National Poetry Day: In Each Others’ Stories

*for you

*for you

You know how you are mad at me for hurting you,

but you’re not allowed to be,

because it’s not my fault?

I am mad at you, too.

I am mad as hell that

— during the darkest days of my life —

I have to understand

to guide

to coax

to soothe.

I have to be the adult

I have to be both our parents

(and I didn’t have very good role models).

This is my time.

It is supposed to be my time

to mess up

to make mistakes

to cry, to whine, to fuss

to throw tantrums

I am supposed to be the child

But I am the adult.

In the time of my greatest emotional upheaval,

I have to extend beyond myself

to supplement your emotional


But you know what that’s like, don’t you?

Stab, stab, switch.

Not the victim anymore

You are the provider

the rock

You had to cover up that exposed nerve

the one I struck with a mallet

Because I was the raped girl

and you were my man

You were the orphaned boy

family diced up by divorce

precipitated by betrayal

You are the boy with the broken h ome

The one with the amazing disappearing mother

but I know what that’s like, don’t I?

I remember that we are two acts of the same great saga

I read my life on your pages

We are each others’ villan

players in a sacred cycle of wounding and reaching

If we could just stop

and see each other

we would lay down our weapons

and bridge the chasm

of our alone togetherness

But my gaze is blurred by this white hot heat

This burning brilliance of anger

that obscures my view

Inside the raging flame of my ego

I am nothing but self

There is no you

There is only me

and my acres of need.

Maybe when this blaze burns out

and scorches me into clean white ash

It will leave my heart behind

full of empathy

for your struggle.

Maybe I will reach for you.

Maybe I am reaching for you now.

but you still need to burn, burn, burn

so you can be just you

and you can see just me

and not the bad guys we’ve become

in each others’ stories

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____ In the Newsroom: How Stories of Sexual Assault Become News Clippings


TRIGGER WARNING!!!!The following is a factual account of a sexual assault that occurred in May 2013. Readers may find content extremely disturbing and/or triggering.

It was mid-May 2013. I’m not sure of the date. Joe R***** and I went out after work to have some drinks. We were meeting up with some of his friends and one of mine. We had been out together twice before — once soon after I started the job, in late summer 2012, and again in March 2013 at a house party for one of our mutual co-workers. We had previous light sexual contact (kissing) before the May 2013 incident.

I drove to Joe’s apartment after my shift. We did shots of Jim Beam, maybe 2 or 3 each. Then we walked downtown to Connor O’Neils. His friends were there. We danced. I had a beer. I think only one, but maybe two. My friend, Geof, showed up later. We did Irish Car Bomb shots. We left the bar and walked back to Joe’s apartment. Geof had some cocaine that we were going to snort. I had never done cocaine.

When we got to his place, I felt very sick. I went into the bathroom and threw up. I stayed on the bathroom floor for a long time. I went into a dark bedroom, away from the kitchen light. I laid down and passed out. Joe and Geof stayed up in the kitchen, doing lines of coke. I don’t know for how long.

My friend Geof came in to the bedroom to tell me he was leaving. I don’t know if this is an actual memory, or just a memory of Geof telling me what happened. I can’t remember. I don’t remember Joe getting into bed with me. I remember seeing the street light outside the window, through the blinds. I don’t remember him taking off my clothes. I was clothed when I laid down.

I remember him on top of me. I remember him whispering words. I remember him slapping the side of my face and saying, “Stay with me.” I remember wishing I could be sober so I could stop him from having sex with me. But I couldn’t stay awake. I didn’t have control over my muscles; I couldn’t even get up to walk to the bathroom.

A few hours later, still in the early morning, it happened again. This time I was already naked. This time, he finished. I fell bask asleep. I woke up a few hours later and got up to go to the bathroom. I grabbed a shirt of his off the floor to cover up. I felt something wet on my thigh and I realized he had ejaculated inside of me. I asked him about it when he woke up. He said yes, that he did, and that it had been “stupid” of him. I told him I wasn’t on birth control. I asked if he had STDs, because he didn’t use a condom. He said no. I told him I would get the morning after pill. 

