Hail the Conquering Hero: My Return to Work

Image by Shay Castle, via WINGS Foundation

Image by Shay Castle, via WINGS Foundation

I go back to the office next Saturday. After two months and one week, I’ll be back.

To say I’m nervous is an understatement.

Even the building intimidates me. The walls, the carpet, the tiled ceiling, the lights. Where it all began. Where I met him. Where we worked. Where we left when we went for drinks.

And he’s not there. And I know that. And I’m hugely relieved. I couldn’t have gone back. I wouldn’t have gone back.

I would have moved on. Taken a job at an office, or a bar. Anywhere, anything but there with him.

I would have run far away, and never looked back. But now I can’t. Because he is gone. He is gone and I’m so glad. Except that now I have to go back. And I don’t know how.

I’ve never known how to go back, to be around people who have seen me, who know the very hardest things about me. I am still uncomfortable around my family. I get nervous around my closest friends. I even get anxious around Mr. T, who knows me and my life better than anyone.

I don’t know how to be known. I hate being seen. And now I have to stand in the center of a room in the middle of my colleagues for five nights a week and be looked at.

My friend says I should be welcomed back like a conquering hero. I faced my dragon, and I chased him away. I pushed him out of the office. I spoke, and he fled. I spoke and people listened. I spoke, and they rallied behind me, my troops in battle.

But I don’t feel like a war hero. I barely feel like a war survivor. I feel maimed. I feel like an appendage has been chopped off and wrapped in bandages, and I’m certain that when I drag myself back into the office, it will be the only thing that people see.

I am the raped girl.

I say it over and over in my head, to myself, and feel the emotions that change with every repetition. Sadness, shame, fear, panic, grief, anger, despair, resignation, and then something resembling calm which is more akin to numbness.

I don’t know how to be the raped girl in the office. I really don’t know how to be any girl in the office, or any person at all. How do you go back and work among people after something like this? How are you supposed to be yourself around people that you’ve never been yourself around, that you’ve only ever seen as a messed up, scary, panicked version of yourself?

I was the soldier being hunted in the forest when everyone around me didn’t even know there was a war on. They know now. And I know that they know. What I don’t know is what to do, and how to do it. I don’t know how to walk through those doors and up to my desk, to stand there for 40 hours a week and keep my head up. I don’t know how to answer the people who say things to me, and I don’t know how to forgive the ones that don’t.

I don’t know how to do anything but to walk into that building, and stand at my desk, and answer my emails and design pages and laugh and make small talk and try to make each day a little better, a little more honest, than the last.

I know that’s all I can do. And for the first time in my life, I know that’s enough.

For now I may retreat but I won’t admit defeat
I’ll show that guy I’m just as smart
Yeah, all’s fair in love and war so I’ll even up the score
I’ll decorate him with a broken heart
Down with the conquerin’ hero
Pretty soon I’ll be ready to attack
I’ll conquer the conquerin’ hero
Just wait and see
And then that conquerin’ hero is gonna be me
“Hail to the Conquering Hero” by James Darren

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To The Nice Guys I Cheated On or Dumped: I’m Sorry

Love Stories Suck by Tom Giebel (via Flickr Creative Commons)

Love Stories Suck by Tom Giebel (via Flickr Creative Commons)

*To Brian, Tyler, Cody and Thatcher … this one’s for you.

Nice guys finish last.

We hear this all the time. Along with endless “articles” about why girls don’t like nice guys, why they would, and what age they will be when they finally do.

It’s a little insulting. It’s also kinda true.

I realize this isn’t true for every girl. I realize that there are hundreds of girls with thousands of dating histories and millions of reasons that they did or did not go for “nice guys.” I realize this.

I also realize that my dating rap sheet — with its impressive spread and varied list of characters — is kind of the perfect sample set of data. There are a few nice guys peppered in among the assholes. And I mistreated every single one.

This, too, follows the tired trope. Girl meets nice boy. Boy likes girl but girl likes asshole. Girl dates asshole for, oh, infinity, until she gets tired of being treated like crap and realizes she has overlooked nice guy. Cue dramatic reconciliation and happy ending.

That’s what it looks like on TV, or in the movies. In real life, it looks a little different.

