to love you back and protect you and instead he uses his hands to cause you harm. I always thought there was something wrong with me. Then I have learned that men who prey on women can tell when someone is weak. I allowed men and how they treated me to depict how I felt about myself. I felt I didn’t deserve anything good in life. I felt shame of who I was, shame of where I came from. I was so angry about this, I wanted to take that power off from them and to take my life back. How could anyone love me, how do I even love myself? I was different from those around me, I was broken. I spent so many years of my life trying to hide but I decided I didn’t want to hide anymore.
You stuck it out with therapy even when things got tough. Can you talk more about that experience?
I was first introduced to therapy as a young child, and again once I started school. It didn’t seem helpful at all. It wasn’t until I was married and had my daughter that I got pushed to a point to try therapy again. I had been going through another terrible depression and my family was very concerned and didn’t know how to help me, so they asked me to find a therapist. This is how I met Dr. Roger Ludwig. He was the only person over the years who gave me new hope for life. In order to treat my trauma, he used a method called EMDR. Through this process I noticed a great deal of healing, and I was able to manage my anxiety and depression. Thanks to his genuine care and deep desire to make the difference, I felt heard, loved and understood for the first time in my life, and that gave me the ability to learn how to trust a man.
But then, out of nowhere, everything flipped.
Yes, after a couple years of working with Roger my sessions ended right after I divorced from my husband. During the following 15 years I hit another low I couldn’t ignore. I found myself in a very abusive relationship. I didn’t trust the warning signs I had seen with this man, I pushed them off thinking I was allowing my fear of men from childhood trauma obscure my judgement, so I ignored the gut feeling I had. That led to years of physical, mental, sexual and emotional abuse. The longer I was in it the more fearful and broken I became. I felt I was trapped with no way out. Eventually I found my safe exit and took it immediately. I closed my eyes and jumped. This is what led me to my journey in self-discovery and facing my fears. Trying to take my life and body back. I began modeling. I was at a point where I couldn’t face a mirror, all I could see was the brokenness inside me, but in modeling I could see who I really was and release some of the trauma. As anyone with trauma knows eventually you must face it. It doesn’t just go away. Although on my journey of self-discovery and facing fears I was finding healing there were life changes occurring like my daughter marrying and moving out, so now an empty nest. She was a huge reason for me to push through each day, to break the pattern and give her a better life. Some personal troubles at work and home bring up past trauma. When you ignore things for too long the problem doesn’t go away, it just grows. I was going to be a grandma and I knew I had let the depression go too long and I couldn’t hide it any longer. This led me back to my therapist again, and this time I’ve learned my trauma is a lifelong journey I can now handle.
Besides our long-term friendship, how does this photoshoot connect to your personal story?
As I said, modeling helped me to face my trauma. This photoshoot for me has been a definitive place of healing and a way to face my fears. Traveling to another country where nothing is familiar, not even the language spoken not once but twice now has been an amazing experience. Every step of the journey, walls crumbling and healing taking place, posing for such powerful photographs to show myself and the world I AM strong, my body is my own, I am lovable, I do not need to feel shame and fear.
We got our inspiration for the photo titles from two Bruce Dickinson songs.
What compelled you to share your story with the world?
Too many people are afraid to talk, to ask for help. It was not easy for me to share my story, but I have nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to hide. Unfortunately, mine is a story common to too many, and it’s important for those who feel alone to know they are not, to know there is always a way out, even when everything seems to be lost. From the pain and experiences in my life I have learned more compassion, to not judge a person or their situation. No longer are there chains holding me down. I’m not broken, and by sharing my story I hope to give hope to others. Together we stand, and together we can grow more strength. Sharing our stories is the best way to give hope and inspire others to do the same.
I want to wrap up with something that’s really close to my heart.
What I do with my camera isn’t about documenting reality. It’s about entertainment, exhibition, and collecting moments. But when my photographs become a tool to help someone break free from their fears and maybe even inspire others? That’s something special. It’s a gift, and I’m so thankful to Sarah for this opportunity.