He watched me as I got dressed. I left.

Three months later, I had an ectopic pregnancy that ruptured, destroying my right Fallopian tube and nearly killing me. I had emergency surgery. The doctor said it was about three months along.

I came back to work after three weeks. I told Joe I needed to talk to him. One night after work, outside, I told him that about the pregnancy, the helicopter ride, the surgery. I told him it was his because I hadn’t had unprotected sex with anyone else. My boyfriend and I always used a condom. I told Joe I was mad he didn’t use a condom because it almost killed me. I said that if I’d had a choice, I wouldn’t have had sex with him. He said I was “still a good egg.”

I never talked to him again. In December 2014, I left him a letter. It told him I had been in therapy, in a support group. That I was taking a leave for PTSD. That I had been scared of him, but I wasn’t anymore. I wrote that he had raped me, and didn’t apologize when he had the chance. I asked him to pay the remaining $500 of my hospital bills.

I got a series of texts from him the day he read the letter.

“Can i talk to you about your letter at all? If not, how can i go about paying my share?”

“I am sorry. Truly sorry.”

“I’m sorry for your emergency trip and the surgery and all of the terrible things that came after, to be clear. I believed all sexual contact between us was consensual. … “

I emailed him a few days later to ask that all further contact with me be conducted through email. We have not had any contact since. 

This is my experience of my rape, presented in the most factual way possible. Noted out are the parts of the story that could not be confirmed independently by someone other than myself or my rapist.

This is how a journalist thinks. This is how a journalist must think. There’s an old joke: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

A newspaper would never run an assault story like this. Not unless there was a police report. Or unless it was an accusation of a school/church/official mishandling claims. Or if either the accused or the accuser were famous.

This is not a criticism of journalism: It’s the sad and unfortunate truth that there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about sexual assault. They’re disturbingly commonplace.

But the fact that I’m a journalist and that my attacker was a journalist has always made me wonder: How would the people in our newsroom approach this assault as a news story? Assuming every piece of information that could be verified was important enough to verify.

Would they find his friends? The bartenders? Confirm how many drinks I had? Question Joe’s roommate about the sounds of retching coming from the bathroom? Track down Geof in Vietnam to attest to my physical condition at the time? Would that even matter, given that the largest chunk of my story, the only parts that pertain to the actual sexual contact, would be deemed completely inadmissible?

After all, there were only us two there. Only us two, with our potentially conflicting versions of the story. Even my story is in patches. Like all traumatic memories, it is not a neat, clean, linear narrative. It is jagged; patches of sights and sounds and sensations.

This is how someone’s experience, someone’s truth, is transformed into he said/she said. When we hear of rape victims coming forward, telling their stories, these are the parts that are parsed out, questioned, doubted.

“Just the facts, ma’am.”

As a journalist, I’m a firm believer in the facts being enough to draw a reasonable conclusion. And there are certainly more facts to this story, ones that can be confirmed by outside parties. My therapy, which can be traced in payments of thousands of dollars over several months. My presence for the past 18 months in a support group. My two-month leave from work; my diagnosis of PTSD. My panic attacks at work were largely invisible, but did anyone take note of my shifting attitude, my increasingly dour silences?

Shouldn’t this secondary evidence be considered? We mark behavioral changes in children as evidence of abuse, but what of adults? Are my personal struggles facts that bolster my story or merely circumstantial tidbits to be tossed aside?

And what of my character? I shudder to imagine those conversations. It’s technically not allowed to be used in courtroom arguments anymore, and it would be frowned upon in journalism, I think. But there’s always someone asking: What’s she getting out of this? How do we know we can trust her? There is always an edge of doubt — despite the statistics that false reporting of rape hovers around 1-2% — always the fleeting thought that anyone reporting this sensitive crime, instead of hiding away in shame, is seeking attention.

I’m not arguing that journalists should alter the way they report on sexual assaults. If you asked me what to change and how, I wouldn’t have an answer for you. I am as much a journalist as I am a survivor, and it’s hard as hell to unify those disparate parts of myself.

