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Triumph Through Sen Anlat Karadeniz: One Woman’s Journey of Healing from Sexual Abuse & Domestic Violence

A Psychological Perspective by Dr. Patti Feuereisen, with a focus on Seasons 1 and 2

*Warning: This series can be triggering for abuse survivors because of the overt violence, yet it is a beacon of awareness for everyone else to help understand and fight abuse of girls and women.

Sexual Abuse: 1 out of 4 girls will be abused by her 16th birthday- over 90% with someone close, often a family member – approximately 96% men are the perpetrators-USA statistics

Domestic Violence: 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence 18 years and older – approximately 97%  men are the perpetrators- USA statistics

Femicide: 6 women are killed by men every hour around the world. World Economic Forum 2021

All abuse is rarely reported, these statistics are limited.

INCEST, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE & FEMICIDE

Wall of Shoes

In 2019 Vahit Tuna created a profound installation of the wall of shoes. She installed 440 pairs of black stilettos to symbolize the 440 women killed by their partners in Turkey in 2018.  She was partially inspired by the ritual in parts of Turkey where shoes of the deceased are hung outside the home.

In 2020 Turkish female activists took to Instagram with the Black and White Photo Challenge. They asked women to post black and white photos of themselves to honor the women who were killed by femicide. The point being that every morning Turkish citizens wake up to a black and white photo in the press of a woman murdered because she is female. 

This seems to be a moment in Turkey where activism and art are bringing the conversation about domestic violence, sex abuse and femicide out in the open. The wonderful organization Cinsel Siddetle Mucadele Dernegi (Association for the Struggle Against Sexual Violence) founded in 2014 in Istanbul, continues to tirelessly fight sexual violence with education, workshops, policy change and activism. And in the past two years alone there are at least 3 dizi’s focused on domestic violence and sex abuse. Brave women activists took to the streets in Turkey in August 2020 to protest Ankara’s  potential withdrawal from a European treaty on gender-based violence. Women’s’ signs read “we believe in women’s solidarity” “we are here despite every obstacle and will continue to fight for our cause”. 

I have been working and fighting for this cause for the past three decades with sexual abuse survivors and helping them to find their voices and their paths to deep healing and thriving after abuse. Twenty years ago, while working on the first edition of my book Invisible Girls: Speaking The Truth About Sexual Abuse with my group therapy  survivor group in Brooklyn, New York, I asked the  teen girls what names they would choose for themselves  with their stories of abuse. One girl after another said “Let us be flowers!  Heather, Daisy, Iris, Ivy, Jasmine, Dahlia, Rose.”

Twenty years later, watching Sen Anlat Karadeniz when  the survivor in the series goes on a radio show to share her journey from abuse to recovery, she invites girls and women to call the show with their abuse stories. She tells them her name is Blue Feather and they can call in and disguise their identities and name themselves flowers. And they do – Chrysanthemum, Rose, Daisy, Orchid. The writers either read my book or, as Jung would say, this is the collective unconscious. Whatever the reason, I am deeply moved by this dizi and the following essay is from the inspiration I have taken from the extraordinary story in Sen Anlat Karadeniz (You Tell – Black Sea)

I will be interweaving and distilling details of the truths told about abuse and healing through my clinical experience and perspective, capturing some pearls of wisdom through the story and dialogue as these are the topics which were brilliantly revealed and deserve a deeper appreciation.

THE CORE

Sen Anlat Karadeniz forces us to look straight at the darkest realities of abuse and the strength and resiliency that comes with healing. As Nefes explains, “When a woman – from husband, from brother, from father – suffers violence from every man, on her hands, her back, on her face, there are traces. The traces pass and, although no longer visible from the outside, they can only be healed by a hug of love”

This dizi is a hug of love through an explosion of emotion. The two women writers, Ayse Ferda Eryilmaz and Nehir Erdem, have taken on issues of domestic violence, sexual abuse, incest, rape, and femicide with such intelligence, wisdom, and grace. They have woven a magnificent tapestry of love and hate, abuse and healing, feminism and misogyny, torture and redemption, torment and romance, depression and resiliency, motherhood and fatherhood, religion and faithlessness, and more. Even through all these emotions, there is impeccable writing and acting which also brings much laughter, celebration and joy. 

