Friday, December 11, 2009

Happy things!

I'm back! I figured I would end my hiatus with something a little off-topic but nice. Another personal update, I suppose, while I'm still in my happy pink fuzzy slippers before I exchange them for my blog-writing black femmenazi boots.

So, things that make me happy:

I had a fantastic (albeit odd and completely non-traditional) first date this week with a wonderful guy I shall call D* until I come up with a better nickname. He's a gentleman and a sweetheart, and things are looking good. I might be off in cloud 9 for a little while.  :)

It's also just starting to sink in that I'm completely graduated. I even made it official on Facebook by changing my status to "alum." :P  Now to figure out plans for the next year or so...

Over the next two weeks I will be packing and moving into my new place. I'm sharing a house close by with two post-docs and a grad student, which will be a nice change from my frat house. It's within walking distance, so I'll still be able to visit, but I'm excited to live elsewhere.

So now the next stage of my life is really beginning...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Also also also

I'm done! Like completely, totally, finally done with my studies as an undergrad!

I'm all grown up now. :D

Book: The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind is a fantastic fantasy (hur hur, pun intended) novel by Patrick Rothfuss. It is the first of a trilogy, and I am *so* excited for the second book, whenever it manages to make its way out. Rothfuss has such a way with words, and manages to evoke the most powerful, wonderful descriptions of everything from music to PTSD.

I just wanted to type up a section that I found particularly profound:

Perhaps the greatest faculty our minds possess is the ability to cope with pain. Classic thinking teaches us of the four doors of the mind, which everyone moves through according to their need.

First is the door of sleep. Sleep offers us a retreat from the world and all its pain. Sleep marks passing time, giving us distance from the things that have hurt us. When a person is wounded they will often fall unconscious. Similarly, someone who hears traumatic news will often swoon or faint. This is the mind's way of protecting itself from pain by stepping through the first door.

Second is the door of forgetting. Some wounds are too deep to heal, or too deep to heal quickly. In addition, many memories are simply painful, and there is no healing to be done. The saying "time heals all wounds" is false. Time heals most wounds. The rest are hidden behind this door.

Third is the door of madness. There are times when the mind is dealt such a blow it hides itself in insanity. While this may not seem beneficial, it is. There are times when reality is nothing but pain, and to escape that pain the mind must leave reality behind.

Last is the door of death. The final resort. Nothing can hurt us after we are dead, or so we have been told.

In the interest of not spoiling this book for anyone who is interested in reading it in its fabulous entirety (you should!), I'm going to quote more of the book, but heavily ellipsed.

[After a trauma occured] I wandered deep into the forest and slept. My body demanded it, and my mind used the first door to dull the pain. The wound was covered until the proper time for healing could come. In self-defense, a good portion of my mind simply stopped working--went to sleep, if you will.

While my mind slept, many of the painful parts of the previous day were ushered through the second door. Not completely. I did not forget what had happened, but the memory was dulled, as if seen through thick gauze. If I wanted to, I could have brought to memory [details about the trauma]. But I did not want to remember. I pushed those thoughts away and let them gather dust in a seldom-used corner of my mind.

I dreamed, not of [bad things associated with the trauma], but of gentler things. And slowly the wound began to grow numb....

But enough of quotes-- I'm afraid of giving too much away of a story that should not be spoiled. But so much of this story spoke out to me, with the portrayal of numbness, the repulsion that happens when one tries--whether consciously or subconsciously--to remember things that are not ready to be thought about, triggers, and the general mental and physical changes that occur after one survives a trauma.

It's a beautiful book, and definitely worth reading. It's not entirely trauma-centric, but the portrayal of PTSD is one of the better ones I have encountered in fiction.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Infamous Twilight Series

Sigh. Triggered. By a freaking parody of the Twilight series, no less. The parody claims there is "mouth rape" and "date rape" and pedophilia in it. I've only read Book 1, which was all right, but now I kind of want to see if the rest of them are really as awful as this "review" claims they are. I am slightly disturbed that these books are capturing the attention of pre-teen girls.

Also-- giant meh to dissociation.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dealing with Privileged People

This link was shared with me by a wonderful friend of mine in response to my last post. It educates the Privileged Person on how to derail any conversation with a Marginalised Person in the most arrogant, ignorant way possible. It includes tactical gems like:

You're Taking Things Too Personally

Similar to You’re Being Overemotional and yet with particular uses of its own. You see, when you say “you’re taking things too personally” you demonstrate your ignorance that these issues ARE personal for them!

That’s highly insulting and is sure to rub anyone up the wrong way. That you're already refusing to consider their reality is giving them a pretty good indication of how the conversation is going to degress, yet the natural human need for understanding will probably compel them to try and reason with you, or at least to point you in the direction of some educational resources that will help you gain insight into their experiences.

By denying the conversation is personal for them, you also reveal your own detachment: there’s really nothing at stake for you in getting into this argument, you’re just doing it for kicks. They will be all too aware of this, and it will begin to work on their emotions, preparing them nicely for the next steps you will take them through.

You're Arguing With Opinions Not Fact

If you really want to excel as a Privileged Person® you need to learn to value data, statistics, research studies and empirical evidence above all things, but especially above Lived Experience©. You can pretend you are oblivious to the fact most studies have been carried out by Privileged People® and therefore carry inherent biases, and insist that the Marginalised Person™ produce “Evidence” of what they‘re claiming.

Their Lived Experience© does not count as evidence, for it is subjective and therefore worthless.

This is very important because it works in two ways: 1) it communicates to the Marginalised Person™ that their personal testament is disbelieved and of no value, causing them great hurt; and 2) it once again reinforces your privilege.

You see, the very capacity to conduct studies, collect data and write detached “fact-based” reports on it, is an inherently privileged activity. The ability to widely access this material and research it exhaustively is also inherently privileged. Privileged People® find it easier to pursue these avenues than Marginalised People™ and so once again you are reminding them you possess this privilege and reinforcing that the world at large values a system of analysis that excludes them, and values it over what their actual personal experience has been.

The process of valuing “fact” over “opinion” is one very much rooted in preserving privilege. Through this methodology, the continued pain and othering of millions of people can be ignored because it’s supported by “opinion” (emotion) and not “fact” (rationality).

It is also important because it calls on the Marginalised Person™ to do something that is simply impossible, and that is summate the entirety of their group’s experiences into a definitive example. It is important that you establish this precedent for the next couple of steps.

Believe it or not, people--my peers, no less--actually do use these kinds of tactics whenever I bring up topics related to sexual assault and PTSD (that is, if they even deign to listen to me in the first place).

Way to go, Privileged People!


I just want to escape from everything right now. I'm dissociated, uncomfortable, exasperated, and stressed. I've been sleeping far too much in my effort to hide from the world. I don't know how to break out of this and find the motivation and happiness that lies just outside my grasp. I know it's there; I just don't know how to find it.

My fraternity is triggering me again. Last term we tried to run our own Crossing the Line-type of event. I thought it was poorly done, but in particular for me, it was a disaster. It brought back the acute frustration and pain of the aftermath last year. I thought the topics of sexual assault were poorly covered, and then when I tried to bring that up in the discussion afterwards, I was at first ignored, and then quite literally talked over by people joking around about other things. Is there any better way to tell someone you don't want to listen to that topic again and that you don't care? I left crying and triggered and was very much not okay for a good chunk of that night. I left because I could not stay.

They want to run Crossing the Line again this term, and this time they want to force people to not leave before the event is over. Needless to say, I will not be attending. I don't think we should be running our own event; as much as we don't like the College's, we do not have the necessary degree of separation or maturity to run this powerful an event ourselves. Sure, it works for most other people who don't have so much at stake, but that doesn't make it a good event. But now that I am being told that I cannot leave, no matter how triggered and desperately upset I am-- it's clear that no one understands what PTSD is like. I brought this up to everyone over email, and all the responses I got basically said "you can deal; you need to stay because it's disrespectful to us if you leave."

*insert all kinds of disbelieving laughter here*  Just that exchange of email was enough to send me spiraling down into a horrible episode. I'm currently sitting here tensed up and trying not to dig my fingernails into my palms or explode into full-blown anxiety or rage. My mind has shut down so this is the only thing I can think about. I want to scream or cry but I can't. It's freaking Thanksgiving break, which I should be spending doing work or at the very least relaxing, and instead I'm trying to keep myself from sliding into a full-blown PTSD episode.

God, I hate this place and some of the people in it. I can't wait to leave.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


I've been feeling the old depression creeping back up on me lately. Last night was pretty awful. It's a combination of academic stress, anxiety about post-graduation stuff, memories regarding the aftermath and their associated intense emotions (as one of my friends and brothers is trying to bring it back up to the forefront in my fraternity again), extremely frustrating people-problems, and the jarring absence of daylight before 5pm. Not a good combination at all.

I may have to take a brief hiatus to sort out as much of the above as I can. (Not much I can do about the darkness, unfortunately.) I will probably write some short posts here and there, but I just don't have the emotional energy to tackle a major post right now. My immediate goal is to not burn out or have a mental breakdown before the end of the term.

December 7: the magic date when my last final is due. Between now and then, I have an exam, a major presentation, a problem set, and a paper, along with routine work for each day's class. *takes a deep breath*

See you in December!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mentors Against Violence: Quick Post

Quick blog post to say that I attended a Mentors Against Violence facilitation this evening with some of our lovely pledges and pledges from three other coed houses. On the whole I thought it went well. There were several good activities and good discussion from those activities. At the end, though, we separated by house and had a more open-ended discussion, and we talked a little bit about my experience. All the pain from the aftermath came back to me, and I cried.

