Friday, November 19, 2010

See No Evil, Hear No Evil...?

From my apartment I can hear the fights of the couple across the hall from me. The screaming, the crying, the sound of things being thrown or broken...sometimes they catapult me back involuntarily to my past. A little bit of my family situation, but mostly two of the abusive relationships I was in before D*. Crying several times a day was the norm, as was being yelled at and insulted. Things were not thrown that often, but the few times it happened really stuck with me, bolstered by nightmarish memories of growing up. I was completely miserable. I was too afraid to end the relationship because I had been stripped of all my friendships and support networks and led to believe that I was too incompetent to be alone. If I had had someone, anyone, reach out to me, acknowledge what was happening, ask if I was okay, any sign of support, I might have found the strength to stand up and end an emotionally-abusive and draining relationship, but there was nothing for months and months and months.

I am very conflicted about the role of "bystanders," if you will, in abusive relationships. The worst relationship for me took place in the very same coed fraternity house in which I was raped. This was when I had first transferred to Dartmouth and didn't know anyone. People in that frat had similar interests to me, and I enjoyed going there. I got into a relationship much too quickly and became isolated from everyone, even though I pretty much lived with him in that house. When things turned sour and he and I started fighting, I knew everyone could hear it. (The walls were paper-thin and you could hear a normal conversation in one room from the next room over.) I was too intimidated to approach these people that I sort of knew but wasn't sure I was really friends with, and for six months, no one ever approached me.

To call the situation awkward was a huge understatement. I saw my neighbors in the social spaces of the house, but I had to keep up the friendly facade of talking about classes and every day chit chat, even though part of me screamed inside Don't you hear me? Won't you help? But they weren't really close friends, and I knew I was on my own.

A couple months into our fighting-and-crying phase, my then-boyfriend received one email from someone asking if he was okay. When I heard that, a surge of jealousy and desperation rose within me. Why couldn't I have received one? If I had, I might have spilled out all my misery and been able to ask for help. But I didn't have the courage to just go to someone and bare my soul unwarranted, and so I continued to stay shut-in. I was lonely even though I was surrounded by people. That kind of loneliness is the worst-- the kind where it's not about absence of people, but rather absence of interest. People politely looking away, shutting their ears and eyes, because they're not interested or because they think that's what they're supposed to do.

Because of my past, I have always urged people to speak up and say something if someone they know seems trapped in an unhappy relationship. I have done so myself, after witnessing a friend and the very unhealthy dynamic in his relationship. But I was surprised at the reaction I got-- he closed up, assuring me that everything was fine, even though it clearly wasn't. All I could do was just be a friend on the sidelines and hope all was well. But at least I was glad I had expressed my support and willingness to listen if help was ever needed.

On the other end, when I talked to friends about reaching out to other people, they expressed concern about prying into people's private matters, and said it was better to just wait and see. I was terribly confused. Why were my beliefs so very different from theirs? I would think that it is better to express care and concern and be brushed off than to not do so at all while someone hopes and waits. The friends I spoke to were so reluctant to bring up the topic even when there was evidence of other unhealthy relationships in the House. They were content to just wait until the explosive breakup happened, and then swoop in with care and comfort. I didn't understand then, and I still don't understand now. Is it that they were worried someone might be shamed by being approached about his/her relationship? Would being asked if they needed help be that embarrassing and awful? Is it about losing face? I don't understand.

To me, this culture of caution and privacy is awfully close to being dangerous. It seems like avoidance. Maybe part of it is the bystander effect-- if I see the signs then other people must too, so someone will probably handle it and it doesn't have to be me. Maybe part of it is projecting embarrassment or denial onto the person and thinking they won't want to be asked if they are okay. Maybe it's fear that the response will be so strong and angry that the friendship is harmed. I don't know what combination of reasons it is, but my heart breaks to think there are other people hoping someone will reach out to them and waiting, in vain.

So coming back to the present-- I suppose I am in even more of a dilemma here, because I don't really know my neighbors. The guy asked to borrow a vacuum once, and I know his first name. That's it. In terms of feasibility, it doesn't really seem like there's anything I can do, but I feel so helpless just sitting around. Any kind of inquiry I could make might be mistaken as a complaint that they're too loud or disruptive, which isn't what I would intend at all. (From experience, the last thing an abused person needs is to have someone complain that their fights are too loud.) It really does seem like there's nothing I can do, and it grates on me. I wish there were more I could do to help people in situations similar to my own. :-/

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Frat Update

It's funny-- the physical and emotional reactions I have to someone talking about rape or something reminding me of my own event are never as bad as the ones I have in response to my fraternity.

They have resumed talks (again, for the third time?) about changing the permanency clause, thanks to a good friend of mine. A few minutes ago, an alum sent an email to a mailing list about it. When the event happened two and a half years ago, and during the few months afterwards, I remember him being a bit of an insensitive jerk about the whole thing. When I read his email just now, my heart started pounding. I feel chilled and very tense and everything around me feels dulled down and unreal. With one email, my world has been flipped around. I haven't had physical symptoms this bad for a long time.

We'll see how this discussion thread goes. I guess my body is just gearing up for an emotionally upsetting and tumultuous fight. I don't know why I still care about this issue, but the fact of the matter is that I do, despite my best efforts to change that.

I'll try to still study for my organic chemistry exam, even though I feel like this. At least tomorrow I get to see D*, and we're going to try to go dancing as part of our therapy assignment. (More on that later.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bullying: I do not think the problem is what you think it is.

(Princess Bride reference aside, let's call this "Adults and Cowardice.")

Bullying. You've all heard about it recently-- the heartbreaking stories of gay children and teens driven to suicide, and the 14-year-old girl who hanged herself after being bullied for coming out as a rape survivor. Bullying has suddenly become a big deal. Great, you might think, people might actually support anti-bullying programs in schools now that numerous victims have already died. But no. Christian groups like Focus on the Family argue that anti-bullying programs "push the gay agenda." A Michigan high school teacher was suspended for kicking a student out of class who made a homophobic comment. What is this, people? Jezebel has got it totally right: it's time schools quit treating homophobia like it's a valid opinion worth respecting. Homophobic hate speech is no different from racism, and you wouldn't allow that in your schools now, would you?

One recent argument I heard against homosexual couples was that the children that gay couples might adopt would be harmed. A slew of studies have shown that this is not the case. (That article links to several different reports and studies.) As far as studies go, the most recent one was fairly scientifically rigorous: the measurement of social development and psychological health of the children was not based on the opinions of their parents alone but also of outside observers, like teachers and caregivers, and a control group of heterosexual couples was used. The conclusion? Quality of parenting determines the psychological health of the child, not the sexual orientation of the parents. From a policy standpoint, the data provide no justification for denying lesbian and gay adults from adopting children.

But won't children of gay and lesbian parents be bullied in school, you might ask? Yes, there is a high likelihood that they will. However, obese children, ethnic minorities, economically disadvantaged children, even smart children get bullied too. The solution to the bullying problem is to address the bullying, not use it as a reason to prohibit gay couples from adopting children.

When I was in elementary school, I was bullied every day. Sometimes it was for being Asian in a neighborhood of rich white kids; sometimes it was for being a smart girl; but usually it was about my physical appearance. I got picked on for having a "mustache," the unfortunate result of having black hair but light skin. This bullying went on for years and only got worse as the tormentors grew in vocabulary and cleverness. It was a sly comment here, a rude gesture there. All things that might have been caught and reprimanded in kindergarten but ironically were ignored in sixth grade. I cried every day when I came home from school. Finally, I told my parents, and they spoke to my teacher about the bullying.

Her response? "That happened to me growing up too. You can buy products at CVS to bleach that hair."

My parents accepted that as an answer. So did I, at the time. Only after I left for college and had the ability to look back on those years without overwhelming bitterness did I realize how wrong a response that was. Where was the apology for letting this hateful bullying happen right under her nose? More importantly, where was the action in response to it? Even after my parents met with her, she never spoke up or stood up for me against the bullies. They never got in trouble, even though now she couldn't say she didn't know it was happening.

