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extra:ordinary – how something is made flesh

(Our final post in the extra:ordinary project (stories of everyday survival and resilience) comes from Renee Garcia of Berkeley, CA — a stunning piece that tackles this idea of monstrousness that so many survivors live with, and reveals the tremendously creative work we do to keep ourselves living and alive. Thank you, Renee, for offering this beautiful piece as the finale to our project.)

How something is made flesh

no one can say

1.
How something is made flesh no one can say. She knew the story of her birth. She remembers in bits of static and some old pictures that didn’t get burned up in the fire, and some stories people told about her being born. Not a boy. Not a boy. She knew from some stories and the pinched look on her mother’s face and the vacant dreamy look on her father’s face that she was never born not really. Not in the made flesh sort of way. She was born like a story they told themselves about having a baby. Because that’s what normal people (not monsters) do. They fall in love (and they did fall in love with their broken-ness and made themselves as one (like monsters do with magic) and they had a baby. Little white perfect baby clothes. A white crib. The house scrubbed to brightness. They had a baby who cried all the time. They had a baby they were not equipped for as normal people, as broken people made as one, as monsters made by the dark shadow whispers in his ear saying take this flesh and eat of it. As the dark shadow whispers in her ear saying take this flesh and kill it-this will destroy everything and besides it won’t stop crying.

2.
She knitted herself a person suit from watching how other real people acted. She made herself a person suit from feathers she tore into strips, from bacon fat, from red clay gathered in the foothills of the Sierras, from old stories she dreamed from her real ancestors from long ago. She knitted herself up with her broken hands and didn’t mind the pain. Giving birth is painful even when you are making your self. Her own flesh that she crafted that smelled like the earth and bread baking and wild flowers that were really just weeds. She used tree bark and the trees allowed it. She used other people’s stories and dropped consonants from when they talked too fast. She walked until she was used to it. Her feet were the best thing she made. She made them from poems and old church hymns and wild grasses and river rocks. They were sturdy and determined and kind and could carry her for miles and miles. She threw away the original flesh, it had gotten ruined and who says you can’t make your own flesh. She is only sorry she forgot the wings.

3.
How do you unmake human flesh no one can say.

So easy the hand over the mouth. So easy the underwater bath. She remembers being underwater as much as she remembers air. She remembers becoming flesh painfully over a life time because she was othered into the sheets and coated in bleach and dressed up like a doll and taken into the world silenced and golden with pretty. People said so. Little perfect dresses and shiny black Mary Janes. She was pretty and a good child until she learned how to climb the tinker toy scaffolding she made when they were asleep all normal people sleep (and monsters too) and then she was a bad child but that made her real. A real live something. Girl was wrong. Boy was just a dream. A real live creature. The one that lived in the trees and listened for the bird song and shot hoops in the back yard where she cleaned up all the dog shit from all the dogs she loved and he disappeared.

4.
Who can say how flesh becomes human or human becomes monster. The monster is in everyone. We want to have it be dark and mysterious and impossible. We want hollywood 3D glasses and popcorn and screams and relief that there are no monsters. There are monsters everywhere. Not under the bed. Just under the in breath. Human, monster. It’s waiting like our cells wait to mutate. When cancer breaks in, or some other dis ease that says you belong to me now. Monster is the same. It’s just a state we occupy or don’t. Monsters are made by human flesh made flesh in an equation that is as ordinary as cracking an egg into the fying pan. It’s a choice often it’s a choice. Some of us get made that way. But monster is a tribe too.

The word “monster” derives from Latin monstrum, an aberrant occurrence, usually biological, that was taken as a sign that something was wrong within the natural order.[1]

5.
Something was wrong with the natural order. Sure. She knows that as she looks at the family tree on the big butcher paper and she draws vines around the throats of the one’s she hates in her own loving way. She can’t cross them out and un-make them, it’s too late. She can only decorate them. No off with their heads magic doesn’t work backwards at least not until she deciphers the mysteries of time travel. Then who can say. And if she takes their heads will she take her own because they came first or will her own determined flesh making win out over the sperm and the egg. She can’t complain and doesn’t this is how she got herself this how she started before she made her own consecrated flesh. These are the stories she does not tell her children. She only tells herself.