However, I have hope that things will get better. The new members of my house seem to care, even if the old ones don't. While I don't know how much action now can help heal the wounds of the past, the fact that some people are taking this seriously instead of rolling their eyes really warms my heart. We'll see.

More thoughts on the facilitation later-- I have a lot of homework to do tonight.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Personal Update

This is the 50th post of my blog, about a week short of two months since I started it one sleepless night. Somehow it feels proper and fitting for me to update it with the fact that I cried. No, not just any mundane leaking of tears, but a veritable flood of highly emotional, bittersweet ones, because one of my dearest friends, the friend who was there for me last year, the friend who went to the ER and the police station with me, the friend to whom I owe so much of my sanity, wrote a piece about her own feelings about the event and what it means to the fraternity that could have supported me but didn't. I've known that she feels this way, but it was so powerful to see it written down in her own words; this is the kind of support that I needed then, but I am grateful to have it now.

I long ago stopped hoping that my fraternity would help me heal. The pressure to keep quiet, the pretending it never happened, the eye-rolling at my insistence that this not be brushed under the carpet-- there was only so much that I could take. While I have pledged to myself to move on and look elsewhere for support, I will always hold some bitterness in my heart that people who called themselves my brothers would not and did not care. Sometimes, some days, the old sadness and anger reemerges, wells up, and overflows, and I need some time to cry for myself, for the girl who I was, who felt so very alone for such a long time.

This weekend is my fraternity's Sink Night, an event that is supposed to not only welcome in new members but also to strengthen brotherhood bonding. This term I have chosen not to attend. I explained my decision to the pledges (whom I do like very much) as follows: Sink Night is about affirming brotherhood through fun and games. While I think that is certainly important, I think my fraternity has lost sight of how to handle anything but fun and games. Many of the serious matters that I have seen brought up are either dismissed, mocked, or handled brusquely and disrespectfully. Until I see that this brotherhood that I used to believe in and love can treat people and situations maturely and respectfully, I will not participate in the 'fun and games' and perpetuate the idea that we are above handling things with appropriate gravitas. There is more to a family and brotherhood than superficial niceties and parties-- or at least, there should be. I hope that one day things will change.

I really look forward to moving on beyond this juvenile atmosphere into a world that recognizes it's not all about fun and games and doesn't try to keep up the illusion that it is-- and guess what? I am!

Dear world,

I started my application to grad school this afternoon.
I have confirmed housing in a wonderful place for at least the next six months.
I reached the halfway point assignments-wise in my classes.
Things are going well and finally settling down into place.

The world looks so much brighter when I stop looking through the windows of my undergraduate college fraternity.
Maybe I should invest in a regular window-washer*.
Perhaps chocolate?

Much love,

* metaphorical, of course-- chocolate would make an awful window-washer. The smears would drive me crazy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Inspiration and Empowerment in the Movies!

40 Inspirational Speeches in Two Minutes

It's exactly what the title says-- safe-for-work, non-triggering, empowering, and just plain awesome. I give total props to the creator for including Newsies, my 8th/9th grade obsession. <3

This feels like a fantastic way to start my homework for the night!

The embedded video doesn't quite fit in the space allotted by my blog design, so here's a direct link to the clip on YouTube if you want to see the whole screen, including the little part missing from the right side of the clip.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My Belated Obligatory Polanski Post

A couple of little posts tonight to make up for the lack of a real big one. I have a major assignment due Friday, so I may not seriously blog until then, unless I get riled up about something and need to.

So, Post One of Tonight's Review of Sayrina's Many Open Google Chrome Tabs That She Meant To Blog About A While Ago:

When the Polanski crapball hit the internet, I didn't blog about it extensively, because I figured that there were so many other bloggers who were doing a better and more comprehensive job than I could. Sure, I had tons of snark and fury about the topic that I unleashed upon unsuspecting people around me, but it just never seemed to make it to my blog.

But I did want to post something I found, one little poem:

What Whoopi Goldberg ('Not a Rape-Rape'), Harvey Weinstein ('So-Called Crime'), et al. Are Saying in Their Outrage Over the Arrest of Roman Polanski

A youthful error? Yes, perhaps.
But he's been punished for this lapse--
For decades exiled from LA
He knows, as he wakes up each day,
He'll miss the movers and the shakers.
He'll never get to see the Lakers.
For just one old and small mischance,
He has to live in Paris, France.
He's suffered slurs and other stuff.
Has he not suffered quite enough?
How can these people get so riled?
He only raped a single child.

Why make him into some Darth Vader
For sodomizing one eighth grader?
This man is brilliant, that's for sure--
Authentically, a film auteur.
He gets awards that are his due.
He knows important people, too--
Important people just like us.
And we know how to make a fuss.
Celebrities would just be fools
To play by little people's rules.
So Roman's banner we unfurl.
He only raped one little girl.

The Nation

I'm not sure how I feel about the fact that one of next term's film series is Roman Polanski films. On the one hand, I understand that a certain separation must be made between the man and his art, but on the other hand, I think we all should play the Don't Support Rapists game.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Site: David Baldwin's Trauma Information Pages

I just found this site today, so I am still in the process of reading through it, but it looks fantastic. It is a well-written, informative resource about PTSD that tends towards the academic side. I think the strength of this site is the multitude of links to journal articles and scientific resources. Goodness knows that a lot of my healing and coping has come through being able to distance myself from my own experience a little bit and focus on academic treatment of sexual assault and PTSD, so this site may be helpful for a survivor looking to find validation through research or a productive distraction from his/her own trauma. Definitely worth a look.

Strong emotions as a trigger for PTSD

I think I've discovered another trigger for myself. I've read about it in fact sheets and the like, but haven't actually had it affect me until this morning.

The trigger? Strong or extreme emotion. In this case, fury. Over breakfast, I had a suspicion confirmed and became overwhelmingly angry at someone for being a coward and a liar and taking my friendship and completely sh*tting on it. I was furious. Then I had to go to class, and found that I couldn't concentrate during lecture. No biggie, right? Sometimes I have days like that, when I just space out and can't focus. I was listening most of the time, but not 100% focusing. Then I got really cold suddenly, and had to put on a jacket. I felt kind of sick to my stomach, dizzy, disoriented. It wasn't until after I left class and was walking home that I realized that I was completely dissociated. I was looking at the world through the same eyes as I did a year and a half ago, where everything was there but somehow not real. I'm not sure how to explain it. It was warm and balmy outside, but I was huddled in two jackets and detached from everything. Everything around me seemed to have an extra echo or shadow to it, because it felt like I wasn't really there and observing it first-hand. Pretty classic detachment the way I used to experience it.

The funny thing is that my fury at this dipshit has absolutely nothing to do with my rape or any previous abuse. For all his cowardice and dishonesty, I do believe that he wasn't being an asshole just because I was raped. (He's just a jerk, plain and simple.) My overwhelming, seething rage has nothing to do with the cause of my PTSD, but somehow it still triggers me. Interesting.

I remember reading that extreme emotion, whether related to the trauma or not, can be a trigger for survivors. I'll have to try to find a reference for this. When I find it, I'll edit this post or make a new one.

On a more optimistic note, I've been better overall at controlling my responses to triggers. Lately there have been a lot because I've been around people who remind me of my rapist in little ways, but I've been able to take note of the resemblance, take a deep breath, and control any panic before it spirals out of control. I'm doing better with that.

Friday, November 6, 2009

NOM: Cute!

As an apology for being too tired to write a substantial post, I bring you oodles and noodles of cuteness.


PS- I very much like "Non-sequitur of the Moment" = NOM. That's the prefix from now on. :D

Legal question?

If anyone has an answer to this, please leave a comment or email me-- I would be much obliged!

Are there liability issues surrounding telling your story? When I was told by an officer of my fraternity not to speak about my rape outside of the house, he later claimed he was doing so in the interest of the house not being sued. (Never mind that that's a load of crap, because after telling me to keep quiet, he continued on to say that if I talked to other people and word got out, our reputation would be ruined and people wouldn't want to come by the house any more and that would be my fault. Anyway.)

What are the legal issues surrounding this? I imagine that verbally telling your story to a friend is fairly safe, but what about writing it down? I am planning to work on spreading this blog, especially on campus*, and so I would like to know if any issues may arise. I will not name specific names, but I do make allusions to real people, places, and events. I chose not to pursue my case through criminal court, so I don't have anything to back up what I say as fact. I spoke to a friend on Wednesday, and he advised me to put a disclaimer on my blog that says that everything here is my opinion or an account of my experiences as I understand them, which clarifies that this is speech and nothing claiming to be fact, which therefore protects me from accusations of libel.

* I love my campus, but people really need to stop turning away and pretending that rape only happens somewhere else to other people. It does happen here, and I will publicly identify myself as a survivor to try to get people to stop denying the problems we have on campus.

Have I covered my bases?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

PTSD and Sleep

(Lately here on my blog I've kind of veered off into personal musings about stuff, and I want to try to bring it back a little to posts about PTSD that might be helpful for other survivors (or people who want to try to understand what a survivor experiences). I remember being so relieved when I first read personal accounts of PTSD because it meant that I wasn't crazy or making things up and that what I was experiencing was legitimate. In this post I talk about the weird relationship I had with sleep (which was a part of my more complicated relationship with time, in general) during the aftermath of my trauma.)

