We met 15 years ago, but we hadn’t seen each other for the last 11 years, while always staying in touch. She comes from Cheyenne, the capital of Wyoming, one of those American states that project you directly into the old wild west. From Cheyenne she flew to Rome – Italy, seeing each other again at the airport after these long years and feeling the body crossed by shivers was all in one. Sarah is very special to me.
We headed to Tuscany, in a villa that is a travel back in time, where we took our new photos. This series is called I’m Not Broken. Its title is not by chance, there’s a meaning, a true story hidden behind it. A story Sarah kept inside for too long, too difficult to pull out. Up till now. Supported by my strong photographs to highlight her retaliation, she wanted to share her story, and I couldn’t be more proud of.
I like strong women. It definitely takes strength to face certain situations and fears, get up, fight, and move forward. This is Sarah. Read.
Tell me about the time when everything began
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.
Awful experiences that conditioned your whole life. How did you feel about 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 didn’t want to give up and eventually went through years of therapy, but the road was not easy, can you tell more?
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 like in a movie, when the situation seems to go in one direction, something happened.
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 friendship, how is this photoshoot related to your 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 inspired by two songs of Bruce Dickinson and titled the photographs consequently.
The songs “Broken” and “Tears of the dragon” by Bruce Dickinson were an inspiration during this shoot. The lyrics are so powerful and speaking the words that I’m so often at a loss to find. These songs fueled us during the shoot and even now listening to them brings tears to my eyes.
Why did you want to share your story?
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 add a final note
Mine is not documentary photography. My photographs are for entertainment, exhibition, collection. Using them as a support and help to free oneself from fears and hopefully inspire others, is priceless, and I’m thankful to Sarah for this opportunity.