All of these emotions are played out against the backdrop of breathtaking landscapes, and waterscapes and heartbreaking music. The soundtrack and the Black Sea are the organic cast members, bringing emotions to a peak while experiencing the feelings of the characters. Some of the music matches the vastness of the Black Sea and cuts into your soul. You can almost smell the salt air and feel the water wash over you. The endless green mountainous terrain, huge rock formations on the water, symbolize the openness to life that can be vast and free.

The Black Sea, which saves lives, is also a receptacle for the trauma, pain and healing, and holds secrets. In many psychological theories, water symbolizes re-birth, the womb, fluidity, healing and the unconscious.  We are surrounded by water in Sen Anlat Karadeniz

At the core this is a story about the triumph over abuse and the deep resiliency of love, healing and the strength of women. Girls and women can heal from sexual abuse and domestic violence. Women find their strength, their passion, build communities, build careers, find chosen families, embrace their power, fall in love, have families, grow and thrive and protect and support each other. We are shown all of this through Nefes.  Although the center of Sen Anlat Karadeniz is a spectacular romantic love story, there are many levels to this love – the love between this woman and man but, more importantly, the love this abuse survivor finds to love herself. Through this feminist lens, we also see how the sisterhood of women is vital to the healing of the abuse of women.

Through her romantic love, Nefes learns intimacy, to trust again, to share parenting, and more. As she heals, she transforms her magical fantasy world of survival into a beautiful creative grounded reality, she embraces her supportive sisterhood of women and finally, she gives birth to another child – this time a love child – and she continues her education to become an attorney and activist for other survivors. This is not a story about how everyone saves Nefes, it is how Nefes embraces love and saves herself, and then gives so much to those around her. 

CHARACTER ANALYSIS

The characters are all brought together by an exceptional ensemble cast who make it easy to become immersed in their lives, as many of the characters are unforgettable through their depth and multilayered portrayal. The female characters have agency that shows up in their professions, religious commitments, devotion to family, in their mothering and partnering and, mostly, in their unwavering sisterhood.  Many of the male characters show a depth of thought and feeling, while we witness their struggle to balance their emotions with their instilled cultural macho behaviors. Sen Anlat Karadeniz explores manhood from the most vile to the most sublime. 

NEFES: THE HEROINE

Nefes, the heroine of the story, has vulnerability that is also her strength embodying a survivor profile on many levels. Nefes takes us into the soul of an abused woman whose mother died giving birth to her and whose father sold her to an abuser when she was 16 years old. Her abuser rapes her and she gives birth to Yigit when she is 17 years old. In Turkey, at a wedding ceremony she has the right to say no to legally marrying Vedat her abuser and this is her one power that, although trapped with him, she never legally marries him. 

We meet her when Yigit is seven years old and they have been imprisoned with her abuser for eight years. As a fierce protective mother she  builds an imaginary world for herself and Yigit to tolerate and emotionally escape the brutal reality of their lives. She explains, “This is a world where pain cannot enter”.  In this imaginary world she is Blue Feather and Yigit is Howling Wolf at the Moonlight. They wear headdress’s and ride bicycles around the compound, they build tents in Yigits room and live in their fantasy worlds.

After her beatings, Nefes reassures her child, whom she loves even more because he is a child of rape. She says that in that hell, they both needed love. Nefes is every woman who has suffered the unspeakable, Nefes is a survivor, she has strength that feels incomprehensible, which she shows us over and over again, as she takes beautiful care of her boy, turning their torture prison into an adventure scape to capture and save wounded animals, to find hidden treasures, to drink magic potions. 

Nefes never gives up the hope that she will escape one day and bring her son to safety. Abuse survivors create ulterior worlds to survive abuse and are warriors for their children. If they ever give up hope for themselves they fight for the safety of their children. Motherhood creates the warrior protector and Nefes is the epitome of this symbolic, unimaginable strength. 

YIGIT: NEFES’S PRECIOUS 7 YEAR OLD SON

Yigit is a precious 7 year old boy whose mother has given him unconditional love and affection and, although they are imprisoned, she has succeeded in teaching Yigit how to survive and learn and play through the magical worlds she has created for them.