This is the huge problem with bullying nowadays. It is easier for teachers and administrators to coerce the bullied into changing than it is to confront the bullies themselves. Society already does its fair share of looking down upon the marginalized and pressuring them to change their identities; that makes it far too easy for adults to do it under the guise of looking out for the child's best interests when it is in fact a cowardly way of handling the problem.

If gay children are bullied, don't try to change them-- stop the bullying. If children of gay parents are bullied, don't prohibit gay couples from adopting-- stop the bullying. The problem is not why these children are the way they are. The problem lies with the parents, teachers, and administrators who turn a blind eye to the hateful words and actions that shouldn't be tolerated in the first place.

Why is this such a hard concept for policy-makers to understand? It's not like bullying is a valuable skill that children need to learn to grow into healthy, capable adults. (And if it is, well, something is grievously wrong with our society.) Stop bullying. Make sure kids understand that it is wrong, it is hurtful, and it reflects badly on them, not their victims. Give victims support. Stand up and say that bullying will not be tolerated in my classroom/school. And actually follow through with that-- watch for instances of bullying and address it every time it happens, not just when you feel like it.

No one should have to change who they are in order to go to school and not be picked on constantly. It's not about "pushing the gay agenda" or "protecting freedom of speech"; it's about creating a healthy environment for children to learn and grow in. Racism, classism, homophobia, and all other forms of hate speech are not valid opinions to be respected. Period.

On a more heartwarming note, here are two things that refresh my faith in humanity:

A 14-year-old student gave an eloquent speech in defense of the high school teacher that took a stand against homophobia. I was touched.

A mother proudly defended her son's right to wear whatever he wants for Halloween and correctly points to other mothers' judgmental attitudes as the problem. This was an amazing and uplifting piece to read.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rape Jokes, Part 3 -- Confronting People

I am mentally and emotionally burnt out from the last two days. It has been a constant cycle between trigger-induced numbness and seething anger that I have had to control enough to do three problem sets for school. While I was waiting for my organic chemistry lecture to start this evening, I thought I would turn my exhausting ordeal into something productive. So, since my recent experiences have told me that some people need help with this, welcome to:

How to tell if you are using the word "rape" appropriately in everyday discourse (A Guide For Dummies)

It's so simple anyone can follow it, I promise. It involves asking yourself one question.

Am I trying to be funny (edgy, witty, ironic, sarcastic, etc.)?

If you are, then your answer is no. No. NO. You are horribly abusing the term. Rape is not funny. You are not funny (or witty, or cool). Being offensive is not "cool." Contributing your ugly, unwanted, unneeded two cents to a culture that is already violence-insensitive and victim-shaming is not "cool." Triggering rape victims and reminding them of the horror they survived is not "cool." There is nothing about being an ignorant jerk that makes you cool or funny. Capice?

Now let's say you slipped up, made a rape joke, and got called out on it. Let's talk about your choices now.

a) Apologize and don't do it again. (No, don't just promise not to do it again-- actually don't. Ignorance isn't an excuse after the first time you get called out on it.)

b) Call the person who asked you not to do it "selfish" and accuse her of expecting the world to revolve around her.

c) Tell the person who asked you not to do it that it's a free country and you can do what you damn well please.

d) Say that you think they're funny and other people do too so you're going to keep making them anyway.

e) Delete the polite Facebook comment asking you to use a different analogy and then proceed to "like" every other joke about or reference to rape in the comments following the post.

You might be thinking, hm, the last four choices seem awfully specific and full of bitterness, and if so, you are quite correct. Those are all responses that I've personally received after asking someone (in person) to stop making rape jokes or (online) requesting that they delete a particular status and repost using a better analogy.

The situation described in choice (e) happened on Wednesday and really pissed me off. I have been struggling to sit with my feelings and still function like a normal person and go to class and do homework the last two days, even though inside I feel like a cold, barren tundra filled only with painful memories and numbness or a raging inferno of anger and desire-to-introduce-person-to-my-fist-or-other-forms-of-pain-equaling-what-I-feel-every-time-someone-makes-a-g*ddamn-rape-joke. It's really hard to do that for two days. And it's all because of a careless comment made by someone who thought he was being cool and edgy, and the immature response to my polite request.

I sent a message to that person that reads as follows:

Dear X,

Yesterday you made a status update that I found to be offensive and in poor taste. I left a comment politely asking you to use a different analogy that would not trigger or trivialize rape victims. I was not alone in the sentiment-- two of your friends clicked "like" on my request. Yet your response was to delete my comment and "like" every other comment on your post that made a rape joke or reference.

I found that to be a hurtful and immature response. If you can find something funny about pain, shame, and terror, please enlighten me, because I just don't see it. You're probably thinking "it was a joke-- no one gets raped by elephants." Please remember that even careless and casual references you might make can affect people, even if it's not the exact situation and you think you're being edgy or witty or funny. Rape is not funny. Period. This insensitivity is one of the reasons we live in a culture that trivializes rape and shames victims.


If he writes anything back, I will post part II of this saga.

The point of this post (apart from letting me rant) was to ask you to help spread the word that rape jokes are inappropriate. Not only are they seriously not funny, but they are also hurtful to people who have already gone through more trauma than anyone ever should. Please, if you hear or see someone use "rape" in anything but a serious and sensitive context to mean nonconsensual sex, call them out on it. As demonstrated in this unrelated but still very awesome video, most people who have these attitudes are ignorant and/or cowards. If they were simply ignorant, maybe they'll realize the error of their ways. If they're cowards, then maybe they'll stop if enough people confront them. Either way, a changed mind or a shut mouth would do the world good.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

When people come together to do things, amazing stuff can result

This will seem like an odd thing to post-- I certainly didn't expect this video to have any connection to PTSD and hope and support-- but I found it surprisingly touching. About halfway through the video, maybe a little later, he talks about projects he's started on the internet to foster communication and connection between people. He then mentions some personal requests he's had from people to write songs addressing fear, or addressing sadness and anxiety. I won't spoil the surprise-- I'll just say that he does it in a pretty touching, amazing way. I felt really good at the end of this video.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Men: Finding Security in Making the Safe Unsafe?

I found a great article with interesting and insightful analysis of the awful but all-too-common chant "No means yes; yes means anal!" (Most recently it was featured in the previously-discussed Yale debacle.)

Slightly pared down, here is what I find to be the choicest bits:

At first, the fraternity issued a cover-your-ass smirking apology for offending people’s feelings (read: you feminists can’t take a joke). Their next apology, a day or so later, was far more abject, and showed they’d put some serious thought into how their actions might have been experienced by others. It seemed sincere enough.

But it lacked historical perspective. In 2006, fraternity guys marched in a sort of picket line outside the Women’s Center on campus, chanting those same phrases. In 2008, members of another fraternity celebrated their love of “Yale sluts” by screaming about it outside that same campus Women’s Center.

What does it mean to chant “No Means Yes” outside the campus Women’s Center, the place that offers a safe space for women who have been assaulted or abused? What does it mean to target the one place where women might actually feel safe enough to find their own voice, feel strong enough to succeed in a world still marred by gender inequality? It’s a reminder that men still rule, that bro’s will always come before “ho’s”. Even the Women’s Center can’t protect you.
That is, it’s a way to make even the safe unsafe.

We could leave it there, and let the campus judiciary and the blogosphere continue to debate about free speech and hostile environments and hate speech. But I think it would miss another, equally important element–the second half of the chant, “Yes Means Anal.”

This chant assumes that anal sex is not pleasurable for women; that if she says yes to intercourse, you have to go further to an activity that you experience as degrading to her, dominating to her, not pleasurable to her. This second chant is a necessary corollary to the first.

Thanks to feminism, women have claimed the ability to say both “no” and “yes.” Not only have women come to believe that “No Means No,” that they have a right to not be assaulted and raped, but also that they have a right to say “yes” to their own desires, their own sexual agency. Feminism enabled women to find their own sexual voice.

