Letter to my abuser


You can call me stupid. Call me wrong. Call me incapable. Call me names I cannot even repeat. You can spread your lies. Convince others. Build a whole army of puppet followers who all agree with you. You can convince a friend of mine. Turn someone I love against me. You can find the evidence that you need. Point out my flaws. Cast a spotlight on each insecurity. You can get inside my head. You can even break me down. Bring me to my knees, alone on a cold, hard floor, and you might think then, that you’ve won…

but tomorrow, I will stand up. I will take another step forward, no matter how small or how shaky. And I will know that you will never get the best of me, because even as I stumble through this fucked up world, it is love I hold inside my heart, and you can never make me hate.

Survivor Poetry- ‘Days When It Feels Like No One’s On Your Side’

Days when it feels like no one’s on your side
and you have to hide
from your own mind
and the twisted
often too realistic
thoughts that control you
and push you and pull you
and all that you can do
is to pretend to
be fine
there’s nothing on your mind
thank God that most people are blind
to anything further past
the smiling mask
that you’ve crafted until at last
it’s mastered
and plastered
overtop of the broken face
takes it’s place
and you’re safe
from the world outside
but too soon you find
that the terror’s inside.
and no one can help
’cause you can’t escape from yourself
so you put it all away on a shelf
in the back of your heart
you don’t want any part
of the sickening past
but all too fast
it comes back
and attacks
and it’s hard, you soon find
to control your own mind
these voice keep screaming at you all the time
you enter a trance as if you’re daydreaming
you keeping seeing
pictures, but you can tell what’s real
and you feel
like your about to burst
cause it hurts
so much more
than words can explore

Survivor Poetry: ‘Unnamed Woman’

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My mother cut out clippings from the newspaper with a pair of silver scissors,
gliding them along the marble countertop with a swoosh as I cut my French toast
into trapezoids with my fork. I never drank my orange juice. It left a bad
taste in my mouth when I brushed my teeth and besides, orange juice
did not belong to me anymore. It belonged on the list, ‘no longer innocent,’
and I hardly paid attention to the articles in the newspaper anyway but there
was still no convincing him of that. There was no convincing him
of most things that I tried and there was no way I knew of to drown
out the tone of his voice over my mother’s cheerful ring. There’s a nice
picture of you. [Ugly! Stupid! Fake!] My mother said. A nice picture
of a girl that looked like me, running with one hand in the air and a white
soccer ball in the net behind her. Blurry. The article below it takes up
half a page and continues on C5 but I flip to C6 by mistake and I read
about an unnamed woman who was r       d two nights ago in her own house
by a man she (thought she) knew. And if you hold up the page, staring now
at C5 and looking at the letters of my name in the light from the kitchen window,
you’ll find the articles run together. The same black ink on the same dull
white paper and that’s as far as I’ll ever get to reading the article today.

Years later, I will flip through one of the three ring binders my grandmother
used to press each clipping into and I will notice the article I never read
and I will sit on my bedroom floor in my new house in my new city in my
new life and it would read like a fairy tale I wish could have been real.
‘Did I really do all that?’ I’ll ask my mom when she walks past my room and she
will pause in the doorway and take a minute to put it all together and she will
say ‘yes. Yes you did. Yes.’ And I will try to believe her only because my name
is written in the ink and the picture of the girl looks something like me
and I will wonder if the man was ever caught or put in jail or if he even stepped
foot into a courthouse but I will wait until my mother walks away before
slipping the paper from its plastic covering. I can feel the stabbing in my lower
back, see the world from in between a pair of fingers on my face and I wish I knew
what happened to that woman because it never says, if she survived or if she
walked around in another person’s body all these years. If she woke up
sweating at two am, if she forgot her favorite song or how to speak
out loud or how to look in to a mirror and I wish I knew what it felt like
to be the girl that was smiling, and not the one unnamed.


© A. Leigh

Survivor Poetry: ‘Cut Out My Heart’


I cut out my heart,
leave it on the shelf beside my dresser,
next to a box of necklaces and
a tipped over frame.
I don’t feel like bringing it tonight.

I cut out my heart,
leave it behind and
replace the emptiness
with a painted smile
and pretend I can’t hear it crying-
Calling all night in the breaks
between the laughter,
the moments
when words fall away
and silence seeps in
and I feel the empty hole
in the left side of my chest
and I think about
trying to forget about
missing you.

I cut out my heart,
leave it behind where no one can notice,
where no one can touch it,
where it can’t feel arms wrapped around me
or smell the hint of Old Spice against my skin.
And it can’t see
the way I look into his eyes
pretending that it’s still there, inside.
pretending that I can give it away,
pretending that it already belongs to someone else.

