Self Image: Mirrors – Molly’s Story

“What’s the matter with you?” “Can’t you do ANYTHING right?” “You were a big mistake.” “Not only are you fat, you aren’t even pretty” “I’m going to take you to a mental institution and leave you there because you are crazy” Pretty awful things to have said to you. Repeatedly. Especially when you are five. Especially by your father.


_DSC3298.jpgI’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for many years, stemming from an emotionally and physically abusive childhood. Daily I was reminded what a crushing disappointment my existence was, how my presence in the universe completely ruined his life. I tried so hard to be good. To be quiet. To be compliant. To be helpful. To be worthy of taking up space. But each attempt failed. An angry, bitter alcoholic can never be appeased. I broke my arm when I was 10. One of the worst beatings I ever received was that night after coming home from the hospital. My punishment for ‘being stupid and clumsy and costing him money’. I curled into a ball on my bed protecting my casted arm while blows rained on my back. I developed a very high pain tolerance. If I cried it made him angrier.


He put me and my sister in the back of the car one summer evening and drove to a bar. She was a year old and I was just shy of my 6th birthday. He tossed a baby bottle of milk in the back seat and grumbled ‘watch your sister’ to me and got out of the car. The windows were open, cool summer night. I watched the sunset and played with the baby. Night fell. The moon was out. Men would walk by the car and peer in, curious and surprised to see 2 small children. My sister fussed and I gave her the bottle. She fell asleep and I was so scared. I slipped out of the car and peed in the gravel next to the car, shaking because I was sure I’d get in trouble. He finally staggered back to the car, wordlessly drove home and went into the house. I’m not sure he remembered we were there. I struggled to lug a sleepy baby up the steps. I got her into her crib and crawled in with her. Terrified.


Walking home from kindergarten one day, two sixth grade neighbor boys roughed me up in the alley. Pushed me down and pulled my hair and tore my school papers. I ran home and up the steps to the apartment, crying with bleeding knees and a pigtail pulled out. My father greeted me with “What the hell happened to you?” I told him what happened. Imagine my surprise when he pushed me down the steps, enraged, and drunkenly screamed ‘why did you let them do that?? Get back out there and take care of it!” Soundlessly I ran outside and hid in the hydrangea bushes until I saw my mom come home. I waited until I knew she was inside then I slipped in quietly behind her.


This was normal to me. This was my daily existence. Different scenarios, but always the same results.. Him exploding in anger hurling insults and fists with surgical precision. Both inflicting deep scars. He died when I was 19. I was relieved. I felt a huge weight had been lifted. But the damage had been done. I still saw myself as a mistake. Someone who was never supposed to be born. A pariah on society. I don’t trust easily now. I still have to force myself to go places because I’m always certain no one wants me there. I will sit in my car and hyperventilate at the thought of walking into an event and having everyone cast a disdainful eye and turn away. I tend to linger unnoticed until everyone else has found a place to sit or stand or ‘be’ so as not to be a bother.


I am the MASTER of the Irish Goodbye. It has been with the help of very patient and kind people in my life that I have begun to reach out. I have started to take better care of me. That I went to my Dr and told him of my insomnia and feelings of being worthless. Depression and anxiety do not have to make you a prisoner in your own head. If I can seek help, you can too. You are worthy



Photographer’s Addendum: Molly is a beautiful person, inside and out.  Getting past her exterior shell does take a bit of time, but is well worth it.  Once she has opened up and entrusted you, she will defend you and uplift you to no end!  I have had the pleasure of knowing and supporting her for a little under 3 years, and her story surprised me.  An extremely powerful story to those of us that raise children.  The impact that we can have on our children can be both incredibly positive, or incredibly negative with lasting impacts both ways.  Choose to uplift your children!  Support them.  Thank you for sharing your powerful story Molly.


Self Image: Mirrors- Sara Jo

Thanks to general stereotypes, movies and media, the word cheerleader brings to mind many images. Most think of the bubbly, dumb, blonde-haired girl with a perfect ponytail and a polished reputation.


For me it was much more. Living in the shadow of, what I perceived as the perfect child, I had few “boxes” I could fill without being outdone by my little brother. After all, he was among the smartest in his class, had crushed all of the cross-country records, and was great at baseball.


What I didn’t know until many years after high school, was that he was one of MY biggest, “cheerleaders” by way of encouragement, praise and support. Because cheerleading had brought me such happiness and overall sense of ability and success, after high school I went on to join the dance teams in both college and eventually even the NFL.


I quickly realized however, that my entire character had been put in a box in high school, and that the image of a college and professional “dancer” was VERY different than the high school cheerleader. Even though being a part of these teams seemed like something I should be proud of acknowledging, because of the shame I was hiding inside due to the constant verbal, mental, physical and sexual abuse by people in authoritative positions (predominantly in the NFL), I was too ashamed to even tell anyone, including my own parents. Again, through all that I endured, it was my brother that I trusted. After two seasons of being a part of the Buffalo Jills dance team, my brother had had enough and physically flew from Los Angeles to New York and packed my stuff into a UHaul and refused to leave the state until he knew I was on my way back to Iowa where I was safe.

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Two things I’ll never forget him telling me throughout all of those years: “You put yourself into the box you created, and you can climb back out. Stupid people don’t have 3 degrees or have nearly as many life experiences as you do.” And, “You can do three things with your past; repeat it, learn from it or help others as a result of it.” For 38 years, Tommy was my voice of reason and more than anything, my “safe place”. Two years ago, he lost a short-lived battle with leukemia.



While his death has overwhelmed me with sadness, I have an unbelievable spirit inside of me, because of him, to shatter the fear that was instilled in me through all of the abuse, and to become something greater than even I expected of myself.