I think the reason it took so long for me to seek help, to admit to myself that there was a problem, was that I was approaching it as a journalist: There was sexual contact, but we had both been drinking. I couldn’t remember much, so who’s to say what really happened?

It took months of pointed questions from my support group — If you were awake and participating, why did he have to slap your face and say, ‘Stay with me’? Why did he call you a ‘good egg’ when you told him? That implies that YOU did something wrong. Would your boyfriend have done the same thing in the same situation? How about your guy friends? — before I could begin to admit that something was off.

I framed my experience in different terms: What if this happened to a friend of mine? Would I tell her the things I told myself, that is was OK, no big deal, just another bad night of drinking, another regrettable sexual decision? Or would I be upset — angry even — on her behalf?

I still believe in journalism. It is essential to a free, informed society. I still believe in its power and prestige. But in order to believe in myself more, I had to start believing in journalism less. Because as great as it is, as integral and as influential, it does not have all the answers. Not for me. Not for other survivors.

The kind of support we need will never be found on a newspaper page or a web article. The kind of belief we need to cultivate in ourselves can only come from others.

I’m not sure how being a journalist has helped me survive. But I know that surviving, choosing to heal from sexual assault, has made me a better journalist.

I have learned how to listen more intently; I have been forced to practice honesty; I have reaffirmed that my intuition is a powerful force, to be trusted. I have changed my interactions with people, gained appreciation for experiences both dissimilar and familiar to mine. And again and again, I have asked the hard questions  — of myself and others — and prepared myself for the difficult answers.

What I wasn’t prepared for was my shaken faith in journalists.

Journalism was my first refuge from an unkind world. When I stepped into that college newsroom, I belonged somewhere — for the very first time in my life. Here there were people who were a little bit funny, a little bit nerdy, and a whole lot skeptical. They labored for answers when most people didn’t even bother asking. And I fit right in.

We are supposed to be the good guys, defenders of truth and justice in a false and unjust society. I never expected to find a predator here, a wolf among shepherds. But I walked straight into his lair.

Maybe that was my last and final lesson as a journalist — question everything, and everybody. Trust no one, not even your own peers.

As a human being, what I learned was different. It was something that perhaps I should have realized long ago: Perpetrators come from all walks of life. They are preachers, they are coaches, they are friends and soldiers. They are young and old, male and female (but mostly male. As a journalist, I feel duty bound to report that factoid.).

Overwhelmingly, they are someone you know and trust.

But “trust no one” is not an ethos for life. You can’t live that way. I tried, for years, and it left me more broken than before. Instead, what I finally learned is not to trust or distrust an entire group of people based on personal association.

I am a survivor. I am also a journalist. Within those spheres, there are good people and bad people — but mostly good. And those are the ones I’m choosing to believe in.

I have yet to encounter someone in this newsroom who reacted negatively to my truth as a survivor. They have accepted and embraced me and my story not as journalists, but as people. And I have learned to do the same.

I am not going to leave the survivor behind. I have to learn to embrace her, for all her strengths AND weaknesses. Neither can I reject journalism because of how it fails me as a victim. I have a foot in both worlds, and I’m learning how to stay balanced.

Dear Duggars: What I Wish I Could Tell Victims of Abuse in Religious Families


Hi. You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. But I feel like I know your story and you know mine, better than you think. Not exactly, of course, because who can ever truly know our stories other than ourselves. But I know the shape of it, the feel. There are things that all survivors share. Unfortunate, universal truths that result from this horrible wounding.

I am so sorry for all of this. I am sorry for what happened to you, and sorry for it getting brought back up now. Although, for me personally, what happened never really went away. It was always there, and the people who mattered in my life just ignored it or expected me to deal with it. I’m sorry for that, too, if that also happened to you.

I’m sorry, because I know the pressure to forget. To go along to get along. I cannot imagine what it would be like in a family with a TV show, a family with so many people who could have so many different responses. I don’t know what it was like in your family, but I am sorry if it was anything less than 100% supportive and caring and kind. There are things your loved ones are supposed to say when things like this happen, and I don’t know if you ever heard them. But I’m saying them, if you want to listen.

