Tina had it all: The husband, the house, the boat, the dogs, the parties, the friends. It was a life that was envied by all.
But behind locked doors, the picture perfect life fell apart. She was in an abusive marriage.
“It was to a point where I was sleeping with a knife under my pillow, waiting for him to kill me,” she said.
The abuse raged on for years until one day, she couldn’t handle it anymore. She left the house, the boat, the dogs, the abusive marriage, and she ran for her life.
“When I left, I had post-traumatic stress disorder,” she said. “So I started going to a therapist to calm my life down.”
It was there, in her therapist’s office, where Tina began cracking open a shell she never realized she lived under.
“The first nine months of therapy was about calming my body down and taking care of myself from a physical standpoint,” Tina said. “After those nine months, my therapist started asking me questions about my childhood. I jokingly said, ‘Who remembers their childhood?’ because I didn’t remember any of my childhood.”
Over the course of the next nine months, Tina began to confront resurfacing memories of her childhood, memories that were riddled with more abuse.
“I grew up in it,” Tina said. “Not only from my mother but she allowed a lot of her boyfriends and husbands to abuse me. And she knew about it (but) because she had borderline personality disorder, meant she could care less. She didn’t have the ability to empathize with anyone or anything, not even her children.”
During the course of those nine months, Tina began to see visions. So she did the only logical thing she could think of — she began to recreate her visions using life-sized busts.
Her first piece, which she titled “The Protector,” has metal mesh and metal strips across the bust. Inside the metal covering are photos of her from when she was a child. Each photo was associated with the various stages of her abuse, therefore acting as a trigger.
“My first vision was me realizing that… our minds are so careful to protect us if you have to go through extreme amounts of abuse,” Tina said. “Mine was years of torment so my mind protected me from remembering it so I could function till I was physically available and ready to deal with it.”
As her therapy continued and as more memories resurfaced, Tina’s visions came flooding. At the end of her nine-month mark, she had created 12 busts, an art series that chronicled her journey of healing from a lifetime of abuse.
“I was not trained to be an artist,” she said. “Just figuring how to create a bust, what materials to use, what materials are stronger than others, how much can a bust hold — it was all foreign to me. And I had to figure out each one all by myself.”
The art series, titled “I AM TINA,” has been displayed at Angel Orensanz Foundation and Times Square in New York, and is currently here at Carco Theater in Renton. The series is tied to a journal of Tina’s time during her therapy sessions.
“I was recording my life everyday,” she said on writing her journal, “I was thinking initially that I was going to help someone get out of a bad marriage and I’ll publish something. Being in an abusive relationship and growing up in abuse and having an abusive family, nobody likes to talk about that kind of stuff. I had to make a choice. Do I keep going and keep recording? Or do I stop it all? And I knew I had to keep going because I knew it wasn’t just for me.
“Even though through this process I was alone, I knew I wasn’t the only person who had gone through this, that grew up in it or was married to it,” she said. “But I didn’t know anybody who went through it.”
But choosing to speak out through her art has come at a cost.
“I ultimately lost all my friends and family from all of this because they couldn’t deal with it,” Tina said. “They didn’t want me to remember it, they didn’t want me to talk about it… They wanted to shush and keep it under<span cla