In real life, it is compliments met with self-criticism. It is crippling insecurity that manifests as ugly jealousy, constant doubt and persistent questioning. It is a paralyzing lack of self-esteem that builds a wall so thick and so high that the stoutests of knights could not scale it. It is fear, in the most primal sense, at being discovered as a fraud, a bad person, that drives you to hide. It drives you to pick fights. It drives you to lie. It drives you to cheat.

Guys cannot be expected to put up with these things. They should not be expected to put up with them. Because they are not two-dimensional characters whose job is to stand sentinel, waiting for her coming enlightenment. They are human beings, with needs and desires and expectations of a relationship with another functional human being.

I was a non-being for most of my life. I was a cyborg, a robot, a puppet with a painted mask going through the motions of intimacy without giving anything of myself.

I hid. And I lied. And, when I got too scared, I fled. Sometimes I fled straight into the arms or lips or bed of some other guy, some less nice guy. Guys who treated me in a way I was used to: Long periods of neglect interspersed with brief flashes of passion and affection.

I’m not saying this to offer excuses. I’m not trying to explain away my actions. I am just telling you, Nice Guys, that you scared me. Because you were different. You may have been better, but you were unknown. And nine times out of 10, people will choose the unpleasant familiar over the potentially fabulous exotic. (Just look at how many grown adults still eat chicken tenders but won’t try sushi.)

So I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Nice Guys, for the lying and the cheating and the hiding. I’m sorry that I didn’t give you the chance to see me. I’m sorry that I never gave you the chance to be compassionate. I’m sorry that I wrote you off as The Nice Guy that could never understand. I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that I made myself the Bad Guy in your story. I never wanted to be the Bad Guy.

Most people would say I’m not allowed to ask anything of you, the wronged parties. But I will, because I hate being the Bad Guy. So, please, change the story. Or better yet, throw it out entirely.

Realize that I am more than a character in a played-out anecdote. Realize that the narrative is as harmful and limiting to you as it is to me.

Being labeled Nice Guy strips you of your humanity. It allows you no weakness, no faults, no desires, no free will, no choice to make allowances or pass judgement or demand anything.

You are not a character. You are a human being. A human being that I hurt.

And I’m sorry.

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Scraps

Image by Or Reshef, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Image by Or Reshef, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

All I got were scraps

The leftovers

After work

After chores

After the lawn was raked and the laundry clean

After my sister

After my brother

I lived

and grew

and fed

on scraps

I left

Moved away

Took to hanging around the backs of restaurants

looking for handouts

I found someone to take me home

and share his leftovers with me

After work

After the laundry was clean and the dishes were done

After dinner was made

After the dogs

and the cigarettes

Sometimes,

he fed me

Scraps of love

Tossed

by a careless hand

Eaten

off the floor

As I stooped and bowed

before him

Looking up with adoring eyes

at the man who fed me

They were scraps

and they were all I could get

When you welcomed me to your banquet feast

your love buffet

I ran to your table

and took all I could fit

Then more

You let me eat

I was starving

The first time the table was bare

I wept

Sure it would never fill again

But it did

And it keeps on filling

with delicious things

Nutritious things

Things you make for me

and things I bake for you

some things we cook together

Our table is always full

Laden with delicacies

Heavy with spicy dishes

Rich with home-cooked creations

And I never go hungry

Because you taught me to feed myself

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Fuck the Simpsons

Well, not all the Simpsons*

Just you, Anita.

By Nicole Hanusek birthday balloons / party

Photo By Nicole Hanusek – via Flickr creative commons

Fuck you.

You were there that night.

The night of the Very Bad Thing.

It was his birthday.

He had a few friends over to stay the night at his mom’s.

It was a trailer, like yours, but smaller.

Crowded.

He had two siblings, I think.

A younger brother and sister.

Their bedroom was so crowded.

The whole place just had stack and piles everywhere. You had to climb and step over things, turn sideways to get around the columns of stuff.

His mom and stepdad had the bedroom with the only bathroom in the place.

I had to go in there in the middle of the night, feet from where they were sleeping and snoring, to pee.

Megan didn’t spend the night.

You brought her for the little party with homemade pizza and cake. I helped make them.

You gave him a stuffed Elephant.

His nickname was Ellie.

Because he had a big penis.

I think he gave the nickname to himself.

You used to laugh about that, about Ellie.

and how I was scared of it.

I was scared.

I was scared of him.

You also gave him a bottle of lotion and a box of tissues.

It was a huge joke.

He needed those things.

Because I didn’t put out.

You laughed. Megan laughed.

He laughed.