It is not your fault.

What was done to you was completely, totally out of your control. You didn’t do anything to “bring this on yourself.” And it definitely wasn’t  part of God’s plan. No. Way. This isn’t some major test that the Lord wants you to struggle through. Growing up, I heard a lot of religious people say,  “God never gives us more than we can handle.” This isn’t that.

This is 100% on your abuser. He was wrong. He was outside of God’s plan. It is a terrible thing that he did to you. And then he left you to deal with it.

Your parents were wrong.

This, what was done to you, is a crime. It should have been treated as such. It was good of them to get your abuser out of the house, away from you. That was right. But more should have been done. You deserved more. More than a year of waiting for it to be reported. More than having to live in the same house with your abuser. More than having to listen to him tout his “purity” during his courtship. To pretend, before God and man, that because he hadn’t kissed his girlfriend, he was pure. That, more than anything, pisses me off. Hurts me deeply. Because I can imagine how much it may hurt you.

This has nothing to do with purity.

There is only one thing that matters about sex or sexual experiences: Consent. That is it. Whatever your religious beliefs, that is the No. 1 rule, the only one that should ever be considered. Whatever you do, whenever you do it, whomever you do it with – this should be your guide: If both of you don’t want it equally, it’s not OK.

What he did to you, that is the opposite of purity. It reveals a deep impurity of the soul. He took without asking. He stole something from you — but it wasn’t your purity. Your purity, your value, your essence of self, is how you treat yourself and others. As long as you hold true to that, to the importance of kindness and compassion, you will be among the few truly pure people in the world.

You don’t have to forgive anyone. Ever.

I remember what it was like growing up in a Christian household. It was a lot like yours, actually, except with a lot fewer people. But I remember it all: the Sunday mornings, the purity pledges, the Beatitudes and, most of all, the importance of forgiveness.

It is the cornerstone of our faith. We forgive because we are forgiven. Without it, we cannot hope to attain salvation – that is what we are taught. I am still struggling with the what forgiveness means to me now, now that I have abandoned my faith in God and replaced it with a faith in myself. But I do know this one thing, the thing I have figured out: I never have to forgive my abuser. And you don’t either.

Forgiveness is not a requirement, not something to be coaxed or cajoled out of you. It is yours to give — or not. It is not the entry cost to get to heaven. Not for this. I will forgive my abuser when he has walked through the same fire that I have. When he has gone through years of therapy, when he has suffered from PTSD and had to take a leave of absence from work, when he has lived and worked 15 feet from the person who terrifies him the most in the world — that will be a start. But it will still not earn my forgiveness.

Maybe God can judge me for that, if he wants. If he exists. But I don’t think he will. Because he knows my heart, and my soul. And they are pure. I would never hurt someone the way I have been hurt. I do not withhold forgiveness out of spite or malice, but out of protection. Out of protest. Until the last rapist, the last molester, has a full and complete understanding of what they have taken from us, their victims.

I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. But I know your story. I have been in a similar place. And my heart is with yours now, sending you hope for healing and wellness.

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Rethinking Infidelity: A TED talk for anyone who has ever loved

“Betrayal in a relationship comes in many forms. There are many ways that we betray our partner: with contempt, with neglect, with indifference, with violence. Sexual betrayal is only one way to hurt a partner. In other words, the victim of an affair is not always the victim of the marriage.”

 ” … when we seek the gaze of another, it isn’t always our partner that we are turning away from, but the person that we have ourselves become. And it isn’t so much that we’re looking for another person, as much as we are looking for another self.”

Here are the things that would be more hurtful than my partner having sex with someone else:

  • Spending too much money (so much that you can’t contribute to shared goals)
  • Never taking a vacation with me (if we’ve been together 1+ year and we have the money)
  • Hating my friends
  • Dismissing how I feel/things I say
  • Words or actions that intentionally hurt my feelings
  • Refusal to change a behavior/situation that is hurtful or damaging to me

I share this list not to minimize or rationalize my own infidelity. Instead, thinking of what are the most hurtful things that can be done to me personally in a relationship has given me a deeper understanding of just how much pain I caused.