6.
Sometimes she becomes flesh and real and breathing in the touching of another and another touching her. Skin to skin. Warmth. Breathing. Loving. Fucking. She is alive then and fluid and moving and it’s like all the sunshine days rolled into one and falling from a high tree before the ground bites her back with it’s gravity rules. The falling is a flying without wings and it tastes like all the good things. Like wild berries and hot sourdough bread and lips in the first kiss or the last kiss. It tastes like real and round and hard and sharp and she never doesn’t feel baptized and saved from the darkness then. She is a real live girl now even when the flashbacks arrive on cue, like a line of toy soldiers that demand their viewing in formation until she knocks them over or turns them into art with a blow torch and glue and paint and glitter.

7.
This is how she is made flesh. Writing herself into her own story. Drinking iced tea that is strong and almost bitter and adding lemon. Her mouth wakes up. Digging in the dirt and tasting it. Dirt tastes as real as anything else and it’s organic. And free. Remembering that she used to bleed. Forgiving the moon for everything. She is made flesh over and over again by wishing it so. She will finally learn how by heart when it’s time to let the flesh go and become a cloud walker again. Who can say how flesh is made. We say it and say it, we tell the stories and tell the stories and we make it so.

(Thank you, Renee, and thank you to all of our extra:ordinary project contributors — and to all of you who read and shared these words and manifest, every day, the extraordinary resilience, that beautiful work of remaining, in the aftermath of trauma.)

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extra:ordinary – the story of a normal girl

(This week, I’m offering my own contribution to the extra:ordinary project (stories of everyday survival and resilience) — what does it mean to have to try and find your way back into a humanity you are afraid doesn’t want you, or that you don’t deserve, after you escape from trauma or violence? How many of us are living that question right now?

Be easy with you as you read; I talk somewhat explicitly about sexual violence and psychological manipulations in this piece.)

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The story of a normal girl

It happened again the other day. Over dinner, some friends started talking about their teenage years, sharing sexual coming of age stories.  Normal stuff: how old they were when they first touched themselves or touched someone else, parents who were clueless about who they were fooling around with, what kind of sex they were having and how young. They told the stories of how regular girls try on on these experiences of being grown up – how they learn to flirt or play or shut someone down.

Women bond over these stories: how we negotiated the travails of adolescence, learned to navigate the nuances of adult womanhood, learned to relate to sex, men, boys, our bodies, femininity, other women.

I sipped my tea, quiet, disappearing. I did not participate in the conversation. I never participate in these conversations unless I know I am with other sexual abuse survivors. I listen and wonder. It’s like eavesdropping on people who were raised in another country or maybe on another planet. They speak a foreign language, one I lost the grammar for when I was fifteen years old. I know some of the vocabulary, enough to make it sound like I am a native speaker.

I can pass myself off as one of them for a little while when I need to. It’s not that I don’t have my own stories of awkward early sexual fumblings in the back seats of cars with boys – it’s that behind and around and beneath those fumblings was my stepfather’s mouth, telling me what to do, how far to go, when to stop, and then, after, demanding that I tell him in detail about every erotic encounter so that he could put his hands in his pants at the thought of it.

I had few casual sexual explorings. I learned sex at the hands of my stepfather, who undertook my/our education and indoctrination when I was a young teenager. (At least I had the great good fortune of an unmolested childhood, save for the sexual harassment by strangers and from elementary school classmates, but doesn’t every girl deal with those?)

As a teenager, I understood that my family was different from my classmates’ families. I assumed—as I assumed about the woman friends in conversation the other day—that the other girls in my class did not spend parts of their weekends watching sex films with their stepdad at his psychotherapy office while he encouraged them to masturbate or let him touch them. I assumed other girls weren’t studying oral sex techniques in porn movies, weren’t being instructed to practice on their stepfather’s bodies, weren’t having to pretend to enjoy their stepfather’s oral and digital and genital attentions.

I know now that many of them were being abused, too; not because any of them told me—simply because of statistics.