Sometimes, as in the case of the now-famous Karen Owen at Duke, they can be as explicitly raunchy as men, and evaluate men’s bodies in exactly the way that men evaluate women’s bodies. (I agree with Ariel Levy that women imitating men’s drinking and sexual predation is a rather impoverished style of liberation.)

This is confusing to many men, who see sex not as mutual pleasuring, but about the “girl hunt,” a chase, a conquest. She says no, he breaks down her resistance. Sex is a zero-sum game. He wins if she puts out; she loses.

That women can like sex, and especially like good sex, and are capable of evaluating their partners changes the landscape. If women say “yes,” where’s the conquest, where’s the chase, where’s the pleasure? And where’s the feeling that your victory is her defeat? What if she is doing the scoring, not you?

Thus the “Yes Means Anal” part of the chant. Sex has become unsafe for men–- women are agentic and evaluate our performances. So if “No Means Yes” attempts to make what is safe for women unsafe, then “Yes Means Anal” makes what is experienced as unsafe for men again safe–back in that comfort zone of conquest and victory. Back to something that is assumed could not possibly be pleasurable for her. It makes the unsafe safe–- for men.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

For lack of a better title, My Story

Tonight marks the intersection of several different thoughts. I started typing this post and realized that this thought was going to get buried in my other musings, so I'll pull it out and stick it right here, up front and center. I've decided to link this blog and my Facebook page together, because I have decided to publicly "come out" about my experience as a rape survivor. There are some people who should be ashamed about what happened, but I should not be one of them. So for anyone of you reading this whom I knew in elementary school, middle school, high school, college, who thinks rape is something that doesn't happen to people you know-- well, it does.

The second thought is one I had on the bus home tonight. I spent most of today ruminating on last Wednesday's Yale fraternity pledge incident after I found out about it this morning. It's disgusting, there's no doubt about that. My first thought was "how did anyone with the intelligence to get into Yale ever think this was a good idea?" And then I realized that Dartmouth-- and, I wager, most of the other top-tier schools in the country-- has its own fair share of misogynistic frat boys, and that brought me back to my own experience.

One thing about the Yale incident really stuck with me, though, and that was from this follow-up article:

Yale Dean Mary Miller says any disciplinary action against individual DKE members will be confidential from start to finish, and that such action "is not designed to provide satisfaction to those who might feel aggrieved."

To me, this reeks of institutional neglect. What I see is a university that wants to brush this under the rug as quickly yet inconspicuously as possible. Is this a shameful incident? Of course it is. But the way to handle it is to stand up and take action, not try to cover things up with excuses like confidentiality.

I realize this may be an issue of debate. Should disciplinary action, if it were to take place, be kept confidential? My opinion is this: confidentiality should be to protect victims, not perpetrators-- especially not when the perpetrators went parading around campus openly in the first place. I don't think the frat brothers and pledges involved in this case should have the right to privacy. When someone does something this offensive and hurtful to others, their privacy should be the last concern on people's mind. It should not be a way to hide or lessen the severity or possibility of punishment. Period.

And the other part of Dean Miller's statement, that any disciplinary action "is not designed to provide satisfaction to those who might feel aggrieved." And may I ask, why not? I think Yale does need to take responsibility for the distress people might feel about this event, since it was on their campus and done by some of their students. I'm glad that Yale has chosen to use this incident to spark discussion about sexual assault, but that is not enough. That doesn't help people who might have been triggered by the incident. It's just talk talk talk, which is all that most victims seem to get for compensation these days. All talk, no action. Believe it or not, just discussing how the incident was bad doesn't help a victim feel all that much better. It's easy to say how awful something is and how things should be changed. Hearing that doesn't mean a thing if no action comes of it.

This Yale incident and how it stinks of institutional neglect really hits close to home. I was raped in my fraternity by a fraternity brother, an alumnus who was visiting for the weekend. For the most part, the reaction I got when I told people consisted of hugs and "that is awful" and "let us know what you need and we'll be there for you." Except for one. A few days after I was raped, I was told by a high-ranking elected official of the fraternity to keep quiet about the rape because if word got out, no one would come by the frat anymore and it would get ruined and that would all be my fault. We needed to keep the illusion that we were better than other frats, that rape doesn't happen at Phi Tau, or else.

When I was first told that, for a split second I believed it. It was only through remembering the writing I had found online by other strong, courageous women about how being raped is not your fault and you should not be ashamed that it happened because it was solely and completely the rapist's choice to commit that crime. And then I realized how wrong it was for someone to tell me to keep quiet about what happened in order to preserve my fraternity's reputation. It was wrong, and it made me angry that this so-called brotherhood of mine, my so-called family, would try to brush this all under the carpet.

I went to other brothers of the house and relayed what I had been told. The reaction I got? "Oh, that's awful. You should tell whomever you want." At first I thought that was a good reaction, that it meant people disagreed with the person who told me and would stand up for me and change this attitude. But no-- what it really meant was that words are easy to say, even for cowards. All talk and no action. The official was never reprimanded in any way for his actions, and even more, for all their talk about supporting me, they seemed to agree with his sentiment. I was allowed to tell whomever I wanted, of course, but they tried to do as little as possible about the event, as inconspicuously as possible, despite their promises to stand up and be a model for other frats about integrity and courage.

The man who raped me was banned from returning to the fraternity house. That seems like a pro-active, positive step, you might say. But in truth, he lived in a different state, and was never going to come back anyway because he knew I was pressing charges with the police. Yeah, my fraternity sent him a letter enforcing what he was going to do anyway. Doesn't take that much effort, does it? On the other hand, how about the fact that to this day, he is still considered a brother of Phi Tau? There was talk of editing our Constitution to make it possible to revoke brotherhood, but then two things happened: the undergrads who would have had to do the legwork stopped bothering, and the alumni got freaked out by the possibility of change. I was told by the President of the whole corporation that many alumni would withdraw their support of the House were I to push for any kind of change, and "strongly advised" that I cease and desist. How's that for another version of telling the victim to keep quiet and shoving everything under the rug?

It has been two and a half years since the incident happened my senior spring. After taking a year of medical leave, I did return to classes and receive my degree, finally moving away from Hanover this July. I struggled to make meaning of what happened in the aftermath of the rape, where people whom I thought of as friends-- even family-- failed to support me. Not only did I have to bear the burden of PTSD on my own, but also I wondered why they turned a blind eye, if it was something wrong with me that made them not care, and what that meant about my concept of brotherhood and friendship. There were times when I sat in the social space of my fraternity house and cried, needing a caring word or hug, yet people walked straight past me, carrying on conversations with other, sitting on the other side of the room to play games or read, etc. After the first week, no one bothered to even ask if I was okay when I cried. After a month or two, people started rolling their eyes when I brought up the event to see if anyone was going to push for further measures by the brotherhood. My recovery would have been so much faster and more effective if I had had the support of my fraternity, yet here I am, still struggling with what it means and how it feels to be betrayed.

Surprisingly, what hits hardest is not that the man who raped me is still considered a brother of the house, but that the official who threatened me to keep quiet was never once reprimanded or told that he should not have said what he said. In fact, pretty much everyone is still friends with him. It leads me to wonder about the fragile and fickle nature of friendship. I thought friendship meant standing up for your friend; the enemy of your friend is your enemy as well. I once asked someone how they managed to be friends with both him and me, and why, and the answer I received was that it was too hard to take a stand against someone in their social circle. She nonchalantly agreed that what he said to me was bad, but shrugged it off and continued to try to keep both his and my friendship.

Now that I have moved away from the influence of the house, I have begun to see clearly that that is not real friendship. Anyone can toss words of support out there. It takes a true friend to do something about it. And as an organization, integrity demands action. My fraternity took no action that required any effort on their part, citing excuses some of the time and just remaining silent or looking away the rest of the time. Silence condones the crime. Silence is cowardice and apathy. Silence and passivity tell the victim that s/he is not worth the effort to do what is right.

