Some people use writing or exercise to help manage trauma. Amanda Mendoza uses art.
Mendoza, who is 27 and lives in New Britain, spends her work life as a Training Coordinator with the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence. At work, she teaches community members, such as health professionals, law enforcement, and social workers, how best to respond to and support sexual assault survivors and brainstorm ideas for prevention. “Once I get home, I have my creative outlet of doing my side art business,” she says.
From the age of 6 to 12, Mendoza was sexually abused by a family member. “From the beginning I was groomed and taught to be silent about it,” she says. “When I finally disclosed to my mother when I was 15 what had happened, my family broke apart. People chose sides. Not everyone believed me. My immediate family did but not the extended family. So from a young age, I learned that if I open my mouth and say something, people will leave me or won’t love me. I learned to not speak up for myself, to air my truths, because the people I thought would always be by my side were not.”
It was while she was at Central Connecticut State University studying psychology and art that Mendoza decided to focus her career on sexual assault prevention. “It was really
the start of me exploring to deshame and destigmatize having those conversations.”
At the same time, reading about and researching sexual assault was triggering. Mendoza realized she needed therapy herself. “I wasn’t making art,” she says. “I didn’t like myself. I had done art a lot in high school to relieve depression.”
Today Mendoza creates art not only for her own pleasure and as a business — she creates murals, illustrations, and wedding and pet portraits — but as a way to reach out to other survivors. “Art is a way of reaching out to the community and letting them know it’s okay to share your story. You’re not alone. I’m hoping they see me as a safe person to go to with their story and that I would always believe them.”
Her painting “Into the Abyss” is one example. The painting took her a year to complete in part due to her own mental health struggles with PTSD and depression. “I felt so lost, confused and scared,” she says, “and these emotions kept me from drawing and painting.”
Looking through her high school sketchbook helped her remember how healing art can be. “Looking at my teenage self pour out her emotions onto her sketchbook pages, I decided to embrace those feelings too in this painting,” she says, adding that she hopes survivors are comforted by this as they explore their own “abyss.”
“Chronophobia,” a pen and ink drawing Mendoza made in high school reflects her feelings as she was struggling with depression around what had happened to her.
“In high school, I was suffering from a lot of traumatic memories, and I didn’t feel like I had any control, especially with time. I wished I could turn back time and somehow avoid all the abuse and pain I went through,” she says. “Not only was I haunted by the past, but I was so scared of what the future would look like for me. I felt so lost as a teenager, but somehow gliding my pen across a paper felt so grounding and brought so much relief. I am incredibly proud of the teenage version of me who brought this piece to life.”
In another piece, “Home,” Mendoza explores how frightening and confusing sexual abuse can be for a child. “Because as a kid, you can’t tell the difference between a ‘good home’ and a ‘broken home.’ It’s just home.”
It took Mendoza two years to share “Home” with the public. “I’ve shared my sexual abuse story verbally to dozens of people, but sharing this art piece felt so much more vulnerable and raw,” she says. “I had been fighting the voice in my head that said, ‘Don’t go there; it’s too much. People don’t want to see this,’ and ‘it won’t matter.’ But our stories do matter. Our stories are powerful, and I know this resonates with so many survivors. I will continue to share my art and my stories to help others feel less alone and to call awareness to childhood sexual and physical abuse.”
“I’m hoping that anyone who reads my story if it’s something that resonates with them [realizes] there’s nothing to feel ashamed about. There’s nothing wrong with them,” she adds. “It’s an unfortunate thing that happens to some people. They’re not alone. There’s hope. I know how it feels that you’re looking down a dark tunnel and don’t think there’s a light at the end and yet here I am sharing my story. I’m hoping for anyone else who reads this that they know there’s help and hope and that they feel seen.”
Amanda is hosting a painting class on May 20th, with a portion of the proceeds designated to support MHC and our Mental Health Awareness Month campaign to raise funds to support the expansion of our award-winning arts and wellness programming at The Family Wellness and Cultural Heritage Center. Register for the painting class here.