Sleep is complicated. PTSD can affect sleep habits in several different ways; most often, survivors of a traumatic event have problems falling asleep. A fact sheet by the National Center for PTSD lists several reasons for this, including hyperalertness, physical medical problems (e.g. chronic pain, stomach problems), intrusive worries and thoughts, drug or alcohol abuse, and nightmares.

For the first few months after my trauma, I became nocturnal because I was unable or afraid to sleep. Then I had an abrupt reversal and started to seek sleep to comfort myself, pass the time, and hide from the rest of the world. It has taken me over a year to reach a happy medium without the use of sleep-inducing medication.

(That was the short version of this post. The elaborated version is below.)

I've had a love-hate relationship with sleep since middle school, when I first got internet access at my house. I slept six hours a night in high school and the first two years of college. Then I transferred to my current college, met more people, met more people who stayed up later, and began to stay up much later myself. I had terms where three to four hours a night was normal and five was excellent. Then I had a term with weekly all-nighters, which happened to be when I was first starting to un-repress memories of an abusive relationship, and everything started to spiral downhill. When the incident happened in March of 2009, that was it-- sleep and I were officially at odds with each other.

It happened in the wee hours of the morning, around 5 AM. I stayed up until 8 AM talking about it to a friend, and I was finally so exhausted and worn out that I changed clothes, crawled into bed, and fell asleep for a few hours. It wasn't until the next night that the shock and exhaustion began to wear off and the PTSD symptoms started to set in. I was jumping at the slightest sound, coming to full alertness bordering on wild panic at every little movement or noise. When I tried to sleep that night, the plant on my windowsill rustled and I froze; after that, I couldn't calm down, so I had to leave my room and go downstairs to be in the light with people I knew and felt safe with.

My relationship with sleep became erratic. In the months before the incident, when I was already wading through murky and sometimes severe depression, I had begun to use sleeping as a method of fighting off severe depressive episodes-- my rationale was that if I couldn't be happy, I might as well be comfortable. I would huddle in my bed with my stuffed dog and stare at the wall or cry until I fell asleep. Things were usually better when I woke up two hours later.

However, after I was raped, nighttime terrified me. As my friends began to drift off in search of their beds around midnight or so, I busied myself making sure I had plenty of diversions for the night-- usually novels and movies to pass the time and keep myself entertained or at the very least occupied. Around 1 AM, I would turn on all the lights in my room and settle in for the quiet hours, as I called them. If I was well-prepared for the night, I actually enjoyed it-- there was something about the peacefulness of the seemingly endless night that soothed me. I felt like I could somehow stay this way forever and ward off the coming of the next day. When the sun finally came up around 7 AM, the vague notion of sleep would make its first pass through my mind, and I would finally allow myself to drift off between 7-9 AM. I would then wake up around 4-5 PM and pass the time playing spider solitaire on my laptop until a friend of mine (who was absolutely instrumental in taking care of me and to whom I absolutely owe my sanity) left work and came to find me.

I think my problems with sleep were inextricably linked to my disorientation and lost sense of time. For about three months after my rape, it felt like time had stopped completely for me. I'm not sure how to explain it-- I felt frozen, stuck in the moment, unable to move on with my life. After the first week, it became clear to me that everyone else's lives were still moving forward, and it was extremely disorienting to watch that while I myself was incapable of basic things like eating and sleeping. I honestly don't remember most of those three months. I remember certain specific events, like going to the police station and the hospital and meeting with my dean, and I remember one night when I watched Sense and Sensibility and read Crown Duel/Court Duel by Sherwood Smith, and actually felt completely content. Otherwise, I have no idea how I spent those three months. This would have been my senior spring, my last term as an undergraduate, and I don't remember how I spent most of it. I don't know where those three months of my life went.

My sleep schedule started to fix itself when I became closer to the friend I mentioned previously. We began to sleep together (platonically, just sleep) in the TV room downstairs. Since he had a job with normal hours, he had some semblance of a sleep schedule, and I kind of went along with it. It became a ritual to watch Star Trek then fall asleep. I think not sleeping alone helped a lot, because I could be comforted when I had nightmares or woke up tensed in fear of some unknown thing.

In May we started officially dating. I got a small part-time job for the summer in the afternoons everyday. I would wake up around 9:30 when he left for work, then go back to sleep until 1 PM, wake up, eat lunch, go to work, then meet back up with him at 5 PM. Sleep became less frightening and anxiety-ridden, and I soon grew to see it as comforting.

After a few especially severe depressive/suicidal episodes at the beginning of the summer, my therapist recommended that I see a psychiatrist about medication. She put me on Zoloft, and I suddenly started wanting to sleep 12+ hours a day. I'd come home from work and want to fall asleep right after dinner. Sometimes I would go to sleep at 8 PM or 9PM -- absolutely unheard of since early elementary school. In the fall I got a part-time job with more hours. I became obsessed with sleep, anxious that I wouldn't get enough, afraid that I would be tired the next day. I was convinced that sleep was The Most Important Thing In The World, the be-all-end-all of, well, everything.

Suddenly I started having a hard time falling asleep. Panicked, I got a prescription for Ambien from my psychiatrist. I took one pill religiously every night, my anxiety abated, and I was finally able to sleep. On hindsight, I see now that my trouble falling asleep was probably because I was so anxious about not being able to fall asleep. (Productive cycle, no?) I've always been pretty good about drifting off within a few minutes of my head hitting the pillow, so it wasn't actual biological insomnia; it was the fear of being tired the next day that caused me so much anxiety that I was unable to fall asleep. And so I turned to the idea of the little pill-- importantly, not necessarily the pill itself, just the idea of it-- to soothe myself and allow myself to fall asleep. I couldn't-- or wouldn't?-- sleep without taking the pill.

I took Ambien every night for almost a year. I had some notably terrifying nightmares, but oddly enough, none of the actual rape itself. I had one horrifically violent dream that I could not get out of my head for days, another that played like a movie with an acquaintance-rape scenario starring yours truly, but most of my nightmares were about the aftermath and people's harsh, hurtful reactions. Those I woke up sobbing to, countless times over the course of the year.

Finally, the moment I'd been waiting for came-- I was going to return to classes to finish what was left of my degree. Oddly enough, it was my parents who convinced me to try sleeping without Ambien, and through the most unexpected way: my mom told me about her college years and convinced me that college was more flexible than work, so I could sleep when I needed to. She told me that if I couldn't fall asleep at night, I could wake up and read or play games or amuse myself somehow, and sleep later during the day when I was tired. She finally impressed upon me that sleep was not the be-all-end-all of college, and so one night I tried sleeping without taking Ambien. Lo and behold-- it was exactly the same as sleeping with it. I had absolutely no problem falling asleep once I convinced myself that it was okay if I couldn't.

Since then sleep and I have reached a truce of sorts. I now try to sleep nine hours a night if I can (I usually end up getting six to seven and napping once during the day). I have been off Ambien since the beginning of the summer. I'm actually working on lowering the dosage of my SSRI too, so eventually I will be able to stand on my own two feet again without medication. Despite the complicated relationship I've had with sleep (yes, reference to Facebook silliness fully intended), we seem to be doing okay now.

And we plan to live happily ever after. 

The End!

Monday, November 2, 2009

"Hey, er, sweetie? I have something I want to tell you..."

The topic of this post was suggested to me by a friend. (Thank you!) It's a follow-up to my How To Tell A Friend post.

How Do You Tell A [Potential] Significant Other?

When do you tell him/her? What do you say? What reactions should you look for? How much can you expect?

The worries are endless. This is trickier than telling a friend, because on the one hand, you want to make this all work out and you hope your [potential] significant other will be fine with it, but on the other, you want to figure out right then and there if s/he is actually comfortable with it-- no self-delusion here. As sad as I would be if someone I was interested in decided he wasn't comfortable with me because of my passion for survivor advocacy, I would rather know now than be more hurt later on, because that's a part of who I am and I won't give it up. If someone rejects my friendship because of it, I would probably judge them for it, but I do try to understand and accept that not every guy is going to be the right kind of caring, interest, and support for me, and so he and I might just be better off as friends. The bar is higher for a relationship, and this is one test for you to see if s/he passes.

So, I'll be honest here-- I've only ever had to do this once, and I was so nervous about it that I wrote out a little script for myself. Let's start with that:

There's something about me that I want to share with you. Some of this you might have deduced from earlier conversations with me. You know that I took a year and half off, right? Part of the reason was that I needed to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and so I went out to work and explore different fields. I was also really burnt out from classes. But the main reason I went on leave my senior spring was for post-traumatic stress disorder-- for several instances of rape and coercion in my earlier college years, and the one final time my senior spring that set it all off.

I don't want to burden you with more information than you want to hear, but I am willing to share some of the details if you want to know. I am not ashamed of what happened to me, and I am willing to talk about it. I understand that this makes some people uncomfortable, though. This is why I wanted to tell you now, so you know, and so you can decide if you're still comfortable with me. I won't judge you or be upset with you if you're not. It's all right.

(Why would anyone be uncomfortable with me because of this, you ask? For some people, it's because they still believe myths about rape. Some people would feel like I wanted it, or enjoyed it, or deserved it. For others, it's because now I'm somehow sullied or tainted. But for many, it's just a general sense of discomfort, that somehow I remind them that anyone could be a victim of assault. I certainly talk about the issues of rape and sexual assault a great deal; it's become a passion of mine, and I am not ashamed of what happened to me. This makes some people uncomfortable.)