Although there are, of course, many differences between my story and the Yale pledge incident, I think the common thread is that an institution had the opportunity to stand up, take an appropriate amount of responsibility, and most importantly, take action, yet it is hedging. It's not too late for Yale to openly denounce what happened and push for serious consequences. Confidentiality is not a valid reason to hide any disciplinary action, and I think any action taken should be partly to satisfy anyone who was troubled or hurt by the incident. Yale needs to take notice of its community's distress and address it. Action, not just words and discussion and other passive means of patting victims on the head and turning away.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

PTSD under a directed microscope

I haven't written here for a long time because life has been overwhelming, so much so that the thought of trying to write about everything--or anything!--is too much and I can't sit down and choose one thing and just type. But I am going to try, now, because I think I have learned something.

A little over a month ago, I finally left Hanover. Hanover...Dartmouth...I still do not know what my final thoughts on it are, what is left when I subtract my pain from my joys. I made friends, but I lost friends. I learned to be social, then had my trust in people painfully punished. I do not know if I can trust anyone from that era of my life. But that was not the subject of this post.

What I wanted to talk about was the biggest change I am experiencing now. As part of a study, I am undergoing a couples-based cognitive behavioral therapy program designed for PTSD. I am not sure how much I can go into the details of it, since it is still a study, so instead of the mechanics, I will talk about what I have learned. Namely, I have learned that PTSD is not just a collection of symptoms like nightmares, flashbacks, emotional numbness, and hyperarousal. It is a damaging way of thought and of living life that results from trauma. I have been told, and am still trying to accept, that PTSD is not me. I am not my pain, and my pain is not me. My therapist likes to call PTSD a gremlin that invaded my life, something that can be eradicated that isn't part of myself. That is a stuck point for many people with PTSD, she says-- thinking that your suffering is part of you and so it becomes much more difficult and terrifying to fight it.

Fear. Fear is what PTSD thrives on. I have learned that my particular PTSD gremlin delights in constantly making me worry about the worst thing that could happen at any moment. I am filled with the dread and conviction that I am always in danger, or at the brink of losing what is dearest to me because bad things can and do happen at a moment's notice. Every time D* leaves, I am scared sick that I will never see him again. I live in a state of hyperarousal, jumping at the slightest noise, terrified that my door rattling means someone is going to break in, always watching, always looking.

Fear wants control. I have to be in control of what happens both around me and in me so I can be prepared for when something bad inevitably happens. The way I subconsciously try to control my emotions and prepare myself for the worst that can happen is what was destroying my ability to lead a happy and healthy life. For example, because of the lack of validation that I received from others each time after I was raped, I rely on my pain as evidence that something terrible did in fact happen. I control my displays of distress until I know they are happening for a reason (such as after a stimulus that I consciously recognize as a trigger-- e.g. a mention of rape, seeing someone who looks like him, realizing it's Friday night or the 25th/26th of each month), and then I allow myself to feel distressed and show visible pain. That is the only way I found to believe that what happened to me was legitimately bad. This is another stuck point for PTSD: believing that you have to keep your pain around as proof that something bad really happened.

Lack of control is severely distressing and leads to a spiral of negative thoughts. For example, after one evaluative session, I was feeling tense and a little numb but otherwise okay. I met up with D* and, after a little while, ventured up the courage to ask for a hug. As I was trying to relax, I very suddenly started sobbing. I had no idea that I was about to cry, and the feeling of being startled and totally helpless was terrifying. I could not stop sobbing no matter how hard I tried. Don't get me wrong-- I cry all the time. It wasn't the fact that I was crying that terrified me. It was the fact that I was crying and didn't know why and hadn't found a trigger or reason to allow myself to.

Control becomes an issue in other ways too. Remember what I mentioned earlier about fear? When you put together fear and control, you get fear that you won't be in control of a situation, fear that something bad will happen and you won't be prepared. What that leads to for me is extreme black and white thinking and thinking the worst. This is where my therapist's bumper sticker comes in.

After our first session, I was having trouble calming down and I couldn't stop crying, so D* and I went back to her office (interrupting her lunch :( ) and she spent another hour kindly and patiently explaining the pitfalls of my own mind. Then she gave me a bumper stick that said:

Don't believe everything you think.

It didn't make sense to me at the time, but I am starting to see its significance now. We have just started the stage of bubble sheets in therapy. What I'm supposed to do is notice a PTSD-fueled thought, write it down, brainstorm alternative thoughts, and evaluate which is the more balanced thought. In short, it is an exercise to literally replace my harmful PTSD thoughts with more balanced, less black-and-white thoughts. As you might be able to imagine, my mind is barely submitting to this, kicking and screaming all the way.

The first time we tried it, the thought we challenged was "If D* leaves, I will be all alone." (This was made all the more poignant by the fact that D* actually had to leave immediately after our therapy session to go to his first day at a new job, and I was crying the whole way through the session because I was thinking about being left all alone right afterwards.) While we were working on this in the session together, I just couldn't come up with any alternatives. My mind simply did not understand that there was any alternative to that thought; it could not conceive of the possibility that there was a more balanced way to think about him leaving. D* and my therapist made a great list of alternatives; for example, "Even though I want to be with D* the most, I am not totally alone when he leaves"; "When D* leaves, I can still reach him by phone"; and "Even if D* leaves, he still cares about me." All my mind could think of was these alternatives are all lies and I don't believe them because I really do think I will be all alone and I will be terrified and despondent and I may never see him again and I just can't do this. To make the rest of the long story short, that day I almost ended up hospitalized. My mind really was not liking this exercise at all.

I tried doing some more bubble sheets with D* again this afternoon. I ended up sobbing hysterically again, but I realized something important: the reason they affect me so is that I am terrified that I could delude myself into thinking that things are better than they are and so I would be caught defenseless and unprepared when it is all revealed that it was a lie. I feel safest believing the worst because that way, I will at least not be caught unprepared (whether The Bad Thing will happen or not is not even up for consideration). The way my therapist puts it, PTSD has given me fear-colored goggles that only see danger everywhere I look. This translates into a desperate need for control and a crippling lack of trust in everyone, even D*. Even though part of me knows he cares about me, I still can't bring myself to fully believe that he does. I don't fully trust that his affections won't stray, or trust that he means what he says. It's an awful barrier between us that he has done nothing to bring on. He is the sweetest, most wonderful boyfriend that I can imagine, who has done everything he can to help me through my PTSD spells and who is sacrificing so much to come with me to therapy even though it means he has to drive down to Boston at least once a week. I am trying to plant in my mind the conviction and determination to go through with this therapy program to beat the PTSD gremlin that is building all kinds of barriers between us.

We're almost halfway through the treatment program. The trauma focus is about to begin, where I will have to challenge my beliefs about blame, trust, and control regarding the rape and the aftermath. I will try to be less intimidated about writing about it and blog more regularly.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Choice and Blame

You've probably seen it: "that exam totally raped me," "this monster in (video game) is raping me," ad nauseum. Such careless use of rape as a metaphor for something unpleasant is absolutely acceptable; throwing around the word so blithely demeans survivors of a terrible crime and desensitizes people to an issue already commonly misunderstood or ignored.

I just read this article on how Kristin Stewart, star of that terrible movie Twilight, compared the intrusive nature of the paparazzi to being raped. I of course still think that metaphor is unacceptable, for many reasons, but the article brings up an interesting point. One argument commonly made is that celebrities choose to seek out publicity, so therefore they have a choice, while rape is a violation in which the victim has no choice. However, the end of the article states:

"There are choices when it comes to being an actor, yes, but much less choice when it comes to celebrity, and making that distinction comes really frakking close to blaming rape victims because of what they wear or how they behave."

(Then the article goes on to say that Kristen Stewart took on an "indie movie" and is simply "living up to her contract and suffering through the consequences of a film's publicity, not her own," which I think is a bit of a ridiculous statement, but let's ignore that and return to the original debate about the nature of choice.)

What do you think? Does the above quote make sense? I have to admit that I am still unsure of my own opinion, so I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Song: "Nightminds" -- Missy Higgins

A touching song about supporting someone through dark times.