It was so funny.

To you.

He used that against me. That night.

See, he’d say. They feel sorry for me.

Because you don’t put out.

He used to tell me I “gave” him blue balls.

Because I liked making out.

but that’s all I liked.

I was 14.

We would make out, and he would get turned on.

I would turn him on.

It was mean of me to do that to him and then not want to “take care” of him.

See, he’d say.

You’re supposed to.

I shouldn’t need tissues and lotion.

Your gift to him was sympathy.

Here. Because your girlfriend doesn’t put out.

WE WERE 14!

You fucking bitch.

Ha, ha. You all laughed.

Poor Blayne has to take care of himself.

Ha, ha. Shay’s scared of his dick.

What was I supposed to do?!

I WAS 14!!

Did you think a 14-year-old should be giving handjobs?

Blowjobs?

Having sex?

I WAS 14!

I hated you, then.

I always had.

You were the “cool” mom. But to me, you were cruel.

You were Megan’s best friend.

But we needed moms.

I needed a mom.

A mom who says it’s OK to make out, if that’s what your body wants to do. And it’s OK to not want to do things your body isn’t ready for.

Your 14-year-old body. Your 14-year-old mind.

When we were 12, Megan and I got called to the principal’s office about a letter. It had the word ‘slut’ in it. I wrote it.

I told my mom I didn’t. That I didn’t know what it meant.

Megan told you the same thing.

You were pissed, I think.

You talked to my mom.

You were both concerned about us using that language. About us being mean.

Two years later, you were mocking me with a box of tissues and a bottle of lotion.

Ha, ha.

See, he said.

See.

I was 14.

*So I don’t get sued for defamation, I’ve changed the names in this post. But  not very much. Because people need to know about this. Although the primary purpose is me working through my anger, people need to know that this is not acceptable behavior. This is not good parenting, or adulting. (Yes, I know that’s not a word.) But it is a terrible thing to do to abandon your adult responsibility to encourage children, all children, to develop healthy sexuality and protect them from harmful situations. This woman did not do that. Her words added to my shame and were used by my abuser as “reasons” why I had to do what he wanted me to. I know she was an unwitting participant in my abuse, but I believe she should be held accountable. If not the part her words played in my abuse, then at least for her cruel and harmful action of shaming a 14-year-old girl about her sexual development.

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Hurts so good

I dropped a bomb in the newsroom

And when it went off, people were angry.

But not at me.

They were angry on my behalf. Angry at my attacker. Angry at my assault. Angry at him.

Which is as it should be. But things have never been as they should be in my life.

No one has ever gotten angry for me.

When my co-workers were coming up to me, clenching and shaking their fists, they didn’t say ‘sorry.’ They said it made them angry. Said it filled them with rage. And some of them said nothing at all, and instead sat with clenched fists, trying to calm themselves.

It was touching. It was empowering. And it was strange.

Strange because I had never experienced this outside of my support group. Those women, they have to care. You can’t sit every week with someone baring their soul and not care about them. When they shake and yell out in anger, it is part of their healing, too. They are yelling not only for me and what has been done to me, but for themselves and what has and still is being done to them.

I know what to do in group. Commiserate. Say, ‘I know’ and ‘Thank you.’ Sit with them and their feelings, whatever they are. Accept them. Practice non-judgement and staying present. They will continue to deal with their anger on their own time. It’s part of their healing journey. They know what to do with it.

My co-workers? My family? My friends? They don’t.

And I don’t know what to tell them.

I can deal with my anger, just barely. It is a new and long-suppressed emotion. But I know what to do with it. I yell. I throw things. I run. I kick. I box. And I write.

So I’m writing. And so are you, readers and friends. If you care to. You are going to help me write — and I am going to help you get angry.

I’m working on a new poem. It’s called “500 Fuck You’s.” And it’s pretty self-explanatory. It’s me saying “Fuck you” to those who have hurt me or not protected me. Saying “Fuck you” for this, this, and this. Calling them out specifically for their dangerous or neglectful behavior. Saying “Fuck you” to societal forces that allow these behaviors to proliferate.

I had the idea to gather some of these from my friends, co-workers, readers and loved ones, to express their anger as well as mine. I’m offering you the opportunity to contribute your voices and anger. It can be about my situation. It can be about abuse that you or a loved one endured. It can be about a society that silences and shames survivors. A society that devalues women and children. About Bill Cosby, Jerry Sandusky, Woody Allen, Roman Polanksi, or the hundreds of others. Whatever. As long as it’s angry.