So I guess this is what I want to say: if this affects our friendship, I will be a little hurt. But I would understand if you would rather just be friends and not something more, because this is an important issue in my life. For what it's worth, I like you, and I'd like to see where this goes, but I wanted to tell you this now, so you can make a decision about whether or not you're still comfortable with me, now that you know this. If you have any doubts, better you acknowledge them now rather than later.

If you need some time to think about this, that's fine. I'll give you space until you decide you'd like to discuss it.

That general script worked out fine for me, I think, because he had already guessed to some degree. I talk about the issue of sexual assault and rape culture and PTSD a lot. To my friends, definitely, but in particular to anyone I'm interested in being more than friends with. I'm not sure if I do this on purpose or if I do it just because my passion about this spills over into everything (and sometimes I talk a lot), but it kind of primes them for The Talk, I guess? It's like testing the waters. If they seem okay with it from brief mentions and allusions, then I'll step it up a little more, then finally actually sit down with them and talk.

(Side note: It makes having this blog a little awkward, actually. It's my major project right now, so I like to talk to my friends about how things are going with it, but I try to make sure people know my story before they find this so they can hear it first from me and not just get overwhelmed by me doing nothing but talking about it here. While I do try to find the right time to tell friends, it's not something I stress about as much as trying to figure out the Opportune Moment to tell someone I'm interested in.)

So, yes, I don't really have great answers to all the questions at the beginning, because I've only ever had to do this once (and things with him didn't work out soon afterward for various reasons, so I don't even really have long-term feedback and success evaluation). I think the only tidbit I picked up from my one experience is that it's a good idea to try to test the waters little by little to see how your [potential] significant other responds, and then if things look good, talk to him/her towards the beginning of the relationship. You don't have to spill your guts, but at least put the notion in his/her head that a) this is a major part of your life and who you are; b) you are not ashamed of it because you shouldn't be; and c) it's up to him/her to adapt and respond appropriately. The ball's in their court now.


Non-sequitur of the moment (NOM?)

I am going to beat the next person who


Pet peeve as a sociolinguist: propagation of the "the Eskimo language has 50/200/1000/etc. words for snow" myth.

1) There is no such language as "Eskimo." There are a number of Eskimo-Aleut languages.
2a) Franz Boaz, the linguist/anthropologist who started this all, said that there were four distinct roots for snow. Roots, not words. Also four-- where do all these other numbers come from?
2b) Eskimo languages, like many native North American languages, are polysynthetic. Therefore, by the popular definition of "word" (i.e. freestanding set of letters/sounds that is unique), the number of Eskimo words for snow is basically as large as the number of English sentences that can contain "snow."

Bill Bryson, you disappoint me. I will be returning The Mother Tongue to the library tomorrow after having read only the first chapter because you didn't bother to do your research. I will also most likely never read any of your other books because I lost my respect for you as an author. Fail.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Some scattered ponderings on revenge and justification for taking a life

This past week, I had several assignments due (hence the total absence of updates). One of them was film notes for the movie Dead Man Walking. It's a 1995 award-winning US film, with Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. Brief summary taken from IMdb:

A caring nun receives a desperate letter from a death row inmate trying to find help to avoid execution for murder. Over the course of the time to the convict's death, the nun begins to show empathy, not only with the pathetic man, but also with the victims and their families. In the end, that nun must decide how she will deal with the paradox of caring for that condemned man while understanding the heinousness of his crimes.

The man was on death row for rape and murder. I decided to write my film notes on the history of capital punishment, to give the readers a little social context for the movie. However, I have not actually seen the film; I borrowed the DVD from the library, and I could have seen the showing here on campus tonight, but I wasn't sure I was ready to see it, not just because of the brutal rape scene(s) in the film, but more because I wasn't sure I could contain my emotions if I felt there was sympathy for the rapist.

I have been thinking a lot about healing, revenge, and the taking of a life lately. It started a while ago with the debate I had about abortion of a pregnancy resulting from rape. Surprisingly, the debate was fairly civil, and it actually got me thinking. I personally believe that women have the right to choose, and that life does not begin immediately at conception. However, I talked to several people who do believe that life begins at conception, and that all life is sacred, and therefore do not support abortion even after rape or incest. At first I was fuming, with smoke coming out of my ears and all that jazz, but after I calmed down and talked to a (for what it's worth, pro-choice) friend online, I began to understand a little more. I have developed a respectful agree-to-disagree stance with the people I debated with, and I emphasize "respectful," because I respect that their views are at least consistent. If they do not support abortion because it is murder, then it's still murder no matter how the pregnancy happened. I disagree with them because of our differing views on when life begins. Fair enough-- agreeing to disagree here works.

That makes me wonder about people who condemn abortion except in the case of rape/incest. They can't be condemning abortion because it's murder, so what are their reasons? The only thing I can think of is that it's a moral judgment against women who choose to have sex when they do not want children. Because rape and incest victims did not have that choice, they are protected from that moral judgment and so abortion is an acceptable option. While of course I agree strongly with that sentiment, I'm frowning at the original moral judgment bit. I don't think laws should be passed to regulate lifestyle choices, and I say this as someone who herself has a hard time not frowning at women who are irresponsible about protection during sex and therefore need to have multiple abortions (does that make me not completely pro-choice? I don't know). While I'm glad that there are people who understand the terrible situation rape and incest victims are in, I'm not sure how I feel about this middle-ground moral judgment situation in general. I admit that I have not had the time to do much reading about this stance, so I apologize in advance if I have made some egregious errors in my reasoning, and I welcome all kinds of explanations and insights if you have any to offer.

Anyway, back to the original topic-- Dead Man Walking. As I was researching the death penalty for my film notes, I of course stumbled upon arguments both for and against capital punishment, in both abstract/moral and pragmatic realms. One thing that struck me and embedded itself in my memory was someone's statement that the death penalty isn't justice-- it's revenge. It's taking someone else's life out of anger for what happened to you or a loved one. So there's abortion--taking the life of a child to try to salvage your own life*-- and then there's the death penalty, taking the life of the perpetrator him/herself. It made me ponder things like revenge and forgiveness.

*assuming you believe that life begins at conception and that you would heal better without carrying the child to term

Lex talionis: "an eye for an eye." This sentiment is often condemned as barbaric, but is it so wrong? Let's say we apply it not one hundred percent literally, and it more or less means revenge of some sort. I'm going to go out on a limb (i.e. my intuition) here and say that most people would not be in support of vigilante justice, the whole taking-matters-into-your-own-hands kind of thing, so the only vehicle of revenge is the state and its judicial system. Is it so wrong to want revenge against someone who has ruined your life or the life of someone you love? If someone steals something, they are fined and/or jailed. If someone commits rape or murder, which I think we would all agree is a more serious crime than theft, why shouldn't they be punished accordingly? I feel like a lot of the anti-capital punishment sentiment is that victims' families are acting selfishly by wanting to take the perpetrator's life in revenge for the life of their lost loved one. Speaking of selfishness, I've been told that I was being selfish by asking someone I used to consider a friend to not make rape jokes to or around me. If that's selfish, I'm not sure that's so bad.

On the flip side of revenge, I began to think about forgiveness. Personally, I guess I've been more inclined to forgive than to continue to hate and condemn. In the first case, in one of my relationships, I realized that his intent was never malicious. While being pressured and coerced and forced into non-consensual acts was damaging to my mental health, time has helped me see that we were both young and terrible at communication, and so I was able to work through my feelings, forgive him, and become friends with him again. In the second case, I will never see the man again. He's not stupid, and I think he knows to keep far away from me or my family. I know it was pre-meditated. He is a terrible person, and I sincerely, fervently hope that the threat of being prosecuted and jailed has scared him into never attempting to rape anyone ever again. However, the combination of time, distance, and therapy has lessened/dulled my anger at him, almost to the point where I don't waste the energy to hate him anymore. He means nothing to me, and therefore is not worth my time or thought.

Which leads me back to two previous posts I've made, where I tried to vent my anger and frustration at former friends/acquaintances of mine whom I do genuinely hate. The man who raped me is far, far away, and does not directly affect me anymore. However, people around me, people who knew me before it happened and still know me and still see me-- it does make me angry that they have so arrogantly dismissed requests for sensitivity. I cannot help but hate them. What does it mean that I have let go of my hate for the rapist but not for these people? I feel like their actions are just as awful. It is precisely because of them that rape culture flourishes and rapists feel free to do as they please. While the public can generally be convinced to condemn a proven rapist, it is almost impossible to ask anyone to hold these other people accountable for their rape-supporting attitudes. Because they are free to express their virulent, harmful views and rarely will anyone confront them about it, these people are just as terrible as the rapists themselves. I am by no means minimizing my utter condemnation of rapists-- I am saying that I think more people should be held accountable for the frightening rape culture that exists in America and so many other parts of the world today.

I wish I had a profound conclusion to put here that would tie everything together, but I don't. :-(  All I have to offer is my set of scattered thoughts. I do apologize for not having structured my post terribly well. I think I touched upon a couple issues that I'd like to elaborate on in future posts.

I should also put a disclaimer here that my views on abortion and capital punishment should be taken with a grain of salt, because I am writing as a woman who thankfully has never had to request an abortion, as a survivor who chose not to pursue charges through criminal court, and especially as a college student who has not had the time to thoroughly research any of these issues. *sheepish look*

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Directness or Indirectness When Approaching a Friend in an Abusive Relationship?