For me, being cheated on is not the most painful thing. It is not the deepest betrayal — even though it is thought of in society as the ultimate betrayal. But realizing that every individual might have their own personal “ultimate betrayal” has opened me sympathy — and empathy — more than ever before.

For me, the things on this list have one thing in common: They are all a denial of my needs and desires. I need to be heard, to feel valued, to know that I am important enough for consideration. Maybe that takes the form of a vacation, which I recognize as a trivial thing. But to me, it is symbolic of so many things important to a relationship: a commitment of time and resources; a desire to spend time together; acknowledgement of my passion for travel.

The items on my list reflect my need to feel safe — emotionally as well as physically.

When I do not feel safe, when I do not feel valued, when I do not feel cared for — that is the most intense pain I have ever felt in my life. Greater than the pain of abuse or assault. Greater than the pain of healing from those things. Greater even than the pain of death, the loss of loved ones.

It is pain almost beyond description, because it touches on the deepest of my wounds, the root of all my shame. When I need, I feel bad about myself.

The ability to recognize that I’m allowed to have needs; the process of beginning to ask for things I need — I have just begun to do this work. It is slow and painful. And so the pain of an unmet or denied need is magnified by the pain of all my unmet and denied needs, over the entire course of my lifetime. It is every nagging voice that says, “You are a burden. Why are you bothering me?”

This, I realize, is the pain I have caused some by my cheating. Not all, because I’m sure everyone’s list of betrayals looks a little different. Maybe that’s something we should consider, before we embark on relationships, or before we abandon them. What hurts you the most? What can’t you get over?

I can get over these things. I can delay blame, because under each of these actions is a root cause, a wounding of its own. And I of all people understand when our past hurts cause us to do things that hurt others. So I am patient, and I am kind. In the short-term, these are not deal breakers. Not for me. I believe that in relationships, what happened in the past does not matter, should not matter. It is the things that keep happening that we should not overlook.

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11 Harsh Realities of Healing From Sexual Assault and PTSD

'Dirt Boyz' at night

Huzzah! My first list-icle. I guess all that Buzzfeeding is getting to me. So I’m taking some time out of my Year of Anger to educate you, the public, on the painful (and occasionally hopeful) truths about trauma and the healing process. This is the world we live in. Thousands of us. Veterans, victims of domestic violence, amputees … PTSD affects so many. And while I can’t speak for everyone, I can speak for myself. Hopefully my experience is in the ballpark.

1. You will be angry ALL THE DAMN TIME.

There’s a lot to be angry about. I spent all my money on therapy and hospital bills; I’m down a Fallopian tube; I work with people who think my rapist is a nice, funny guy; I’m still having panic attacks at work, usually on days when not one of my co-workers talks to me; I’m foggy and dizzy about 75% of the time; walking the dogs in the dark is too scary; sleep is hard to come by, due to the unending nightmares; I gained at least 5 lbs. on my break from work, since crying doesn’t exactly burn too many calories; and things with Mr. T. have been shit about 80% of the time since I started therapy.

So, yeah, you’ll be pissed. And you should be. Something terrible happened to you. Something unfair and violent and wrong. And now you are stuck dealing with it, while chances are that your attacker is doing approximately jack shit.

2. You will feel alone 90% of the time.

People don’t get the angry-all-the-time thing. And they really don’t get the raped thing, or the PTSD thing. So, basically, they don’t understand anything that you’re thinking and feeling. And you really, really don’t have the energy to explain it to them. As a result, you will spend most of your daily life feeling incredibly lonely. Soul-crushingly lonely.

And the thing is, it’s not just a feeling. Even if you have the best support system and therapist in the world, when you go into those dark, scary places of your past, you ARE alone. It’s you doing the work. No one can do it for you.