To guide you a little bit, here are examples I’ve written/gathered so far:

“Fuck you for hurting my friend ”
“Fuck you for not believing her”
“Fuck you bad egg”
“Fuck you he said, fuck you she said”

You get the idea. If you want to contribute, you can comment below, email me, text or call me. I’ll compile them and integrate them into the poem, which I will publish here.

So thank you, in advance. Get angry, and then get writing.

Sl-shadow

“Sl-shadow” by Pascual De Ruvo Statue of Liberty ThisIsWhyICheat.com

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An Angry New Year

"Sydney fireworks" by Vijay Chennupati

“Sydney fireworks” by Vijay Chennupati

Welcome to 2015. I’m smack in the middle of recovery: For my PTSD, set off by a 2013 sexual assault. For my semi-shitty childhood, neglectful parents and for the abuse I suffered during my teen years.

If you’re reading this, you already know all of that. What you might not know is that I am fucking pissed about it.

I’ve been fucking pissed for years, possibly since early childhood. And I think 2015 is as good a time as any to finally express that rage. In a healthy way, of course.

So I have chosen this blog. For the next few weeks, I will be writing out my anger to the people at which it is directed. Like a snakebite, I need to draw out the venom until there’s not enough left to poison me. I’m putting it back to them, because they should be the ones to feel shitty about it, not me.

Here is the first of my anticipated multitude of rageful diatribes. Enjoy. And if you can’t do that, then maybe you can at least get angry yourselves. It’s time to stop being afraid of our anger and express it instead.

Let it go, fuckers, let it go.

This is a bill. It’s for the helicopter flight I took from Lost Lake to Golden, when my ectopic pregnancy ruptured.

I’ve already paid over $600 for the hospital stay, the surgery, the recovery and followup and pain medication. I also paid more than $600 in December alone for therapy from the PTSD that resulted from the whole thing.

If we had made an actual baby, you would owe me at least half of the costs for child support. So why should I pay 100% of the health care costs resulting from your demon spawn bursting out of my right Fallopian tube and ruining it for life, nearly killing me in the process?

That last line might make you think this is a funny, good-natured letter. It’s not.

In less than two weeks, I’ll be taking disability leave from work. Two months, at least. I’m doing this to deal with the PTSD. And I’m writing you this letter because I don’t want to start 2015 the same way I spent 2014: Scared. Terrified to see you, hear you, think about you. Too afraid to cross the newsroom to take a piss because I don’t want you to look at me.

I have nothing to be afraid of. You do.

I had planned on writing a more friendly note, a non-accusatory one, so that you would have a chance to respond, maybe to apologize. But then I realized that you had a chance, and you didn’t do it. I gave you that chance to be sorry when I got back to work after my three days in the hospital and three-week recovery. When I told you what I’d been through: The pain, the helicopter, the surgery, the almost dying. That it had been your “baby” and that I wouldn’t have had sex with you if I had been sober. If I had had a choice.

That was when I expected you to be sorry. To admit that you felt terrible I’d been through so much, and to agree that you made a mistake. But you didn’t.

Remember what you said? “You’re still a good egg.” You told me I was still a good egg. Which implied that there was some reason I might not be a good egg. Like I had done something wrong, instead of you.

The only things I did wrong were to 1.) Drink too much and 2.) Trust you. I thought you were safe to drink around, to be drunk around. But you weren’t

It took me a long time to accept that you did a shitty thing. But you did. You did not act like the nice guy everyone thinks you are. Do you know what my boyfriend would have done if I got that drunk around him? He would have put me to bed with a glass of water and a bucket by my head. My friend Geof, who was with us that night, would have made sure I had a a safe place to sleep if I had been at his house. He would have left me alone. Neither of them would have done what you did. Nor would any of my guy friends. No one decent would do that.

It was shitty, and you’re shitty for doing it.

I remember you lightly slapping my face, saying, “Stay with me, stay with me.” I remembered that as the Rocky Mountain Rescue people were carrying me down the mountain on a stretcher. I kept wanting to close my eyes and go to sleep. But they wouldn’t let me, because I was bleeding out. One of the rescue guys kept saying, “Stay with me.”