And at night when I go home,
and wash away my smile,
and sit in the silence of my crowded room
staring at the plastic stars stuck on to my ceiling,
It sits waiting at the foot of my bed
like an abandoned puppy
following me around with its tale between its legs
Until I make it leave the room
And lock my door behind it,
pulling the covers over my head
Pretending I can’t hear it scratching at the door and
pressing its nose under the crack
waiting for someone to notice.

I cut out my heart
pretend somehow that it hurts less
to have an empty space
rather than a million shattered pieces,
pretend somehow that it is easier
to feel nothing at all
rather than risking too much


January, 2005.

Survivor Poetry: ‘Love’


The things he says
as etching in my skin the fingers circling
my arms around the wrist
they sink somehow, without me hearing
anything else. I have forgotten
this girl, lying on this bed, was at one point
me. I have forgotten that I know
her at all, that there is a world
outside this room, that speaking
is to be heard. And I bleed. Silently. Into
the sheets. but I know this only after
seeing the dark spots left on the bright
cloth in the morning when I am alone and I fold
them under and over themselves ripping
the corners free until they wrap
into a ball I run through three cycles before
my mom can find the evidence. None of this
ever happened.
Love, he says, is a compromise. It is a force
he cannot fight any longer. Love is my
fault. It is the reason. His excuse
to climb across. Love is what he does
to me. Is what he’s doing to me. Is what he says
this is. But love, love is nowhere
in this room.


Survivor Poetry: ‘Dear Psycho’


I just wanted to let you know:

You swore no one would ever love me like you did-
I ‘ll make sure they never do.

You told me I could not survive on my own,
but I thank God I survived my life with you.

You told me I was weak,
but you only made me stronger in the end.

You told me I was stupid,
but I’m smarter than I’ve ever been.

You covered my mouth,
stole away the sound,

but I have found a way back to my voice-
to speak again out loud.

You killed every part of me you could,
left nothing but an empty shell.

But I brought myself back to life again,
I clawed my own way out from the depths of your hell:

I picked myself up off the floor,
I succeeded even with a broken heart,

I lived through the darkest moment of the night
Rebuilt my life each time it fell apart.

I swore I’d never love again,
but thankfully I do:

I love my life, I love myself,
I love someone that loves me too.

So, you might have held me down
but you will never hold me down.

And you might have thought you won,
but you only won that round.

Survivor Poetry: ‘My Secret World’


I wonder if everyone lives
in their own
secret world.
running through their mind
hidden on the outside
by a smile
and laughter

and no one questions
no one notices
the screaming
little girl
that cries on
the inside
that lives
in the hidden world
behind the smiling mask

that knows too well,
pain and suffering,
lonely nights
and lost loves,
missed chances
and the harsh reality
that stops
and waits
for no one.

It’s amazing:
the things you don’t know about a person,
I mean really know.

Behind the claims

to be fine
and doing great

Behind the lies
of letting go
and moving on

Beneath the flashy smiles
and carefree laugh,
The real feelings
that live inside
and form
the hidden


And so I wonder,
if it’s not just me…
but if everyone,
every lost soul
searching for love
or answers
or explanations
or absolutions that will
never come,
lives a secret life
inside their heart
and mind
waiting desperately
for someone to
force their way—
or even perhaps
past the gates that lock it
all inside
and if they cannot
break down the boundaries
of the isolated world,
at least sit
and fill the empty space
with love,
and chase away
the bitter

–Leigh, 2005–

Writing In The Dark: The Power Of Writing To Help Us Through Trauma

“Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other peoplewant to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.”
-Barbara Kingsolver

When I was sixteen and couldn’t fall asleep at night, I would lie for hours on my lofted bed and try every possible thing I could think of to find a way to rest. I counted backwards from a thousand, listened to relaxation tapes, read the most boring book I owned, but by 2am I would give up and crawl down the hallway to my parents room to the makeshift bed at the far side of theirs.
One night, as I was rolling around, trying unsuccessfully to get comfortable, I felt one of my mother’s notebooks on the floor underneath the comforter I laid on. Digging it out, I flipped through the blank pages, then reached up on to her nightstand and found a pen. Before I knew it the words were pouring out of me. From that night on, I slept with a notebook under my pillow. When I crawled into bed, I wrote a poem. A poem about whatever I was feeling or thinking or afraid of. I wrote until I had nothing left to say, sometimes repeating the same thing over and over and over until my hand grew tired. If I woke up during the night, out of breath and terrified by the all to realistic nightmares, I would write, in the dark, through the teardrops that fell on the paper, until I drifted back to sleep.
Without knowing it, I found not only a way to finally sleep at night, but a way to survive the trauma I was going through and the aftermath that followed. To this day I still sleep with a notebook in my bed and my computer on the nightstand next to me. I write before I go to bed. I write when I can’t sleep. I write when I wake up in the morning after another bad dream. I write during the day, on the train, while I’m eating lunch, while I’m waiting in the doctor’s office or for a table at a restaurant. Sometimes just a sentence. Sometimes ten pages at a time.
When I decided that I wanted to write a book, I thought it would be easy to write. However, when I sat down with another blank screen and thought about writing something that someone would someday pick up and read: I froze. Writing while thinking about an audience somehow transformed my words into flat, lifeless sentences that sounded far away and fake when I reread them later; but the things I wrote when I was all alone I hid with a desperate urgency. No one was, or would be, allowed to ever read them. They were just too private.
Comparing the two categories of my own writing, I came to an important discovery. Not that I have the audacity to label myself a great writer, but looking back on things I have written over the years, the one thing that rings true is that when I write for myself, disregarding any notions of what another person might want to hear, I find the strength of what I have to offer. I find the raw story, the real story, of the girl that tried to make sense of something to which she had not yet learned the word. What it actually felt like to lay in the dark, night after night, on the same bed that held the secret abuse; to wake up in a panic, feeling something wrapped tightly around my wrists, unable to breath; to go to school and play the role of the star athlete, the perfect student, the strong and beautiful girl who never did anything wrong and whose life was so perfect.
Maybe this is the beauty of the art. When we expose ourselves at our most vulnerable point, when we stop trying to keep the weakness a secret, when we write without regard to what others will think, we find the strength of the gift we have to offer.