§•

My stepfather wanted to be the leader of a cult, I think, but he was not charismatic enough to draw throngs of followers to him. He instead preyed on his wives and, in our case, their children. He used the tactics of cult leaders, though: controlling our worldview and cutting off outside contact from family or other influences; using sex as a training device, control mechanism, punishment or “reward” that we were supposed to strive for; sleep deprivation; demanding that we learn and obey his strict rules, then changing the rules without warning and punishing us for not knowing the new rules; indoctrinating us into the behaviors and beliefs he said would help us to evolve to a higher state of consciousness while flouting those rules whenever he wanted to. (When I read through this checklist of cult characteristics, every single one is familiar to me.) He trained my sister and I to bring other followers/victims to him – I succumbed to that training. The person I brought him got away, though not unscathed. I got away, too, not long after. It took me about ten years to really believe that I was not a rapist or perpetrator, and that I deserved to be alive.

§•

As I got older, into high school and college, the disconnect between my real self (who I was at home with my stepdad) and the self I pretended to be out in the world became an unbridgeable crevasse. I had to work harder and harder to look like someone normal, given what was expected of me when I got home after school and on the weekends and, later, on breaks from college. I felt wholly separated from everyone else I knew, even after I got away, even after I began to connect with other survivors, even after I learned how common, how normal, the experience of sexual abuse is.

I know now that this experience of disconnect from other people, this profound isolation and sense of monstrousness, is also normal.

 •§•

I broke away, finally, from my stepdad’s control at the age of 21. I lived under his control and domination until I was a senior at Dartmouth College, an ostensibly smart, supposedly take-no-shit college girl. How many victims do you know who have phone sex with their rapists? I certainly didn’t know any. How could I call myself a victim when I had an orgasm every time he raped me – because he would not stop until I did? How could I call myself a victim when I had to say “yes” every time he “asked’ if I wanted to have sex? How could I call myself a victim if I had convinced others to do what he wanted them to do, if I acted as his mouth and hands, if I’d become his emissary, puppet, and clone?

And if I couldn’t claim victim, how could I call myself survivor?

 •§•

For me, it has been a manifestation of resilience that I stayed alive and wanted to have any relationships with anyone else at all, ever. I had every reason not to want to be around people, build relationships, be expected to trust others. I let myself not have those relationships for awhile. And then, when I found the loneliness too much to bear, I started to teach myself, and let other people teach me, how to be in human company.

 If I’d participated authentically in that casual conversation a few days ago about sexual “explorations,” I would have said something like this:

I first got to third base with my stepdad when I was in 8th grade, or before, maybe, I can’t remember.”

Or

Yeah, we didn’t have instagram or digital selfies when I was a kid, but my stepdad had his Polaroid that he used to document me and my sister, and that worked just fine for him to record our naked bodies.”

For me to participate in these conversation is to introduce the story of trauma into what was supposed to be something sweet and light and fun. My story comes in like an anvil. Sometimes I choose to drop the anvil in, though, because keeping silent just reminds me of all those years I acted like a regular, non-molested girl.

Sometimes folks are uncomfortable when I share these stories. More often than not, though, it’s an opening for others to share their own secreted-away stories of violation and violence, an invitation to break the silence. And I remember—I realize, all over again—that I was regular — just your normal, average, sexually-traumatized girl who has had to refind her place in human community.

 •§•

I want you to imagine with me what it would take for a 21-year old young woman, who has been controlled and manipulated since she was 12 or younger, to decide that she deserves to be free. She lives across the country from the place where she grew up. Even after leaving home, she continues to obey to every one of her stepfather’s demands. She tells him everything she does. He has convinced her that he can read her thoughts and that he has spies watching her—he already knows what she’s doing and so it will behoove her to come clean, to prove she is trustworthy. He has convinced her that he will kill her and anyone she loves if she attempts to leave him. She is smart, naive, brainwashed, and terrified. She tells no one about her life, about the things her stepdad makes her do, about how afraid she is that he will make her do these things for the rest of her life. She has relationships with young men her age; her stepfather wants to hear the details of their sexual encounters. When he is bored with them, or when he thinks she and the boy have grown too close, he will demand that she break up with him.

Forget getting free. I want you to imagine what it would take for her to get up in the morning and decide to go to class.

This is a girl, I would say now, who fucking well deserved to go dancing, who sure as hell deserved to get drunk. Those were two of the practices that saved me, that got me through. Other practices include (but are not limited to!): endless hours of writing, taking care of pets, therapy (eventually), lots of crying, long and meandering walks, getting involved in work that was of service to others and politically relevant, eating too much, isolating, getting overly involved in organizing work, fantasizing, reading, having sex, and playing around with BDSM.