Just lay it all down
Put your face into my neck and let it fall out
I know, I know, I know
I knew before you got home
This world you're in now
It doesn't have to be alone
I'll get there somehow, 'cause
I know, I know, I know
When even springtime feels cold

But I will learn to breathe this ugliness you see
So we can both be there
And we can both share the dark
And in our honesty, together we will rise
Out of our nightminds, and into the light
At the end of the fight
And in our honesty, together we will rise
Out of our nightminds
And into the light at the end of the fight

Monday, April 26, 2010

Site: National Center for PTSD

The National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (NCPTSD) is sponsored by the United States Department of Veteran Affairs, but its work (as well as its website) is a good resource for all trauma survivors, not just military veterans. On the website you can find fact sheets about PTSD and its various causes as well as links to other good resources and information on how to find a mental health care provider for yourself, a family member, or a friend. 

What I think stands out about the NCPTSD's work is the PILOTS database-- Published International Literature On Traumatic Stress. The goal of the project is to index every academic work published on PTSD, no matter what language or journal it is published in. If you might benefit from reading academic studies on trauma, this is definitely a great resource.

Also, this summer I will actually be working on PILOTS with Dr. Fred Lerner and his team. Best volunteer job ever! I am thrilled to have this opportunity. :D

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


The two-year anniversary of my rape was last weekend. I couldn't find the words to write a blog post. I cried the moment I realized the weekend's significance, and sunk into a depression until my D* held me and helped me out of it. Then I spent that Weekend with him and was mostly fine. On Saturday night, when my mind was filled with intrusive memories and fear and misery, he held me and the storm eventually passed.

But now I am back to being alone, and the thoughts have settled in again. This morning I could not bring myself to get out of bed. I do not remember having bad dreams last night, but I woke up feeling numb, miserable, afraid, closed-down. I passed the morning under the covers with my laptop, doing everything I could just to pass the time. Finally I willed myself to eat something, and my numbness loosened up just enough for me to accept that the memories and emotions are back.

I have been reading survivor stories and allowing myself to cry. Some of the stories echo my sentiments and sometimes even my very own words. I cry because of the reminders; I cry because some wounds are still fresh; I cry because to this day I still grasp for validation even though the pain is there right before my very eyes. Even though I saw my symptoms, I still feel inferior, ashamed, to call myself a rape victim when so many others have experienced trauma worse than mine.

Right after it happened it was too easy to convince people-- no one argued with me, and everyone just accepted that it happened, because he was a jerk and he was gone, never to return anyway, so it required little effort to throw support behind some words. Words, but few actions. Words drift away. Words fade away. Two years later, all I know is that I feel alone because I do not, cannot, tell my friends when it hurts. I tell D* sometimes, but then I feel awful because it just becomes another weight for him to bear. I tell my therapist when I see her, but somehow nothing really helps these moments-- they have to come and go on their own.

It is lonely. My covers are warm and my laptop is a decent connection to the outside world, but I am lonely. Perhaps I will return to Pandora's Aquarium again, to seek out a group of people who might understand. Still, though, the pain, the exhaustion, the tears-- they are mine to bear. I don't know how to reach out to people when most everyone thinks, or wants to think, I am healed. I don't know what anyone can do to help me. Somewhere in my mind I know that I have a good future and that my life is not solely made up of the Event, but right now it is a distant thought shrouded by the fog. I have at least been able to stay safe and not harm myself-- that is one relief. But how do I escape this fog? And more importantly, can I let myself, or will my ability to move on deny me the validation I still yearn for?

When I am happy, I feel guilty. I feel as though I have lied. Because if my experience really had been that bad, I would still be suffering. The more I suffer, the easier it is to accept that my pain is legitimate and okay and real. But then another voice whispers that it has been two years, and maybe it is finally possible to reconcile those two things, that the event could still be intrinsically and truly awful, yet it is okay to heal.

I still struggle to convince myself that being able to walk away from pain doesn't lessen the severity and true, legitimate horror of the event. For some reason, I cannot simply accept that it is okay to fully heal, or even to want to heal. Instead, I fight my body's desire to seek relief and happiness. Sometimes I seek exposure to triggering media in order to immerse myself in the familiar numbness and pain. I would try to explain that behavior by calling it an attempt at mastery, but that's not it, either-- if I were trying to re-expose myself to traumatic thoughts to prove to myself that I am stronger, I would not be so hesitant to break the spell and return to my happy, carefree self. Instead, I sink. Am I waiting for someone to rescue me? God, I hope not, because I don't know who could, or would. What am I waiting for? Why do I do this? Two years later, I still don't have good answers. The memories of the Event do not burn as brightly as before, but dull pain is not much better than fresh pain. Dull pain brings with it the worry that I will never heal.

It is 6pm and my entire day has been lost in the fog of my mind. The solution is not as simple as taking a bubble bath or treating myself to some soothing tea or music or books. Crawling out of the fog has never been that simple. Do I talk to someone, or do I hide? Do I stare at mindless things on the internet, or do I bury myself under the covers and will everything to go away? Do I ask sleep to overtake me in the chance that all will reset, or do I struggle to stay awake because I am afraid the next day will just be more of the same? What should I do?

I don't know. I just don't know.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Another Hiatus

Dear Blogland,

I am terribly sorry for not having posted as much these past few weeks as I had wanted to. I stressed out a lot over application essays and ate chocolate. All my applications are finally done (huzzah!) as of this afternoon but alas, I will shortly be leaving for Thailand. I have arranged to volunteer and shadow doctors at three hospitals there while I am also visiting family for the first time in almost ten years, so that'll be a blast.

I do not think I will have the time or the capability to write posts while I am there, so unfortunately I will have to put this blog on hiatus until I return to the States at the end of March. Take care of yourselves, and I wish you all the best! See you in five weeks.


Monday, February 1, 2010

Beyond bruises

After being in several abusive relationships, the thing that took the hardest hit was my self-esteem. I don't think my shaky sense of self-worth even has much to do with the sexual assaults-- those events affected certain parts of my self-esteem and identity, but really the damage comes from partners who regularly hurt me and said it was all my fault. What that led to was the serious, deep-down conviction that I am broken or tainted, that I can't do anything right, and that I can't have/don't deserve a healthy relationship. Those feelings have resurfaced several times during the last month with D*; I overreact to something, get upset, cause a fight, and then become convinced that this is evidence that I can't do anything right in a relationship. I've set myself up a self-fulfilling prophecy, and it's a cycle I'm finding it really difficult to break out of. I know it's there, I recognize it for what it is, yet I still can't stop myself from following the path I've laid out.

What an insidious aftereffect. *shakes head* Abusive relationships that lack physical violence often get overlooked or brushed off by outsiders. Some people think, how bad could it actually be? The answer is: bad. In an ironic way, it can be worse without physical violence because that's the only thing society seems to accept as clearly wrong. If you weren't hit or kicked, it's difficult to find validation for your experience. How can I explain to people what it was like to be screamed at everyday? to be constantly made to feel stupid and worthless? How can I explain how quietly, insidiously damaging that is? I've had trouble, honestly. I usually don't identify myself as a survivor of domestic violence because of it, not only because I worry it minimizes what others ("real survivors of DV") have gone through, but also because I feel like no one will believe me.

The other day I found myself faced with a huge myth about domestic violence. A friend of mine said something that I thought was just a tasteless joke, and so I reproached him for it. He said, "Who said it was a joke?" He honestly believed that women who stayed with abusive boyfriends did so because they secretly liked it. I was flat-out flabbergasted. There was so much wrong with that statement that I didn't know where to start. It makes me wonder how many myths about domestic violence exist today in society. I often hear about rape myths, but I think the line between right and wrong about rape is much more clearly marked in society's minds than it is with domestic violence. Society seems to heavily favor looking the other way when a problem arises between two people who are involved in a relationship. All kinds of rationalization occurs to explain the existence of clearly abusive relationships-- for example, the belief that she stays with her abusive boyfriend because she secretly likes it. It doesn't occur to people to think about the other reasons she can't leave, like forced financial dependency, threat to herself or her loved ones, or having nowhere to go. That last one is particularly intricately involved with society's views on domestic violence-- you aren't received and accepted in society as a refugee from something terrible if society doesn't believe your situation was that terrible. Refugees of war-torn countries are more easily accepted here because war and violence in another country are easy to condemn, and therefore sympathy can easily be extended to those refugees. A woman fleeing from an abusive partner may not find such sympathy in her peers.

