By Oriana Koren
In my head, there is a room. In this room, there is nothing but a single chair and a door—always locked—and no matter what I do, I can never reach the handle. This room has been with me since I was a child. A place I created to mourn and make sense of young traumas. A childhood trap.
I was beaten as a child. A lot. And for a long time, I thought of these incidents as disciplinary “whoopings". In my family, everyone used this euphemism to describe the abuse they experienced from parents and grandparents, siblings, lovers and partners. They often laughed away the trauma of being attacked by the people who we trusted to love, support and protect us.
Through a curtain of tears, I try to explain to my partner, Brian, how this is “normal” within the context of my family and, from what I know, many other Black families. I cringe. I’m careful about how I use my words to explain the world I grew up in to my partner. I fear that he, as a White man, may have preconceived notions, judgements, negative opinions of who I come from and who I am. In my mind, it’s too early in our relationship for me to be crumbling to pieces after a very intense therapy session. It’s too soon to be discussing the hard memories of abuse that my fragile heart has buried deep in the catacombs of my mind.
But, I can’t hold on to this stuff anymore. I can’t hide from it anymore.
I feel shame creeping into my shoulders. I cover my face with both hands as I cry. Brian pulls my hands away from my face and pulls me into his arms.
“I’m damaged,” I tell him.
He tells me I am not the sum of my difficult past. It’s the first time in my entire life, I begin to feel the shame dissipate. I feel like I can own these feelings, this messiness, without judgement.
My safe room was created out of a necessity to cope and out of deep shame. I was ashamed of wanting to be loved and affirmed, even if it meant allowing friends and lovers to drain me emotionally. I was ashamed of being weak all of the time. My anxiety and the inability to fight off depression was a result of this perceived weakness. Yet, I found a new freedom in the simplicity of my partner encouraging me, telling me that all of the hard things were okay and that my memories, my childhood, my anxiety and depression would never make him love me any less. Every time I get scared to show myself at my rawest, he reminds me that our partnership, the strength of our love, is made in these moments of emotional nakedness.
Brian and I have been together for three years now, and in those three years we have wrestled with our vulnerabilities, from depression and anxiety, to toxic friendships, to living with parents and anything else you could imagine in between. With Brian, I’ve found the courage to walk into the tricky territory of exploring hard truths, walking into the fire, and coming out cleansed, purified.
In my head, there is a room. In this room, there is nothing but a single chair and a door. Only now, the door is open and on the other side is a hand I can always rely on to help guide me out of the darkness, the silence and the shame and into the warmth of vulnerability that comes from actively practicing love.
Oriana Koren is a Los Angeles-based editorial photographer specializing in narrative food and portrait photography. Acutely attuned to the unfolding narratives around her, Oriana’s inquisitive spirit led her to probe into isolation in Tokyo, voting rights in post-Katrina New Orleans, and chronicling Chicago’s innovative pool of cutting edge chefs and restaurants. It’s that same inquisitive spirit that allows Oriana to connect deeply with her subjects, focusing on human interest stories, to document the diverse commonality of human experience. This year, she was nominated for Photo News District’s ’30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch in 2015’.