I just came out of a discussion group on relationship abuse and domestic violence. I'm mulling over some of the different things we talked about, like subtle signs of abuse and how to approach a friend, especially if s/he is still not quite at the stage to be able to recognize the warning signs him/herself. A lot of what I heard from the other students in the group is that it's really important to be careful when talking to your friend, because they may not want to hear it, or they may need to come to the conclusion that what they're in is unhealthy by themselves. Most people suggested bringing things up casually, and not actually saying what you're noticing or worried about outright. The name of the game seemed to be casual indirectness.

I'm not sure I agree with this. I think my own personal experience with two different abusive relationships has significantly clouded my views, though. In my first unhealthy relationship, the main element was isolation. Even when I discovered for myself that things were not okay, I didn't have anyone to talk to. I fell into severe depression, and I repressed every instance of sexual coercion until I could even begin to think about it a year later. I desperately wanted someone to notice and to talk to me, to reach out to me first and confirm my growing suspicions and dread, but I was so isolated that I figured no one approached me because no one knew. However, in the second abusive relationship I was in, I know people knew. The walls in my fraternity house are very thin, and there was enough screaming and crying and door slamming that there was no way the people around me could not know. But still, no one ever approached me, no one ever asked me if I was okay. There were people I had superficial "Hi, how are you?"/"Great, thanks!" relationships with who had to have known but never ever showed signs that they noticed or cared. That, I think, was what kept me in that painful relationship for so long-- the conviction that I had no one to turn to even if I left.

The rampant, wrenching self-doubt that pervades a victim of relationship violence is most enabled by other people's indifference. In both of my situations, I needed someone to approach me and say that they noticed, they cared, and most importantly, that the situation I was in was unhealthy, abusive, and not okay. It's not because I didn't know that I was in a bad situation; I'm a smart person who has read the literature and gotten the same talk as you did in middle school health class. Many people who end up in abusive situations are smart people who know, deep-down, that something is wrong. It might actually be their intelligence that binds them, because it suppresses their gut instinct, that little voice that tells them something is wrong, and causes them to rely on external validation. (Think scientific method, think burden of proof, think of all those things you learn in school. Education taught you to doubt what you think instinctively or what you're told until you receive absolute proof.)

Reading those lists of warning signs is usually not enough. Receiving general information about relationship abuse doesn't prepare you to diagnose yourself or find the strength to help yourself. Making that jump from a theoretical abusive situation to the one right in front of your eyes is one of the hardest things for an emotionally exhausted person to do. Even in what seems like the most clear-cut case to me now-- like the night when I was raped-- I needed someone to tell me it was rape for me to even try to begin feeling okay with believing it. I wanted so desperately to be able to call it rape, to put a name on it and to begin to distance myself from something I could identify as not my fault, but I needed someone else's input. I needed someone to agree with what the little voice in my mind was telling me. I just needed to hear it from someone, to have that particular combination of "I care enough to approach you" and "I notice too; you're not just making it all up."

Is that weird? Is wanting someone to come in and echo your thoughts, to be your mirror and your support, the exception instead of the norm? As I listened to these other students discuss ways to beat around the bush with a friend who is involved in something clearly unhealthy, I couldn't help but wonder why no one advocated being straightforward and calling it what it was. It definitely depends on the person-- I can see how some people might react with defensiveness-- but there are people who need to hear it from someone else to have the strength to take action for themselves. Please remember that these people do exist.

I wish I could describe how to tell if someone is like that. It breaks my heart to think there might be someone out there who is stuck and feeling helpless and wondering if people really can't see. I guess the best I can do is to say that if you're trying to decide whether to approach someone and ask if they're okay, do it. Maybe you're afraid that your friend might lash out defensively and stop talking to you; that's a legitimate concern, and sure, some people might do that, but please don't let that stop you from trying, because there are people out there who hope someone will take that first step and talk to them. It can be intimidating to try to talk to someone, and you might feel like you don't know the right thing to say, but as long as you're supportive and nonjudgmental, it's always helpful to know that someone notices and cares.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Suicide Prevention Training Workshop Post, Part 2

I was thinking about this downstairs as I tried to clear my mind while separating pumpkin seeds from pumpkin innards. I guess this is what I wanted to say in the last post, in case it wasn't clear:

If you feel suicidal, I'm sorry. 
I hope you get the help you deserve;
I do care. 
I want to try to do as much as I can to help, but I'm not perfect, 
Just well-intentioned. 

If I don't notice, 
I'm sorry. 
Sometimes I notice that you're depressed but I don't know what to do; 
I'm sorry. 
Sometimes I notice you're depressed when I'm also depressed, and I don't have the emotional energy to do much more than just keep myself functioning; 
I'm sorry.  

Sometimes I can relate to you and your pain;
I'm sorry that you're going through this.
Sometimes I can't relate to your pain;
I'm just as sorry that you're going through this.

Sometimes I say the wrong thing;
I'm sorry.
Sometimes I can only look on helplessly, giving you the half-smile-half-grimace of sympathy like this :-/ ;
I'm sorry.
When you're feeling sad, or hopeless, or lost,
I really am sorry.

I do want to try to help,
But I don't always know;
I don't always know the perfect thing to do;
I don't always know what will make you better.
But please know that I care.
I appreciate you, and
My life would be emptier without you.

Brushes with suicide and how to try to help someone

Earlier this afternoon, some friends and I went to a one-hour-long Suicide Prevention Training Workshop by the QPR Institute. I went for a number of reasons, even though I knew I might be triggered. I went because I wanted to learn something new, something I couldn't just pick up from reading a webpage or a pamphlet. I also went because I wanted to see what they would try to teach the participants about noticing warning signs and helping someone who is contemplating ending their life. I wanted to see what people are being told about suicide prevention, these people that I, or you, or someone else, may one day turn to in a time of need.

I was disappointed. The presentation was boring, dry, and all typed up on a powerpoint, and I felt like it served to perpetuate the feeling that suicide is still just a theoretical problem. The model was Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR): ask someone if they are suicidal, persuade them to hang on, and refer them to someone better trained to handle these situations, e.g. a counselor. Sounds great, right? It's the perfect model to use to teach well-intentioned but clueless people because it sounds so neat and effective.

I went through a period of my life where I contemplated suicide somewhat regularly. It was always impulsive, in a situation of extreme emotional pain when I simply didn't know how to continue and just wanted to stop existing. Only once did I ever go so far as to plan out and begin to write a suicide note and seriously consider taking pills; that was the day my previous therapist told me I was using my rape as an excuse to not follow her strict treatment regiment for Borderline Personality Disorder (which is what she had diagnosed me with). Let's take a trip down memory lane...

This was one month after I was raped my senior spring. I kept wanting to talk about it with my therapist at the time, but she kept pushing the discussion back to breathing exercises and meditation (a Zen-based treatment for BPD, I guess?). When I tried to explain that I didn't think these exercises were working, she told me it was because I wasn't trying hard enough. She chastised me and voiced her disapproval at what she saw as stubbornness or laziness. I left her office both angry and depressed, oscillating between feeling outraged that my therapist would turn such a deaf ear to what I needed to say and feeling like a complete failure.

I returned to my fraternity house crying; no one noticed. I went up to my room and just sat there. I don't remember how I passed the next few hours-- sleeping, crying, staring at the wall, curled up under the covers, I honestly don't remember. Then a close friend of mine, someone I trusted and cared about and liked as more than a friend, came home from work, and came up to see me. He was exhausted because he'd been staying up late with me a lot but he had a regular job so the lack of sleep was getting to him. I remember being quieter than usual. I had stopped crying and raging because I had reached the absolute limit and was writing out a suicide note in my head. It calmed me, and I felt myself being lifted out of my depression a little; it was almost like there was hope, after all, because it would be all over soon. This friend of mine, we'll call him Z*, was hanging out with me in my room, clearly exhausted, and I was telling him he could just sleep in my room, that I would be fine. Somehow, though, he realized that something was terribly, terribly wrong, without me saying much at all, and he basically kidnapped me on my way back from the bathroom, rushed me out the door to put me in his car, and took me for a drive. Later during what ended up being a meandering several-hours-long drive, I opened up to him a little about what had happened with my therapist earlier that day. It felt timeless, somehow, like he had all the time in the world to spend with me and hear me and help me, so I trusted him. He saved my life.

That experience will always stay with me. I was depressed a lot during that spring and summer, but somehow, the one day when I needed it most, he knew pretty much exactly what to do. However, I cannot count on someone always recognizing the signs in me, and I cannot count on instinctively knowing how to help someone else. I only feel confident in my ability to help someone when I can relate to them, when they seem to be a mirror image of my past self somehow. When I see someone crying, or seriously depressed in the silent, somber, detached kind of way, I reach back into the depths of my own experience and try to do for them what I wish someone had done for me. When I read posts on the Pandora's Aquarium message board by survivors reaching out for help, I try to be as supportive as I can, and I write what I wish someone had said to me. While still shaky and not quite 100% healed myself, sometimes I can use what I have gone through to try to help others.