Except, unlike you, he cared what happened to me. You didn’t give a shit, not then, not when I told you, and probably not now. You didn’t give a fuck about what your decisions would put me through. Are still putting me through. I wasn’t even in a factor in your decisions, and I was in no shape to decide things for myself.

You took it upon yourself to decide things for me.

  • You decided I wanted to have sex with you.
  • You decided I wouldn’t mind if you didn’t use a condom.
  • You decided it would be OK for you to cum inside of me, not knowing if I was on birth control.

Because whatever happened after, you didn’t care. It would be my problem, not yours.

Well, it’s not my problem anymore. I’m giving it back to you. Because it’s your shit.

Your shitty decision, your shitty self.

Your rape, not mine.

FUCK YOU!

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One year on the road

“The way your abuse was handled wen you were a child has a lot to do with its subsequent impact. … If no one noticed or responded to your pain … the damage was compounded. And the ways you coped with the abuse may have created further problems.”

— “The Courage to Heal” Ellen Bass and Laura Davis

“There were signs … And more than whispers.”

— “Goblet of Fire” J.K. Rowling

My sophomore year, I dropped out of volleyball. I’d been playing since Jr. High. Three years. My junior year, I stopped running track, a sport I’d been doing for four years. I didn’t do any sports that year, except for a club bowling team with some girlfriends. I also stopped going to Friday night games and parties. I gained 10-15 lbs. I spent much of those two years in my bedroom, succumbing to a slowly worsening depression.

I remember a piece of writing I did from that time, where I described being in the bottom of a dark pit that I couldn’t climb out of. And even if I could, I didn’t want to; it was more comfortable here. Familiar. Where I belonged.

I also got my first-ever “B” on a report card during that time. Not a huge deal, most of you will say. But I never got B’s. Never.

These were the signs. These were the whispers. That no one saw or heard.

Well, not no one.

My 16th birthday, four of my friends very sweetly brought me balloons and cake at school. A touching gesture, and a surprising one. I can’t remember them doing that for anyone else in our little group. I kept those balloons, with handwritten messages of love and friendship, for seven years, moving them from apartment to apartment around Orlando with me. They only got left behind when I headed to Colorado.

That year, our tenth, had been a rough one for us.We moved into a new school building. Our larger group was splintering into smaller cells; the girls that partied, and the girls that didn’t. The grown-ups and good girls. We all felt the strain. But perhaps I showed it more, probably because I was dealing with something on top of all the normal teenage angst.

The end of my freshman year, I ended a relationship with my abuser. It was months of emotional and physical pain, and one incident in particular that is still too painful to think of for long. That’s the one I’ve never spoken to anyone else. Ever. I can’t even bring myself to think of it without panicking.

We broke up a few months after The Incident. And then, I dropped into a deep depression that lasted for two years.

It wasn’t until I read the above words from “Courage to Heal” that I connected those two things, The Incident and The Depression. “If no one noticed or responded to your pain”

I’m very good at hiding my pain and panic. Even now, that’s something Mr. T and I are working on, with my therapist. Because even when I’m falling apart, I hold it together. I’ve had to. There was no falling apart in my life. My family didn’t have time for that. So those two years in high school were the closet I got. No sports. No friends. Gaining weight and dropping grades.

Subtle signs to the outside observer. But it wasn’t an outside observer I needed to notice me. It was my parents. And they didn’t.

I had two other periods of depression; at 13 and 19. Both followed sexual trauma in my life. But no one made that connection — not even me. Not until I read those words. “No one noticed your pain.” Not my parents, not my doctors. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, a label I never felt quite fit. Especially not now that I’ve been off prescription medication for nearly five years without another hospitalization or period of major depression.

When you connect the dots, they reveal a very clear pattern in my life: Four traumas — three cycles of depression. Now that I can see that picture, I can see what probably kept me from a fourth cycle of depression following my latest trauma: My support group.

This time, I reached out. I learned that just waiting and hoping for someone to notice would be a wasted venture. And so I made sure that, this time, someone heard me. Someone saw me.  And they did.

To say these women saved my life is, I think, not an overstatement. They are helping me not only to navigate the present, but to reclaim my past. Those long-ago experiences that went unacknowledged — they give me the recognition I craved. Beyond that, they accept my pain, without questioning or downplaying or telling me tomorrow will be better. They sit with it. They hold its hand. And they give me hope.