Perhaps accepting that domestic violence exists and is a terrible and painful thing is too much for society to handle because it strikes too close to home. I guess it's the same reason that women are often the harshest critics and least sympathetic peers of rape survivors-- if they accept the reality of rape or domestic violence, then it could happen to them. Better to deny it than accept that frightening reality. Ignorance is bliss? I don't know.

Returning to the original point of this post-- self-esteem. That's been my hardest struggle, believing that my abusive relationships are over and that my new relationship with D* doesn't have to be like them. I have so many insecurities to work through, so much fear to have to wade through, with just blind faith to guide me to the other side. I have to believe that things can work with D*. I have to believe that the abuse and assault has not left me broken or tainted. I have to believe that I have healed a great deal and can and will continue to heal further. I have to believe, and belief is terrifying. However, many brave survivors of sexual and domestic violence have been able to cultivate healthy, loving relationships, and therefore so can I.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Pros and Cautions of Volunteering

My volunteer work with WISE has finally gotten underway. WISE (Women's Information Service) is the local crisis center here that deals with sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking. It is a wonderful place with wonderful people, and I couldn't be happier about volunteering here. The building is warm and homey, and the best thing about it is that there are dogs! I love dogs. They're big, lovely, friendly dogs, and they definitely add a touch of comforting personality to what could otherwise be an intimidating place. Unless you don't like dogs, I suppose. :-(

It looks like I won't be able to do actual crisis work (i.e. staffing the 24-hour hotline) because I am leaving the States just a few days before the February training session and then the next session is so late in the spring that I will pretty much be leaving Hanover right after it is done. The project I'm currently working on does feel very rewarding, though. I am reorganizing, editing, and updating the volunteer advocate resource manual. So far I have reorganized some chapters and moved around bits of information that seemed out-of-place, and now I am going through each organization listing one by one and verifying the organization name, address, phone number(s), and website. There are definitely things that are out-of-date, so I feel useful, not just like some glorified copy-editor.

Last night, while I was going through the list of local crisis centers and particularly their 24-hour hotlines, I was struck by an overwhelming sense of gratitude to the volunteers who keep them running. It was so touching and humbling to realize exactly how many organizations there are just in the New Hampshire/Vermont area, how many crisis lines there are, and therefore how many people are needed to staff them so they can be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Dear volunteers, you're the best.

Even though my work is superbly rewarding, I am starting to realize that overexposure is possible. Last night I was reading a movie summary for Precious (having known nothing about its plot) to see if I wanted to go see it, and I discovered that rape/incest play a pretty big part in the movie. Then I found out that Slumdog Millionaire also involves rape. I went a little numb in that way I always do when rape gets brought up, and so I couldn't work on my applications. Instead I decided to do some more work with the resource manual. That basically involved looking up websites for crisis center after crisis center, and therefore thinking about sexual assault and domestic violence for two hours. I didn't think much of it, and in fact felt pretty good about doing something useful, but then I couldn't sleep last night. I got a few hours of very restless sleep towards the morning, but anxiety is still fluttering in my stomach and I don't quite feel right. I think it is from overexposure to issues surrounding rape the last few days (since quite a few of my application essays talk about my experiences as well).

I am learning to set boundaries, though. A year ago I probably would have followed the compulsion to continue steeping myself in these issues until someone rescued me. However, I am trying to set healthy boundaries now. As worried as I am about time and trying to get my applications done before I leave for Thailand, I am giving myself a break today. I simply don't think I could get anything done in this anxious and wonky mood I'm in. D* is coming up this evening, and I am very much looking forward to getting to see him. Hopefully the weekend will reset things and I can start seriously working again on Monday.

Aww, D* just called me on his lunch break, just because. :)  Yay for much-needed smiles.

Anyway, I think I am off to go do mindless productive things today. Cheerio!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus

alternatively titled:
How (not?) to Start a Relationship

A while ago, I wrote a post about how to tell a potential significant other about your experience. As I mentioned in the post, I didn't really have too much to say on the topic, because I sort of had to do it once but then it didn't work out and all that. However, now, I think I have a little more to add, so here's part 2.

When it became clear to me that I really wanted this thing with D* to work out, I did what comes automatically to me when I get anxious-- I went to the library and checked out a bunch of books on the subject. One of the lucky ducks I brought home with me was Mars and Venus on a Date: A Guide for Navigating the 5 Stages of Dating to Create a Loving and Lasting Relationship. (Yup, part of the gigantic series written by the guy who wrote the original Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.) I should probably feel embarrassed to be admitting to this in a public forum, but I will claim that it was all in the name of experimentation and research for this blog. (*shifty eyes*)

Anyway. I read about one-third of the book, and then I had to stop. Why? Because the moral of the book seems to be "Resist the urge to do what comes naturally to you, because following your instincts will just mess everything up." If I were to believe in the advice offered in the book, I totally messed up everything with D*. And I believed that for a little bit. Some unquantifiable amount of anxiety later, I talked with D* and thought about things, and ended up deciding that I wasn't such a screw-up after all and John Gray, Ph.D., can take his advice to other people who might actually care.

Let's take a step back and look at what I actually did with D* that was deemed so awful by the Book. I essentially followed my instincts: I was wary but eager, and I showed my desire to get to know and trust him through unflinching honesty. Basically, I took the first chance I got to spill my guts about everything and waited to see his reaction.


I know, it probably sounds silly and wholly ridiculous now, but it made sense at the time and still kind of does, to me. One of the most significant changes post-trauma was the way in which I saw myself. For the longest time, my traumatic experiences were everything to me. I thought about it a lot and talked about it all the time. I simply could not conceive of a self that did not revolve around my trauma, because I did not remember my "old self" and my new, current self was so preoccupied with what had happened that there was no room for anything else. I could not have described myself without talking about my experiences. I had a terribly hard time having a conversation with anyone in which I did not bring up something related to trauma. I could not see myself in any other light-- I did not have other hobbies or interests with which to define myself, and I had no concept of personality apart from my obsession with advocacy regarding assault.

Granted, that all got better by the time I returned to classes and a semblance of a normal life. I made the effort to rediscover interests and hobbies so that I could tenuously define myself like a Facebook profile, with at least some answers for the requisite fields like "activities" and "interests" and "favorites." I even managed to hold off for some time before blurting out my experiences to new friends I made. (Though the fact that I stressed over when to tell people and made such a big deal of it to myself led to fantastic amounts of awkwardness, as chronicled in this post that I wrote after one experience with telling a friend.) In any case, I was doing better with not defining myself wholly according to my trauma.

Then I started talking to D* online, and all my carefully conceived sense went out the door. Because this was something that I felt could be special, my instinct was to be completely honest. No facades or filters-- just complete and total honesty. I remembered all too well the meltdown that occurred when I told Boyfriend 3 a couple weeks into our relationship about how I lost my virginity with Boyfriend 2 (i.e. unwillingly). He acted furious with Boyfriend 2, but he also blamed me. He couldn't understand that I hadn't wanted it. He shamed me and made me cry for days. I guess I just subconsciously hoped that by telling D* about everything upfront, it would be all out in the open, and he could decide to run or stay before I became too emotionally attached.