However, I am completely at a loss when someone doesn't react to sadness and hopelessness like I do. I don't know how to handle bitter anger. I don't know how to handle intellectually depressed people, i.e. people who lead you on philosophical or psychological debates when you try to help them. I don't know how to handle people in strong denial. I don't know how to talk to someone who intimidates me because they've helped me before so I feel like I'm their subordinate so who am I to try to help them? I am afraid to talk to people because my emotional capacity to empathize shrank so abruptly when I got hit by a truck, also known as PTSD, and I haven't quite regained it all yet. I remember being terrified one day last spring when someone was sitting in the chapter room, obviously sad, and I went to talk to them, not because I could really empathize and feel their pain and really want to help, but because I knew I used to be able to empathize and I knew what I would have done in the past and I knew what as a friend I was supposed to do. My ability to take on other people's pain had disappeared, and I felt awful, like I was somehow fake or cold or not quite a person anymore.

I think I've wandered off the track in this post, and I'm trying to figure out where this was all supposed to lead. I guess I wanted to reflect on how the QPR training session I went to brought back all these memories and how the prescribed method in the training session felt so contrived and unhelpful to me today. Personally, the resource I have found most helpful has been this page. I've linked to it before, in the post I wrote to try to help anyone thinking about suicide. I don't know if it will work for everyone, but that is the model I will try to follow if I ever have to help someone who is contemplating suicide.

I'm kind of emotionally drained right now. When I was planning this blog post on the walk home, I had so many ideas about what to say and where to go with it, but I've lost them. I didn't have enough time after the workshop to think about it and debrief with myself and my blog before I had to go to another meeting, where the tone was completely different and I had to put aside all those feelings because everything was lighthearted and not at all about depression and suicide.

I'm feeling really lost right now. I might have to just post this now and return to this topic later.

(To be continued...?)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"Hey-- I have something I want to tell you..."

Dear Readers,

I have a dilemma. When I become closer to new friends I make, I want to tell them about this part of my life. I want to share my story with them and help them see why this is an issue I am so passionate about.

I, however, am awkward. :(

I don't really know the best way to tell people. I feel like this isn't something I should just blurt out, so I try to preface it with "I have something I want to share with you." Isn't that an awkward phrase, in all its incarnations? I certainly think so. It's even worse if it's a set-up meeting, like if I email someone to say "I'd like to sit down and talk with you at some point." And then we meet up, and maybe they follow me somewhere, and they sit down awkwardly, wondering why kind of bad news this might be. To make matters worse, I'm usually never upset when I tell people-- I'm usually in a very calm, normal, even cheerful kind of mood. How's that for cognitive dissonance?

So what I've been doing lately is starting by asking if they remember how I took a year and a half off during my senior year. They pretty much all do, since I'm, y'know, a member of the class of 2008. The reason I've always given to people at first is that I was burnt out and having a change of heart with what I wanted to do after I graduated so I took some time off to work and get re-energized and re-organized. And so now I tell them that I also took the time off for medical leave, for post-traumatic stress disorder. This is usually when I start to see a look of increasing cognition in their eyes, the knowledge that I'm about to reveal something awful that happened to me at some point. And that's when I say I was raped. I usually only mention the occurrence my senior spring; I used to tell people it wasn't the first time, that I've been sexually assaulted in the context of a relationship before, but I've stopped doing so for several reasons: I've forgiven him, because I understand that it wasn't malicious, and because it doesn't usually help with the inherent uncomfortableness of telling someone to add an "And by the way, that wasn't the first time..."

So yeah. Now there's an awkward silence. There's always an awkward silence. This is when I add that it happened at my fraternity house, by a brother of my own fraternity. Aaaaand then I run out of things to say, so I fidget, and feel bad that I'm saying this all so matter-of-factly, and I muse about how it would probably have been easier had I been crying or somehow visibly upset because then they can give me a hug and not feel so awkward and useless as they stand there and try to figure out how to react.

For me, it's like telling someone about some events that happened at some point to someone-- not even really a story, because when I tell stories, I usually try to project and inflect and use my tone and body language to convey nuances of the story that my words overlook. But I don't know what nuances there are in this story, in my story. There is an event. There are some additional details. And there is awkward silence. What else is there? What more can I add? What else can I say?

I feel like I'm going about and doing this all wrong. Maybe I shouldn't make it so scripted, so set apart from the happenings of daily life. Maybe I shouldn't make a distinct decision to tell them at all, and just say it when it feels right. But I don't think there will ever be an appropriate moment to just suddenly inform someone that I was raped, at least not in any way that isn't antagonistic-- e.g. if someone makes a particularly tasteless rape joke and I feel like smashing the mood and grinding it to pieces beneath my heavy black femmenazi steel-toed boots. I just don't know. This is something I want to share with people. This is something I want them to know so they can be conscious of not just what I'm dealing with but really more of the issue in general. I want them to realize that rape is not something that happens somewhere out there to other people, not something that befalls women who may or may not have deserved it, not something that is wielded about gratuitously by angry butch feminists who burn bras and threaten to topple male society. Rape is real, and it does happen to people you know. That is part of what I want to say.

But they, these people I am telling, they are my friends. Most of them will be as sensitive and caring as they know how to be; they don't deserve to be the full target of my anger at other people who insist on denying and disbelieving. I feel like there has to be a way for me to drop the weight of this revelation on them without crushing them unduly. How can I make this a dialogue? How can I tell my story but also invite them to share their thoughts and impressions with me?

One thing I learned recently is that a reason TMI ("too much information") makes conversations so awkward is that the receiver of the information feels compelled to reciprocate. It puts the listener on the spot, and that's not my intention at all. To address this, what I've been doing is wringing my hands awkwardly  and trying, haltingly, to reassure them that they don't need to reveal something of equal magnitude to me, that they don't have to reveal anything at all. And then they look like they feel bad because they're listening but they don't know what to say, and I feel helpless because I don't know how to fix this situation.

I always wonder what they're thinking when I tell them. I'm sure many factors come into play, such as how out of the blue this conversation was, how well they know me, how much they've already guessed. I always wonder how odd it is for them to hear this from someone who is so calm and detached from their words, from someone who doesn't herself understand why telling people has become an emotionless recitation of short sentences and a puzzling array of silences around which to navigate. I don't know where my emotions are. I don't know if they are buried or simply not there. Maybe last year I cleaned the store all out and it hasn't restocked. Sometimes I think about crying, but I can't, because it's not thinking about the event anymore that makes me sad or angry or any kind of emotional (other than panicky, sometimes). It's thinking about the aftermath, and that's a can of worms I try not to open up on the first date with someone who didn't realize what they were getting into when they agreed to listen to me. Whenever I talk about the aftermath, the emotions bubble up and out and overflow everywhere, into my words, my voice, my tears, but it's like a floodgate opening, all at once and sudden and intensely drowning. But not the telling of the events of March 25-26. I don't have the emotions for those; I lost the tape for the audio book and can only show you the pictures and sentences on the page.

How can I make this better? Believe it or not, this is not a rhetorical question-- I do want your input. If I told you about this in person, do you remember how I did it? Is there anything I could have said or done to make it less awkward? Could I have made it more of a dialogue between us somehow? If I never had the chance to tell you in person and you found out through some online means, can you imagine a conversation we might have that would work out well?

Now that it's been a year and a half later, I'm not just telling people because I need an outlet to share my pain. I want to tell people so they understand my intense drive to try to fix the world for rape survivors. I want to tell people so I can show them this blog and ask them to show others to spread the word. I want to tell people because this is part of who I am and I am not ashamed of it. There's so much I want that I don't know how to achieve. Please share some insight with me-- I'd appreciate it!

Awkward in Amsterdam
(...except I'm not really in Amsterdam.)

Once Upon A Time, There Was A Bully.

There's someone I hate more than the man who raped me. This person has done his very best to insult and degrade me each time I've had to tell him about the traumas I've been through. He was in a position of power over me each time-- once as a significant other, once as an officer of the fraternity to which we both belonged. He has spouted every kind of vitriol ranging from accusing me of liking it to asking me if it was "really rape, not like the last time" which was also rape, just one he didn't believe, to telling me to keep quiet because if word that a rape occurred in our fraternity, it would ruin our reputation on campus and no one would want to come to our house anymore.

I remember that conversation well. It was a conversation I was forced to have, as he wielded his officership over me and demanded to know what had happened. His words bit deep into my memory, reminding me of the traumatic few days that followed the rape. I vividly remember the tears of anger and frustration that stung my eyes as he lounged so nonchalantly, so arrogantly in the chair across from me. I remember telling myself that he and I have a rocky history, that he despises me-- a fact that he declares publicly to anyone who cares to listen-- which means that I shouldn't take his words to heart, but I can't help it, and the words sink in anyway.

Over the course of the next few months, my fraternity does nothing to prove him wrong or hold him accountable as an officer for trying to silence a rape victim. When I'm not crying my heart out in pain or lost and dissociated for hours on end, I seethe and I rage at the apathy that has alienated me so. In many respects he represents all that was wrong with how my fraternity handled the situation, and even much of what is wrong in the world. Victim-blaming, victim-shaming, ignorance, and the arrogance to believe he is always right-- these are the very seeds that sow rape-culture.

I cannot think of him without the strongest mental repulsion, stronger than that against thoughts about my rape or my rapist himself. I still see him because he is still here. We tend to ignore each other as much as possible. However, today he said something so dismissive and minimizing of my story that the dam broke and my pent up rage abruptly came back. So I did the unthinkable: I informed him that I wanted to speak to him.