Yet he is every child who has borne witness to abuse and could not save their mother. He is every child who lives in fear that his mother will be beaten so badly she may die from it and he is hopeless that he alone can’t save her. Yigit’s imagination allows him to have an open heart  as he serves as the magical vision we can all believe in because of a child’s resiliency and openness to love.

VEDAT: THE MONSTER ABUSER

Vedat is the monstrous abuser and the biological father of Yigit through his brutal rape of Nefes when she is 16 years old. Upon his first sight of Nefes in her school uniform, he decides he had to have her and he buys Nefes from her abusive father. He forcibly takes her to his mansion, brutally beats and rapes her, and then proceeds to successfully keep her imprisoned for eight years, with several armed guards at every possible escape route.

Unlike women abuse survivors who most often go on to become deep protectors in the world, male abuse survivors sometimes become abusers themselves. Vedat suffered abuse from his father and it is refreshing that this dizi does not elicit empathy for him.  He is physically, emotionally, sexually abusive in unfathomable ways; from breaking bones and fingers, to rape and torture. The most disturbing is that as he abuses, he also forces touching her hair and kissing in a sick soft voice calling Nefes “wifey”. 

Vedat is a conglomeration of every abuser. He is a sociopath without a conscience, a twisted narcissistic bully.  Abusive men do not need financial freedom to believe they are entitled to abuse women but, in his case, he is a man of economic privilege and believes he is entitled in every way. He is vicious, dangerous and delusional. His voice is deliberate and slow with every heinous word coming out of his mouth matched with his physical abuse whenever he sees Nefes’s hateful looks and rejection. And, as all abusive men, he always blames Nefes for his anger and abuse which increases each of the 22 times she is caught trying to escape with Yigit.

TAHIR: THE HERO

Nefes finally escapes on her 23rd attempt, and that is when Tahir Kaleli, the hero of the story joins her on her journey. Tahir is an astute study of maleness that defies toxic masculinity. He is strong, tall and powerful, and is called “Crazy Tahir” as he is wild and risk taking. He grits his teeth, puffs up his chest, tightens his jaw, he leaps, jumps and throws himself into inescapable danger. And, as many of the  men in the story, his gun is almost an extension of his hand. 

As he grew up his father told him, “ be like the Black Sea, non- stoppable, deep like the Black Sea, knowing how to resist the waves of the Black Sea, crawling beneath the shadows of the trees, jump over wild waters”. Tahir shows his strength through his unwavering relationship with the truth and honor in everything he does, as he is the protector of those in need of protection. Tahir is modest and understated, and although quite explosive and impulsive at times, he becomes the sweetest, warmest most gentle spirt as he falls desperately in love with Nefes and Yigit her son.

He is a kind, insightful, affectionate partner to Nefes, who he champions and supports. He wants to protect Nefes, yet he also wants her to find her core strength and believe in herself. He wants to heal any wound that Nefes has experienced yet not pity her as he admires her and believes in her.  He becomes the most soulful father to Yigit, There is no subtext for Tahir’s love for Yigit, it is a clean transfer of pure love which is immediately reciprocated as Yigit knows his spirit father as soon as he sets eyes on him. One of Tahir’s most profound life moments is when Yigit looks up at him and switches from calling him Brother Tahir and calls him dad.

ASIYE: THE SHERO

The shero of Sen Anlat Karadeniz is Asiye Kaleli, Tahir’s sister in law. Asiye is solid with conviction in her strength and agency. Although she lost her mother at age 16, her father is the hodja of the community and he has given Asiye unconditional love and support to become who she is. Asiye is the first woman who reaches out to Nefes and remains her steadfast spirit sister of support and love. Filled with pizazz and sass, Asiye is a woman warrior who shows fearless devotion as she flings her hair with fortitude, and then her scarf; she wiggles as she walks in delightful ways. She sasses her husband who is a screaming big teddy bear wrapped around her finger. To top it all off, she sings in acapella with a voice that cuts right through to your heart.  

