Using Art to Heal the Trauma of Domestic, Sexual Violence

by Brenda Plumley

Art has helped me live through repeated violent abuse during the duration of my childhood. Art was a way to get by in a family that was saturated with dysfunction and danger.

The perpetrators were mainly family, though stranger perpetrators were given a better chance at inflicting further abuse. The adults I was living with created such a chaotic environment through dysfunctional parenting, which included neglect, avoidance of parental obligation, and conflict between their wants and desires over the needs of the children.

My mother and her chosen life partner, who moved in after my father abandoned us, set down rules and demanded behaviors that would assure the abuses being inflicted would not call attention (or inspire interference) from people outside the family, including the circle of friends who witnessed or participated in the abuse. Perpetrators used my siblings and I to insure a deep level of secrecy by rewards with affection, making sure none of us talked to teachers or school guidance counselors, neighbors or other parents.

Mistrust between my siblings and I was established immediately, so we were alone, separated and unwilling to communicate with each other out of fear of retaliation. I was alone, they were alone, each living out our own separate nightmare.

Art was my way to speak out. Art was my voice that the perpetrators tried to bind silent. Art became a way out for me that my family would not take away mainly because my mother saw it as a way to make money for herself. Creating art did not get the same response of condemnation that other ways of reaching out did.

Art allowed my voice to be heard without having to use words. By the time I reached the third grade in elementary school, my work became more distinctive.  My teacher had pointed out my work that hung on the wall in the hallway of the school along with other works from my classmates.  As she complimented me on my work, she knelt down, looked in my eyes, and placed her hand on my back.  It was at that moment I understood a use for art to get what my mother refused to give me: loving attention.

Today, my art has become a way to heal, to create change. Through my art my soul intends to heal outward. As my work’s journey through generations of lifetimes, it will ripple forward a healing light for other survivors of trauma to use on their own path.  My art is testimony not only that healing is possible and achievable, but also that we are not alone. My art is my dream solidified, an affirmation that a positive outcome can arise from the very face of darkness.

Life does not dictate how an individual chooses to respond to the traumas it is fraught with; life does not dictate any one outcome.  No perpetrator of trauma can take away the soul’s determination to become.  Art is a way for the light of a soul to overcome the obstruction of trauma.

Local artist Brenda Plumley is a survivor of domestic and sexual violence. Her work portrays her healing journey over the past two decades. In April 2013 she shared her story publicly and displayed her art work via the YWCA Mohawk Valley. Her goal: To show other survivors that healing is possible and that help is always available.