What actually happened was massive amounts of awkwardness and bad judgment on my part. Things got a little out of control in my mind: I told him about what happened, but I also slipped into a state of numbness and detachment. I slid into a tough-girl mode that hid my actual uncertainty about my feelings regarding sex, nudity, and my fraternity. I basically adopted the facade of a shameless and sexually unreserved girl-- the profile I used to present to my fraternity before the event of my senior spring, when I was still repressing what had happened at Simon's Rock. It was as if I wanted to see how much D* could take, or what would make him run. I don't know why I did it. I don't know if I was just testing him, or if I was trying to prove something to myself, like the fact that no nice guy could ever want me or deal with me. I just don't know. But I basically dug such a hole for myself that I did almost push him away, and probably would have if one of my close friends hadn't stepped in and fixed things for me.

It was an unconventional beginning, to say the least. Mars and Venus on a Date says you shouldn't present anything negative about your real self until Stage 4 of the whole process. For perspective, the 5 stages of dating are attraction, uncertainty, exclusivity, intimacy, and engagement; the Book basically says that you need to wait until you have your partner completely hooked and trusting before you even hint at a negative side. For goodness's sake, the first stage in which that is permissible is the one right before getting engaged! You're supposed to present only your good side until then, and repress all urges to be natural and honest. Let's see the multitude of ways in which the author tells the reader this (all quotes taken from the beginning of Chapter 3, which is about stage 1, attraction):

Although feelings of attraction are automatic, in order to sustain attraction in a personal relationship we must also be skillful in presenting ourselves in ways that are not just appealing to the other sex but supportive as well. It is not enough to say, "Here I am; take me as I am."

My reaction to that was "why not?" What's wrong with presenting myself as I am? It just seems disingenuous to act like something I am not. Isn't the romantic ideal finding someone who accepts you exactly for who you are?

Then he says some things that make sense:

On Venus, when two friends get together they enjoy the opportunity to share freely the mishaps, frustrations, disappointments, and complaints of the week. A woman's willingness to "share all" is actually a compliment to the other woman. It is a sign of trust, goodwill, and friendship.

While this gesture on Venus may be "putting your best foot forward," on Mars it is not. A man can easily get the wrong impression. When a woman dwells on negative feelings or problems in her life, instead of valuing her willingness to share openly, a man mistakenly assumes that she is difficult to please. Just as a woman is attracted to a man who shows interest in her, a man is attracted to a woman who can clearly be pleased. When she appears to be difficult to please, he may easily become turned off.

I made the mistake of doing that early on in my conversations with D*. One night, I was getting upset because of a series of frustrating email exchanges. D* was already starting to become more to me than just a friend, and so I felt the urge to tell him I was upset. I wasn't expecting, or even wanting, him to solve my problems, because he couldn't. He didn't know enough about the situation to even have a chance. I just wanted some kind of commiseration or support. But after I told him I was upset, he did try and solve my problems, and it just succeeded in frustrating us both. So I learned that talking about problems was not a good bonding experience.

And then the author goes on to say:

To create the ideal opportunity to experience the best a man has to offer and for a man to experience her best, a woman needs to be careful to share the positive side of her life and avoid dwelling on negative experiences. Conversation should be light, not heavy, focused on current events in the world and in their lives, but discussed in a positive manner.

My response to reading this the first time: PG version- "Oops." (Actual response- more like "oh sh*t.") I basically did the exact opposite of what it was telling me I needed to do.

This does not imply in any way that she should be fake. Authenticity is what makes anyone most attractive. Everyone has a positive side and a negative side, everyone has ups and downs, and everyone has a needy side and an autonomous side. Putting her best foot forward means sharing her most positive side, her up side, and her autonomous side. Later on she can share the other part. It is just a matter of timing.

To make the best impression and to get to know someone most effectively, it is important that we first get a chance to know the positive side. In the first three stages of dating-- attraction, uncertainty, and exclusivity-- it is best to focus on putting forth our best self. After getting to know our best sides, then in stage four, intimacy, we are ready to deal with the less positive sides of who we are.

The first time I read this, I was oscillating between feeling awful because I had messed everything up with D* and then feeling indignant because it all seemed so misogynistic and fake. Even if I had read this before talking to D* for the first time, I'm not sure I could have stuck to those rules. It would have seemed way too fake after a few conversations. For someone who considers her experiences to be such an important part of her life when they happened and who still sees them as significant in her drive and motivation in life now, for me not to mention anything about them would have required conscious planning and thought, which seems so forced and fake.

Could I have found some other way to tell him? Probably. I approached it a different way with the guy I considered dating before I met D*. The first time I mentioned anything was probably the second time we met, when he asked me what my ideal job would be. Without thinking much, I answered "rape crisis counselor." He was pretty shocked and taken aback at the specificity and promptness of my response, and then he recovered. I explained briefly that sexual assault was an important issue to me, and that was that. It didn't stick in his mind too much, because he made a rape joke to me a few weeks later on our first "date," but when I actually told him about what had happened my senior spring, he said he'd already guessed. Then we decided not to date, for various reasons, so I just never bothered to reflect on how that went.

When I talked to D* a while later about what the Book had said and how I felt awful for messing up, he told me that the book was written for "normal people," and that I had a perfectly good reason or explanation for going about things the way I did. Did I? I guess I had an explanation for it, albeit a subconscious one, but is it justifiable? I don't know. Unlike the Book, I have no moral or conclusion to this post, no dating advice for trauma survivors. I can't really say what's best because my relationship with D* is the only one I've had in which I've had to find some way to share my experience. The only advice I can give is to do what feels comfortable, and if he's a good guy, he'll understand.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Old emails

I have been reading and organizing loads of old emails in the process of transferring them from my undergraduate account to my gmail. Chronologically I just reached emails from early April 2008-- i.e. those exchanged among friends and my fraternity after the event. As I reread them, my mind started to think back to the aftermath and all that was said and done.

I'm feeling pretty numb right now. There are a couple of things that made me cringe mentally, but otherwise I am feeling pretty emotionless. The numbness is heavy, though. The combination of my mood and the fact that outside was gray and gross today makes me just want to curl up and clutch a stuffed animal and hope the world goes away from a little while if I close my eyes.

In other news, I finally deleted some old emails that I had hidden away for several years. I still became (become?) angry when I think about them, but at least they are gone. I had so much trouble deleting them because I kept wondering if I would ever want them again, as evidence of how much of a liar and a jerk he was, but I know that I should just delete them all and try to move on.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Preaching from a pedestal is easy, isn't it?

I've started not wearing a watch unless I have to. It's very interesting to not be so caught up in the urgency of time anymore, instead just drifting along during the day, judging time by how light it is outside, and then realizing it doesn't actually really matter what time it is. Because of that, I just realized it's January 18. Happy half-birthday to me?

I've had a lot on my mind since graduation has given me boatloads of free time. However, I seem to be less good at regularly writing about it. There have been a few developments on the relationship front and the advocacy front (i.e. volunteer work with a crisis center), which I think I will talk about in future separate posts.

I was feeling ambitious tonight and planned on writing at least one post about trauma and relationships, but a few minutes ago I just ran into a post on a friend's journal that left me feeling emotionally overwhelmed and a bit triggered. My friend is strongly pro-life, with the view that abortion is murder and therefore unacceptable in all cases. That I can respect-- I talked a little about my views on that in this previous post. What irks me is specifically the "it's for your own good" argument. There are several studies that present findings that many women who experience an abortion develop depression and anxiety and other mental conditions. When I am in a calmer and less triggered mood, I will read those studies and return to this blog with my analysis. However, just for right now, I am going to approach this issue from an entirely personal perspective, academic impartial analysis be damned.

If I had become pregnant from either of the rapes I experienced, particularly the second one, it would have killed me to carry the baby to term. I mean that not only figuratively but also quite possibly literally. I would have spent all nine months hating the baby growing inside me. I had enough problems with harmful and self-destructive behavior without having part of my body act as a constant reminder of what happened. If just the memory of the event and later the aftermath with people's ignorance and apathy was enough to drive me to physically hurt myself, what do you think having his baby inside me would have done? I think it very well could have led to me killing myself, and thus the baby as well.

