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art journaling as a way of healing from trauma (my bravest post yet)

1 Billion Rising: V-Day February 14, 2013 - Strike Dance Rise!

Dear Gorgeous Genius,

Happy Valentines Day, and thank you for visiting my blog.

My name is Lisa Sonora. I am an author, artist, therapist, and creative entrepreneur. I am an American who lives wherever I have high speed Internet, currently in Southern Mexico.

My life’s work is about:

using the power of creative self-expression to help people heal,

become more aligned with their values and heartfelt desires,

and empower them take bold action to realize their deepest dreams.

Today I am participating in ONE BILLION RISING, a revolutionary campaign to end violence against women and girls.

Today, one of every three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime.

That is ONE BILLION mothers, daughters, sisters, partners, and friends. Yet, most of the world remains silent and indifferent. The time has come to put a stop to the violence, and to the silence that surrounds it.

While I have published a great deal of work from my expressive art and writing sketchbooks (the primary medium I use with myself and others) I haven’t yet shared images from my own personal process that helped me heal from assault. They will be published in an upcoming visual memoir designed to help others heal from trauma.

For now, I am sharing just a few of these images to help tell my story, and why I am rising today.

The images that accompany this article are from my creative sketchbooks (some call them art journals, or visual journals).

While I use art supplies in my journals, they are purely expressive, meant for creative breakthroughs and healing, and for my eyes only.

So I don’t think of my journals as “art”, the way I do the paintings that I make for galleries.

There is very little that I have shared publicly from my sketchbooks for this reason.

Keeping sketchbooks like this was a healthy habit I developed as a child.

Since I first shared my personal process with teen survivors of sexual abuse when I was a young therapist in the mid-1980’s, I’ve offered this powerful method of healing on five continents with thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds.


Why Am I Rising?

I am rising because when I was in college I was attacked in my dorm room and almost raped and killed in a gang initiation.

I woke at 3am to a man on top of me and his hands around my neck. Taunting me with threats, suffocating me with a pillow, as he tried to tie me up. Something that continues to give me nightmares decades later.

I am rising because the university forbid me to discuss the “incident”, and threatened to take away my scholarship and kick me out of school if I told anyone. I was offered no counseling, no compassion.

I am rising because I was violated again by being forced to keep silent. I was shunned and shamed by everyone in authority.

I am rising because being assaulted by a stranger, and then silenced by my school (and the police) and treated like a criminal, instead of a victim, was not the worst thing that ever happened to me.



The Unspeakable Horror

I am rising because the worst things that happened to me happened in my own family.

For the first twelve years of my life, I was sexually abused by a family member. I told no one, not even the therapists I started seeing as a teen, not even after I became a therapist myself. I couldn’t speak about the unspeakable.




Why We’re Afraid To Tell

One of the tools sexual predators use to keep children from telling, is to convince them that the abuse is their fault. If they tell, horrible things will happen. Keeping a child silent requires verbal torture and brainwashing. It’s very effective.

There were other members of my family who routinely emotionally berated and physically beat me, starting when I was a toddler.

I am rising because these are my earliest memories: of being assaulted sexually and physically. Of constantly being afraid. Of being terrorized by people who acted like upstanding citizens outside of the house.



Daring to Tell

By my teen years I was estranged from my family, trying to get as far away from the abuse as possible. It was only after an unlikely visit with a young relative, that I dared speak about the sexual abuse to my mother and some aunts. The only reason I mentioned it, was that I was afraid this little girl might be prey to the same perpetrator.




Don’t Make Waves

I am rising because the response I got from my mother and aunts was: Be quiet. Don’t make waves. Don’t say anything. Don’t ever mention this again.

I am rising because this response is unfortunately typical. There is a horrifying pattern in sexual abuse and assault where the victim is made to feel more victimized and shamed, while the perpetrator is free to go on hurting others without intervention.



Just Get Over It

I am rising because no one protected me, not even my own mother.

I am rising because no one offered any solace once they knew, not even the other women in my family.

I am rising, because the few people I trusted enough to tell, told me to shut up. And then pretended it never happened.

Whose responsibility is it to dare speak of the unspeakable? It is mine. It is yours. It is ours.

I am rising because a few years ago my mother said to one of my sisters, who didn’t want to allow her children—my beloved nieces and nephews—anywhere potentially near the perpetrator, in regard to my abuse: Oh, Well, all that happened such a long time ago.

It happened so long ago. It’s all in the past. Why don’t you just get over it already?

I’m rising because this is the message that terrorized and raped and beaten women hear: Just get over it.


I am rising because I am Over It.

I am over having nightmares that wake me up screaming for my life, heart racing and crying.

I am over the lifelong medical issues that I deal with on a daily basis because of severe injuries, including brain and neurological damage from head trauma.

I am over spending so much of my time and money and energy healing.

I am over fearing I’m too damaged to heal.

I am over trying to be nice and quiet and not rock the boat or make waves or be nice by not speaking of the unspeakable because it makes other people uncomfortable.

I am over grieving that I cannot be a mother myself.

I am over trying to cope with the effects of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder.

I am over suffering in silence for invisible wounds.

I am over feeling unworthy of love.

I am over it.

I Am So Over It.




I am rising today, because I am a loving friend, sister, and advocate for those who are not able to speak up and protect themselves.

I am rising because I have turned my deepest wounds into my greatest gifts. I feel blessed and lucky and grateful every single day that that which did not kill me made me stronger.




I am rising because there is power and healing in creative self-expression.

Especially if we were made to feel unworthy, disrespected, terrorized, and afraid.

When we are silenced and shunned by assault, it is difficult to find our true voice, so we can share our gifts and our love and beauty.



I am rising because I couldn’t express my own creative voice until I was nearly forty years old.

I am rising because there was so much scarring in the way of sharing my healing gifts.

I am rising because I hope it doesn’t have to take so long for you, or for someone you love who has suffered this way.

I am rising because enough is enough.


One Billion Women assaulted is an epidemic.

It’s outrageous. It’s beyond comprehension.

One Billion People Rising to dance, create, strike and share is a revolution.

I invite you to join me in forcing global attention upon the epidemic of gender-based violence.

Will you rise up with me?

If this article moved you, please share it. I’d love to hear why you are rising – tell me in the comments.

Curious about tapping into the power of your own creativity?

This is the process that saved my life: Dreaming On Paper: The Creative Sketchbook.

Learn more about 1 Billion Rising and find a dance party, flash mob, and other ways to participate at One Billion

p.s. I really wanted to make a video post about this, like so many others have done, but I couldn’t read aloud without crying. As it was, I cried pretty much the whole time I wrote this.

Below are a few of my favorite videos, you can see a bunch more on youtube.  Jane Fonda. What a powerful message that inspired me to speak out. She’s over it, too.

Author’s note: The original title of this post was: This V-Day I Am Rising. Will You? (my bravest post yet, from the heart)

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