How Writing Helped Me Survive Survivor Speak

By Irene Sanchez, Ph.D.

It’s hard to admit that I am a survivor. The assumptions that we have about who has survived abuse, along with the denial that it could ever be me or perhaps you, it sometimes feels impossible to believe even after going through it. Through sharing our stories, especially during these times of living through a pandemic and surviving domestic violence, I have learned that our own words can help us heal.

woman hand writing with a pencil

My abuser was my friend for almost a decade. He was so close that he knew most of the hardships I went through. When I lost a job years ago, he let me know about a different one. I trusted him. He would constantly tell me how much he admired me, my work, and especially my poetry/writing. He had seen me share my poetry. He had read what I wrote. All those things changed when I entered a dating relationship with him and soon after agreed to move in with him. I now look at my body in the mirror and can still remember where the marks once were. I wake up thankful every day now that I am a survivor and through all of these experiences I remain thankful that I didn’t lose myself, I didn’t lose my son, and I didn’t lose the will to write.

I have learned more than once that abusers will attack that which we love most first. Writing has helped me through challenges throughout my whole life and helped me cultivate beauty when conditions seem hard for it to exist. Writing is one thing I love to do aside from spending time with my son/family, and my work as an educator. Much of my inspiration for writing comes from fellow Chicana feminist writer Gloria Anzaldua. Anzaldua wrote in an essay “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to 3rd World Women Writers”, “Why am I compelled to write? Because writing saves me from this complacency I fear. Because I have no choice. Because I must keep the spirit of my revolt and myself alive. Because the world I create in writing compensates for what the real world does not give me…I write to record what others erase when I speak to rewrite the stories others have miswritten about me, about you.”

For survivors to write, to speak, to use words and have them honored is something I don’t take for granted. There are times before, during, and after surviving that I realize how powerful it is to record what abusers have attempted to erase. We are often abused into believing not just that our lives have no worth, but when I see where it begins, it starts with words. Words that put us down. Words that attempt to shame us. Words from abusers that call us things other than our names. Words that lie. Words that question our reality. Words that threaten. Words before they hurt or try to kill us. I too often see when I read stories of women killed by DV how they aren’t left the chance to have their last words and how it’s a friend or family member speaking for them. I have stayed up at night wondering what would they say? I have stayed up wondering what my last words may have been and where would my family and friends find them?

I began to walk and hike this year to assist my body in getting healthy and healing from the trauma, but also because I am a writer that often writes in my head first before putting it on paper. I thought about all the memorial walks that are done in this country. I then thought about how this mountain I love near my hometown would be the perfect place for the people I love to do a memorial walk for me. As I slowly climbed to the top, I thought about how they could raise money for the local DV organization that assisted me or maybe a scholarship for my son. I wondered what they would say as they wore purple ribbons while holding lights walking this same path I was on? More than wondering what they would say though, I wonder what people would do to truly end DV? I realize that is not an easy question to answer, but as long as I can still write and have breath in my body, I will do my part to do the work to help answer it. When I made it to the top of the mountain that day, I then thought how amazing it was that I am here, that you are here, how we are here, and how all of us survivors have refused to remain silent.

Born in Los Angeles and raised in the Inland Empire region of Southern California, Irene Sanchez, Ph.D. is a Xicana mother, educator, poet, and writer. A VONA alum and Pink Door Writers Retreat alum, Irene is an award winning poet/writer, and teacher. Author of the blog “Xicana Ph.D.”, her work has also appeared in CNN, HuffPost, Public Radio International, Zocalo Public Square, Inside Higher Ed and more. She has been featured by multiple public radio outlets including KPCC, KPFK, NPR Latino USA, and ProPublica. For more information see

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