Thursday, August 20, 2015

Day 2: Silencing those who blame

As a sexual assault survivor, there are numerous negative messages that play on my head on repeat. “It’s your fault. You could have done something to prevent that from happening. You are broken. You are damaged. You aren’t worthy of love and respect.” Every day, they haunt my thoughts and dictate my actions.

What’s been even more damning, though, is the confirmation of those thoughts by outside parties.

During an intake appointment with a social worker, I told her that I was just beginning a graduate school program for counseling. Her response was, “Do you really think that’s the best career path for you, given your history?” Somehow – and I’m pretty sure this was divine intervention because I’ve never been one to respond well under pressure – I found the strength to reply, “I actually think it would help me to be more empathetic toward my clients.”

To have a mental health professional – someone who is supposed to “do no harm” and treat all clients with the empathy and respect – tell me that I am too broken to achieve my goals completely debilitated me for a while. I wondered if I had made a mistake in going back to school and changing careers. I thought maybe I was kidding myself in trying to move on with my life, and that I could never be anything more than what the person who violated me saw – a piece of garbage that can be used and thrown away.

Then – and this probably devastated me even more – I once had a significant other make repeated remarks about my recovery and how I didn’t measure up to his preconceived guidelines. I wasn’t affected by what he thought I should be. “X is a trigger for you but Y isn’t? That doesn’t make any sense.” And the fact that I chose not to report the attack bothered him so much that he told me it made him sick my attackers were still out there, free to do that to other women. In essence, I felt as though he was holding me culpable for another person’s (and a criminal’s as that) actions.

I thought this person loved and supported me. And when he made those comments, I began to feel like he saw me no differently than I often saw myself. The negative self-talk that pervades my psyche became truth in those moments, and the part of me who believed at least one person didn’t find me responsible was shattered in an instant. Not only that, I wasn’t conforming to some ridiculous mold of what he thought my recovery should look like. Even as a victim, I was failing in his eyes.

Sexual assault advocates would probably refer to these instances as victim blaming. The ironically screwed up thing is, I probably blame myself more than any other person ever could. That’s why I think it’s critical to validate and honor survivors. For me (because I can’t speak for anyone but myself), that would mean patience, understanding, tenderness, kindness, compassion, and love. Since it often seems impossible to give those things to yourself, it’s even more critical to be surrounded by those who can offer it to you.

I’m still trying to figure out how to silence those thoughts. It’s a process, and a life-long one at that. I just know that I want to be happy, and not let these events define who I am and who I’m capable of becoming. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Day One

This little blog gets used in super sporadic spurts. I used it regularly for a couple years when I was booted from my only paying professional gig as a writer and since then, it’s been pretty neglected.

I’m giving it another go, for a couple of reasons:
  1. Self-care. Writing is one of the ways I’ve always been able to cope and make sense of things. I can’t remember the last time I sat down and wrote anything, much less hit publish on this platform. But almost every self-care list suggests journaling, and since I know the written word is so therapeutic to me, I figure writing on a more regular basis can only help me come out of one of the darkest periods of my life.
  2.  Awareness. I’m choosing to go public about such deeply intimate aspects of my life in effort to connect with others experiencing similar situations and help spotlight an issue that is often seen a sign of weakness. In the past few years, I’ve been diagnosed with a cocktail of mental illnesses. It’s gotten to the point where I have a hard time determining which one is the most accurate while also telling myself that my identity isn’t solely compromised of a medical professional’s diagnosis. Compound this with our current technological age, and the mediums that are supposed to help us more easily connect with others. Ironically enough, scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc., ends up amplifying the feelings of depression, isolation, and loneliness that comprise a majority of my day. It’s so easy to look at snapshots of people’s lives and conclude that their days are filled with sunshine, trips to the beach, rainbows, marital bliss, butterflies, and cuddles with their babies. I want to offer an alternative perspective – a glimpse into my own spiritual journey of self-growth, as I try to pull myself out of one the darkest periods of my life. If my story can reach just one other person, it’s worth the rejection I could potentially receive from others.
Here’s to day one of a life in which I can forgive and love myself more easily, care less about pleasing others, and strive to find light in what can often feel like an endless tunnel of darkness.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Irrational (?) Fear

It’s been more than six months since I turned the big 3-0, and I have to say, so far it’s not so bad. The Buzzfeed articles are pretty spot on: I’d much prefer brunch, complete with bottomless mimosas and a few of my nearest and dearest to downing shots of Goldschlager while gyrating to the latest Pit Bull song and actively avoiding douchebags trying to grab my ass. (Actually, that’s a lie. I still enjoy the occasional shot of Goldschlager. At home. In my PJs. While watching Netflix.)