SANIYE: THE ABUSIVE/ MARTYR/ MATRIARCHAL MOTHER

Saniye Kaleli is a sour, repugnant woman who only cares about her sons. She is the queen of martyrdom and sexism, perpetuating a world where her sons are the princes and her daughter in laws and other women are irrelevant except to serve her. She rejects without a thought, she is unapologetically cruel and vicious as she sulks around the home with her demands and territorial prowess, almost in a feral like manner. Her mouth always scowls and when she is not complaining or passing out with her dramatic fainting, her lips are always drawn down. Saniye is disapproving of Tahir’s relationship with Nefes who has never known her mother and only wants her approval. Saniye emotionally abuses her and tries to send Nefes and her son Yigit back to her abuser. This monstrous rejection from a mother figure is a deeper hurt than death threats from her abuser and shakes Nefes to her bones.

Tahir always fights for Nefes and explains “My mother knows about a lot of things but she knows nothing about love.”

THE KALELI MEN

Mustafa is the eldest of Saniye’s sons and married to Asiye, the shero of the story. Hot-tempered, he screams, yells and gesticulates constantly and yet we are never afraid of him because we know underneath the bravado is a soft heart. Since their father died Mustafa has taken on role of father to his brothers. He is putty in the hands of his wife and 10 year old daughter, Balim, who is a carbon copy of her amazing mom.

The two younger brothers, probably 10 to 15 years younger than Tahir and Mustafa, are twins and called the Slackers. They are lovingly bullied by Mustafa, and nurtured by Tahir. They are sweet and compliant, and inseparable. Tahir, the second to eldest, ties all of the brothers together. 

OSMAN HODJA: THE WISE SPIRITUAL LEADER

Asiye’s biological father is the Imam of the community – and the adoptive father to any young woman who has been abused. They are all his daughters. He is the link in the story that brings the Muslim faith to life with its devotion, wisdom and beautiful ritualistic praying. His sermons at the mosque are always deep, as he speaks in poems and fables. His eyes are like wells of gentleness and understanding, his voice is quiet and intentional. He is the healer of the community, the safe harbor for abuse survivors, the wise leader that protects the spiritual life of the community who everyone comes to.

Community of characters

There are many other important characters in this close-knit community. They include other women who join the powerful sisterhood, a best friend of Tahir, a family in pain, and a shadow protector.  All the characters enrich the relationships that intersect throughout the story. 

The Culture of Trabzon

Sen Anlat Karadeniz takes place in Trabzon, a small rural town in the Black Sea region of Turkey with a misogynistic culture that condemns a divorcée with a child as un-marriageable. Women are expected to take care of  domestic tasks while the men walk around carrying their guns and going to the mosque to pray. Sand is one of their vital economic mechanisms of Trabzon and the Kaleli family owns one of the major sand companies in the town. 

THE ESCAPE: INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL

We first meet the entire Kaleli family on their 600 mile drive to Istanbul from Trabzon to meet Vedat the businessman who has just bought a large amount of sand from them. We meet Nefes inside the mansion, during one of her inventive plays with Yigit. Nefes’s first escape is an internal one through the imaginary world she creates for herself and her son. When  she is Blue Feather and Yigit is Howling Wolf at the Moon they build new worlds to live in. Abuse survivors are genius at creating imaginary worlds to get through abuse. They live in these ulterior worlds during and after their abuse. In clinical terms this is called dissociation, which is when a survivor leaves her body and focuses on something else not to feel what is going on.

At times, when she was raped, Nefes describes escaping her reality and picturing herself walking by the ocean with bare feet and swinging on a swing. She says she will be anywhere except in that bed where she is being abused. I have a client who fantasizes swimming with dolphins, and the dolphins take her far away from her abuser. Another client pictures herself flying above cities and saving children with her herculean powers and, yet, another survivor pictures herself being lifted out of her body by a group of fairies.

Nefes pictures herself in a flowing white dress with the sun coming down as she and Yigit step in float like movements. I have heard many stories of survivors where they are rising above their abusers and floating away while being abused. Survivors find brilliant ways to withstand the unsurmountable . Nefes is no different as she creates a world where she can fight off monsters. I have survivors tell me that in their fantasy worlds they have super powers, they can speak animal language and save animals in the forest. Nefes tells Yigit they can free abused animals in the circus. Creating her imaginary world has saved Nefes, and she has saved her son who cognitively and emotionally believes in their special powers. 

