My Life Has Been Anything But A Game My Life Has Been Anything But A Game

My life has been anything but a game. I was sexually abused by my stepfather starting at 6. I jumped off a cliff and attempted suicide at 11, and still carry a metal plate in my head because of it. I began using drugs and alcohol at age nine. I found that if I drank before I went to bed, I didn't have to feel the pain of what was going to happen at night, and smoked marijuana during the day to forget what was happening in my home. I was placed into foster care after the attempted suicide; they found out that I was being abused by the severe scarring from years of sexual abuse. I got involved with my husband while in foster care. The abuse started early on with him and just got worse over the next 15 years. I've been thrown through walls, kicked in the stomach while pregnant, dragged out of a car in the middle of an intersection and beaten. I can't count the number of times I've been to a hospital, and the times I never bothered going.

My life disintegrated further when he took my two oldest daughters after being on the run from him. I was at rock bottom. I got on a bus to find him. I screamed for him to come kill me. I was tired. I was done. There was no money left and no place to go. I began to wander the streets. I believe that I had a nervous breakdown. I slept behind a Walgreens in the bushes. I wanted the pain to go away so bad that I began using more and more to numb myself from everything that was going on. My troubles with the law spiraled and finally probation was no longer an option. I was sent to prison for 5 years. It saved my life.

I remember calling my kids form prison and they said "okay" as if it was no big deal because at least they knew where I was and wouldn't have to worry. That was my moment of clarity - that I was going to miss five years of their life. My children are my life. I love them more than the breath I breathe. This is where I decided that I either lay down and die... or stand up and fight for my life. I wasn't ready to die yet. It was time for change.

It was time to start putting the pieces of my life back together again. I got a job with Televerde while in prison. I earned money that helped me pay my fines and pay for school. I signed up for all the programs I could and got my AA in Computer Technology. I fought with the prison to get a program for victims of severe abuse started and finally got the help I so desperately needed.

I was released from prison on April 19th, 2006. I got a job as an office manager and then I found a job doing what I am passionate about; helping to end domestic violence. I began working with the National Advocacy & Training Network and the SEEDs program, a national group that works to end domestic violence, sexual assault and substance abuse. I am now self supportive and I'm helping other women like me. If I can tell my story and keep one woman from living the life that I did and meeting the ends that I did... then my whole life is worthwhile. I have a home and my kids are part of my life again.

I remember getting down on my knees in prison. I said "GOD" I don't want to be like this anymore. If you help me get through this, I will be the best person I could be. He did that and so much more!!

I'm at peace because I've learned to love myself, and my children never gave up on me. I can tell my daughters to follow their own dreams, and that you can do anything if you are just willing to stand up and fight for your life. There is always hope; don't ever give up!

My name is Laura... Today, I am not just a number or a statistic. I am a survivor.

Artist's Note: When I first saw Laura, there was something about her. I knew I wanted to paint her portrait and was happy when she asked me. She is an amazingly strong and resilient person and very protective of her children. When she requested to have the male lion represent her and the cubs as her children, I knew it would be perfect. And it is.