This new decade of my life has ushered in an influx of friends reproducing like jack rabbits. Apparently your twenties are for weddings and your thirties are for popping out babies. At least among my group of compadres.

About the time I attended my fifth wedding single and dateless, I started to feel like I was enduring a cruel and unusual form of punishment.  It almost felt as if I were being repeatedly taunted and continuously reminded that I was nowhere close to that milestone. And then of course, my irrational and emotional side would take over and convince me that I would never get married – that I was destined to life as an old maid with nothing but a horde of Pomeranians and cats to comfort me.

Now, as more and more of my friends take on the role of mom and dad, things seem even more complicated. For starters, I’m no longer single, but still nowhere close to getting married, and even further from feeling ready to reproduce. Actually, I’m not sure if I ever want to have kids. And that thought sometimes makes me feel like a failure as a woman, like I’m abandoning some pre-ordained life role. I worry that I won’t be accepted or have anything in common with my friends who do have kids. I’m terrified that I’ll be left behind, stuck in everyone’s dust as they progress further through this journey called life while I continue to buck societal norms, albeit not always intentionally.

Will my friends, as well as society, continually reject me for being a single, childless woman? And will I have the confidence, backbone, and grit to write them off should they do so?

As with the conclusion that I am doomed to a life of solitude, I know these fears are in many ways irrational and unfounded. But, such is the curse of having a vagina. It makes you worry. It makes you blow things out of proportion. It makes you freak you the fuck out when those close-knit bonds with your girlfriends seem much more delicate than they used to be. That extra X chromosome makes those qualities run rampant. It’s just science. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

One in Four

As a freshman at JMU, I learned a startling statistic:

One in four women will become the victim of rape or attempted rape by the time she graduates.

...little did I know I would actually become part of that statistic.

I've never really said this aloud. These thoughts have been relegated to the ink of my personal journal and the etchings of my soul, so to type it makes it even more real and terrifying.

But I remember that night like it was yesterday.

A guy I had known for years wanted to see me. I was so excited and told him to meet up with me. I danced with him, flirted with him, and told him he could stay the night at my apartment.

Once we got to my bedroom, everything changed. I remember immediately feeling like he shouldn't be there. His heavily alcohol-stained breath became nauseating and over-bearing. And he became...forceful. I started shaking - my legs were trembling, uncontrollably, but he was oblivious to it all.

Horrified, I was too scared to say anything. I lay motionless, willing it all to stop, imagining I was someplace else. Finally, it became too unbearable and I told him, "No."

He laughed. Literally, laughed in my face and taunted me, asking me if I was too good for what he wanted. I thought to myself, "Yes, I am too good for you", but I was too scared to tell him that. So instead, I let him continue until he finally passed out and I could move to the sanctuary of my living room, ten feet away from the person who had just stolen every ounce of my dignity and worth.

When I got there, I didn't call out for my roommates or dial 911. After all, I had invited him over. I had flirted with him all night. It was his word against mine.

I felt....ashamed. And like I brought all of it on myself. So I curled into a ball and pretended like it never happened - deciding it was best to erase it from my memory and will it never to resurface. The only problem was, I quickly found out, it would never fully escape me. Images of that night still haunt me, eight years later.

I tell this story not for sympathy. I'm telling this story for the other woman at JMU who encountered a brutal sexual assault that made me sick to my stomach. For this woman who had to drop out of school because she had to face her attackers everyday. Fortunately for me, my attacker went to another school. I still saw him, but it was few and far between.

I'm telling this story because I'm tired of being silent. Sexual assault is NOT okay. As a graduate student studying college student development and counseling, I'm making it my life-long goal to erase this statistic. No woman should ever become part of a statistic when it comes to sexual assault - or have her integrity, choice of wardrobe, or number of sexual partners questioned if she ever becomes a victim of rape or attempted rape.

