Of very nice guys and please stop screaming

This entry is incredibly difficult for me to write. It’s not very triggering (at least I don’t think so), but I won’t be offended if you need to stop.

I knew it was going to happen sooner or later. I was going to have to tell a potential romantic interest what happened to me and how it might have an impact things going forward. I just didn’t think it would be this “sooner”.

I don’t remember exactly how much detail, or not, I’ve put in here. So here’s the crash course. I went on a date 2 weeks ago with Very Nice Guy. We’d been chatting for a few weeks online & over text and decided to finally meet. The tattoos came up in conversation, as they do. Instead of dodging the question, I asked him if he wanted to really know what they meant or the bullshit answer I usually give to people. He asked for the truth. I made sure he was ready to hear something unpleasant, then told him they were my self injury scars. I gave him a two sentence explanation about where they came from. This was all of an hour after we met face to face. We ended the date with a hug because it was more than a handshake, but less than a kiss. It was also 3 in the morning. That’s another story for another time.

This past weekend was Date #2. He’d been feeling sick, but felt up to going out anyway. As with last time, we ended with a hug. I told him (half joking) that if he’d been sick I didn’t want to kiss him. Awkward, party of 2. I told him later that I felt like I’d really flubbed it. He agreed that it was awkward, but I hadn’t totally screwed it up. He told me that he wanted to make a move, but he wasn’t sure what to do given what I’d told him. After thinking about it, I told him that I’d need him to be patient with me and err on the side of explicit communication (“You put your left foot in, you take your left foot out…”). He said that was fine and left it at that. While there is no official Date #3, it would appear that’s where this is going.

With all that in mind, Hailey started SCREAMING.

“What do you think you’re doing?! You can’t let him touch you! He’s lying! He’ll go too far and you won’t stop him! You can’t stop him! You’re such a slut, you’ll just let him do whatever he wants!”

No, I won’t. I know how wildly unhealthy it would be for me to revert back to judging myself based on who will sleep with me. I could easily undo months of progress. I don’t want that. While sometimes it can be hard to remember something like that in the heat of the moment, I know if I say “stop”, that will be respected. No, not all men. I am worth, and deserve, more than just who will sleep with me.

It kind of felt like having a giant scab ripped off my chest. It’s not a theory any more. I said it out loud. That made it real. I really told someone what happened and he really listened. It was absolutely terrifying. I think I would have been less anxious trying to jump out of a plane. Even if he drops off the face of the earth tomorrow and I never speak to him again, I survived the first time. I did it. In spite of Hailey’s incessant screaming, it’s done. The next time will be a tiny bit easier. I would like to think there won’t be too many more “next times”, but that’s another blog post in and of itself.

Now I’ve put it out there for you, faithful readers. Now it’s real for you, too. I promise I’ll put a funny / uplifting / ridiculous post up here soon. Pinky promise.

XOXO!

Of Game of Thrones and trying not to throw up

Warnings before you enter this entry:

SPOILER ALERT: REFERENCES TO GAME OF THRONES EPISODE THAT AIRED 5/17

TRIGGER WARNING: SUBJECT MATTER FROM ABOVE NAMED EPISODE

I’m not a rabid Game of Thrones watcher largely because I don’t have HBO. After an unfortunate incident in one of the early episodes that gave me nightmares for a week, I read the synopses before deciding whether or not to watch an episode. I hadn’t yet read the synopsis for this week’s episode when I saw that Twitter had exploded with references to a rape scene. If you haven’t seen the show – quick & dirty character summaries.

Ramsey is the sociopathic sadist who gets off on chopping off people’s junk & “hunting” women by literally letting them loose in the woods and killing them with a crossbow. Sansa is the oldest daughter of Sean Bean’s characters family. She’s still technically married to someone else, but since she’s the (assumed) only living heir of this particular tract of land, she’s forced to marry Ramsey because he & his dad want the land. Theon, the third member of our party, was the one who had his junk cut off by Ramsey. He also grew up with Sansa.

In one sentence, after they’re married, Ramsey rapes Sansa while Theon watches. I literally got nauseous when I read the summary. When I was raped, Will let someone watch. He actually invited him to watch. That’s the sticking point for me. Not that rape scenes don’t phase me, but this one hit a little too close to home. I refuse to actually watch the episode because I know I’ll be in tears & have nightmares for days. What made it worse was seeing comments starting to pop up about “Well, she never actually said no” or “She knew what she was getting into when she married him!”. I have never, so badly, wanted to scratch out the eyeballs of a total stranger on the other side of a computer screen. Never. They justify it by saying that it’s a fictional character, so it’s not as bad.

Newsflash: Yes it is.

I dare someone to look me in the face and say “Well, I don’t see why you’re upset. It’s not *real*. It’s not like what happened to you really happened to her”. Go ahead, I’ll wait. No takers? I thought not.

It’s bad enough to endure something like that. It’s bad enough when it’s just you and him (or her) in the room. Add in another person and it’s something I would never, ever wish on anyone, real or fictional. There was someone who witnessed it, knew I said no, & didn’t do anything about it. It’s no small wonder that I tried to tear myself apart over it. It’s not just that feeling of helplessness that comes with the act itself. It’s not just one person who doesn’t give a shit about you, it’s two. They could do something to help you and they don’t. For the rest of the day, the thought of anyone even touching me made my stomach turn. I went to dance, I shook it off, and I should actually be able to sleep tonight.

I’m not sure how that will alter her story arc, but I really hope she’ll pull a Lucrecia Borgia and poison his sorry ass. Team Sansa.

In summary – I don’t care if it’s reality or fantasy. Victim blaming is never okay. Ever.

XOXO!

Of Letters and Our Former Selves (25th Edition)

Dear 25 Year Old Emily,

I know you’re angry. You’re angry because you don’t understand what’s going on. Just take this chance to listen to me and I’ll do my best to explain it all.

As I told 19 year old us, he called. Right? You agreed to see him to prove a point to yourself. All that happened is you listened to him go over his life since you broke up. He bought a condo. He finally got a car. That made you angry. After all those years driving his ass around, he finally got his own car. You have a right to be angry. He’s told you all about his new girlfriend. You don’t catch her name, but you do catch the fact that he goes out of his way to point out she has red hair. Red hair just like you have red hair. You don’t miss the fact he says he came with her for her Teach for America training. You don’t really say anything because you aren’t sure what to say. This will be, as they say, the beginning of the end.

You’ll meet more boys. You’ll get more tattoos. You’ll drink like there’s no tomorrow. All that time, you’ll be angry. You’ll hate yourself because you won’t know how to stop it. I understand. There are few worse feelings than not being able to understand what’s going on in your own head. Then you’ll meet a boy. He’ll be just another one in the line. Another stamp in the passport. After you have a fight with him and find yourself drinking, once again, alone in a bar, you’ll have a thought. You’ll realize you don’t want to give up on yourself. You’ll try AA for the first time. You’ll get one of your friends to go with you. She had been angry with you before, but she agrees to help you. You’ll be grateful you have friends like her. You don’t particularly like AA, but you’re not sure what else to do. It won’t end up helping you at all, but that’s another story for another one of us.

As you get to know the boy better, he’ll start slowly pawning you off on his roommate. You’re not sure why. When you ask him to do something to help you at your new apartment or even just to hang out, there’s always an excuse. He tells you to talk to his roommate. Then, one night after the boy has gone to bed, you’ll stay up all night talking to the roommate. You’ll be more honest with him than you’ve been with anyone in a long time. You’ll find out later that you were the first one he’d been that honest with in a long time. Then, in 24 hours, things really go to hell. You’ll be fired for what you think, and I totally agree, is an unjust reason. That night will be the first night you consider killing yourself. You’ll call your sponsor. No answer. You’ll call the boy. No answer. Finally, you’ll call the roommate. You’ll ask him to come over. You won’t tell him why, just that you don’t want to be alone. He’ll come over and stay with you for most of the night. He’ll tell you no. He’s the first one to tell you no. That will stick with you. He’ll be the one to ask the right question.

He’ll walk with you to your first appointment. He’ll sit and wait for you. You’ll meet a woman who I still see today. You’ll see he’s the polar opposite of Will and that’s what you’ll love about him. He won’t force you, guilt you, or bully you into something you aren’t comfortable with. He definitely wouldn’t invite anyone to watch. He’ll be patient with you. You’ll learn to be more patient with yourself. I admit, I haven’t gotten to the point I want to be either. Patience is not our strong suit. What is our strong suit is bouncing back.

After you’re fired, you’ll look for any job. You’ll find them. It’s nothing fancy, just some seasonal work. The house you’re living in will be sold. You’ll have to move back in with our parents. You’ll be resentful and angry again. Anger is the common thread through all of this. I suppose it makes sense. Our 19 year old self was so deep in denial, it stands to reason that you would end up the angry one. You refuse to give up, though. In your mind, giving up means he won. You’ll refuse to let him win. Of all the times to care about winning and losing, this will work to your advantage. Our greatest strength may also be our greatest weakness, but right now, being stubborn is what you need right now.

I don’t hate you, even if you hate yourself right now. You’ll get better. I promise.

XOXO,
30 Year Old Emily

Of holding hands and making plans

This post all but bent my brain backwards. It was an absolutely fascinating read. It’s written by a gay, devout Mormon who is married to a woman. More than rethinking a traditional marriage, it made me rethink what it means to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Are you gay if, post puberty, you hold hands with someone of the same sex and they *aren’t* in danger of falling off a cliff? Are you gay if you, also post puberty, sleep in a bed with the someone of the same sex? Or are you gay simply because you’re sexually attracted to someone with the same equipment between their legs? If the first two are true, then slap my ass and call me a big ol’ lesbian. As for the third one, I’m of the opinion that *everyone* is more attractive with the addition of a fig leaf. 😉 

Back when I was first trying to figure out why I was self destructing, a male therapist I tried out asked me where I thought I fell on the Kinsey scale. It seemed like a completely out of left field question when I was in there for another issue. After I found a therapist I liked, she explained that survivors will often find a shift in their sexuality, either temporary or permanent, after their abuse. It could be eschewing everyone who is the same sex as your abuser. You could shut down completely and it doesn’t matter who is interested. It could be, as was my case, anything resembling a human being with a pulse was fair game. “Down there” was irrelevant. In the grand scheme of things, I did always lean more toward men than women even though my abuser was male.

Will was doing his level best to show his frat brothers that he wasn’t gay. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned that before or not, but he caught a lot of flack from the house. I’m not 100% sure why. Nothing about him screamed “GAY!”. If I’m comparing him to my first boyfriend who did come out, he was a standard straight dude. Even though I could never prove it, he was asserting his masculinity by having a girlfriend who would dress in skimpy outfits and make out with other girls. I was his beard. It wouldn’t shock me at all if I found out he ultimately did identify as gay. There’s no value judgment there, just a statement. For all I know, I’m completely making this up in my head and it has absolutely no basis in reality. It’s just a gut feeling that has been hanging out there for a very long time. I could be looking for a reason when there isn’t one.

Tying into my last post about Robin Williams, my absolute favorite expression of love on film comes from The Birdcage. Nathan Lane’s character (Albert) has stormed off because their son doesn’t want him around when his fiancee’s uber conservative parents come to visit. Robin Williams’ character (Armand) goes after him and finds him at a bus stop. Without narrating the entire scene, Armand tells Albert that he wants to be buried next to him because Albert has always made him laugh and he wants to be able to laugh forever. He then presents Albert with a legal document making them equal partners in all aspects. I tear up every time I watch it. And it’s between two men. That, dear readers, is truly transcendent.

XOXO!

P.S. My dad’s second hip replacement went very well. He’s back home after less than 2 days. Cue a GIANT sigh of relief.

Of Disney villains and unwitting allegories

Spoilers ahead for Maleficent:

Boy & I saw Maleficent last weekend. I’ve been pretty excited for it if nothing else for the costuming. As a friend of mine aptly put it, it was essentially  a 90 minute MAC commercial. Overall, I really enjoyed it. Maleficent definitely wins for the best Disney villain. She turns into a dragon. ‘Nuff said. I haven’t seen the animated version in probably 20 years, so I didn’t remember a whole lot of the plot. I love the idea of origin stories. I’ve seen a lot of complaints floating around the Internet that Disney missed the mark by making her all too “nice”.

What Disney managed to do was present an excellent example of recovering from rape trauma. It’s a standard setup. She falls in love with a boy. He says he loves her. Then he drugs her and rips away her identity by cutting off her wings.  He shamelessly exploited her feelings for his own gain. Once the shock wore off, she was out for revenge. Revenge is something that’s a good idea in theory, but a terrible idea in practice. There’s a reason it’s a fatal flaw in just about every work of literature. Instead of empowering someone, it leaves them open to all kinds of poor decision making. They’re so blinded by the motivation to hit their abuser right where it hurts, they don’t notice what’s going on around them. Maleficent set out to exact said revenge by cursing the king’s daughter. For argument’s sake, let’s say the animated version captures her during this point in the recovery cycle.

The animated Maleficent is borderline sociopathic. She’s all for torturing and cursing innocent bystanders with no remorse. Again, this isn’t at all uncommon for survivors. Three years ago, if someone had told me I could dish out whatever punishment I saw fit without any legal consequences, I would have done it. After a little time, I wouldn’t have been able to look myself in the face. I would have allowed myself to stoop to his level. Tempting as though it may be, once the high wears off, you’re left with whatever regret and pain that resulted. In the process of ensuring Aurora stays alive to fulfill the curse, Maleficent begins to see the error of her ways. Aurora’s only fault was being born to a rapist. She watches this little girl grow up only to realize she screwed up by cursing the wrong person. The animated Maleficent didn’t have this kind of empathy and it ended up killing her. This version gave the viewer an alternative. While she sees her mistake and tries to lift the curse before it’s too late, she can’t. Aurora falls into the coma just like Maleficent promised 16 years earlier. This is a very important turning point. In recognizing your humanity and the humanity of your abuser; good, bad, or ugly, it makes the wound a little easier to close. If you continue down the path of revenge and no remorse, it will kill you.

This is also where Disney turned the true love’s kiss trope on its head (Boy says Frozen did it first. Hipster). Maleficent makes her apologies to the comatose Aurora, kisses her on the forehead, and walks away. As she’s walking away, Aurora wakes up. In the final battle when Maleficent gets her wings back, her identity is restored. By this point, the king has totally lost it and it results in his own death. See what I said about revenge, kids? Then, as they say, they lived happily ever after.  She got back the part of herself she lost and kept going. While most of us will never literally get back what we lost, it’s a step.

Well played, Disney. If it wasn’t intentional, I tip my hat anyway. Maybe someday the target audience will realize the parallels. Until then, I’ll be borrowing that epic hat.

XOXO!

Of the trade-beauty for ashes

My very first guest post comes from Carrie. She’s a bright, loving, and all around awesome gal. I hope you enjoy her words and her voice.

The Trade: Beauty for Ashes

I recently read a quote that said, “Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?” There was no author listed, just a simple question, yet profound in the same sense. For days I have been meditating on these thoughts: Who was I before my rape and assault? Who was I before I was a survivor? Who was I before recovery, support groups, therapy, and other survivors that were such a crucial and integral part of my life?

Recovery brings a variety of emotions parading on whim through your heart—grief, sadness, anxiety, anger, worry, jealousy, bitterness, and frustration to name a few. I have allowed myself to feel each and every one of them because I know now that I must in order to continue to heal. It hurts though. And since lately, I can’t seem to remember “who I was before,” and the hurt has turned to unrest.

Those who know me know my faith is my lifeline. One scripture I am fiercely clinging to promises, “[God will] comfort all who mourn and give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes.” In Biblical times, it was customary to lie in ashes during great times of mourning and difficulty. So when the people of that time had a problem in their lives, they would literally sit down in a pile of ashes. There was no mask, no putting on a brave face. I love that. Life is real. Terrible, unspeakable tragedies occur all around us on a daily basis. It is inevitable that you will experience pain. It won’t always be painful. There may be nothing initially beautiful about ashes, but there are heartfelt moments and amazing people you meet on this journey. I have experienced love, acceptance, and understanding as never before, and I truly believe we can all trade our ashes for beauty. Even if you are not spiritual, the metaphor can still be powerful.

What about the recovery—the trading hurt for healing part? I may not still be in the ashes of my assault, but I don’t feel like I’m anywhere near understanding or seeing the beauty from it either. Can I just be honest? The waiting, the healing—It is the most difficult, most excruciating experience I’ve ever been through, even more so than the assault itself.

This is the hard part to write about because the wound is still so fresh. Although it’s been years since my trauma occurred, some days it still feels like yesterday. Small things turn into huge things. A simple task turns into an unexpected, complicated mess. My therapist, who is a saint, keeps telling me to, “Be kind to yourself.” But, I’m angry! I’m frustrated! I want to shake off the ashes and never look back. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t happen that way. It is a trade. This recovery is a process, and I have to be patient with myself.

Getting upset when I can’t physically or mentally show up for friends and family bothers me the most. I’m hard pressed to have patience with myself during those times. Let me share a recent example. There was a holiday party after work that I had been looking forward to for weeks. Parties and gatherings are overwhelming for many, as well as myself, but I was actually anticipating a fun time with some coworkers and friends. Well, it didn’t happen. After work, I had a panic attack complete with those voices telling me how much of a failure I was, how I would never be enough, how people were going to see how incompetent I was at my job, that I was a mess, and so on. Staying for the party was out of the question. I rushed home and collapsed in a ball sobbing uncontrollably for the better part of an hour. But here’s where the story gets good and I am trying to focus—You know those heartfelt moments and amazing people I wrote about earlier? One of my friends texted asking me if I were feeling better, but frankly, I was a little over life at that point. Well, she told me to come over right away. She sat with me and listened. Her husband made me grilled cheese and a cup of tea. I was probably there for three hours, and it was just what I needed to keep going and keep trying. She refused to let me give up. She and her family are just several of the many amazing people who have opened their hearts and homes to me and have prodded me lovingly along on this journey.

Brene’ Brown, a renowned author, researcher and speaker states, “Owning our story can be hard, but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky, but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” Brene’ also speaks a lot about courage and says that the true meaning of courage is to tell your story with your whole heart. Well, I am working on that. I want to tell my story with my whole heart. Why? Because in the midst of lying in and dusting off ashes, there are beautiful moments. There are amazing people who see the beauty from your ashes even when you can’t and especially when you can’t! I don’t want anyone to forget that or get too mucked down in the ashes that they can’t see those moments happening!

So back to the original question, “Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?” If you can’t, that’s ok. While you’re searching, experiencing this ride we call life, stop often. Recognize those little moments and that joy that comes from connecting with people who truly care for you. Allow yourself to feel everything, but also allow yourself to begin trading your ashes for beauty. I am speaking to myself as much as to you. Listen to those whom you love and let them sing your life song to you when you can’t remember the words. That is part of authentic recovery and those moments remind you of everything you truly are.

Thanks, Carrie. Beautifully said.

XOXO!