January 23, 2004

Somedays I don’t think I’ll ever be a human again.
I’ll never be alive again. I’ll only ever be
a girl with a hole in her chest where she cut out
her heart so she wouldn’t have to feel.

I’ll be a shadow. An empty shell of a person that fell
in love and never saw it coming.

Nothing but a memory—
of a girl who knew how to be a person.
Who didn’t have to think about things like how to push
the words “Hi! How are you?” out of her throat.
Who could sing at the top of her lungs.
Who could dance however she wanted and wear whatever
she wanted and when she laughed, she felt the laugh, and when
she cried, she felt the pain and when she thought about the future
she knew. She could be anything she wanted to be. But most of all—

Somedays I think that no matter what I do, I’ll never be ok.

I think that everything might just be better if I stay

laying on the floor of my closet on top of the pile of dirty clothes.

I think, maybe, this is where I belong. Maybe I could just disappear
and no one would notice and it would all just go away.

But then I remember to listen to
that voice that screams so loud I can almost hear
it whisper. “I will never let you get the best of me. I will never
let you hold me down. I will never let you win. And if it takes me until
my very last breath in this life, I will find a way to be happy again.
I will find a way to overcome whatever you try to throw at me.
I will find a way to thrive. “

Holy Water


[sitting naked in the shower]

If water could be made holy through the silver ball that hangs,
pushing it out like rain to bead against my pale face, do you think
it could gather up the poison from beneath my skin? could it run in trails
down my naked back and suck the demons into each drop
and flush them down the drain? could it calm this tension growing
in my stomach? Could it flood on through and perform the miracle
that I need right now, multiplying a fish to help feed the crowd
of angry sinners in my head? Would they quiet down then, leave me
to listen to the rush of water, the gurgle of it falling down.

He says from all sin He will wash me clean. He says for all these ashes
I will someday turn to rose. He says that even in the dark when I lie beneath
the devil, when I leave this body that He’s sculpted out for me, even when
I cry and cry and swear I’m no one but alone, He’s already here,
if just a figurative shadow in the corner of this room that sits and lets
the tears run down His own face as they run down mine and feels this torture
with me and understands. If water could be made holy could it save this tired
soul, could it wash the heavy outer layer of hatred from my body, and do you think
He could forgive?


can i walk away now and leave you there
knowing that I will never know if you were
watching the back of my head as I did not
turn around. Can I stand up, head in the clouds
on some sort of platform labeled success
and keep my eyes from wandering down
to the gutters where I know you lie. Will I
stop wondering if you see me now, stop
smiling just incase you do, stop holding on
to each breath that I take, as if I must measure
it first to make sure I’ve packed enough life
into each moment now to make up twofold for
each moment that you robbed of me. each bad day
seems somehow worse as it runs through the filter of
the past and I must replay the source of this discomfort
that can never just be a present moment pain.
has it been enough time yet. one day for each
minute. one year for each day. I serve a lifetime sentence just waiting for parole, while you walk
free. and if I try to take any role in retribution,
the only person that I hurt again is me. how many times do i have to decide
to be bigger than all this, to beat it, to never let you win.
how many times must I loosen my white knuckles
and open up my calloused hands and let you go.
how many times again do I tell the universe
that I understand that I will never understand and all I ask for
is peace. peace. that floats like sunlight on the waves of a lake.
that splashes away onto the next wave as I try to snatch
it up. peace that I cannot find in one all-consuming, life
altering decision. It’s never ending. One more time. One
more time. One more time. I choose to live.

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