3. The work will wreck you, emotionally and physically.

I spent half of my time off work in some state of mild illness. And I never get sick. I can usually beat a cold in two days. But my sore throats and my stuffy noses just wore on. In fact, I’m still coughing up phlegm from a sinus thing I had three weeks ago. And I ache. Everywhere. All the time.

Trauma gets stored in your body. To work through it, you have to do body work, too. You have to re-experience the trauma, body and soul. Tense muscles, shallow breathing, racing heartbeat — everything you felt during the assault(s) and abuse, you will feel again. Hopefully, for the last time. But six straight months of panic is going to take its toll on your body.

4. Normal things will suddenly become very scary.

I used to love riding in the car on an open highway. And road trips. City driving, I would delegate to boyfriends. Now, I am afraid every time I get into a car, either behind the wheel (moderately nerve-wracking) or in the passenger seat (absolutely terrifying). I could bike everywhere, but I would have to do so at a glacial pace, because I can’t stand even the smallest bit of speed. I am certain — not just afraid, but sure — that I’m going to crash. I can’t climb trees anymore, or scramble over rocks, or stand near the edges of the trail on my hikes. I imagine that every twisty twig is a snake, and every man on the sidewalk who glances my way is a rapist.

Life becomes terrifying after a trauma. PTSD traps you in that cycle of fear, superimposing your trauma onto everything and everyone. And that’s not something that just goes away. You have to learn how to overcome it.

5. You will spend all. of. the. money.

My few months of therapy cost me roughly $3,000. My trauma yoga class cost just under $100. I spent $240 on a boxing gym membership that I never used, because it triggered my PTSD so badly. And, having taken disability leave from work, I cut my income by about $2,500 for the year.

Life is expensive. And for someone without the strength or presence of mind to participate in the daily minutiae, the cost is high. If you take time to focus on your healing, you are basically checking out of the rat race. The world moves on without you, demanding just as much as it always has, even if you have less to give.

6. You will be a crappy friend.

I have spoken to my two best friends (in Florida) maybe three times this year, combined. I miss birthdays, forget lunch dates and am perpetually late. Not because I’m an irresponsible or forgetful person, but because my brain is stuck in survival mode. Bessel van der Kolk, one of the foremost experts on trauma and PTSD, wrote: “As long as the mind is defending itself against invisible assaults, our closest bonds are threatened, along with our ability to imagine, plan, play, learn, and pay attention to other people’s needs.”

If you are healing, you probably don’t have room for anything else. You probably don’t have energy to put into relationships. And so, they will suffer.

7. You will lose friends.

I used to have friends at work. People used to talk to me, a lot. They laughed at my jokes and they included me in conversations. Now? Silence. There are days when not a single person says a word to me, other than ‘hi’ or ‘hello.’ And, OK, maybe we weren’t BFFs, but I felt that I was part of a group. I felt valued as a co-worker and as a human. Now, I feel avoided.

I know that the issues I’m facing make people uncomfortable. I know they don’t know what to say. But I wish they would say something. And I wish they understood that saying nothing is the absolute worst thing they could do.

If and when you reveal your assault to your clan — be it friends or family — chances are you will “lose” someone. Someone who doesn’t believe you. Someone who can’t be bothered with your issues. Someone who is too uncomfortable with the reality to continue interacting with you. These might all be understandable, but they are still painful as hell.

8. You will think about giving up.

Not on life, altogether, although that’s entirely possible. But once you’ve made the decision to heal, you have made the decision to live. At least for me, I was less suicidal after I identified what I needed to fix and got started on fixing it. It gave me a purpose. But it also made things 1,000 times more difficult.

Staying numb is easy. Ignoring your problems is easy. Drinking and drugging and sleeping around is easy. And fun. Way more fun than hours of therapy and soul-searching. People like fun party girls. They don’t like girls who want to talk about their feelings, or their rape, or their feelings about their rape.

So, yeah, I think about going back. Back to Florida. Back to bartending. Back to my fuck buddy and my failed relationships. Back to a time before I was diagnosed with PTSD. Back when I didn’t know the words body memory, re-enactment or disassociation. Back when I could calm the panic with a drink or some shameless flirting. But I can’t. And you can’t either.