As we near Christmas, and as I mark the passage of a year in this support group (Dec. 16), I think about gifts. And by far, the gift these women have given me is life itself. Trying to struggle through this without support would be impossible for me. I could have ended up mired in depression, back in the hospital, or worse. But here I am, facing things with friends at my side.

One year ago tomorrow (Dec. 18), I wrote this post. It was after my first-ever support group meeting. I have experienced acres of growth since then, and broken the pattern of my life. All because of one simple choice to do just one thing different in the hopes that everything would then change.

I shared the following poem in that post, one year ago. Today, I share it again to encourage anyone dealing with similar issues to take just one step to break an unhealthy cycle. Just one.

So, as I signed off a year ago, so I say again … Here’s to a new road.

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

by Portia Nelson

Chapter I

I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk

I fall in.

I am lost … I am helpless.

It isn’t my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter II

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don’t see it.

I fall in again.

I can’t believe I am in the same place.

But, it isn’t my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter III

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it is there.

I still fall in … it’s a habit.

My eyes are open.

I know where I am.

It is my fault.

I get out immediately.

Chapter IV

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.

Chapter V

I walk down another street.

unslpash-desert-road_uvsq5s

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When I Stumbled Upon the Glass

For Roberta

Why didn’t you look,

she said

when I stumbled upon the glass

I had not seen.

When I stumbled

again

upon the glass

she said,

what did you do that for.

But I didn’t think

that I would fall.

Once more

I stumbled

upon the glass.

Didn’t you learn,

she said

but I hadn’t known

that it would hurt.

And now I sit

among the glass

upon which

I stumbled

that I could not see

that I hadn’t known

that I didn’t think

something so beautiful

could hurt

so much.

And I wait

for her hand

that does not come

while a voice

that tells without asking

when

and how

and why

I came to fall.

And I shout

to the legs

that pass me by

I fell!

I fell!

I fell!

But they do not stop.

So I cease my shouting

and sit

quietly

in the glass

that keeps on cutting.

But one day

A hand

and a voice

that does not ask why

that does not say how

instead

it reaches out

and helps me from the pile.

As we look down

on the glass

stained with blood

and dust

and the debris of years

I say,

I fell

and the voice answers,

I know.

And together, we clean away the glass

and the dust

and the blood

and the debris of years.

We pick them up,

piece by piece,

and arrange them into something

that makes sense

and when we’re done

I think,

it really is something beautiful to see.

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War & Peace

Bootstraps

“To pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps, one must first have boots.”

 

You heard this tossed around a lot in in the past few years, in the never-ending debate over public assistance, economic mobility and the plight of the poor.

I liked it, because it highlights the desperate situations that so many people come from, and the hypocrisy of critics whose backgrounds were decidedly more privileged.

I think of it now because of something my therapist said to me as we prepare to wage war on my infidelity.

Waging war.

Those were her words. But I’m starting to see it.

  • We’ve identified the enemy. (Poor/no boundaries, attachment issues, deep psychological need for affection)
  • We’ve prepared a battle plan. (A rigorous schedule, time off from work, a set timeline with multiple therapy sessions a week and an end goal in mind)
  • We’re fortifying the stronghold. (Strict diet and exercise guidelines, daily yoga and meditation practices)
  • We’ve recruited allies. (Mr. T and some work friends)
  • We even have a contingency plan if the battle goes ill.

But before you go to war, you must first attempt peace.

I need to make peace with my problem.

I am not the problem. I am a good person. I am not the problem. I am a good person.

I will repeat this — 1,000 times a day if necessary — until I can separate them in my head; myself and my issues.

We are going to war against my problem — not me, my therapist says. I am not a bad person, she says. I am a very good person, who very bad things have happened to. It is those things we are fighting, and their aftermath.

Know thine enemy, they say.

It is key to understand this, my therapist says, so that I can have some compassion with myself. So, too, it is important to understand that my response to these things is natural.

“It is the most natural response to the circumstances you experienced.”

If you take a plant and put it in the dark, it will not grow correctly, or at all.

If you hit your puppy, it will grow up cowering. It will always cower at raised voices and raised hands, even if you stopped hitting it long ago.

If you take a girl and fill her life with stress and yelling and anger and secrets and put-downs and attention or affection in exchange for sex, she will do what she has always done to get love.

And it’s not right. And it’s not OK.

But we are going to war against it, not her.