I confronted him tonight. I told him how it was absolutely not okay to tell a rape victim to not share her story because it would ruin the reputation of the house. The same faint sneer I am so used to seeing appeared on his face, his expression of total indifference. His claim was that he was thinking solely of legal liability and being sued by the rapist. Yeah, right-- that's total bullshit, because his words to me a year and a half ago were that if news of this got out on campus, people would no longer come by our house and we as a fraternity would be ruined.

He claims he was acting as a high-ranking officer in the house and doing what he thought was appropriate. But I confronted him about his well-publicized dislike (or rather, "completely lack of respect," as I have the honor of being one of the few people he says he has ever lost respect for in his life) of me, and if he would have acted differently had the survivor not been me. His answer? Yes. So first he claims to be acting as an officer of the house, but then admits that it was really about his personal feelings about me. Fantastic! So I informed him that I was glad he would not be so misogynistic against other women and he stalked out of the room.

I was intensely riled up after that fail of a conversation. I raged and I cried and I dug my nails so hard into my palm that I left angry red crescents in my skin. I don't know exactly what it is that bothers me-- the immaturity, the arrogance, the refusal to believe any part of his belief is wrong, the injustice of it all. He actively despises me, a fact I have been informed of repeatedly by his royal highness himself, and has pretty much done everything he can to bully me, guilt me, and hurt me. I absolutely hate him more than I hate the man who raped me. Somehow, though, he remains a welcome member in the house with whom my friends interact on a regular basis. He saves his vitriol only for me, in such a way that no one really believes me or cares enough to intervene. When I vent to them, one moment people are nodding sympathetically, and the next they are conversing friendlily with him.

I feel alienated, even more so than when I was struggling through my intense PTSD last year. People were genuinely sympathetic then, and they shared my anger and hatred of my rapist. It was too easy to hate the man who raped me, as he was someone people were prone to disliking anyway for his personality and prior behavior, someone who lived in another state and would never come back. People united behind hating my rapist; that was the extent of the effort they were willing to put into supporting me. But asking them to judge a current brother of the house for his behavior was too much for me to ask, apparently.

And so I try to deal with my frustration on my own. I don't understand how to handle this; I don't understand how to let this go.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Abortion Of A Pregnancy Resulting From Rape

This video was posted on Facebook by someone I knew growing up. (For what it's worth, she is devoutly Christian, married, and pregnant.)

This video made me sputter and flail angrily.

Great. So after that fantastically guilt-trippy wank about "not making the child a victim," a woman in that audience is totally going to go talk to the pastor about how her life was just ruined by a man. Rape is a crime of power, and clearly being guilt-tripped by someone you trust into keeping a child you never wanted from a man you didn't want to be involved with as a reminder of something you never asked for is a GOOD IDEA.

*slow clap* Wow. Giant massive idiot wankery. I like how he framed his entire answer in lots of fluffy "but I really actually care about your feelings!"

It's late, I have an exam tomorrow morning, and so I should go to bed, but this is the first of probably several posts that will express my HULK SMASHY RAGE over this. I will try to be more coherent and less sputteringly angry in the future.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Song: "Remember The Tinman" -- Tracy Chapman

A little bittersweet, touching, ultimately empowering? Not triggering.

There are locks on the doors
And chains stretched across all the entries to the inside
There's a gate and a fence
And bars to protect from only God knows what lurks outside
Who stole your heart left you with a space
That no one and nothing can fill
Who stole your heart 

Who took it away
Knowing that without it you can't live
Who took away the part so essential to the whole
Left you a hollow body
Skin and bone
What robber what thief who stole your heart and the key
Who stole your heart
The smile from your face
The innocence 

The light from your eyes
But still all sentiment is gone
But still you have no trust in no one
If you can tear down the walls
Throw your armor away remove all roadblocks barricades
If you can forget there are bandits and dragons to slay
And don't forget that you defend an empty space
And remember the tinman
Found he had what he thought he lacked
Remember the tinman
Go find your heart and take it back
Who stole your heart
Maybe no one can say
One day you will find it I pray

Monday, October 12, 2009

Song: "Stronger" -- Sugababes

Empowering song about strength and moving on; not triggering.

Sometimes I feel so down and out
Like emotion that's been captured in a maze
I had my ups and downs
Trials and tribulations,
I overcome it day by day,
Feeling good and almost powerful
A new me, that's what I'm looking for...

Rape Jokes, Part 2 -- aka Women Are Not Always Right

Here's something that's been bugging me lately: people's responses to being asked to not make rape jokes.

Rape Jokes, Part 2: What To Do When Someone Thinks They Made A Funny
aka Women Are Not Always Right

Fugitivus has a brilliant post on this here. First, let's take a look at some of the options of the listener when someone else makes a rape joke (edited version of original post):

  1. Say Nothing. Hope the conversation does not continue extolling the virtues of rape, making saying nothing harder. Hate yourself for saying nothing...Have minor flashbacks of what was done to you... Stop enjoying the day. Stop enjoying the company of your friend. Make a mental note to withdraw from others before they can casually, “jokingly” remind you of your rape. Feel bad...Feel angry...Feel alone and angry. Assume bitterly that you will feel this way forever.
  2. Be Edgy! Jump in with some even MORE offensive humor! Run with the rape joke! Make it even more rape-y!...Settle in with the smug knowledge that you are not like those other broken, damaged, traumatized victims. Withdraw from “those” kinds of victims, who might try and drag you down into their hysteria with them. Throw them to the goddamn wolves. Throw your flashbacks to the goddamn wolves. Toast to rape!
  3. Initiate a Very Serious Conversation, out of nowhere, like. Tell your friend that joke was not funny. Tell him rape is never funny. Keep talking after his face has pinched up in resentment and disgust, because you are RUINING his day and his BEER and his FUNNY. You know you are actually ruining his sense of himself as a good and decent person, but you cannot communicate that to him, because he is smug and disengaged, and you are shaking and stuttering and trying to explain the experience of women to a man who has grown up among women, known women, loved women, and somehow doesn’t know this already, which means he doesn’t want to know, doesn’t care. Feel vulnerable. Feel angry that you feel vulnerable. Consider stopping mid-sentence, getting up, and walking away. Promise yourself that after this you will never speak to this friend again. Immediately break the promise, because you know if you don’t, he will tell everybody that you stopped being friends because you are Andrea Dworkin all of a sudden.
  4. Initiate A Very Serious Conversation Version II: Follow version one, except also disclose to your friend (who thinks rape is funny and exciting) that you have been raped. Be surprised, all over again, that this does not immediately change his perspective, the way it changed yours. Realize that to him, rape is conceptual, even when it has really happened, even when it is real. Wonder if he has raped, without knowing it, because it was just a concept. Realize you now wonder this about every man. Are you Andrea Dworkin? Do you have any right to ruin this lovely summer day by dumping your rape on everybody? Did he? After this, will he now tell everybody that you FREAKED OUT just because you were apparently “RAPED” and you can’t GET OVER IT when it was just a JOKE, SERiously? Will everybody know you have been raped? Will everybody think you are a humorless rape-bot from now on? Feel like shit afterwards. Be reminded that you cannot trust anybody, now. Because you were raped. Because you are Andrea Dworkin. Because you didn’t prosecute. The reasons don’t matter anymore; the result is the same. You are Angry About Being Raped, which just compounds the stain of Being Raped. Add in Unable To Take a Joke, and you are officially Female.
  5. Find Some Other Way. Can’t count on this one; sometimes an alternative pops into your head, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you manage to say “Rape is funny!” and laugh away in such a sarcastic, biting voice that it communicates everything you wanted to say, and you all move on. Or you do what I did, which was threaten to break my beer bottle on the railing and stab my friend in the fucking neck with it if he didn’t shut his fucking maw. Ha ha! I said. A joke! Not really, man. Ha! Am I kidding? Am I? Fun-nay. The simmering rage remains, the distrust, the wondering if you should speak to this person ever again, the flashbacks. But the day moves forward rather than grinding to a screeching halt.

Yeah. So. In the year and a half following my more overt and openly-acknowledged rape, I have been around several people who have made rape jokes. At first, I was so often shocked that I didn't say anything-- I did option #1, where I sat in silence and fought through my panic and depression and unwanted thoughts and memories and feelings on my own. However, I've started to realize that there's no reason why I can't point out their comments and call them out-- I can damn well tell them that they are being hurtful and I can request that they stop. So I've started doing that.

Some of them apologize for being idiots afterward, and while the apology doesn't stop the flashbacks or unfreeze me from my tense, dissociated state, it at least helps. But. BUT! On to the exciting part-- the people who get all defensive and start attacking me for requesting that they stop! I love these people. </sarcasm>

One day, I was walking back from dinner with a friend who has a habit of making off-color jokes because he likes to make people laugh. Of course, we got on to the topic of rape jokes, and of course, we reached the house before we finished and so the discussion continued on in the chapter room, where several other people were sitting. Keep in mind that everyone involved here knows that I was raped. They have seen me cry, and panic, and write livejournal posts about how f*cked up my life was in the months directly following it when I couldn't put my life back together. They know. So guess what some of their responses are?

Some reactions from people I used to consider my friends after I requested that they not make rape jokes, especially not directed at me (because it's happened! don't you love how sensitive people can be?):
  • "My high school friends and I made this joke [specifically, "It's not rape if you yell surprise!"] all the time. I think it's funny, and I'm still going to say it if I want to."
  • Shrug. Look bored and faintly amused at this silly girl who has been raped who thought it would be reasonable to ask you to not make rape jokes because they HURT.
  • "It's so selfish of you to expect the world to revolve around you."
  • "What, would you stop making a joke just because it bothers someone?"