9. You will realize that giving up is no longer an option.

I can’t, because I’ve put one foot on the other side. I’ve dipped my toe into happiness. And I think it’s a place I would like to spend some more time. I have one hand on the glass, and I can see a life — my life — that I want. There are friends, and family, and Mr. T. There is a good career, some volunteer work, some travel. What I mostly see is what’s not there: Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, nightmares, shame, intimacy and trust issues, isolation.

I want that life. I am working every fucking day to get it. Because I am so tired of where I’ve lived. The neighborhood is bad. There’s trash everywhere, and the people that live here? They are terrible.

10. You will make new friends.

The most profound experiences of my healing have not been personal epiphanies or revelations. Instead, it is the connections I made with others that have helped me most.

Several people reached out to me when I shared my story, some expected and some not. Of those, most have ceased their efforts. But three people have not. Two of my co-workers make it a point to initiate conversation on days that I’m quiet. They engage me when I’m isolated. And that can change a bad day into a good one.

One woman from my support group has continued to connect with me and check in. I have a new hiking buddy and a coffee or dinner date each week. Slowly, they are helping me build the life that I want for myself. They are giving me hope and strength to keep going.

11. It will get better.

If someone has ever said this to you in the middle of a PTSD-fueled crisis, you have probably wanted to hit them in the face. If so, good for you. But also, they were right.

Things change incrementally, but they change. Unresolved trauma is like being buried under a pile of dirt, and every shovelful that gets taken off makes the load a bit lighter. You won’t be able to cure your PTSD overnight, but learning grounding techniques to stop panic attacks, or making a list of things to do to curb suicidal thoughts, joining a support group that listens and understands your story … all these things help. Tremendously, if not all at once.

The first time I found myself implementing self-care strategies after a triggering event (texts from my attacker), I was so proud of myself. I had grown from a place of self-soothing with booze and sex to a place where I identified my panic and headed it off with some herbal tea and a hot bath. (Not as exciting, I know, but much healthier.)

So, yeah, things suck right now. They might for quite some time. But one day, they will suck less.

That might not be the most eloquent of promises, but this is the truth of what lies beneath: If you do the work, see it through, one day your life will be better than it has ever been. So do the work. Heal. Create the life you want for yourself.

In other words, keep shoveling that shit.

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When You Say Nothing At All: Silence and Suffering in the Newsroom

Startup Stock PhotosI started back to work three weeks ago. And it’s unbelievably hard.

The shifts are quiet. Too quiet. Some days, I go eight hours with hardly a word said to me. Most people welcomed me back my first few days, but from others I got nothing. Not a hi, not a hello: Not a goddamn thing.

And I know I shouldn’t worry about those people. I know I should focus on the ones that did say something, the people that brought me cookies and veggies and snacks for my first day back. The ones that asked how I was doing and actually cared about the answer. But I’m having trouble.

I don’t know who knows what, or what they know. I don’t know what they’ve said or are saying, because they aren’t saying it to me. Given how much certain people gossip at work about anything and everything, I’m positive I’ve been discussed. I just wish I was part of the discussion.

I anticipated some of this. But I didn’t think it would be affect me so much. I didn’t think it would be so hard. And last week, it got harder.

One of my co-workers is dying.

He’s not here. He hasn’t been for awhile. He was in and out of the hospital before I went on leave, but working when I left. And now, in the next couple of months, he is dying.

People didn’t like this co-worker. They gossiped about him. Made fun of him. Called him names. Made zero effort to make him feel welcomed and wanted. Because he wasn’t welcome; they didn’t want him. He was loud and awkward, and suffering from a condition that made him louder and awkward-er.

We called him names. And now he is dying.

I called him names. Not here, at work, but at home, with Mr. T. We came up with a funny, short title for him that we thought was cute. I used it just last week.

