Name: Alinda Jones
Hometown: Georgia, New York, Kentucky
Where do you live? Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
What does it mean to have a voice? Having a voice means giving people the power to change their environments by exercising their ability to speak out for what they believe in.
How did you find your voice?
I was a biracial military kid who grew up in Georgia, New York, and Kentucky. Growing up in an army household, I was taught so many lessons in respect, discipline, and loyalty. There was a saying my parents used often, “Don’t speak unless spoken to.” I can reflect on this now and see how this may have inhibited the development of my independent voice. I also can understand that having this restraint on my voice as a child made my voice even stronger as an adult.
I was bullied from a young age for being one of the very few Asian students at my schools. To cope with bullying, I began doodling. I pulled away from trying to force conversations and friendly relations with classmates and retreated to being alone with my sketches. I found that when you look busy, people are less likely to start a conversation with, or bully, you.
When I was in high school, my father decided to retire and hung his coat up for good. He was a decorated war hero who was deployed overseas five times. He commanded respect in the military. Because of this, his transition to civilian life was harder than he anticipated considering that his military rank did not command anything in the civilian world. After failing to readjust to his new reality, he turned to alcohol to cope. He also suffered from severe-PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). People with PTSD experience flashbacks of their traumatic experiences through fear, severe anxiety, loneliness, insomnia, and nightmares. A person with PTSD will tend to be easily agitated, hostile, self-destructive, emotionally detached, and self-isolating.
For reasons I don’t understand, my father never used his voice to ask for help. He projected his PTSD through anger instead, first on my mother, then on my sister and me. Anything minor set him off, such as not shutting a cabinet door all the way, or saying “yeah” instead of “yes sir.” His words were venomous and his outbursts sometimes lasted hours. He would follow me around the house all night, just screaming at me and threatening me. I have vivid memories of hiding with my mother and sister in the large dog house in our backyard when he lost control of his emotions. On some days, he would wake me up at 3 A.M. on a school night to tell me about how bad of a daughter I was. When my home life began to deteriorate, I locked myself in my room and sought escape through my drawings.
As time went by, he was drunk all hours of the day. Any noise set him off. I lived in constant fear that I would somehow upset him just by breathing “wrong”; I had to learn to walk silently across hardwood floors so as to not set him off. Every night after school, I would lock myself in my room before my parents’ arguments began. I only stepped out if I heard things getting physically violent. On some nights, I called the police because he started beating my mom. Each time the cops came, my parents would lie and say I was being overdramatic. The cops would leave and their fights would resume. They both would later scold me for calling the police. This happened repeatedly. On a particularly bad night, my sister called the police because my dad collapsed my mom’s lung. The cops told us there was nothing they could do regarding the incident as we did not witness it ourselves; my sister and I were helpless.
I began painting more as a way to navigate my depression. I was proud of myself for accomplishing a difficult piece and it was this feeling that kept me going during my darkest days. I expressed my emotions by putting pigments on paper. Though I had yet to talk about or process my trauma, I figured people could easily see my emotions expressed through my art.
What event or series of events led to you finding your voice?
You might wonder how the slow destruction of my father led to me finding my voice. I had to start defending myself against the one person I was supposed to feel the safest with. Not only did I have to defend myself, I had to often put myself between him and my mother, only for me to get hurt. No matter how hard I was hit, the physical pain never came close to the emotional trauma. No teenager should have to be the voice of reason during a heated argument between their parents. I wish I had known this then. My sister moved out after graduating, I decided to stay home and went to a nearby community college. I wanted to make sure nothing bad happened to my mom. Somedays, I came home from class to find bullet holes in the ceiling or shell casings in the garage. Things were getting very serious and I didn’t think I had the power to change anything. I felt that I was just delaying the inevitable – my dad killing my mom or himself. There were multiple times I had to talk my father down from killing himself. Everyone in my immediate family attempted to take their life at some point in time in my teenage years, and I was just there to beg them not to ,then try to put their pieces back together.
My mother is the strongest woman I know but like a rock in a strong current, she was worn down over time. Born in a rural part of South Korea, she was raised alongside seven siblings by her single mother. She met my dad in Korea while he was deployed there and came to the U.S. Naturally, my mother didn’t speak much English at the time and developed anxiety. There were many times she felt less-American because of her accent; she held onto her embarrassment from those experiences in which she was treated differently. Strangers had short tempers when she tried to talk to them with her broken English accent. I witnessed people brush her off when she asked for help finding something in the grocery store. I don’t blame her for thinking she would be dismissed if she sought help on a much more complex issue. She actually tried to seek help from the Army, but was told that she needed to accept him for who he was, and that War changes a man. Because of her cultural upbringing, she was very loyal to my father and tolerant of his aggression. As a result, when my dad started to lose himself to alcohol, she began to lose herself too. Combined with her communication barrier, she was reluctant to seek help and remained silent. She was afraid that she would be forced to return to Korea, leaving my sister and me behind, if anything were to happen between her and my dad. She prevented my sister and me from getting too close to any of our friends, out of fear that we might slip up and start talking about our domestic abuse situation.