I am going to war against it, as I have been attempting to do all my life. But this time, I’m getting weapons first. The skills I didn’t develop growing up. The lessons missing from my education. The beliefs that were stolen from me, repeatedly, by family and boyfriends and co-workers and classmates and lovers, until I had no chance of recovery.

Self-worth, peace of mind, independence, boundaries, self-protection, love, connection, authenticity, integrity, acceptance, support — these are the armor and weapons I hope to gain.

Finally, I am getting boots.

And maybe this time, when I try to pull myself up, I’ll make it.

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Why we speak/Why we stay silent

TMZ.com

TMZ.com

With Bill Cosby and his alleged dark activities in the news, there are questions I hear very often when the situation is being discussed. Questions that, I think, only someone who has been abused can answer. And so I will, because I think people are generally good, generally willing to accept the truth, and generally appreciative of a different perspective on a matter as complex, confounding and uncomfortable as sexual assault.

But first, some facts, because that is what every debate full of opinion needs.

  • Cosby settled with Andrea Constand in a 2006 civil suit for an undisclosed amount. 13 women were listed as Jane Doe witnesses in the case, and during the ensuing media coverage, at least three came forward publicly to share similar stories of being drugged and/or assaulted. While the Philadelphia DA declined to press charges in a criminal case, he had this to say:

“I didn’t say that he didn’t commit the crime. … What I said was there was insufficient, admissible, and reliable evidence upon which to base a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s ‘prosecutors speak’ for ‘I think he did it but there’s just not enough here to prosecute.’”

  • Cosby once persuaded National Enquirer to kill an interview with another accuser, fearing her claims would bolster Constand’s suit.
  • In total, 21 women (that number is growing everyday) have accused Cosby of assaulting them; 12 of them publicly, 9 anonymously.

(Read for yourself: http://www.vulture.com/2014/09/timeline-of-the-abuse-charges-against-cosby.html , http://www.buzzfeed.com/kateaurthur/18-moments-that-led-to-bill-cosbys-stunning-downfall )

And now to the questions, which I’ve heard from several people, all of whom I respect and care for enormously. Please understand that I am not speaking for these women; I am merely sharing my experience and the experiences of other women from the perspective of having survived sexual abuse and the terrible aftermath that follows.

Why is all this surfacing now?

In January 2014, NBC announced plans for a new Cosby primetime sitcom, putting the star back in headlines. In February, Dylan Farrow published her op-ed in the New York Times about why it is painful for her every time Woody Allen is in the news, possibly motivating Gawker to publish this article about another icon of pop culture who has been plagued by allegations of sexual assault, although the public seems to have forgotten about them. Three days later, Newsweek interviews two women who accused Cosby. In the months that follow, the story pops up here and there on various media outlets, but a biography of Cosby makes no mention of the allegation that span decades.

Oct. 16: Hannibal Buress mentions the Cosby allegations in a standup, and it goes viral, trending on Facebook and Twitter. This was the first time I had ever heard of the accusations. More media interviews with accusers follow. Then a meme generator on Cosby’s site becomes a fiasco, as people use the opportunity to make meme after meme referencing the accusations. This, too, trends worldwide on Facebook and Twitter.

November: More women come forward. NBC cancels the planned series. Netflix decides not to release a Cosby standup special. TV Land pulls The Cosby Show from syndication. Several venues cancel planned Cosby standup events. And the topic keeps trending.

Why did the women take so long to come forward?

This is what happens when a survivor elects to come forward about her abuse: She tells, usually someone close to her. Her family (or whoever) believes her and supports her; she is encouraged to get help. She may go to the authorities, but most likely not. Around 60% of rapes are never reported. (RAINN.org)  She spends some time in therapy. She might go to a support group. She gets on with her healing, a process that can take years.

And that’s the best case scenario. Most of the time, what happens is not best case. Many survivors are not believed. Many meet hostility, anger or oppression instead. Because so few people are equipped to deal with a survivor, they are often told to simply move on, forget about it, focus on the positive. Even worse, they face blame. Why you were alone with him? Why did you drink so much? Why didn’t you scream louder, kick harder, or fight at all? Worst of all, they are not believed. They are told that their attacker is a nice guy. He would never do something like that. They must be mistaken.

Place those women in a very public forum with a celebrity as the accused, and the stakes are higher. Death threats, threats of violence, threats of sexual attack and assault, personal information shared online, hackers breaking into personal accounts … These things can and have happened to women who have come forward.