It is appallingly arrogant and presumptuous of anyone to badger, coerce, guilt-trip, or force a rape victim to carry the baby to term if she believes it is not in her own best interests to do so. Only misguided arrogance could make someone believe he or she knows better than the victim what she should do with her own body. In other words, the "for your own good" argument makes me want to slug someone. It's quite easy to wave around "scientific studies" and preach that the victim will regret it if she chooses to have an abortion. However, I wonder how many of those people would actually have the guts to say that directly to a traumatized rape victim.

It makes me wonder what would have happened had I become pregnant after the rape. I want to know how many people would have tried to guilt-trip me into carrying the baby to term. I want to know which of my friends would have dared tell me to my face that it was for my own good. With the way things actually went, already most of the people I knew wanted nothing to do with me and my trauma and my struggle to heal. How many people would have tried to coerce me into making a decision that would directly contradict my understanding of how I could best heal and then left me to my own struggles? The apathy I faced from "friends" was bad enough. No one would have wanted to deal with the extreme self-loathing that would have ensued had I been forced to carry his baby for nine months. I had enough problems with starving myself for days, standing into the cold (yes, New Hampshire winter, snow and all) with no protection, and physically marking and scarring myself. [Self-destructive behavior: another post for another day.]

I felt so dirty after both times I was raped. Think of the shower scenes you see in movies after someone has been so irrevocably violated (e.g. in The Lives of Others). I felt like I could never be clean again. What genius could think that having my rapist's baby inside my body for nine whole months is going to help me heal? How much more of a constant physical reminder of the trauma that already plays itself over and over in my head do I need? How can you possibly tell me that you know better than me what will help me heal-- and better yet, use that as justification to try to prevent me from making any kind of choice whatsoever?

Dear pro-lifers:

Feel free to try to educate rape victims about the potential mental health risks of aborting their rapist's baby. I support the concept of fair and impartial education. However, you have absolutely no right whatsoever to take away the woman's choice by shutting down abortion clinics or making them unaffordable. Furthermore, if you ever intimidate, coerce, or guilt-trip a woman into carrying the baby against her will, you are no better than her rapist.

No love,

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Bad dream bad dream bad dream bad dream


It's not often I wake up screaming. I had this dream after I went back to sleep at 10am (intending to wake up at 11:30) so it's all very vivid still. The feeling of utter helplessness during an assault-- this time I did try to fight, but I was overpowered. That feeling is still sitting in my chest, a huge, heavy, stifling weight. There were two assaults, and then somehow it switched to a scene of physical torture involving knives or razors or scalpels, I don't remember exactly. I had enough consciousness at the last moment before I woke up to turn my head into my pillow so my screaming wouldn't echo through my whole house.

This is totally not an appropriate post for this blog, but I didn't know where else to write about it and I needed to get it all out so I could try to start functioning for the day.

Monday, January 11, 2010


My nerves are having a really tough time today. First, a really frustrating conversation; second, major fraternity-induced anxiety; and third, almost getting hit by a car that didn't feel like stopping while I was in a crosswalk on the way home. I'm jittery as hell and having a tough time calming down.

So, to elaborate on the second point mentioned above, I seem to have lost my only social space on campus. Friday night at the frat was an absolute disaster. Tau can get pretty ragey and sketchy, but that "party" just felt completely out of control. There were just too many drunk people and half-naked people-- and then there was the frighteningly loud, high-pitched, piercing screaming that would happen every few minutes, induced by some girls' inebriated ecstasy. My nerves were already fraying and the constant screaming just made them snap. I was in the chapter room with some friends while the chaos was happening in the kitchen and dining room. When I started to visibly get anxious, one of my friends--without my asking or prompting--went to go shut the sliding doors between us and them. It was a very kind gesture on his part and one that helped a lot. But then the doors opened right back up and one of the house officers glared at us indignantly for daring to impede upon their fun. Because clearly, anyone in their right mind who wasn't joining in on the fun would at least want to watch. "What are you closing the door for? It's just another normal day at Tau," was what she said. Closing a door for some peace of mind-- when they weren't even coming into the room we were in-- is apparently far too insulting. The dismissive attitude of another officer of the house, one I used to like or at least respect, was the last straw. I started to panic and had to leave, so I went to the math building next door and sobbed hysterically until I could calm down and breathe normally again.

It was one of the more awful instances at Tau, the kind that make me wonder why I go back there. I stayed at home and refused to go over during the weekend. I had no immediate plans to go back but then last night I made plans with some friends to go get breakfast (because one of them was just visiting and was about to leave). After breakfast I decided to come back to Tau and give it a shot. I stayed in the chapter room for a while, but I just couldn't do it.

I don't feel safe there anymore. I am constantly on edge again whenever I am there. When I see certain people, I freeze up, half-resentful and half-afraid. I am tense and uncomfortable in the house that is supposed to be warm and welcoming, a house that is supposed to make its brothers feel safe. Too much has changed, and I am too dissociated when I am there. At its best, everything just feels fake and unreal; at its worst, everything feels laughably inane, trivial, and ridiculous.

It's unfortunate. I really started to believe that Tau was improving with the addition of new people. I really like the new brothers, but even their lovely selves cannot make up for the presence of certain older members and attitudes.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Moving on

So when I said that I was back in my last post, I might have been a bit premature. Whoops. December was busy for me, with graduating, meeting D*, and going home to visit my parents, so I ended up not being able to return to and commit to a regular schedule of posting. I will be overseas next month, but I will try my best to make the most of January.

I'd like to start writing a new series of posts, not directly about sexual assault or PTSD, but about what it's like to move on, specifically in the context of a relationship. I was originally going to try to keep my blog more academic and less personal, but as I started writing in these last few months, I began to see that too much of my life was still revolving around these issues and unable to let go. Because I have not completely moved on yet, I am perhaps most equipped to write about myself and my own healing process, as opposed to detached academic treatises or abstract philosophical musings.

Sooo... I am currently in a new and blooming long-distance relationship with D*, who is an incredibly wonderful and supportive guy. Predictably, I started to run into mental blocks and triggers as he and I started to become involved. However, this time around I have a true ally in my boyfriend, and he is helping me work through these issues as they arise. I have begun to see and identify the extent of my insecurities, anxieties, and fears. I have started to realize that I can, and should, communicate with him about them. And I have started to address my relationship with sex-- a much more complicated venture than I'd realized.

I have a great many issues with physical intimacy that come from not only the rape but also the various relationships I've been in. For one, I had no concept of boundaries. When I first tried to voice them in my first seriously physical relationship, they were blatantly ignored, like a bulldozer just rolling right over my efforts to resist. I don't remember how much I protested when something unwanted was done to me or I was forced to do something I had said I didn't want to do. All I remember is that at some point my mind detached and it felt like it was no longer me so it was okay, or at least as okay as it could be. And then after it all I simply repressed the memory-- it was like forgetting.

But then it became too easy to detach, and so I dissociated constantly whenever anything related to sex arose, preemptively, before anything unwanted occurred. It simply became habit, and there was no reason for me to fight it. Being detached helped when what I wanted was ignored or never asked about, or when there was pain and tears dripped down my cheeks while I closed my eyes and bit my lip. There was no reason for me to not become detached, because it wasn't like my partner would have focused on my feeling pleasure anyhow.

But then I met D*. I have no idea how to express this without being sappy or cliche or trite, but he is so very different. He is a gentle, patient, and caring partner who has never once made physical intimacy all about him. He has tried to impress upon me that it is perfectly all right for me to say no to something and that it won't make him upset or resentful. He maintains his expression of affection for me both during intimate moments and not, so that it doesn't feel like sexual activity --> affection. All of that makes a difference-- I have been working so hard on keeping myself in the moment and not dissociating. I have tried to identify and communicate the events of my past and the anxieties they created, and he has understood. And most importantly of all for me, for the first time in my life I was able to say no. I cannot find the words to express how incredulous I was when I mustered up the courage to say that I was exhausted and not feeling well and he simply cuddled me and said we could go to sleep. I get kind of choked up still when I think about that. What some people might take for granted actually means so much to me.

Things have the potential to be so special with D*. I so badly want them to be, and I think they can.