The administration of college campuses needs to start empowering victims of these crimes and sending the message that the safety of their students - regardless of gender or race - is of utmost importance. There should be a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault, and I hope my alma mater, who I hold dear to my heart, adopts such a policy.

To my fellow victims: we can make a difference. Stay strong, and know that you are not alone.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

I hate THESE blurred lines

Okay, so I have to admit...I kinda like Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines." Sure, it has severe misogynistic undertones, but I find the song to be extremely catchy and Mr. Thicke to be quite sexy, regardless of his duet with Mileybird. And yes, I'm aware this may make me a traitor to my gender but I'm accepting full responsibility for my complacence to this song.

HOWEVER, I do think it would be pretty kick-ass if there were a female version written regarding the blurred lines emoted by straight males. Most men will tell you that they are completely straightforward and there's no need to over-analyze or dissect anything they say or do, but I beg to differ.

Of course, there are some things that could be passed off under "Boys 101." You know - the "wait three days to call or text rule" after a guy gets your number so he appears aloof. Or those guys that strictly text after 10 p.m. on a Saturday night that you can immediately file under "he just wants to get to know me between the sheets". Embarrassingly, I fell for that one a few times during my undergrad years. Now, it seems so freakin' elementary. But when you are young and blinded by a cute guy who seems interested in wanting to hang out with you...well, you jump at the chance...

...And sometimes, I still do to some extent. Although I've learned to weed out the booty texters, even if I still feel like something is off with a guy I'm talking to, I'll give him second, third, and maybe even tenth chances. Text messages and in-person conversations will be dissected with my friends in Shakespearean-like analytic precision until we come up with some viable reason as to why something just isn't adding up.

But obviously, if it warrants that much analysis, there is probably some underlying message the guy is sending, and it's more than likely along the lines of "I'M JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU." But time and time again, I hold out hope that it's different. That I'm just being ridiculous. Or over-anxious. Or reading too much into things.

And asking the guy for clarity is absolutely out of the question. I've found if a guy isn't straightforward about his feelings, it's absolutely essential to appear lackadaisical and uninterested. Any sort of questioning as to a guy's intentions and you risk appearing desperate and/or needy, sending said Romeo running to the hills (hills meaning the next cute blonde).

It kinda sucks feeling so powerless, and like you're at the mercy of another person. And I'm sure guys have felt the same way to some degree before. But I just feel clueless in how to navigate these mixed signals. Should I start turning the other way the moment I sense them? Or do I keep giving people the benefit of the doubt, while holding out hope that one day, it might be different?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Pain vs. Indifference

One of my favorite songs has to be “Stubborn Love” by the Lumineers. It’s one of those songs that gives me goosebumps no matter how many times I hear it.  I’m actually listening to it on repeat while I write this since it’s the inspiration for this post.

There’s a lyric in it that goes: “It’s better to feel pain than nothing at all…the opposite of love’s indifference…” When I hear that, it cuts me right to the deepest part of my being. A hopeless romantic, my heart swells like a giddy school girl whenever I watch a cheesy rom com, and makes me believe that true, soul encompassing love might just exist, even if it’s just for those 90 minutes before my cynical mind takes over and reminds me of my past, and present, reality.

And as much as I sometimes wish my mind would completely overpower my heart and render me indifferent, there’s still a part of me that believes that this love that writers have written about for centuries and musicians have composed so brilliantly into their own personal mantras might actually exist. Hell, I even permanently inked the word love on my wrist because at the end of the day, I still think it’s one of the most important things on this planet.  

I know my experience is not unique. I’m not na├»ve enough to believe that I’m the only one who has experienced heartache and despair, but I often wonder if I’m being a sadist for continuing to put myself out there. Lately, I’ve been questioning if there’s a way to make myself emotionally vulnerable while still treading cautiously. Like some hypothetical shot of emotional Novocain I could inject when even a small portion of me starts to develop feelings for someone.

I’ve thought about this a lot since my last relationship ended a few months back. If there is even a miniscule silver lining to that experience, it’s that I’ve learned the importance of pumping the breaks. I’m such a relational person, that it’s difficult for me not to make decisions based on my emotions. But I’ve learned how sacred and fragile my heart is, and I’m not willing to wear it on my sleeve so freely anymore.