His loudness bothered me. It aggravated my dislike of noise, which I’ve since learned is related to my PTSD. Mostly I just put in my earbuds and drowned him out with music. But once, I made a joke about it with my co-workers. And a few times, I joined in the gossip with some frustrations of my own.

I had some compassion for him, too. Once, after I’d heard that someone complained about him to HR, I talked to him, one-on-one. I listened to his story, his struggles. I defended him after that, when people more daring than me gossiped aloud. But I never stopped calling him that mean name.

And I never tried to be more welcoming. I just sat with my headphones in, ignoring it all.

That is what I imagine my co-workers are doing now, about me. Because that is what we do about everything uncomfortable here. We pass whispered gossip from desk to desk. We type confidences in chat windows. Or we ignore it all, eyes and hands glued to our computers.

It is the atmosphere that is fostered here. And I hate it. But, when I think of Mark dying alone in his house, I know I did next to nothing to change that.

In all likelihood, his only memories of this place will be of heads bent together whispering insults, or  HR telling him he needed to get his loud voice, coughing and breathing under control. He was no idiot; he knew when he was being talked about, laughed at. He told me so when we chatted once. One time, the only time I bothered to treat him like a human being instead of another office annoyance.

I intended to make this post about me, a helpful how-to for my peers on my PTSD and what I need from them in order to function. But I can’t. Because Mark is dying, and I couldn’t even be bothered to be nice to him when he was here.

I couldn’t tell you five things about most of the people that sit 10 feet from my desk. I’ve been standing at my desk stewing in anxiety and depression because there are days no one talks to me. But I haven’t talked to them either. I am part of the problem.

The culture here has affected me, and I’ve let it. I ignored an intern the other day, because the office gossip about her was bad. I could have reached out, said hi, introduced myself. I know what it’s like to be an unknown, to be the ignored intern. I still feel like that here, some days.

Silence does things to a person. It’s like taking a plant and putting it in the dark. It won’t grow. People need contact. They need conversation. They need to feel like someone would give a shit if they weren’t around.

PTSD exaggerates these things. It makes me forget the cookies, the veggies, the kind words that welcomed me back into the office. It envelopes me in a bubble of shame and self-loathing, walls so thick that they obscure the truth of how people feel about me, how much they care. It makes me imagine everyone is against me, whispering insults and attacking my character.

But that is about me, and this isn’t about me anymore. Because Mark is dying. And I can’t change that.

I can’t change how I acted, the things I said. I can’t take them back. But I can do better. I can try. Next time, I’ll try.

I had this plan, to help my co-workers help me. I was going to buy some of those red circle stickers, the kind you use to label and color code things. I was going to write about how, when I was having a bad PTSD day, I would place a sticker on the top corner of my computer monitor. Then people would know it was a bad day, and they could talk to me if they wanted, or offer to take a break together.

Because asking for help is really, really hard, especially in this place. We’re awkward and quiet. We don’t know what to say to one another, so we say nothing. We’re self-absorbed and busy as fuck. We’re underpaid and stressed out. But, for 8 hours a night, 5 days a week, we are all we have. So we should start supporting one another.

Maybe this idea is stupid. Maybe no one but me will do it. But I don’t want to be the person who sits with her headphones on and ignores things. That is not the person I want to be. That is not the kind of place I want to work, or the type of people I want to work with. I don’t want to be someone who is oblivious to the suffering of others. And I know that I’m not the only one here in pain.

Saying mean things is unacceptable, but saying nothing isn’t good enough, either. So I’m going to buy those stickers. But I’m going to leave them out at my desk , for anyone to use. And I’m going to look around every day for red dots on computers. And if I see one, I’m going to say something. Maybe it will be the wrong thing. Maybe it will be an insignificant thing. But it will be something.

And something is better than nothing.

For Mark. Because ‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t do a goddamn thing for you.

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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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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


he fed me

Scraps of love


by a careless hand


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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An Angry New Year Cont’d: 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.


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.

Melody 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. Melody 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.


You fucking bitch.

Ha, ha. You all laughed.

Poor Jason 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?


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 Melody’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, Melody 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.

Melody 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.


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 for 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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