They are playing and shooting rubber arrows and deep into their fantasy world when Vedat arrives home and breaks the spell and tells her to cover up her bruises and change into a dress. Uncharacteristically, they will have dinner guests who they are doing business with. An hour later, the Kalelis arrive and she enters the room looking strikingly beautiful dressed in a flowing white dress, with perfect makeup and styled long wavy dark hair and bright grey blue eyes. She is holding her son’s hand and introduced as Vedat’s wife. Tahir is immediately attracted to her but, out of respect, does not make eye-contact, looking down as they shake hands he notices the bruises on Nefes’s wrists. 

Vedat sees this interaction and takes her upstairs, accuses her of flirting and breaks her fingers. He is brutal and, even more disgustingly, after the beating he pushes her face to him and kisses her. The scene is vicious and repulsive and as if nothing has happened, he returns downstairs to the business at hand. In an unforgettable moment we see Nefes upstairs as she takes lipstick pencils and puts together a make shift cast on the two fingers he has broken. Although she is in excruciating pain, she becomes laser focused and changes into jeans, fills her nap-sac, scoops up Yigit, puts his magic headdress on and tells him they will escape the castle tonight because there are guests and Vedat has gotten rid of the guards. They sneak out of the compound and hide in the trunk of Tahir’s truck. After a long  overnight drive, when Tahir arrives home to Trabzon and opens his trunk, he finds Nefes and Yigit huddled, cold and terrified.  

Tahir gets Asiye, and without alerting the rest of the family they take Nefes and Yigit and  feed them breakfast and bring them to the sea. Nefes feels her first emotion of freedom when she steps onto the sand and then dances with her son in the water of the Black Sea. When they return home, Vedat has come with 30 armed men to take Nefes and Yigit.

When Tahir realizes Nefes and Yigit have run away, he frantically searches for them, finds them, and what ensues is a wild chase through the mountains until they become cornered by Vedat and his men all pulling guns on them. There are only two choices – to surrender to Vedat or to jump off the cliff, hundreds of feet into the Black Sea. Tahir takes Nefes’s hand and continues to hold Yigit tightly and asks Nefes if she trusts him. She says yes and the three jump off the cliff into the Black Sea. Tahir and Yigit hit the water and come up for air, but Nefes is drowning. Tahir dives below but when he rescues Nefes, she is not breathing. Tahir literally breathes air into Nefes and brings her to life, not knowing that later Nefes will be the one to give him his life breath, living her namesake. They survive and that is when Yigit names Tahir Tiger From the Sea.

RE-MAPPING ABUSE

Thus begins the relationship of Tahir, Nefes and Yigit, always followed by the shadow of danger and possible death at the hands of the monster Vedat. But “Crazy Tahir” has blind courage and he pushes forward. He and Asiye settle Nefes and Yigit at the Imam’s home.  Tahir buys a phone for Nefes and new clothing, he brings a tent for Yigit. Tahir, Osman Hodja, Nefes, and Balim all tie scarfs and feathers on their heads, Yigit goes in his tent and Tahir offers gifts to buy Blue Feather. A new pair of sneakers, a new toy, and finally Yigit agrees to sell Blue Feather to Tahir for a sports shirt with Yigit’s name on it. This is what I call re-mapping, when a survivor takes over the experience and remaps her trauma. This example of re-mapping is of the heinous traumatic event when Nefes’s father sold her to Vedat.

One of my clients was always sexually abused by her father in the bathtub. After she escaped from him, for her healing she took over the experience of bathing and plays her favorite music, lights candles and uses healing oils. This abuse survivor did what Nefes talks about over and over, which is to create good memories to replace bad memories. This is how survivors take back their power.

Nefes continues to re- map her trauma throughout the story, in beautiful, substantial ways. Tahir buys clothing for Nefes and she wants to wear the color blue, because Vedat liked Nefes wearing white.  Nefes rejoices and tells him, “Again I will take bad memories and replace them with good memories.”

Another simple re-mapping is when Tahair, Yigit and Nefes play dodge ball. This was a game Nefes tried to play as a teen with a group of girls and her father found her and ripped her away. She never had the experience of playing simple sports with other children – yet when she played with Tahir, Yigit, Balim and Asiye, she played ball with childlike abandon. Makeup was always used to cover bruises. Nefes stops wearing makeup.