Imagine that girl who was 21 went dancing in jeans and a tank top, flannel shirt tied around her waist. Imagine she suddenly wasn’t trying to be anybody’s video vixen, she learned to bounce, spin, and sweat. I mean, sweat. This girl—who developed asthma at 10 years old, who was divested of her physical agency, who stopped doing all sports, who had stopped moving except when and how her stepfather told her to—she remembered how to sweat.

Imagine it’s 1993 and “Everybody’s Free!” is pounding through the flashing lights and the awfulness from the smoke machine and she is drenched. She is not yet free but she is dancing, and her body is sweating,  teaching her how to get free. Her body is teaching her. Soon, she will listen to her body, and she will walk away. She will not be afraid to die. She will not die. She will get free.

That is her resilience, dripping shimmering her face, dripping over her neck and down her back. That, there, what you said girls aren’t supposed to do: that’s her resilience.

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we don’t know who needs our words

Good morning, writers and those readying to write. How are you singing your sleepy songs this morning? What is waking in you already today?

This morning I am thinking about the impact our writing has on others, and how we never know what piece of writing will be exactly what someone else needs to hear — and though, of course that’s generally not why we write in the first place, the issue is a good one to think about: somewhere, there’s someone who needs to hear exactly what it is you need to say and write.

Last weekend, at our first Dive Deep meeting of November, I asked the assembled Divers to write for a bit about a piece of writing that shook them to the core (having been inspired by this essay by Naomi Benaron). We wrote about stories, essay or poems that showed us something new about ourselves, or about the world, writing that broke us open, that changed the lenses we could see the world through. (I wrote about the first time I read Pat Califia’s Macho Sluts a book of lesbian erotic stories that completely changed the way I — at the time, a 19 or 20 year old young woman still being abused by her stepfather — understood that women could be sexual, could have authentic sexual agency. I will never stop being grateful for that book.)

Though I often read traditionally published work that surprises and wakes me up to some new understanding, it’s also true that almost every time I go to an open mic or sit in a circle with folks’ brand new writing in a writing group, I hear something that breaks me open, that shakes me to the core. There is a power in ‘publishing’ our work this way — into the air, directly into the ears of our community. We don’t know, we never know, the full impact our writing will have on others when we offer it out into the world, whether into our own notebooks, into a small circle of trusted writers, into the audience at an poetry slam, or publishing it in a magazine, anthology or other book.

You don’t know who is going to encounter your words and find exactly what they needed in that moment — a challenge or an encouragement or a sense of solidarity or a surprise or an invitation to risk more in their own lives and creative acts. You don’t know who is going to write down a slice of what you said in their notebook so they can read it every day, who is going to tear out your poem and tape it to their mirror, who is going to return to your story in that collection again and again, just to be with the words that they adore.

You don’t know who it’s going to be — but it will be somebody, more than one somebody. What you have to say is needed in the world — your exact poems or stories or essays or multi-genre experiments have an audience waiting for them. You will not know who most of those people are. You will not hear from most of the people who are moved or changed by your work, and you will wonder if it makes any difference for you to be doing this thing of dropping words onto the page, reaching for the next right word, reaching for the right way to say it, trying again and again and again.

Of course, you write for yourself. You write because you have to. You write because the words agitate around inside you until you write them down. You write because the writing itself helps you feel more whole, more sane, more coherent. You aren’t writing for someone else. Of course not. Right?

Except maybe a little. I know that I write as much for myself now as I write for myself ten years ago, twenty years ago, thirty years ago, the different selves that still have so much to say, who felt lonely and certain that no one else understood what they were going through. I write for a sister I couldn’t really communicate with for years. I write for a reader who is like the Jen I was at nineteen, beginning to be sure she was never going to get free, and needing the words to point to any other possibility. I write knowing that I am not the only one feeling whatever I’m feeling. I write what I’ve needed to read — just like Toni Morrison says: If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

Your words have an impact on those who hear them. They open us and change us. They give us insight, show us a new way of understanding the world. Only you see the world the way you do — you have distinct and necessary perspectives, metaphors, phrasings, explanations, knowings, imaginings, mythologies, all specific to your particular life experience and constitution. There is a vernacular unique to you, an internal cosmology, a semantics and a semiotics that are just yours — and that we can only meet if you share them with us.

