Life is Beautiful.

By Tina AlvaradoNovember 15, 2013

A couple weeks ago, I had the privilege of working the To Write Love on Her Arms booth at the first ever Life is Beautiful festival in Las Vegas. This was more than just a music festival; it seemed to be an attempt to bring us back to the root of why we create and connect to music in the first place. It was more than just fans, fame, and stages; it invited festival-goers to focus on all things that enhance our life—music, food, art, learning—the things that help us to feel, that inspire us to change, and challenge us to grow. In short, the things that help make our lives beautiful.

Tucked away in Charity Lane, we bore witness to countless beautiful lives and stories of discovery, struggle, healing, triumph, sorrow, and joy.


On Saturday, a young girl and her mom stop by to purchase a T-shirt for the girl. They don’t say much until they start to walk away. The young girl lingers and begins to tell us that TWLOHA has meant a lot to her, then hesitates as she decides if she wants to go on. She continues, saying she struggled with self-injury—but every day in school, her friend would write love on her arm.

Community is beautiful.


Later that evening, another mom-and-daughter duo comes up to see us. It’s late in the day, and most of the other booths on Charity Lane have closed up. Stacey* and Taylor* listen intently as Joe explains what TWLOHA stands for. They are quiet, until Taylor says, “That really hits home with us. I lost my dad to suicide.” Her mom adds, “It hasn’t even been a year.” As much as they try to fight it, the tears that have been welling up in their eyes spill over, and we walk around the table to hug them. We embrace longer than is normal for four strangers—like this is the release they’ve been waiting for. Then they proceed to buy shirts for themselves and their family and return to the festival—a weekend trip they’d planned for the two of them.

Healing is beautiful.


On Sunday afternoon, a young, edgy girl with a bleached blonde mohawk prances up to our table and greets me in an excited raspy voice. When I ask her how she heard of TWLOHA, she says frankly, “I heard about TWLOHA after I was in a treatment facility for three days when I tried to ‘off myself.’ I’m glad it didn’t work!” Then she laughs, partly to lighten the mood, but also as a testament to the journey that has taken her from that place to where she finds herself on this day.

New life is beautiful.


As the festival comes to an end on Sunday evening, all of the other charities have closed up, and we’re the last light on at the end of a deserted Charity Lane. We discuss closing up, but Brook* and her friend walk up and thank us for staying open. We instantly connect because she’s from a small beach town north of Los Angeles where my family vacations. Her friend is the one initially drawn to us because she has had a hard struggle with depression, but the more Joe and I talk to Brook, the more she starts to open up about her daughter’s struggles with self-injury.

She says: “My daughter used to self-harm, and you know what she told me? She said, ‘What saved me, Mom, was that you never yelled at me for it.’ And I didn’t. When I knew she was doing it, I would go into her room, and sit on the floor with her, and wrap my legs around her, then slowly wrap my arms around her and just hold her. I never yelled at her or anything. I didn’t know what was the right thing to do; I guess that was just my mother’s instinct. … I don’t even know why I’m telling you this. I just feel like I’ve known you guys forever.”

At this point, tears are slowly rolling down my face, and the three of us hug each other. I fully understand the immensity of Brook’s actions—a powerful statement of love and acceptance offered in those moments of hurt and desperation.

Overcoming shame is beautiful.


These are just a few of the countless moving stories we heard that weekend. As you all know, To Write Love on Her Arms is more than “a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people who struggle with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide” (which I now have memorized); it is a voice that screams “You are worthy!” in a society that is working with all its might to make us believe we are not enough. That, my friends, is powerful and far-reaching. It reaches the grandmother, the stepdaughter, the father, the brother, the high school student, the friend, the wife. It reaches the Cirque du Soleil stage tech who values TWLOHA as an important part of her story; the singer who just heard of TWLOHA, but is stoked on its mission; the twenty-something who has supported TWLOHA since the beginning; the therapist who has decided to re-evaluate herself; the bartender who walked over to see what we were all about, but knows exactly who he needs to tell about TWLOHA; even the security guard posted at the exit near our booth who keeps finding himself drawn to our table.

They are worthy. You are worthy. We are worthy.

It’s a beautiful thing.

—Tina Alvarado

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals and their stories.

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Comments (7)

  1. Jenny

    Twloha saved my life on so many occasions… when I was in middle school and I was trying to stop cutting, I’d just sit on your MySpace page and read over and over the initial story… and I would just try to keep myself from doing it. Thank you for existing. I actually started writing a semifictional story with twloha in it… unfortunately I didn’t finish it. Maybe someday I will. Thank you for saving my life. If it wasn’t for you, my thoughts would’ve taken me and I wouldn’t be here to help others who need me. You’re all angels.

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  2. Lisa Cain

    I never heard of this site until today. I wish while my daughter and quite possibly myself, I would have known this existed. My daughter was a self-harmer and am pretty sure on some level she still is. I am excited to pass this organization with all its meaning on to my daughter to hopefully help her stop her destructive behavior.
    The struggles that people endure nowadays are far more than I could have imagined while growing up but I see today many lives being ruined and taken way too soon and to find a place like this where they can see that they are not alone, amazing!
    My hat goes off to you for being the people that you are and what you stand for!

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  3. Emerson

    I’m a new college freshman in Eau Claire, WI, and I’m scared about finding the right friends, about finding the right clubs to join, and about finding myself. My mind races a lot. I’m bouncing between thoughts of extreme excitement and curiosity about my new independent life, and thoughts of isolation, anxiety, and helplessness. I am an outgoing person on most occasions. Surrounding myself with other kids here makes feel safest and happiest, but it’s terrifying thinking that my childhood years are now behind me. I don’t know what the rest of this year will hold for me..
    But the stories of hope and friendship here with TWLOHA serve as great reminders of how beautiful the world is. I know I’m worthy, but I need these reminders from friends and family, and from “strangers” like you guys.
    I plan to carry these beautiful messages onward throughout these next few years in college so that I can help others who might need to be reminded of their self-worth like me, who need affirmation that they’re not alone despite their cruel thoughts, or maybe those who just want someone to listen and love them.
    **WITH HOPE** -Emerson

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    1. E

      Hey, Emerson! Have you looked for a TWLOHA UChapter on your campus? That’s a good way to meet other people who are passionate about TWLOHA’s mission and also want to develop that same type of community on campus. If your school doesn’t have one, you could always help start one up! 🙂

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      1. Emerson

        I have indeed! Before I even posted that, I had planned to attend the next summer conference and start my own chapter here on the Eau Claire campus 🙂 I am very excited about it. I’m definitely scared because there will be so many sensitive topics to discuss, but I am just as excited for the challenge and I know that I will do well if I listen to the stories of others with an open heart. Thanks for the encouragement!

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  4. Ali

    I am so glad that TWLOHA exists because it has helped me to let out my struggles on here and I am surviving my life struggles. TWLOHA and Renee’s story even though mine is a lot different than hers gave me hope. <3

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  5. Raquel

    So so so beautiful. “It is a voice that screams “You are worthy!” in a society that is working with all its might to make us believe we are not enough.” My favorite part 🙂

    Reply  |  
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