Later in the story, a profound re-mapping for Nefes is going on the boat when she convinces Tahir that she needs to escape to Russia.  This was traumatic and heartbreaking for Nefes. Subsequently, they re-map the trauma with love and go on the boat together and have a new experience. This time Nefes plays the captain and, instead of being on the boat to leave to Russia, Tahir convinces her to stay by his side and tells her that they can make an epic story. Empowered, Nefes agrees this is her destiny and Nefes, Tahir and Yigit hold each other tightly, again replacing a traumatic event to a loving one on their way to their epic story.   

“ONE OF THE THOUSANDS OF KIDS”

At one point in the story, Nefes attempts to report Vedat’s abuse.  Asiye takes her to her friend Esma who is a social justice feminist lawyer for abused women and children. Esma is a young Muslim woman, beautiful and strong, proudly dressed in her hijab with piercing eyes and so much agency. One can feel the power in Nefes, finally taking the law into her own hands and legally fighting Vedat.

The three women form a formidable sisterhood but more death threats and blackmail by Vedat forces Nefes to return to Esma to recant and rescind her abuse report. Esma is furious and yells at Nefes that she has just given up her power. Nefes yells back at Esma, screaming that she can’t possibly understand how she feels. With tears in her eyes Esma tells Nefes “I know how you feel because  I am one of those thousands of kids. I grew up scared for my mother every night. I grew up hearing my mother be beaten, hearing her screams”. Nefes pulls Esme to her and they embrace and cry together in their collective pain, as is the pain of reality of survivors recanting their abuse. More often than not, survivors are forced to recant their abuse out of paralyzing fear. 

DEEP HEALING LOVE

There are death threats, violence, and danger all which only bring them closer together under the guise of Tahir as their protector. Tahir often goes to the Black Sea when he is overwhelmed with his love for Nefes. Sometimes he sits in silence other times we hear his thoughts…returning from being a soldier coming back to the Black Sea was coming back from faraway places, watching the sea was his home, looking at Nefes is his home when he can’t look at Nefes he looks at the Black Sea. He wants to burn the world when he sees Nefes’s scars.

Although Nefes wants to believe that she deserves a chance at happiness she tells Tahir she is a total wreckage.  “You believe the thousands of times you’ve told yourself you don’t deserve, you welcome every disaster that comes to you, you take every awful thing that has been said to you”. Tahir persists and when Vedat fights for child custody Tahir insists on marrying Nefes to gain custody of Yagit yet we know the subtext is he is in love with her.

Although Nefes deeply loves Tahir she  worries that she will never be a “real wife “ to Tahir because of the damage inflicted on her from her abuser, a common fear of abuse survivors. The first night as husband and wife in the Kaleli home Tahir sets up a room for Nefes and Yigit. You can feel her conflict as she knows she wants more with Tahir and she sobs  as she struggles to break through her barriers.

Abuse survivors may worry they will experience sexual contact as their rapes and physical intimacy as abuse.  Supportive partners of sex abuse survivors feel the pain of their partners and they feel their own pain not being able to heal their partners. The conflict within Tahir is handled with such grace as he knows he can’t change those feelings in her and he needs to wait even though he longs for more. It is often a lonely place for the partners and Tahir feels that loneliness but knows it will have to be enough for him just to be next to Nefes, ready in his willingness to replace her wounds with healing.

Now surrounded by a circle of love from Tahir, a secure Yigit who has found his spirit father and sibling in Balim, Asiye, Esma and the hodja, Nefes begins to heal. And as she heals, she gains confidence and her heart begins to open in her belief that she can love. To Tahir’s  surprise, that very first night of their marriage Nefes goes to him. He tells her he is frightened that when he hugs her does she think of her abuser. She knows the difference, she pushes through her fears and invites him to lay his head on her lap. She strokes his hair and tells him she wants to wrap his wounds. Their love and affection for each other is palpable. Much time goes by and they share affection, holding each other as if they are holding each other against all the pain in the world. 

Tahir never pushes, and there is an exquisite scene when Nefes comes to him and tells him she wants to be his “real wife”. She wants to create a memory of what it is really like to make love. Tahir’s desire for her is intense, but he realizes she is not ready as he gently kisses the scars on her back and tells her he knows the scars are still there, but one day he will take them away. He tells her she is his real wife, she is his love. They deeply embrace, but Tahir only holds her knowing she is not ready for deeper intimacy.