Martha Graham said it like this:

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others”

Someone needs what you have to share, needs your art, your expression, your words. Please keep writing, though, exactly what you need to say. The sharing of it will come when you’re ready. Tuck away the knowing that someone , somewhere, without know it, is waiting for your words.

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Can you think of a piece of writing that shook you (or your character) to the core, that broke you open or introduced you to something new about yourself, your family, your community, or the world? Give yourself fifteen minutes today to write about that writing — how old were you when you found this writing? What about it was surprising? What was the impact on you?

And, too, don’t forget our extra:ordinary project’s call for stories of everyday resistance and resilience — the questions in the call can act as writing prompts, too!

Of course, follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for the ways you have allowed yourself to be changed by others’ words, and for what you offer to those in your community, and those readers you’ll never get to meet. Your words have been, will be, a charge, a balm, a generosity. Thank you for those words.

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extra:ordinary – creating safe haven

(So many thanks to Crystal Loya for our next extra:ordinary project story (stories from our community of our recovery, resistance and resilience). Find out more about Crystal’s work at https://www.facebook.com/theladieswiththe.scars)

I myself being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by a family member experienced first hand what life would be with no support in recovery after a traumatic situation. As a child at the age of eight as I lay in my bed sleeping before the following day of school I was awoken to a hand touching my body. Not being close to my mother and experiencing emotional abuse from her I had no were to turn. As the abuse progressed I was so scared as a child to speak out about the sexual abuse I kept to myself in fear of what else would be done to me. One day after coming out to my mother about the sexual abuse that was tacking place by an older sibling, the whole situation tore the family completely apart. There were no more family events, no talks about how to deal and the abuse had no fix, then come to find out other family members had been sexually abused by the same person. There was no help in our family home, and due to the lack of communication there was no healing as a family. At the age of fourteen I left home began employment and began to cross obstacles and the healing process alone, I never looked for comfort in my family nor did I ever see my violator again.. Being so young I had no clue how to even get help once I got older. At the age of seventeen I vowed to open a non profit one day to help survivors and children of sexual abuse. The safe haven would make individuals more aware of the American Statistical Association by the U.S department of justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. I will follow out the plan for the five year goal that includes a safe haven for women and in the future an opening for male survivors. Childhood victims increase every year I will use my degree to pursue the safe haven and child sexual abuse.

(Want to share your story of resilience and resistance? See the call for contributions here!)

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extra:ordinary – Able to Breathe

(Our first submission for the extra:ordinary project (community stories of recovery, resistance and resilience) is from Neil in Canada — so grateful for his willingness to share this story about grace and the ways we keep ourselves alive. Thank you, Neil, for these good words.)

Able to Breathe

For me one of the hardest things was the aftermath. I was sexually touched as a five year old, sexually photographed at six. From seven to twelve I was mercilessly terrorized by a group of school yard bullies. All of these people were known to me. Most lingered in my life for a long while.

One of the strategies I developed to cope with these was the ‘face’ I offered the world: hard working, responsible, never complains, laid back. It got me through to some extent, allowed me to make it to the point where I could look back and start to embrace the hurt and fear and rage and hate. It kept me alive long enough that I could finally heal.

But oh what a cost.

There are few air holes in a mask such as this, not much that lets light in to touch the skin. It’s lonely and distant and, after a while, I came to believe this was how I had to be in order to be loved, valued, accepted. So often, though the most obvious abuse was decades behind me, I felt like I was dying. There were even times when I believed myself already dead.

But I’m not dead – and there’s resilience for you. Here I am, up way too late, letting a reply to Jen’s stunning offer unfold. Here I am writing a bit about what I’ve been through and where I am now. How did this happen? How did I come to a place – after years and years of silence – where I could do this? A lot of hard work and no small amount of grace.

Grace. Let me tell you about grace as I have known it.

Another coping strategy for me has been sex addiction. This has taken me into Twelve Step rooms, where I have sat for many hours listening to “Hi my name is _____ and I’m a sex addict.”

Only recently did I begin to speak in these places of the abuse I endured as a child. One day, after sharing my experience being photographed, another member approached in tears. He had collected such images, it seems, and done jail time for this offense. He now wanted to apologize for what I had gone through. “And if there is ever anything I can do,” he then offered.

