Chantal Barlow is an incredibly talented painter with a spirit so free that positive energy radiates from her like a Tesla lightbulb.

 

She almost never existed.

 

On the evening of June 13, 1975, Chantal's grandfather shot and killed her grandmother in a drunken rage. The couple had been recently divorced. Chantal's grandmother and then sixteen year-old father had fled their home, running from flying bullets. Somehow Chantal's father went unscathed, but her grandmother, to whom Chantal bears a striking resemblance, was mortally wounded, dying in her son's arms.

 

Peace was eventually found in the Barlow family. Years after Chantal's father (and five aunts and uncles) were scattered upon the streets of Los Angeles, her grandfather—who was never brought to trial—found God, and spent the rest of his life trying to make up for the terrible trauma he brought to his family. He became a man of wonderful actions. Chantal never knew the truth of her grandmother's story. There were almost no keepsakes of her grandmother around. The only two photos of that exist belong to Chantal. Her grandmother's Trail of Existence was almost completely wiped out. When Chantal finally found out the true history she had to do something about it.

 

Another thing I've recently learned about Chantal is that like her grandmother, she too was once a victim of abuse from an ex-girlfriend. In a world where people sometimes stand by witnessing abuse or being victimized by it, Chantal knew she couldn't let that be part of her own trail of existence, not only for herself, but for her grandmother as well. Someone needed to help give women a voice, an outlet, and some closure.

 

When Chantal's grandfather died, he left a present to her which would go on to have a profound effect: the beloved camera he used to document all the happy moments he had with his family. Chantal is using the camera as a tool to photograph other women whom have broken their silence on their own history of living in an abusive environment. She launched The Unconventional Apology Project which is rapidly growing in deserved notoriety.

 

I'm so proud of Chantal! Not only is she using her grandfather's tool to help right the wrong he committed almost forty years ago, but she's providing a burst of clarity and a breath of education about abuse, victimization, and how past victimization can end today. She's spreading consciousness. Also, not all abuse is romantic male to romantic female. Anyone can be a victim of abuse: men, women, children, same sex couples, and it's important to open up. The abuser is, in my opinion, always fighting some sort of extreme insecurity and taking their own self-loathing out on those they should embrace. When we abuse someone, it takes its toll on them physically, emotionally, and psychologically. It's a cancer that needs to be cut out before it's too late. This energy can also get passed down from generation to generation. It's also important to look for ways to help both the abused and abuser, if possible.

 

I have been an indirect victim of abuse. My father's father was incredibly abusive to his entire family in every way imaginable and, because of which, my own father couldn't cope with his own victimization, move on, and fully grow. Those insecurities passed down to me were ones I have felt the need to end. I am very grateful for growing up with my mother and her side of my biological family, being sweltered with the kind of love that I will pass down to my children. Chantal has had similar wonderful luck in her life, because of which, she has the strong foundation necessary to be a beacon of light shining down such a dark path.

 

The stories on the Unconventional Apology website are both heart-wrenching and empowering. They serve as a reminder that no matter what happens in our lives our own final act isn't written until we say so. It's also important that we not allow an abusive environment to dictate what happens in our lives. There's always hope. If you are currently in an abusive environment, please say something. The world cares about all of us. 

 

I have included below, portraits of six women who's stories Chantal has released in the Unconventional Apology Project, along with their names. I have not included their stories. They're not mine to tell, they're Chantal's and their own. What strikes me most about the photos is how breathtakingly beautiful, both inside and out, all of these women are. They have been victims in the past, but they will no longer allow themselves to be victimized. That doesn't make me want to cry tears of sadness. It makes me want to cry tears of joy. By the way, Chantal was on the domestic violence summit panel hosted by Good Shepherd Shelter and the USC School of Social Work! Please take a look at the portraits of these amazing women below, and give someone you love a big hug today. Let them know you care. #TrailofExistence