This physical space given to Nefes empowers her to set her own pace. Time goes by and they go through many experiences, death threats from Vedat, running from Vedat, helping another abused woman, helping a suicidal woman, having family time together and, all through it, their relationship and connection only deepens.

Nefes gives signals and when Tahir senses she is ready for more intimacy he asks if he can give her his love. Tahir asks Nefes to marry him again, this time with pure joy, not with the pressures of child custody and court cases. Nefes tells him “I was lost and you gave me the courage to believe in myself and he responds, “I was a guy and you made me a man – I was alone and you gave me a son.”

They spend the evening together and the result is an example of magnificent intimate love. Nefes and Tahir are a stunning couple in love, no longer an abuse survivor and her protector. 

POWER OF SISTERHOOD AS STRENGTH AND HEALING

Nefes falls in love with Tahir but she also falls in love with the feelings from the sisterhood of women. At every turn, Nefes looks to her sisters for fortitude and strength, and they all come through for each other in beautiful consistent ways throughout the story. Her bonding with Ayise is her first time trusting a woman. Losing her mother at birth, being brought up until 16 by an abusive father, and then living in the compound with Vedat and his female cousin and the women who worked there all facilitating Vedat’s torture, Nefes does not know about sisterhood until she meets Asiye. The strong energy of sisterhood is Nefes’s first experience of bonding and trusting a woman. Almost immediately she tells Asiye she is the first woman she has loved.

This re-mapping of trusting women opens the door for the sisterhood of the other women in Nefes’s life. Nefes, Aylise, Esma and several other women become very close. At one point in the story, they torture Vedat, displaying a bonding of revenge on an abuser. 

Another point is when, sister Alyise organizes the hamam for Nefes. This bridal bath is a Century old tradition in Middle Eastern Countries as is the mikvah for Jewish women. Through all her experiences and deep connections with the women constantly helping each other, confiding in each other, enjoying each other, and connecting, we can feel Nefes believing in herself more and more. If her relationship with Tahir heals and gives her hope, her sisterhood of women gives her sustenance. 

IT TAKES A VILLAGE

Nefes says that to hug, you don’t need hands. The community of sisterhood is not the only community that hugs Nefes with love and support. She elicits this love because she is the most generous of heart and touches everyone she connects with.

Abuse survivors are some of the kindest, most sensitive women I know. They have an inner sense of protecting others, not wanting anyone to suffer what they have suffered. It also is often helpful to survivors to believe in a higher power or energy than themselves which could translate through spiritual practice or religion.

Nefes finds great comfort in praying. Osman Hodja has opened that path for her as he elicits this beautifully through the Muslim faith. In a powerful sermon he directly speaks to the men and women that disparage Nefes. He tells them that in the Koran there is no oppression and abuse of women, and they need to look to themselves and stop throwing stones. At every turn, hodja is a loving father to his spirit daughter Nefes.

On another level of support is the shadow protector Fikret, who puts an end to Vedat’s life. Once Vedat is dead, the level of life that Nefes and Tahir can experience is as if the sky opened up and embraced them with endless possibilities.

NEFES SPREADS HER WINGS – HEALING LOVING THRIVING

This is how we go into the third season of Sen Anlat Karadeniz. In the third season, new characters are presented and new shadow danger, new topics of incest and femicide and we get to experience Nefes in full bloom. She is deeply healed, relationships are solid and the family is close. Nefes has even connected to Saniye who she has broken through to and changed with her tenacious love, and calls Saniye mom. Nefes and Tahir are wonderfully married as equal partners with a new baby girl. Through new characters Nefes and Tahir take on justice. Nefes becomes the symbol of triumph over abuse.

It started when Nefes went on the radio as Blue Feather and asked the women to call in with their abuse stories as flowers. When survivors release their secrets and speak their truth, they begin to heal. They let go of some of the guilt and shame they carry deep inside and begin to rebuild their lives. The power of sisterhood with survivors sharing their stories can be the first step to healing.  As Nefes becomes a symbol of strength for other women, incest survivors, survivors of domestic violence, and women afraid for their lives all come to Nefes for strength and hope. She records their videos on social media, works with a woman’s crisis center, brings survivors to Osman Hodja, and gets accepted to law school.