It took me months to take up this offer. I eventually called, though, and asked if we could talk. And talk we have: one afternoon a week for the last six months. Both of us sometimes look at one another and wonder what the heck the two of us are doing speaking like this. Both of us are oftimes so exhausted by our interactions that we turn off our alarms the following morning, Both of us have been deeply affected by this experience. Healed in way we could not have imagined.

I have, in many ways, had a tough life. Things have happened to me that no person should have to endure. Sometimes I feel I will never find my way wholly free from this history. Other times, I can feel the shackles loosening bit by bit, day by day. That there is still a life force in me that desperately wants to dance, this does at times shock me. That I can experience the grace of an usual friendship with another who knows very well what I have gone through – well, this makes me thankful and gives me hope.

None of this shows up in any media I am aware of. Yet it is headline news to me. When I find myself able to say a bit more about my past, be a bit more in my present, open a bit wider to those around me – trust! – these unreported occurrences are life changers for me. When I find myself able to breathe or to feel the gentle caress of sunlight on one cheek, these are life givers. Life givers.

~~ ~~ ~~

If you want to contribute to the extra:ordinary project, check out the call for stories here.

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extra:ordinary – share the story of your resilience

Good morning out there. The dark is still settled in around me, even though I am getting started late. I love this time of year for just this good early darkness — I feel cradled by morning long into the day.

I have realized, once again, how much I — and our community — need the stories of everyday trauma survival. And I am here today to ask for yours.

Last night, in the latest issue of The New Yorker, I read an article about Elizabeth Smart, a young woman who, at fourteen, was abducted from her Salt Lake City home by a stranger and held hostage for nine months before she was rescued. The article is another example of our national fascination with, and adoration of, these (almost always) young, (almost always) pretty, (almost always) white young women who are taken by strangers, sexually assaulted over long periods of time, then rescued. Their assailants are not a part of their communities, and are jailed for long periods of time. The survivors are offered not simply justice but an entire nation’s support.

Can you imagine?

The response we give these women is the opposite of what many, many survivors of intimate trauma experience.

I have so much I want to say about the way mainstream media, and mainstream society, respond to stranger abduction stories as opposed to the more common sexual violence experienced by many, many more children.  My concern, of course, is always that these posts will come across as critiques on the women, the survivors, themselves — I have no criticism of Elizabeth Smart or Jaycee Dugard or the women recently freed in Ohio or Hannah Anderson or anyone else whose story the mainstream media has deemed newsworthy. These are powerful survivors whose experiences were horrifying. They are my kindred in violence, sisters of a sort.

It’s not that I think their stories don’t deserve attention. It’s that I think ALL of our stories deserve attention. My critique is of the cultural, media response to stories of abuse and trauma. Do you know what I want to read in The New Yorker? I want to read a story about the extraordinary resilience of the young woman who still has to live in the house with her rapist, because her mother denies that there’s anything abusive going on in the home and will not leave, and the young woman is still in high school, and manages to graduate and go on to college in spite of these layers of violence. I want to read about the extraordinary resilience of the young man who has the generosity of spirit to continue a relationship with his family even though they continue to attend the church where he was molested for many years. I want to read about the resilience of the kids who ran away and survived when the street was safer than home. I want to read about the resilience of folks who are required to continue to attend college classes with their rapists, or have to continue to serve with or under their assailants in the military. I want to read about the extraordinary resilience of young people trafficked sexually, by strangers or community or family members. I want to read about the extraordinary resilience of the siblings introduced by parents into a ritually abusive cult, who managed to survive and keep themselves alive and relatively sane in the aftermath. I want to read about those who got away and those who didn’t — about the resilience required of and manifested in each.

The story of the neighborhood molested child, or your local rape survivor, is a story of extraordinary resilience, though neither is considered as shiny or unusual or newsworthy as the child abducted by a stranger.

Of course, not all abducted children are considered newsworthy, either.

I’m repeating myself here, I know, but most of us aren’t rescued. Most of us are held hostage by families or other institutional systems that demand our compliance, threatening our safety and the safety of our families if we disobey. Most of us are left in these situations to fend for ourselves. Most of us don’t get national media attention and an outpouring of community support. Most of us, in fact, are silenced, denied, and shut down if we attempt to get help from our families. We are told that this person couldn’t possibly have hurt us. We are told not to make up stories. We are told that he probably didn’t mean it “that way.” We are called names, we are called liars, we are asked what we did to cause it. If we go to the police, we are asked if we were inebriated, or what we were wearing, or why we didn’t run away, or what we did to cause the assault.