I have not publicly named my attackers. I’m not sure I ever will. Because we have mutual friends. Because he is a nice guy. Because he is in the military, and criticizing our nation’s heroes is tantamount to sedition. And, mostly importantly because I’m not sure I want to believe what happened.

I don’t want those guys to be abusers. I don’t want what happened to me to be abuse. Because then it really is scary, and horrifying, and I’m not sure I can face it.

It took six  years for me to tell anyone what happened to me; 13 years since the original incident, and I’ve shared only a fraction of it in therapy. The worst of it, I’ve still never spoken aloud to another living soul.

It takes years, sometimes a lifetime to face what happened to you. Asking these women to share their stories is asking them to relive the very worst moments of their lives. That’s something I’ve not been able to do. At least not yet.

Why are all these women speaking up at once?

You know the one thing that could make me speak up and name my abusers? If somebody else did.

A friend, a co-worker, even a complete stranger; it wouldn’t matter who. Seeing someone else be that brave would not only inspire me, but it would make me feel as if I had a duty to stand alongside them, in solidarity, as they face what would surely be an onslaught of negativity and questioning of their character.

Secondly, if someone else spoke out about my abusers, it would provide something that I have been searching for my whole life, yet haven’t found: Confirmation. I need to know that my instincts are right, my experiences true. If they happened to someone else, as horrible as it is, I feel more validated. I would stop second-guessing myself; my thoughts, feelings, recollections, my memory and intuition. My sense of self. I would know that I was right.

Don’t you think some of these women are lying/jumping on the bandwagon to get attention?

The false accusation rate for rape and sexual assault is 8 percent. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_accusation_of_rape)

If we use the facts we are given, the rate of false accusation among the 21 or so women who have accused Cosby, then 1 of them is lying, statistically. One of them is opening herself up to hatred, public scorn, and threats of violence and death.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there is one person, one very sick person, looking to capitalize on the biggest news story of the day. But I don’t think that’s the norm.

It is more likely that these women feel as I do, as most survivors do: Emboldened. Compelled. Relieved, even. And finally ready to come forward, their trails blazed for them by another brave soul.

These are the questions that have been asked. Now I have one of my own.

How many women will it take?

How many need to come forward before their combined allegations are taken seriously? How many women spoke up before your opinion shifted? Before public opinion shifted? These allegations are decades old, some of them. Cosby settled with Constand in 2006. 13 women were prepared to testify against him. But be honest: What convinced you more, the shared stories of more than a dozen females, or the statement from the DA about Cosby’s guilt?

Maybe you still don’t believe, not fully. To you, I ask: How many women will it take before you believe? How many women is this one man worth, to you?

I understand the hesitation. It is a hideous thing to be accused of, and particularly painful for his fans.

Cosby the character, the actor, the comedian, was funny and gentle and upstanding. His aura of fatherly wisdom and familial devotion said to us, “Trust me.”

And we did.

To accept that he is the same man who drugged and assaulted even one women, let alone the dozens that have now come forward, is to admit that we were wronged. Not wrong. Wronged.

I wasn’t wrong to think that Cosby was funny; he is. You weren’t wrong to admire the character he presented, that of loving, likeable father. That character was and remains who it was created to be: Kind, caring, relatable. That doesn’t change because the man behind it was a monster. Neither does the monster become less so because the persona he portrayed was someone we looked up to. The two are separate matters. The only thing that changes, given the facts before us, are how we perceive them both, the man and the character.

It feels disgusting to realize that someone we once admired was capable of such atrocities. We feel raw, exposed, ashamed, vulnerable.

I want you to do something Americans are terrible at: Keep feeling those things. Concentrate on them. Really let them sink in.

Now multiply that by 100. 1,000 even. That is how it feels to be a victim of such an assault.

To accept the stories of these women lessens those feelings. And not just slightly; tremendously. Being believed is, for so many women, the first step on the long and painful path to healing. Without it, we cannot even begin.

That is why these national stories, these women who are strangers, are so important to me. To all survivors of abuse. Because their story is our story. Because we watch, obsessively, every case of assault that plays out across the Internet. We follow, in fear, the fate of those courageous enough to step forward, knowing that their treatment at your hands is a looking glass into our future, should we ever choose that path of radical honesty. We measure, constantly, the public mood on rape and all it means for survivors, gauging whether or not it is safe for us to speak up.

As we beg you to believe them, there is a separate and additional plea: Believe me.

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