The story ends with Nefes, Tahir, Yigit and their baby daughter Masal loading up the truck. Nefes re-maps her life from hiding in the trunk of that truck with her son on the drive from her imprisonment in Istanbul two years earlier, to driving back to Istanbul two years later with her son, daughter and husband to begin her studies to become a social justice lawyer. Nefes is no longer only a mother warrior, she is a warrior for all women and Tahir opens the path with vigor for Nefes to spread her wings.  Thank you Sen Anlat Karadeniz for your bravery in showing us in spite of what seems impossible women can triumph over abuse.


Article copyright (c) North America TEN & Dr. Patti Feuereisen

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7 comments

  1. This is a beautiful summary of this series, I have watched it multiple times. It is such a powerful story of overcoming abuse and a beautiful love story.

  2. Wow! Just wow!
    What a brilliant piece of writing you share here.
    Such incredible insight.
    The power of the survivor and sisterhood shines through brightly even in all the horrific trauma.
    One asks themselves how anyone that has gone through such events could possibly survive, but Dr. Patti and these women shine a light on the strength and power within and how one accesses that to move forward and arrive in a place of healing.
    I love the use of visuals described to create metaphor and direct narrative.
    In particular the women renaming themselves as flowers, water and the black sea, the shoes in the installation, the woman warrior in the headdress with the child of her abuser.
    Brilliant connections between art and activism throughout the writing and the art these women are creating.
    Both the series and the art installation shared here are inspiring.
    Calling attention to domestic abuse, sex abuse and femicide through such strong visuals and complex character development.
    Grateful to creativity and it’s platform for these brave female artists/activists and equally grateful to Dr. Patti and her investment in analyzing the work and giving it voice.
    Such an incredibly powerful connection between the stories shared in this art and in Dr. Patti’s book/work with her girls.
    Brave stories shared here and a powerful determination to heal
    Exposing abuse, finding love in the darkest moments and healing.
    I cannot wait to watch this series!!!!

  3. Wow! Just wow!
    What a brilliant piece of writing you share here, thank you for sending.
    You share such incredible insight.
    The power of the survivor and sisterhood shines through brightly even in all the horrific trauma.
    One asks themselves how anyone that has gone through such events could possibly survive, but you and these women shine a light on the strength and power within and how one accesses that to move forward and arrive in a place of healing.
    I love the use of visuals described to create metaphor and direct narrative.
    In particular the women renaming themselves as flowers, water and the black sea, the shoes in the installation, the woman warrior in the headdress with the child of her abuser. WOW!
    Brilliant connection between art and activism throughout the writing and the art these women are creating.
    Both the series and the art installation are so inspriring calling attention to domestic abuse, sex abuse and femicide through such strong visuals and complex character development.
    Grateful to creativity and it’s platform for these brave female artists/activists and equally grateful to you and your investment in analyzing the work and giving it voice.
    Such an incredibly powerful connection between the stories shared in this art and your book/work with your girls.
    Brave stories shared and a powerful determination to heal.
    The power of the woman warrior!
    Brave stories exposing abuse, finding love in the darkest moments and healing.
    I cannot wait to watch this series!!!!

    1. B.W. Thanks so much for that insightful comment. I love that you get the metaphors and symbolism with the art pieces and the organic elements in the dizi. I have so much admiration for the women in Turkey fighting sexual violence against women. They are beyond brave and righteous. Did you know that the two screenwriters received the equivalent to the USA oscar- Bravo Turkey!

  4. What a beautiful and sage write-up and interpretation of this story. I started to watch it on TV, but it was too difficult for me to watch the first chapters and all the cruelty and torture. I wish now I would not have given up so soon. I blame it on the depressing and frightening times in which we are living right now, that made me feel so fragile. It’s truly a very good story.

    1. Dear Helga, I totally understand why you needed to stop watching. That is why I put a warning for survivors at the beginning of my essay. Even if you are not a survivor of sexual assault, the violence is blunt, vicious, terrifying, and burns your skin. I also understand how this series could trigger feelings of our collective fragility now. But I hope you felt hope from my essay because Sen Anlat is one of the most hopeful productions I have ever seen. My message is that women are brave and righteous and resilient and they surpass what has been done to them. I hope you are feeling less fragile these days. Not sure if you are in the USA, but here we are feeling much less fragile now that Trump is out and Biden and Harris are in!

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