And it’s within the context of these additional layers of violence and hostility that we live our lives, most of us with measures of happiness, connection and achievement. THAT, to me, is the definition of extraordinary resilience.

Resilience is getting a lot of attention these days. Those who study trauma survivors of all sorts want to understand why some people seem to bounce back more quickly than others. It seems to me, though, that resilience doesn’t take just one form — even those who are deeply depressed long after the trauma they experienced may be manifesting resilience. Do we define resilience as simply the ability to get back to work and perform our tasks without interruption? Or can resilience include the multitude of ways our bodies and psyches allow us to stay alive in the aftermath of betrayal and horror?

There are hundreds of thousands of extraordinarily resilient people in this country: your coworkers, your classmates, the woman you run into at the grocery store and the cashier, too, and folks living on the street and folks who have high-powered and well-paid jobs and folks who sit next to you on the bus and at church and at community meetings, folks who cut you off in traffic and others who smile at you when you’re in line at your coffee shop, folks at the dog park and who you meet on your daily run — and maybe you, too — people who are living their lives as fully as possible in the aftermath of sexual and other intimate violence from which they weren’t rescued, from which they weren’t saved, from which they — we — had to save ourselves.

The community deserves to hear your stories. We need to hear from one another. Let us reveal the gorgeous tapestry that is our ordinary, extraordinary human resilience. Resilience doesn’t have just one face or just one trajectory. Resilience manifests in as many different ways as there are humans to tell the stories.

To this end, I want to share your stories here on the Writing Ourselves Whole blog.

This is an open call to all survivors of intimate violence: child abuse, neglect, sexual molestation, sexual assault, date rape, domestic violence, military sexual assault, stranger assault, bullying, racist attacks, sexual trafficking, sexual abuse, abduction, emotional and verbal abuse, and other violence at the hands of family or close community — we want to hold your stories. We want to hear your resilience. We want to hold all that resilience can mean.

These are some of the questions often asked of the survivors in the cases that get major media attention, and so these are the questions I pose to you:

1) Do you identify as a victim or a survivor?
2) Tell us a bit about your experience of abuse — what was it like for you?
3) How did you survive?
4) Did you tell anyone about what was happening to you? Why or why not? What was their response?
5) How did you get free?
6) What is your life like now? Do you have a relationship with the perpetrator(s)?
7) Do people in your life now know about your past? Are you “out” about it?
8) What does resilience mean to you? Do you feel you are resilient?
9) What brings you joy now?
10) What message do you have for others who are still undergoing violence and/or are still recovering?

You might one or all of these questions as a writing prompt — maybe you just want to talk about your experience of resilience. Even just writing for yourself, don’t feel you have to respond to all of these (at one time or ever). Write exactly the part of the story that you are ready to share with the page — and then do something very kind and gentle and sweet for yourself. Go for a walk or a swim, spend time with a favorite animal, get tea with a supportive friend, watch a silly movie — do something to take care of you.

Deadline extended: I will accept stories through December 31, 2013, and will publish them on the blog as they arrive, one per week. Please share whatever piece of your story you’d like to. There is someone waiting for your words.

Post your story in the comments section below this blog post (not on Facebook), and I will create a new blog post for each story I receive. Please share your first name (or a first name, or “anonymous”) and your location (as specific or as general as you’d like: your town or your state, or your country. Comments on each post will be screened — just as in our writing groups, only kind, generous, and positive feedback will be allowed.

You can also email your story to me (in the body of an email message — no attachments, please) at jennifer (at) writingourselveswhole (dot) org, and I will read and respond to your message, even if you don’t want your story posted. Let me know if you would like me to post your story under your name or under a pseudonym — otherwise, my default is to use just your first name.

Please forward this call to anyone you think might want to share their story.

Your resilience is already an inspiration to many, whether you are aware of it or not. Your writing makes a difference in the world, whether or not anyone else ever sees it — because it will make a difference for you.

Thank you for your story, for your mostly unwitnessed resilience. Thank you for your words.