My mom, dealing with her pain privately, had multiple suicide attempts – she would rather die than to seek help. I stayed up countless nights sitting by her side just to watch her, to make sure she didn’t take herself away from me. In those intimate moments, she made me promise not to tell anyone about her suicide attempts. I was too disciplined at the time so I listened and did what she asked. This led to my own personal self isolation. I had no one to share my pain with so I swallowed my pain and pretended that it was my inner strength getting me through each day. I would wipe the tears from my eyes on the morning school bus ride and put on a smile by the time I was walking into my first class of the day. No one could know our secret. If anyone found out, “bad things would happen.” I kept these secrets for as long as I could. I let these secrets eat away at me for years.
Finding my voice took a long series of harrowing events that challenged me in ways that I do not wish on anyone. Because of what I went through, I learned to be bold in expressing myself and loving others. I learned to be unwavering in my moral beliefs, which are rooted in my faith of Jesus Christ. Because of my experiences, I see love and joy in ways that are more palpable than ever before; and I fully intend to share this love and joy with everyone I meet.
Tell me about when you finally found your voice.
My voice started developing when I started to choose myself over protecting my parent’s toxic marriage.
During my college freshman year, after years of dealing with my father’s alcohol-fueled PTSD outbursts, I filed a police report after an especially bad incident. I had decided that I had to step up now and do something, so I called the police after my father punched me in the face and started swinging a gun. My father was ordered to take anger management classes and attend a few sessions of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Unfortunately, the benefits of those mandatory meetings only lasted for so long. He died December 2017 at age 52 due to liver and kidney failure brought on by his alcoholism. I took time away from my college senior year for the funeral and to help my mother become financially stable and independent. I graduated the following May with a job in line. I used my trauma to fuel my desire to finish my degree and make something out of my life.
Over the last few years, I have not created as much art as so much of my earlier art was fueled by self-isolation and depression. Since then, I have an amazing career, my relationships with my mother and sister are stronger than ever, and I am married to the most kindhearted man I have ever met. Now that I’m in a much better place in life, I had to figure out how to channel this new energy of love and happiness into my art instead of my past pain and trauma. My art now hangs in the homes of family and friends, and my paintings have been featured in multiple small galleries. I’ve painted a mural, and I’ve created a forum for my art to reach new people. It’s ironic how what was once my mechanism to avoid people is now a way in which I connect with others.
How valuable is walking in other people’s shoes, or empathy?
Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy is an essential part of knowing the needs of the people around you, and with that information, we can change lives for the better. I can now see trauma as a blessing that has given me a perspective that empathy can easily flow from. My now intimate relationship with my mother is possible because of empathy. From a young age I saw the sacrifices she made to keep my dad out of trouble and to keep my sister and I out of his path of destruction. When I think of my mom I am reminded of her strength and unconditional love for her family.
How has your voice influenced others?
I am someone who has little tolerance for hostile environments, I just don’t believe they have to exist. As a traveling surgical technician, I tend to find myself in them often. A way I have influenced others is by being kind in where kindness is seen as weakness. I stop what I am doing to listen, and I try to do as much as I can to serve the people around me. People are skeptical at first, but with my persistence and consistency, they start to be influenced by the genuine kindness shown towards them. I can speak from experience – you never know what someone has going on at home. I take that into consideration when responding to someone who has lashed out at me. Though at no point do I allow myself to be talked down to or bullied. Kindness is not naivety. It’s so important that you stand up for yourself. There is something powerful about a person who can be kind to others without being a pushover.
Where will your voice lead next?
I plan on continuing to learn, express myself through my art, and inspire others along the way. My trauma does not define me, my ability to overcome and grow from it does. My voice is the voice of someone who has overcome so much adversity, I hope to inspire others to overcome theirs.
I’m a biracial military brat who is now a Travel Certified Surgical Technologist. My past trauma has helped me form a profound understanding of how important it is to be the light for those around me who might be struggling with a hidden trauma. I believe those who are the hardest to love are the ones who need it the most. I constantly try my best to challenge myself and others around me to grow in empathy and love.