As soon as I began offering Phoenix Sessions (previously called Survivor Sessions - name change post coming later) Victoria reached out to me with tidbits of her story and asked if I would do a session for her. I am of the belief that if you have been assaulted - sexually or physically in a domestic relationship and you believe one of these sessions could possibly help you, that I have no right to turn you down.
I discussed with her, as is customary for me, what helped her cope when she was at her lowest. What helped her heal. What helped her keep moving forward. In her deepest darkest hours, she had an unhealthy habit - self harm. But she also said she loved to write; notes, self help quotes, her story. She also loved to sit in the tub. Just hold herself. Tell herself that she IS enough. That she DOES deserve love. That she DOES deserve happiness. And let me tell you, if there is a person alive who deserves happiness, it is this dear sweet girl. She is so young and has not only endured, but survived SO MUCH. She is truly a Phoenix. She certainly has risen from the ashes.
Victoria endured abandonment by her father, sexual abuse at the hands of a cousin, emotional abuse by the words of her now ex stepfather, abandonment by her now ex stepfather who adopted her and physical and emotional abuse by her now ex husband. . She is courageous, strong and wise beyond her years. I am grateful to have not only had the chance to get to photograph her but to get to know her and her story.
During our session, the most intimate moments came while sitting in the bathroom of her first apartment that is HER VERY OWN. She sat and soaked in the tub, while I snapped candid images. True moments. Real emotions. I asked her to tell me her story. She poured her soul out in front of my camera and I. We shared. We laughed. We cried.
I am so grateful to be able to share Victoria's story with you, in her own words. As you read them, please be reflective. Imagine the strength it must take to not only survive what this young woman has but to share her story.
"When I was younger, I never imagined that going for a swim in my cousin’s pool would lead to a whirlwind of anger, and questions. I was sexually assaulted by my own cousin, and I knew no one would ever believe me. Telling my mom and adoptive dad about this would just touch the tip of the emotional abuse that would ensue from him."
"While trying to heal from being sexually violated, I also had to learn how to heal from being humiliated due to my struggles with mental illness. When he found out that I was cutting to release the pain I was feeling inside, he stated, “If I cut myself every time I was angry at you or hurt by you, I’d have cuts all up and down my arms.” How a “father” can say that to his teenage daughter whom he knows is already struggling with will to live is beyond me. Fast forward 4 years and many more insults later, I decided that I wanted to become an EMT. Rather than congratulating me on my decision or being proud, it was a simple statement of, “You’re pretty lazy, are you sure you’re going to be able to do all that?” I just recently found a quote that perfectly describes why I went into healthcare and still continue to do that work. “I didn’t become an EMT to get a front row seat to other people’s tragedies. I did it because I knew the world was bleeding and so was I, and somewhere inside I knew the only way to stop my own bleeding was to learn how to stop someone else’s.”
"This past September, I decided to leave my toxic, three year relationship. After my childhood, I made a vow that my kids would have a childhood they didn’t have to recover from. A home with yelling, and fighting, and crying all the time is not a home at all."
Now, with Victoria's permission, I am going to share with you some of the images from the most intimate and heart wrenching session I have ever done.