To the last one-- yes! In fact, I would! If someone came up to me and politely asked me not to make x kind of joke because it hurt or offended them in some way, I would apologize and do my best to not do so, at the very least not in their presence. And if I slipped up, I would apologize. I would not get defensive and snippy or superciliously dismissive of their request. Because that's just plain rude and ignorant.

I still think about that conversation, and it infuriates me. And you know what? It wasn't even like those comments were made by ignorant, misogynistic men. They were made by women, women I know who claim to be feminists. Women who sneer outright at the possibility that a rape-culture exists, women who make the problem worse. Most of my male friends were supportive, sensitive, and caring to me during the aftermath of my own experience. Not so with many of my female friends.

Needless to say, they are no longer my friends. I found their reactions to be exceedingly repulsive and contemptible-- and I would have felt that way even if it had not been me who had been hurt by their comments, if it had been someone else whose feelings and polite request were so carelessly dismissed and trodden upon. These comments are steeped in undeserved privilege and refusal to acknowledge other people's experiences and feelings. And that makes me angry.

So I guess what I wanted to say in this post was that rape/sexual assault advocates and feminists often seem tied to man-hating and blaming male privilege and male culture, but men are not always the problem. The reason I had such a hard time healing from my own assault was the women in my life who minimized the trauma I lived through and made me feel like shit when I still thought they were my friends.

So, please, if you hear someone make a comment like that, stand up to them, even if the speaker of the comment is female. Being female doesn't automatically provide "get out of jail free" cards for hurtful, ignorant remarks. Call them out on it. And if they try to use their gender as a defense, tell them that's bullshit, because that's what it is.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

My Story: Another Post

This is a post I wrote to help me cope with the PTSD episode I'm fighting right now. It tells more of my story, albeit in a rather disjointed fashion. I wish I could say I came up with a profound conclusion at the end, but no, it's just a long entry with a jumble of thoughts and excerpts from some of my writing.

Sometimes I can't explain it-- I just shut down, sliding away inside myself, feeling dissociated and disoriented and somehow just not here. I feel myself staring blankly into space; I curl up and am silent, lost, sad. Sometimes I'm actually actively thinking about what happened; sometimes it's just a fleeting thought that thrusts me into this haze, this daze. Sometimes it happens, and I withdraw from the world around me.

It's been happening a bunch lately; I've just Yesterday I was feeling depressed and irritated and suddenly the word "rape" was there, hanging in the air, and that was it-- the doors behind my eyes shut and I had to leave, to go up to my room, where I sat and stared at the wall and couldn't feel anything. Today it was a combination of things, too. So much happened earlier that night, that Friday night last March; it seems so separate from The Event. I started to tell a story tonight-- and people tell this story fairly often-- and then I realized it was That Night, the Same Night, and he was there. Funny how I forget these things. I freeze up when someone else starts to talk about how we were so awesome that time when we went to other houses and stole their pong paddles because our pledges had taken ours hostage in exchange for who-knows-what, I don't remember anymore. But then I start to tell the story, and then midway through I realize where it's going and the words freeze in my mouth and I'm not sure how to continue.

And then there's the shirt. (I seem to focus on items of clothing, don't I?)  This summer I found out that my fraternity still has his shirt. There is a social collection of our official shirts, which we call "blues," and I picked one up one day and saw the name "Anvil" in block letters on its back. I dropped the shirt. Later, I told the president about it, and she shrugged at me and pretty much couldn't care less. We still have his official blues. Wtf.

I am disillusioned with my fraternity (point of clarification: it is co-ed, and he and I were both members of this house). I'm not sure I consider it my house anymore. I don't know if I feel safe here. I don't trust half of my brothers. I remember how I had such ideals about being part of a real family-- and then I remembered how shattered I was to find out that their camaraderie and love only extended to mundane superficial everyday things, that people turn away when the proverbial shit hits the fan and you need them.

Maybe I expected too much, but I don't think I did. I don't think it was unreasonable to expect that no one would tell me to keep it a secret to protect the reputation of the house-- but one of my brothers did say that. He told me it would be my fault if word of my rape got out and the reputation of the house was ruined. I don't think it was unreasonable to expect that everyone would tell the truth during the police investigation, even if they were embarrassed by their own actions-- but one of my brothers didn't. The morning after, my rapist confessed to him, and then proceeded on a long ramble about how I was just a drunk and crazy bitch who actually wanted it but then freaked out afterward. My friend, my brother, listened, said nothing, didn't even tell me about it until a few days after I opened up to him about what had happened to me. He said he was embarrassed by his failure to stand up for me; I told him that it was all right, that I just wanted him to tell the truth about what happened that morning to my fraternity and to the police. He didn't. He had the most important testimony because my rapist confessed to him, and he lied to the police and didn't tell them what he told me.

I still feel guilty about not going through with criminal court. I was not the first girl he hurt; I wanted to be the last. I asked myself why I felt unable to go through with pressing charges, and part of the answer was the lack of support and validation I received from my fraternity. For a long time I struggled with my anger at myself and at people I considered my friends. In February, I wrote a piece for the Speak Out event held on campus. This is an excerpt:

Apathy is just as hurtful as direct antagonism, even more so. I wanted so badly to put him behind bars so he wouldn't hurt anyone else. I went to the police. The criminal court system is not exactly gentle and supportive of rape survivors, and I was terrified but determined. I was willing to come forward to testify if it meant he would stop. But if people who were supposed to be my brothers couldn't rouse themselves to care, how would I convince a jury? How could I find the strength to stand up and finally put a serial rapist behind bars?

When I began to read Susan Brison's account of her trauma, one of her sentences rang raw and true to me: “One of the most difficult aspects of my recovery from the assault was the seeming inability of others to remember what had happened.” I have since distanced myself from that frat, but I am still hurt by their equivocation and non-response. I struggled with my pain and self-doubt, recovery always seeming just out of my reach, every time I realized I could no longer count on my friends. I felt alone, alienated, and betrayed, like my friends had abandoned ship at the first sight of stormy clouds.

Perhaps this is an excessively bitter account of the aftermath of my assault. After months of waiting for support, I finally chose to embark along the path to recovery on my own. I could not go through with criminal charges then, but maybe one day I will find the strength and support to do so. I write this to emphasize that support is crucial for a rape survivor, and that looking away isn't just “trying to not rock the boat.” Not only is it hurtful, but it supports the rapist by default. Equivocation and non-response aid and abet him to continue his predatory behavior. Your support and acknowledgment of the crime really does make all the difference. When it happens, please don't turn away.

A few months later, I did end up returning to that fraternity when I returned to student life on campus. A part of me yearned for the illusion that everything was fine, that the most I had to worry in life was homework, that my life just centered around classes and parties and friends. I came back here partly to try to convince myself that I was over it and everything was fine.

The other reason I came back was that I wanted to make a difference. One of the turning points for me was the Take Back the Night march on campus in April. Here is an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote after it:

At the end of the march, a woman I really respect talked about how allies need to take action to deserve that title. Saying you are an ally against rape means nothing if you do nothing. Her words inspired me to think again, to bring back those year-old feelings of bitterness and examine them. I waited for [my fraternity] to come out strong against rape and do everything within its power to make it clear that victims are supported and rapists condemned. I waited. As time went by, I shrank away and began to hide, watching from the sidelines, because when nothing happened, I felt alone. And then I became bitter because everything stopped and life went on as normal for everyone else while I still struggled. I became bitter, and angry, and frustrated. And I have spent a year in this state, speaking to few of my old friends and wielding my anger blindly, flailing, almost.

It hasn't really done anything, though. Maybe that year away was just for me. But it has done nothing to effect change in anyone or anything else, and this is why I feel compelled to come back.

Sure, I have my grievances against [my fraternity], but when I'm not feeling angry at them, I miss them. I miss having a social space and friends. I want to be back there to help kick-start the change I expected from them. Maybe apathy or the desire to forget won't be so overwhelming when rape is no longer just an abstract idea to be denounced, but rather there is a living, breathing reminder of it in their midst. My anger from afar does nothing to help other victims of rape. I'm not sure it even helps me.

It's time for me to look beyond myself and my bitterness. I want to *do* something. Last night's march was a real turning point for me. I am back-- back with a vengeance. *dramatic music plays*

...No, not really, but I am back, at least. I don't expect this to be easy, but I do expect it to be productive. I really want to use my experiences to make a change. And I can't do it alone. 

I want to believe that I can make a difference, which is one of the reasons I started this blog. I'm still struggling with my feelings about my fraternity. Tonight we had a Rush event, which is when we try to convince people to join us. I felt so out of place, because I wasn't sure I could honestly tell someone about how cool we are, about how we're a family that takes care of each other. I still attribute much of the intensity and duration of my PTSD to the lack of support and validation I received from said "family." I still wonder if I might have been able to go through with pressing charges if I hadn't felt so alienated and dismissed by people I considered my friends. So many "what if"s, so many "I wonder"s.

I'm not exactly sure what I'm doing here. I really do want to make a difference. I am considering going to grad school to pursue this passion academically, to study post-traumatic stress disorder and the awful epidemic of sexual assault and what people can do to make the world better. But first I need to sort out my own life, my own feelings of guilt and anger and resentment. And I guess here I am, one blog post closer to that goal.