I know for 100% fact that Tommy is around me at all times, and is still guiding me toward this goal. Today, I have chosen to teach others as a result of my past. I am currently a teacher in the Moline-Coal Valley School District.


I have started a group for single women online that is intended to encourage and support single, divorced, widowed, etc women. I am a court appointed advocate for children and women through CASA, and volunteer to help abused women through Family Resources

Self Image/Mirrors: Taylor’s Story

‘Embrace the change and then you will find
New light will break the shadows inside’ 


I honestly started getting anxiety when I was 8 years old after my mother had a stroke. The thought of losing having her around at 8. When she was the only one I had, absolutely terrified me. I went months not knowing what sort of state she was going to be in. Once, she came home a lot of things changed. I had to step up and do whatever I could do to help her. To help us. We eventually lost basically everything we owned and moved out to Henry county.
Mom, if you’re reading this. I know you did everything you could for us. Don’t ever think you didn’t try hard enough. I love you and I couldn’t ever thank you enough for being the best mom you could be. I wouldn’t trade you for the world.
However, the anxiety and depression got a lot worse after high school. People judged me for being the person I was. They didn’t accept a person with piercings and weird colored hair. Instead of just leaving me alone, they made my life a living hell. I eventually dropped out because of all the harassment.
After that there were plenty of days where I physically couldn’t get out of bed. The thought of leaving the house, seeing other humans let alone have to interact with them scared the shit out of me. There were plenty of days where all I did was lay in bed, cry and wish I wasn’t alive.
It’s taken me many years not to let the inner voices control how I’m actually feeling. Sometimes my anxiety doesn’t let me go places or be as social as I wish I was.
 However, I’ve come across so many wonderful people throughout these last couple of years who understood the fact that I had anxiety and accepted me for it. If you’re someone who has come into my life within this last year, just know you’ve helped break me out of my little shell and I couldn’t thank you enough.
The fact that I danced in a burlesque troupe, blows my mind. I never in my entire life would’ve thought I’d have the courage to get up on that stage and dance. I’ll forever be grateful I had that opportunity because for once I didn’t let my anxiety control me. I shut those negative thoughts out and was finally just myself.
There are still plenty of days where I don’t want to face the world, but I know now that I can do a lot more than I think I can. I’ve found that discouraging voice inside and silenced it. I refuse to let my anxiety control my every move. I refuse to let it think it owns me.
‘Now I can finally breathe’

Self Image: Mirrors – Sara Elizabeth

This mirror/self image shoot was done at a location with a special meaning to Sara. This is her story in her own words:

After 10 years of thinking “A house makes a home”, I’m letting that go.  For so long I have tied my own self worth into a checklist.  I have grown to realize that it doesn’t matter how many things you have, if you are not the type of person people want to be around, you will be alone.  20180124_095249.jpg

By saying goodbye to my home, renting it out, and moving on, I am finding strength in myself that the security of having a place to lay down my head can’t provide me.


I’m on my way to finding who I am, and learning to appreciate the struggle of what I only conceived in my own head, was right.


Onward  and forwards.  Sara


Photographer’s Addendum:

The “unfinished” room of the home she is letting go made for a perfect scene to capture these images in.  The Mirror used is also a personal favorite of the subjects, and added a second special touch to the photos.  Home isn’t a physical location for all, but it is the spot in your mind that puts you at ease.  20180124_09411120180124_09444720180124_095238

Self Image: Mirrors- Hollie Oakley

Me: What does the mirror represent to you?

Hollie: Mirrors to me, are a visual representation of the two different personas that I have in my life.  Professional and home/fun.  _DSC2339

By profession, I am an EMT/Medic.  I am gusty, somewhat untouchable, and very little phases me.  It is a profession that exposes me to many different situations that require the utmost in professionalism, and for me to tough my way through situations that are gross, gnarly, and sometimes hectic.  It is my more masculine side.


Away from my job, I am exactly the opposite, participating in pin-up contests, modeling, and other hobbies that are extremely feminine in nature.  It allows me to show my softer side, and also to fuel my make-up addiction.


When I look in the mirror, it reminds me of the contrast between the two, and just how different they are.


Addendum by PBrooks Photography:

Don’t mistake her “feminine” side as soft.  She is still a ball of energy and spunk, and will not hesitate to let you know if you are in the wrong.  It was a ton of fun to do this shoot with a model that I had never met before.  Here is to making new friends.



Self-Image: Mirrors- Lilith St. Scream

Lilith’s Story: From the Pipe to the Stage


I am a recovering drug addict and alcoholic.  I spent many years addicted to crystal meth, crack cocaine, and prescription drugs.  I was so depressed and consumed with hiding from reality, pain, and my fear of failing at life.  _DSC2559

I never wanted to look in the mirror, let alone have pictures of me taken.  I hated who I had let myself become.


I think so often now, addiction is glamorized, or sugar coated.  There is nothing pretty or admirable about being strung out.  All you do is hurt.  You embarrass yourself, and all those who love you.


Walking away from that destructive lifestyle is why I am still alive today.  I still battle those desires and demons every day, but I choose happiness over hiding.


I need to daily face my fears head on.  It is the only way to climb the mountain that is overcoming addictions.


Photographer/blogger’s addendum:    Lilith is currently the troupe leader of the Moonshine Misfits – Mischief in the Midwest .  She is also a certified esthetician and set designer at A. Shines Designs at Stage 1 studio.  She also does some modeling and helps train others in the modeling arts as well.


Up until about 2 days before this shoot, I had no idea of the inner demons and past struggles that she had been though.  I knew that she had overcome something, but could never quite put my finger on it( I have known her for 4 years).  I am overjoyed that she chose to let me capture the photos and allowed me to share a part of her story.




If you are battling an addiction please call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit