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.

Friday, October 9, 2009

If You Have Just Been Sexually Assaulted

This post is for anyone who needs help now. (This is one of several posts for crisis support that I will link to on the sidebar for easy reference.)

First, I am so sorry for what you have just endured. You are courageous and strong for having survived it. 

Please get to a safe place, away from the person or people who hurt you. Go somewhere you feel safe, whether that is your home, a friend's house, a hospital, or a police station.

Reach out to someone and get help. Contact a trusted friend or family member, or call your local rape crisis center or RAINN (1-800-656-HOPE) to see if a victim's advocate can come help you.

If you can, go to a hospital to be checked for injuries and have evidence gathered. Try not to shower, wash your hands, urinate, change your clothes, etc. I know it's hard to do all that immediately, but it's easiest to have it done early.

You are by no means required to talk to the police. However, if you think you can, it is best to do so as soon as possible because the events are still fresh in your mind. It is your choice whether you want to press charges or not; you can also leave this decision until later. Remember-- you have control again. Do whatever makes you feel most comfortable.

And finally, relax. You've been through a harrowing, traumatic experience, but you are safe now. You've gotten through it. You deserve to feel safe, comfortable, and cared for. Talk to friends, if you want to; watch a happy movie or read a book; curl up in a warm fuzzy blanket; do whatever it is that helps you when you are stressed. When you are ready to take the next step, look into finding a counselor. It will take time, but you can, and will, heal.

Important Things to Remember

It was not your fault. You are not responsible for the actions of others, and it is not your fault that someone decided to hurt you, even if it was someone you knew, even if you didn't scream or fight, even if your rapist told you that you liked it or deserved it, even if you feel like you made bad choices that led up to it, even if you aren't sure what happened to you was "real rape." If you did not consent to it, it was rape, and it is not your fault.

There are people who care. Find a support group or talk to your local rape crisis center. Unfortunately, as you are healing, you may run into people who will not understand or know how to deal with your emotions. Even if they mean well, they may seem cold or hostile. Remember that they do not speak for everyone, and there are people who understand and care.

You can heal. It will take time, but you can heal. You can get through this. Sometimes it will feel like you're getting nowhere or things are getting worse; that is normal. You have lived through a traumatic experience, and what you are feeling is a normal response to an abnormal event. Learn about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; look into supportive online communities like Pandora's Aquarium (I cannot recommend them enough). Slowly but surely, things will get better.

The next few posts

This is a placeholder post, just to give you a heads up of what's going on.

I'm starting a series of posts for crisis support (I just posted the first one, re: suicide). I'd like to have one for what to do if you have just been assaulted, what to do if someone you love has just been assaulted, and what to do if you are currently feeling unsafe/anxious/depressed/etc. If you have any ideas for other helpful posts, let me know.

These posts will get linked to on the sidebar of the blog for easy reference.

If You Are Thinking About Suicide

This post is for anyone who needs help now. (This is one of several posts for crisis support that I will link to on the sidebar for easy reference.)

First, please be safe. You deserve it. I know there are times when everything is overwhelming or you feel so much anger or self-hatred or despair that the easiest thing to do is to think about ending it all. I've been there, and it is a painful, isolating place to be. I am sorry you are experiencing this, and I'd like to do what I can to help. This post is for things that have helped me; please feel free to add more resources or even words of support in the comments.

One time when I couldn't stop thinking about suicide, I came across this page here, and it actually reached through to me. Here is one passage I reread over and over again when I needed it:

"Suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain."

That's all it's about. You are not a bad person, or crazy, or weak, or flawed, because you feel suicidal. It doesn't even mean that you really want to die - it only means that you have more pain than you can cope with right now. If I start piling weights on your shoulders, you will eventually collapse if I add enough weights... no matter how much you want to remain standing. Willpower has nothing to do with it. Of course you would cheer yourself up, if you could.

Don't accept it if someone tells you, "that's not enough to be suicidal about." There are many kinds of pain that may lead to suicide. Whether or not the pain is bearable may differ from person to person. What might be bearable to someone else, may not be bearable to you. The point at which the pain becomes unbearable depends on what kinds of coping resources you have. Individuals vary greatly in their capacity to withstand pain.

When pain exceeds pain-coping resources, suicidal feelings are the result. Suicide is neither wrong nor right; it is not a defect of character; it is morally neutral. It  is simply an imbalance of pain versus coping resources.

It is all right to feel how you are feeling. You are not weak or terrible. It takes a lot of courage to live through what you are living through, and you do have that strength, even though sometimes it's hard to find it.

If you need someone to talk to, please know that there are people out there who care. Try these:

Please reach out to someone and let them help you. You deserve it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Movies that could trigger

I'm excited-- I have a goal. It's a goal I think I can easily reach, too. But before I announce my much-emphasized goal (did I mention that I have a goal?), I'm going to take a short detour.

This summer, I watched a fantastic movie called Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others). Very intense, with a tight plot and good acting. However, halfway through the movie, I started to panic, and then I went numb. It was the implied rape scene in the car and the following shower scene that triggered me. The shower scene, where she is huddled in the bath tub under scalding water and shivering, hit too close to home. The feeling of shock and disbelief, the feeling that you'll never be clean again-- the actress did such an amazing job of capturing that that I flashed back to my own feelings and memories.

It took me about an hour to unclench my fists and uncurl from my tense, hunched over position. I remember being so frustrated that I couldn't watch the movie without my own experiences tainting it.

And so here is a post about movies that have triggered me:

  • Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others): 
See above.

  • Borat:
Kind of self-explanatory? I couldn't watch more than half an hour of it. I went from staring at the screen in shock to feeling horribly dissociated to staring blankly into space and thinking about what had happened to me and how it wasn't funny. Terrible experience. As much as people seem to love this movie, I won't be attempting to watch it again.

  • Serenity:
That's the kicker. Yeah, I know, right? Let me preface this by emphasizing how much I love Firefly. I absolutely adore Firefly. But I got triggered during Serenity, and I went numb and had to stop watching it. I was *so* frustrated.

And now, my goal: to watch Serenity. I'm going to rewatch the Firefly episodes when I have the time, and then I'm damn well going to watch Serenity. Because I can, and because I want to. Because I think I am strong enough to, now. And because I think River Tam is the shit. :-D

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Dealing with PTSD while being a student

I'm having a rough time with anxiety this morning. Not sure why. Yesterday was an emotional roller-coaster for me, and this morning I am fidgeting with these intense feelings of unrest and anxiety and my stomach is nervous and my whole body is tensed and I don't know what to do. I can't calm down enough to do my homework, and that's probably making this worse. Which reminds me of a topic I've wanted to write about for a while-- PTSD, and specifically how it affects students.

A little overview of PTSD: 
After experiencing a traumatic event, most people will go through a variety of behaviors and responses. However, depending on the person--e.g. his/her past and personality--and the trauma itself, these physical and emotional responses may continue for months or even years. This is a normal response to an abnormal event.

Here are some common characteristics of PTSD:
  • Flashbacks (reliving the traumatic event)
  • Upsetting dreams about the traumatic event
  • Attempts to avoid anything associated with the trauma
  • Worrying or ruminating -- intrusive thoughts of the trauma
  • Hyper-alertness/hyper-vigilance: being easily startled or frightened
  • Memory problems
  • Trouble concentrating, often caused by intrusive thoughts
  • Irritability, restlessness, outbursts of anger or rage
  • Feelings of helplessness, panic, feeling out of control
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Difficulty trusting and/or feelings of betrayal
  • Feelings of detachment and disorientation
  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships
  • Tendency to isolate oneself 
  • Concern over burdening others with problems
  • Avoiding activities you once enjoyed
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Irregular sleeping patterns-- i.e. sleeping too much or too little

I have personally experienced most of those reactions. There are some I would like to expand on and discuss in more detail in future posts. However, for this particular entry, I want to talk about what it's like to be a student with these physical and emotional feelings.

My first experiences with coercion, pressure, and non-consensual sex occurred while in a relationship. I was stressed with schoolwork and extracurricular activities and lonely and isolated from my friends, so I repressed most of my feelings and continued on with trying to get through each day. It wasn't until a year or two later that I began to remember bits and pieces of what happened and started to talk about them. The final opening of the floodgates happened when I was raped by someone I considered a friend during the first weekend of my senior spring.

I tried desperately to continue my schoolwork. I loved both of my classes, and I really wanted everything to be okay. However, I could tell that something was really wrong starting the day after the event. I have always been easily startled, but suddenly every little noise and movement made me tense and anxious. I couldn't sleep at night, and so I became completely nocturnal, sleeping from about 8am - 5pm everyday. But most frightening to me was the fact that I couldn't read a textbook for more than two minutes at a time without intrusive thoughts about the rape and feelings of intense panic or depression, and the fact that my memory was gone.

I have always prided myself on my memory. I did dorky things in high school like memorizing 150 digits of pi. I often didn't need to study because I remembered details from class lectures. While I wouldn't say I had an amazing memory, it was pretty good. However, everything changed in the blink of an eye, and it terrified me. I would be speaking to someone and suddenly my mind would go blank, and I wouldn't remember what we had just been talking about two seconds ago. I would read a sentence from a book and have no memory or comprehension of it when I reached the period. Oh, I remembered most of the details of the event itself just fine--I certainly thought about the damn thing often enough--but I couldn't use my memory in day-to-day life.

As you can imagine, that really sucked as a student. I tried for three or four weeks to continue my coursework, but it just wasn't going to happen. I couldn't go to class because being in a room full of people I didn't know for two hours made me panic, and I couldn't do any of my reading. It destroyed me to have to go on medical leave, but I didn't really have a choice, and part of me knew it was for the best.

This summer, a year and a half later, I returned to college to complete my last four courses. I decided to divide them into two terms of two classes each (here the norm is 3 classes per 10-week term), and I am currently taking the last two courses of my undergraduate career (finally!). While my PTSD has certainly gotten much better, traces of it still remain. There are some evenings when I am pre-occupied--obsessed, even-- with thoughts about rape/sexual assault and I cannot do my work. Some days I am anxious, tense, really easily startled, and unable to give or receive any kind of physical contact. I still have terrible dreams where I wake up screaming sometimes. Some days I feel emotionally numb and detached, like a shell of my usually cheerful self. But things are getting better, and I have been able to return to a pretty normal life as a college student.

Most importantly, my memory and concentration are starting to return. They are still not as good as they used to be, but they are better. Being able to handle schoolwork again has been one of the most empowering things for me. Losing that was devastating, because I had built my life around academics. But now I'm back, and with an added vengeance-- I am starting to apply my love of learning and researching and writing to the issues of rape/sexual assault, with the hopes that I can make a difference somehow. Take that, trauma.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

My Story

I wrote this piece for myself two and a half weeks ago, when I began to free-write about the incident for the first time. After reading Nic's story (posted here), it reminded me so much of one particular aspect of my own story that I wanted to share my own writing as well.

*All names have been changed to protect the innocent. I've added a star after each reference to a person to denote this.


I think about the skirt. I liked it. It was plaid and school-girly and short and pleated and had three large buttons on the front. I wore it over jeans and I liked it. I never got it back.

I think about the aftermath. I talked to M*. I went to my room and changed my clothes and crawled into bed. I emailed T*. I didn't cry. I might have slept. I think I did. But I didn't cry.

I think about when I told A*. She said she knew. She said she could see when she tried to hug me and I jumped back and I couldn't be touched and she said that M* was angry and she could see and she could see when I saw him and I ran away and I hid and I cried and I was frozen and terrified. Later than night, when I told her, I finally cried.

Then I told people. More people. People here, people at Tau. K* cried, for me, for her, for all of us who hurt. I loved her. A* held me. B* hurt me. W* lost my trust forever. He told him. He confessed. W* lied. I can't forgive him. But somehow I understand.

B* hurt me. I am angry. It shouldn't matter and I shouldn't care because who is he to decide, who is he to say, why do I listen to him anyway, I don't, but still, he spoke and it hurt me and his words are still with me and I hate him and I have nothing more to say.

Everyone else, they blend together. Kind words, good words, at first, then fading, fading, nothing more, nothing more, oh wait, something happened? I guess I'm sorry. I don't know. Someone held my hand, someone hugged me, they listened, they tried. I don't know. I don't remember. But I know that later, when I needed them, they weren't there.

They were gone when I needed them, when the words I said came back to haunt me, when I curled on the bathroom floor and rocked and cried and couldn't say anything more than “I didn't want it, I didn't want it.” Where were they when I heard voices and saw scenes and couldn't watch things without seeing and feeling and it was there and it was all there in my head and I couldn't make it stop. It played again and again over and over in my head like a movie, a reel that never ends. They weren't there. When I reached out, they were gone.

I hear their voices. Hollow.
No meaning, no feeling, no promises that were kept.
Bodies in the Chapter Room, convening.
But empty,
nothing real, nothing done, no one cared.

I think about how he tried to put his hands on me afterward. When I was curled up in a ball on the tavern bench and I couldn't be small enough and I was against a wall and I tried but I wasn't disappearing or comprehending just shaking and trying and not knowing what now, what next. My thoughts were about getting away, out that door, up and away, far far away. I was sane, and calm, and I convinced him to leave. I said what he wanted me to say. Then finally, I was free, and out the door like a bird, climbing up the bright wooden stairs, up, up, found the door I was looking for, lights still on, knocked, “come in.”

“That might even be called rape,” M* says, at the end, an afterthought.

I am in my room. I don't remember much. I changed my clothes and crawled into bed. I emailed T* about lunch. I stared at the computer, I stared at the ceiling, I think I slept. It might even be rape. I think it is, but I am afraid to think. What if it isn't. What if. What if.

The next day, morning dawns, I go to lunch but I am afraid. But still, nothing has set in. The day is still bright. Maybe too bright. The movie, M* talks about a movie during lunch, and I hear him but not really. E*'s car, house sitting, that's where A* is. And there's T*, he's there, and he cares. What now, what do I do, who do I tell, where do I go.

I am reliving it now. I feel it in my body. I can't stop thinking about it. I see fragments of images, and jabs of feeling, and pain that I can almost feel and remember but is too far away. Everything is far away, but I feel it. I remember his face, but not in detail, in hazy images and clouds and fog and through layers of thick waxed paper. My heart is pounding and I am still. I sit on my bed and try to feel safe.

I think about it when I am brushing my teeth. It hits me one day that I will never have my skirt back. Those buttons, the plaid. I can't think about the event, but I think about the skirt.

And I am angry at the aftermath. It is what makes me scream and cry in the middle of the night. No more thoughts or dreams about the rape. It is about afterwards. About being told I am wrong, about being told to keep quiet, about being told to shut up and die. It's all there, in my head, and I can never forgive them, not really. Never really. It'll always be there.

I think about that bench. It's there. I see it. It's okay. I don't run when I see it, or freeze when I'm in the tavern. It's there, sitting, standing, a relic of what happened, unchanging, uncaring, like this House. It's what this House is to me.

And now, now I am done. White walls are in front of me, and I stare, and I am empty. I have written what I can write. There is more, there, swirling, uncurling, but it is for another time. At peace now. Frozen, immobile, but safe, and at peace. I am done.

September 17, 2009

Survivor Story: "Drugged" -- Nic

I would like to share a poem with you that was written by another brave survivor. One thing many survivors will say is that even though everyone's story is different, we all have the ability to empathize, to reach back into our own memories and feelings. Even if what happened to me wasn't quite like that, I can really easily imagine how it would feel, because I know how something exactly like that felt.

by Nic

I remember what I wore.
I still have the denim jacket.
I didn’t want the med examiner to put it with the rape kit and the rest of my clothes as evidence.
It’s designer.
I remember he was a friend of a friend.
A friend of a friend I once trusted.
I remember eating pizza at Mellow Mushroom.
I remember talking about friends we both knew from back home.
I remember enjoying myself.
I remember getting in the bar underage because he worked there.
I remember sitting at a table against a dark wall.
I remember feeling “cool.”
I remember him ordering drinks.  Not from a waitress but at the bar himself.
I remember waiting for the drinks.
I remember how many I drank.
I remember talking about my boyfriend (now my husband) and how they would get along well.
I remember saying, “I have to pee.”
I remember going to the bathroom, flushing, washing my hands, and then walking out of the restroom.
My legs went numb.
I remember telling him, “I can’t feel my legs.”
I remember he said he would take me home.
I remember him lifting my arm over his shoulder to help me to his car.
I remember him opening the car door for me.
I remember getting in the car.
I remember buckling my seat belt.
That’s where I stop remembering… I think…
What’s in my mind after clicking the seat belt could be true or false… reality or imagination.
I don’t know.  I will never know.  Truly.  I cannot turn back the clock.
I remember wanting to turn back the clock.
I remember saying “no.”
I think I remember saying “no” as he pinned my wrists and spread my legs.
It was a whisper.
My voice was hoarse.
I remember pain… physical and emotional.
But did I say, “no”?
I remember waking up in his bed.  He was on the floor.  Naked.
I remember seeing the condom wrapper on the alarm clock.
I remember what time it was.
I remember searching his apartment for a bathroom and being violently ill.
I remember finding articles of my clothing scattered.
I remember not knowing where I was.
I remember getting dressed while he was still sleeping.
I remember seeing that he had gone through my purse because my wallet was out, opened, invaded.
Nothing had been stolen.
Everything had been stolen.
I remember him waking up as I zipped my jeans.
I remember him asking why I was crying.
I remember him driving me to my dorm.
I remember the silence.
I remember him putting his hand on my knee when I opened the car door to get out.
I remember wanting to vomit on his hand.
I remember him asking me if I wanted to go to church with him tomorrow.
I remember wanting to vomit on his hand.
I remember thinking “what the fuck?!”
I remember him asking me if I was ok.
I remember saying, “I don’t think so.”
I remember wanting to vomit on his hand that was on my knee.
I remember showering in scalding water.
I remember burning my skin.
I remember using an entire bar of soap until it disintegrated.
I remember using a new, fresh towel when I got out of the shower.
I remember vomiting more and more and more…
Til there was nothing left inside of me.
But it was all already gone.
Nothing was left.
I remember driving myself to the ER.
I remember telling the triage nurse, “I think I was raped.”
I remember her glaring at me and asking, “you think?”
I remember having vials of blood drawn.
I remember the med examiner looking for evidence from my body.
Hairs, finger prints, scratches, skin under my finger nails.
They took what was left of me.
I remember she was frustrated with me because I had already showered and peed.
“Very little evidence here,” she said while I laid with my legs spread open.
I remember being alone.
Entirely alone.
I remember the exam, the doctor, the cop who sat in the corner.
The rape kit.
I remember the doctor saying, “the abundance of tearing of the tissue is sign of trauma to the area.”
I remember thinking “what the fuck does that mean?”
I remember crying while some stranger combed my pubic hair… for his strays.
I remember pictures were taken of bruises on my inner thighs, my breasts, my arms.
I remember a bruise under my right arm pit from him carrying me over his shoulder.
A bruise on my collar bone.
I remember someone saying, “it’ll be he said/she said…”
I remember asking someone to call my mom.
I remember they left her a voicemail.
Who leaves a fucking voicemail?
I remember leaving the ER and going back to my dorm.
I had to be given clothes to wear home.
They were tossed in the garbage that same day.
I remember hating those clothes.
I remember curling up in a ball on my twin-sized bed and bear-hugging myself until it hurt.
I remember wanting it to hurt.
I remember emailing my boyfriend (now husband) to “CALL ME.”
I remember my dad having to get off a plane he had just boarded after receiving a phone call from my mom, saying what had happened to me.
I remember not speaking for an entire 24 hour period, once my parents arrived.
I remember sitting with my knees curled up to my chest for those 24 hours in the hotel room I stayed in with my parents.
I remember my mom on the phone with my brother.
I remember hearing him ask, “how is she?” and mom answering, “she’s quiet, very quiet.”
I remember being questioned incessantly by the police…
I remember the district attorney was female.
I remember being grateful for that.
But I didn’t know.  I didn’t know everything they wanted me to know, to answer.
I remember the police finding the drug in his apartment.
I remember being told by the police officer “he and his roommate are in the next room,” as I gave my written statement… signed my written statement.
I remember wondering if his roommate was there that night.
I remember not remembering.


Comment Box / Guest Book

Do you have any topic suggestions for posts?
Have a resource or piece of emotional media to share?
Just want to tell me something?

Comment here! Think of this post as an extended guest book. I'd love to know that you visited, even. Drop me a note and say hi.

I will continue to link to this post from the sidebar, so please keep adding comments as you think of them!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Song: "I Didn't Know My Own Strength" -- Whitney Houston

Powerful, uplifting song.

I didn’t know my own strength
And I crashed down, and I tumbled
But I did not crumble
I got through all the pain
I didn’t know my own strength
Survived my darkest hour
My faith kept me alive
I picked myself back up
Hold my head up high
I was not built to break
I didn’t know my own strength

Found hope in my heart,
I found the light to life
My way out the dark
Found all that I need
Here inside of me
I thought I’d never find my way
I thought I’d never lift that weight
I thought I would break

In the last two years, there were so many times when I was ready to give up. But I didn't, and here I am. I didn't know my own strength either. Whitney, I couldn't have put it better.

Book: "Trust After Trauma" -- Aphrodite Matsakis

This book was recommended to me by my therapist, and I found it extremely helpful. The copy I have is full of sticky notes. It gives a clear, comprehensive, but still gentle, nonjudgmental, and empathic treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. This is a good book for both relationship and non-relationship issues, and has many sections that would also be relevant to a secondary survivor-- i.e. a friend or loved one of a trauma survivor.

Some of the topics covered are trust, guilt, revictimization/reenactment, the physiology of trauma, and coping techniques. Each chapter also has writing exercises and questions to guide your thought and healing process.

I definitely recommend this book to survivors and anyone who loves a survivor and wants to understand and help.

Triggers and Responses

*trigger warning*

I saw someone on campus today who looks like the man who raped me my senior spring. FML.

Let's talk about triggers.

A trigger is something that reminds a trauma survivor of the ordeal(s) he or she has endured. Triggers can be external or internal, consciously recognized or unconsciously internalized.
  • External: A place, person, object, time of the day/month/year, story, etc. that is somehow related to the ordeal.
  • Internal: A feeling, thought, physical memory, etc. that is somehow related to what happened.
  • Consciously recognized: The trigger can be identified. You know what it is that is causing your reactions.
  • Unconsciously internalized: When you don't know the cause of your physical and/or emotional response, when it seems to be happening for no reason. 

All of these are legitimate kinds of triggers. Here are some of my own personal triggers (in no particular order):
  • Seeing someone who looks like him: short dark hair, slightly balding, large widow's peak, long oval-shaped face
  • Being around someone who is tall, heavyset, and physically intimidating (think football player)
  • Friday nights
  • Any anniversary of March 25-26
  • Being in the room where it happened, especially seeing the bench
  • Hearing his name, or even just part of his name
  • Mentions of rape/sexual assault in books, online, the news, or by people
  • One particular sexual position
  • Sharp pain during vaginal or anal intercourse
  • Intrusive thoughts and memories of the event, of his face/body/voice

My responses to these triggers tend to be pretty universal. They have gotten better over time, thankfully. In the months following the assault, I had very sudden, intense physical and mental responses. I would abruptly go numb; my heart would start to pound; I would tense up and usually dig my nails into my palm or clutch a part of my shirt; and I would try to find somewhere in the room where I could curl up as small as possible with my back to something and still be able to see most of the room. Sometimes I would have hot flashes or cold flashes. I would be both disoriented and hyper-focused; disoriented because I felt detached, like somehow I wasn't in my own body, and hyper-focused because I was taking in every sound and every movement near me, and every stimulus was amplified, as if all my filters and protections were down.

Sometimes it would be a little different; I would become numb, detached, silent, and depressed. This type of response happened more when I was triggered by a solitary activity where I was already alone and quiet, such as reading. I found myself triggered by everything from academic treatments of sexual assault to fiction about trauma to normal novels that just had to put in references to rape and assault. I could feel myself sliding into that somber glass case, the walls closing in; I would start to shut down, feeling a heavy weight, a darkness, descend on me; I would be compelled to keep reading, thinking, feeling, remembering.

Time does help heal things a little bit. My responses are not quite so extreme anymore. They certainly still occur, but they no longer seize control of my life and force me to stop whatever I was doing to suffer for a surreal time.

I saw someone who looked like him yesterday, too. When my mind made note of him and started to flail, I pursed my lips with grim determination and settled for being a bit detached and depressed for a while. This morning, when I left the house to go to class, I saw someone else who looked like him. No idea if it was the same person or not. I started to panic, and walked a full block while thinking about him and the assault, but then I calmed down and everything got better.

Triggers-- I will probably always have them, but the best thing I can do is to learn to live with them.