So as great as it is that I’ve recognized all of this, now I’ve got to figure out how the hell to actually be more emotionally cautious. It would be really amazing if a doctor could invent some actual emotional Novocain, but that’s probably not happening anytime soon. So until then I guess I’ll just have to figure it out through trial and error. Will there still be pain and heartache? Absolutely – I’m counting on it. But as the song says I guess I’ll just have to keep my head up and keep reminding myself that pain, no matter how deep, always outweighs indifference.  

Friday, June 6, 2014

Holy Shiznit I'm About to Turn 30!


As I type this, I have about 12 days left in my twenties. Embarking on a new decade has never felt so daunting, terrifying, and yet, incredibly freeing at the same time. I don’t think a ten-year span has brought quite so many life changes while shaping who I am and affirming who I want to be as a person.
Since turning 20 I have:
-received my bachelor’s from JMU (Go Dukes!)
-relocated to a city only that was only two hours north of my hometown but seemed like light years away in terms of cultural differences
-accepted my first full time/big girl job, complete with health benefits and a 401K package (and actually learned what the hell things like an IRA meant)
-moved into an apartment that didn’t have beer stains all over the carpet, a balcony that could potentially cave in, a sketchy landlord, and hoards of college students surrounding me (okay, maybe some of those things were still present)
-got laid off from a job I loved
-bought, well…financed a car and paid it off
-had my heart broken, and broke a few myself
-recognized that no matter how well you think you know a person, sometimes it turns out you never really knew them at all
-lost touch with some friends I thought I’d always be close with, but at the same time gained new friends who I couldn’t imagine life without
-mourned the loss of two grandfathers, who I think about everyday
-discovered that what I studied for four years in undergrad did not have an abundance of job opportunities, and decided to completely switch career paths
-realized how much I love my hometown, and moved back after spending six years in D.C.
-started graduate school
-watched countless loved ones get married and start families and began to increasingly wonder not only if that will ever be me, but also if that’s something I even want
-gained confidence and more assurance in who I am
I’m sure this list could span at least 10 more pages, but I think those are the some of the most important. I feel like my 20s could be more aptly titled the decade of fucking up and falling on my ass…and then brushing myself off and facing the next year a bit wiser and more prepared.
I guess I thought by 30 I’d have achieved some monumental milestone. I’m not quite sure what I envisioned, but maybe that I’d be a writer at some hip magazine, or have a book published, or maybe even just a passport full of kick-ass trips around the world. What I know for sure is no part of me imagined I’d be single, living with my parents, working two part-time jobs, plucking gray hairs that have just started to surface, and fighting dark, baggy circles under my eyes from spending countless all-nighters in the library.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve just been a spectator to everyone else’s successes, cheering on my friends while they accept promotions, buy their first house, get married, and start families. While I am truly happy for each and every one of them and honored that I could share in the celebration of such monumental events, I sometimes selfishly (and self-pityingly) feel stuck on the sidelines.
Recently, I’ve had to ask myself if I really want all those things, or if I want them because I think I’m supposed to want them. Here’s what I do know:
-I want to finish graduate school and focus on establishing a career. I want to continue writing, even if I never get published.
-I want to get my own apartment in downtown Richmond.
-I want to buy a piano and start taking lessons again.
-I want to travel. All over the world. I want to meet new people and learn about different cultures and soak up everything I can about a place when I visit, so that I feel that I’m leaving with a part of it.
-I want to hike every fall, ski every winter, start running regularly every spring, and go to the beach every summer.
-I want to help people, and volunteer more often.
-I want to care less about what people think of me, and become reliant on my own sense of self.
-I want someone to share this crazy life with, but I also know it’s not the end of the world if that never happens. If I’ve learned one thing from my 20s, it’s that it’s toxic to force anything, especially relationships.   
As much as I’m dreading leaving my twenties behind, I definitely feel a greater sense of peace and clarity as I think back on the last ten years, and a sense of excitement for what lies ahead. It sure as hell won’t be all rainbows and sunshine, but isn’t it more fun that way anyway??

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