"I believe there is something so sacred about being a woman, that there’s a depth and an intuition and a magic we possess that’s just different. There’s this beauty in the fact that we can be strong and graceful and dark and light. Women, to me, are the mark of the Divine. They’re art at its best."
Suzanna’s life has always been filled with women, a quality she refers to as ‘a beautiful thing.’ With four sisters, a single mother, and a number of aunts and female cousins, Suzanna can not remember a time when she wasn’t surrounded by strong, influential women. During her childhood, she sought a great deal of comfort and refuge in this very tribe, especially in her cherished sisters.
At the age of ten, Suzanna found herself uprooted with her family’s move to southwest Florida, having spent the first decade of her life all around the Pacific Northwest. But shortly after resettling in the Sunshine State, Suzanna’s parents decided to file for divorce — a separation that saw her mother suddenly assuming the responsibilities of a single-parent.
The next few years proved to be quite difficult; Suzanna’s mother struggled to balance the demands of full-time nursing school and being the sole caretaker for the four girls living at home, one of whom with Downs Syndrome. Her mother was grappling with so many unknowns, and because her father had signed away all of his parental rights, the emotional atmosphere in their household was intense and often very fractured. “On the outside I was composed, but when I went home it was a completely different story — it was dark and sad in a lot of ways, but it was all I knew. No one ever asked, ‘What do you dream about?’ or ‘Who would you want to be?’ Life was simply about surviving.”
And survive she did. Suzanna worked hard to graduate from high school an entire year early, and then signed a lease on an apartment all her own. She began working at a local restaurant to help support herself, and did the best she could to support her sisters emotionally, as well. By the time she started college, Suzanna was convinced she wanted to run beautiful hotels someday.
Though she did spend five years in the hospitality industry, she eventually left that field to partner with a non-profit organization based in San Diego. Suzanna’s years spent with Invisible Children saw her working alongside an impassioned team to help end a conflict in central Africa. Not only that, but those seasons in southern California taught her the value of vulnerability, and the importance of letting others in.
When it came time for Suzanna to venture out from the nonprofit sector, she landed in a place she never expected to live — Nashville, Tennessee. Since her move to Music City in 2014, Suzanna has made a way for herself as an event producer, in addition to exploring her affinity for the written word. As a child, she regularly escaped into chapter books and fairytales, seeking respite from her own circumstances. And while she journaled consistently throughout high school, it was just a year ago she felt the undeniable urge to put her own story to paper.
“I woke up one day, and I could feel there was someone who needed me to write it all out. So I sat down, and I wrote. I wrote 40,000 words in twelve days — it came pouring out of me. I knew God was spurring me to write, so I prayed that if He was sending me into this figurative house that was burning down, He would have to make sure I came back out.”
The house Suzanna is referencing, is that of her youth — the days of an absent father, of her parents belabored arguments, of broken promises and hollow dreams, and of a continual abuse hidden beneath the surface. Only after her father was gone did she learn of his extensive sexual abuse towards her sisters; abuse that resonated with Suzanna due to her own unwanted encounter with a family member at the age of five.
“Abuse changed me, whether I knew it or not. When I began writing about my experience, I was taken back into those memories so vividly; I could smell what the air was like. In that sequence of events, it was the first time I remember feeling paralyzed by fear. And that fear has stayed with me — it’s only been in the past couple of years God has set me free from all of that.”
By sharing such a deeply personal account of her childhood and adolescence, Suzanna hopes other women might feel less alone and more known. “When I think of how many women have lived in that kind of fear, my heart just breaks. So my dream is that this book helps heal, that my words might eliminate the darkness that tried to take me out, and tried to take my sisters out, and has been surrounding so many other women I’ve encountered. I hope my story can offer them a piece of light.”
While Suzanna has never been ashamed of her past, it was also never something she wanted to become part of her identity. “My personal abuse was actually a very quiet thing that only a few people have ever known until recently. I so wanted to be a survivor, not a victim — and this caused me to hold my story close.” For this reason, Suzanna spent the early part of her 20s trying to distance herself from her truth, trying to distance herself from the narrative she was raised in. That is, until now.
“The manuscript I’ve written is the most vulnerable thing I could ever do. I’m sharing the deepest parts of who I am, but I believe God uses story to redeem things, and I know the only reason I can open up about all of this is because I’ve been made whole. I’ve quite literally been set free from it, and that’s allowed me to let other people in, in hopes they’ll know there’s someone willing to walk with them.”
Stylist: Elliott Sikes
Photographer: Ashtin Paige
Location: East Nashville, Tennessee
Makeup Artist: Kat Derickson
Hairstylist: Breanna Williamson
Copy: Meredith Kane