Tag Archives: extra:ordinary

“I had something else in mind to do”

There was something I wanted to keep dreaming. I keep the lights off, light the candle, dim the screen on the computer monitor, start to type. Can I find it again?

The therapist says to me, you are so afraid. She asks about my anger, and we end up talking about fear. I am afraid my mother will leave me again, I am afraid my stepfather could still come after me, I am afraid of failing and of succeeding, I am afraid of being too much and not enough. I think about the small one in me, still so afraid, probably 12 years old, that kid who was so angry. Something got stopped there, around her fury, her sorrow, her confusion — wait, this isn’t really happening, is it? He’s not really going to talk to my mom like that? He’s not going to be allowed to talk to us like that, is he? She’s going to call him out, she’s going to challenge him. This isn’t going to be our life.

Didn’t I think for a little while that maybe that wouldn’t really be our life?

I have been thinking about regret, about how much I imagine now that I might have been able to do with the last 20 years of my life if I hadn’t been, first and foremost, focused on surviving.

Yes, I know we get to be grateful for the places we get to eventually — we get to be grateful that, eventually, we heal enough that we can find a way back into intimacy. We can find a way back into love. We can find a way back into these bodies that have carried us around, and even through hell. Eventually we find a way home, into ourselves and our real lives, if we are lucky and persistent and don’t die in the meantime. Please hear me: this isn’t about self pity – I just feel sad.

When we say they steal our souls, steal our lives, this is what we mean — they impact what we can do with our capacity, our possibility, our incipience, our nascence. They leak their barrels of crude oil into the complex and just-becoming pond that we were, they poison all of the very many different selves we had before us to possibly become.

And so, instead of getting to focus our energies on becoming one of those many selves, instead we spend our years cleaning the pond, trying to remove the oil. First coming in with big booms to isolate and clear out what remains of the spill en mass, taking away the biggest clumps of poison, soaking it up into some kind of nontoxic material that can hold it safely away from us, then we wipe off the biggest animals, the ducks and muskrats and deer and raccoons; one by one, wipe out eyes, wash and wash until most of the oil is gone. We clear away what died in the soil, after spending years trying to fertilize, heal, bring it back to life. We spread out fire-retardant material, we post sentries and guards at the edges of the pond, all around, trying to keep watch on all sides, wanting to keep out anyone who might want to pollute us so badly again. Sometimes we are successful. Sometimes we are not — but the energy expended is still the same.

We spend years wondering why anyone would want to do such a thing to such a pristine and needed landscape.

We teach ourselves biologics, become environmentalists, scientists — we learn to develop little animals that will feed on what’s left of the poison, that will consume what molecules are left in the water and will seek out the bits that fell to the floor of the pond, permeated the water, soaked into the sand, coated the tadpoles and minnows and frogs and turtles, got inside their mouths, ate into the grasses and pond marsh and tilted the ecosystem toward death. We spend the bulb and blossom of our lives just trying to clean up a toxic waste site.

We watch our friends come into full flower: making connections, reaching out, writing books, making marriages and families, developing their craft, developing their skills, developing themselves; we watch them building careers, and wonder what is wrong with us. But we are still cleaning up the superfund site left inside of us. We are painstakingly wiping off every blade of grass and feather of every bird that is a necessary part of our inside selves. And the oil never is completely eradicated, we can’t clean it all up  — some of the areas impacted never recover, never bounce back, never become what they ought to have been able to become. And then we simply have to mourn their loss, grieve what they might have been. Meanwhile, the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain … and also, meanwhile, there are other oil spills everywhere, meanwhile those who polluted us are allowed to continue with their devastation, meanwhile the balance of power is not upset, meanwhile you and I spend years teaching ourselves and then teaching others how to clean up the mess that our perpetrators made of our souls, made of our lives.

What if there was something els we had in mind to do?

There is a Dorothy Allison poem that lives in me — it was written in the aftermath of the homophobic murder of a lesbian in Boston, who was splashed with gasoline and set on fire. In the poem, the narrator imagines the voice of that woman who’d been alit, “This is not all I am / I hd something more in mind to do.” (From the poem “boston , massachusetts,” in the collection, The Women Who Hate Me)

Something in us screams this as well. This is not all I am. I had something more in mind to do. I wanted to be more than a survivor, more something that needed to be healed. We are forced, though someone else’s actions, to turn our precious attentions, to turn the energy of our one wild and precious life to the effort of cleaning up someone else’s mess — and for may years we feel like that mess is us. I felt like that mess was me. 20 years — half of my life so far. What if I’d had something else in mind to do?

Some choices are made for us. But sometimes — eventually — we get to make different choices for ourselves. We clean off the last feather of the last duck, we have rehabilitated the wild grassland that was so devastated, roped it off long enough that there’s new life beginning to emerge, the treebirds have begun to return, we can see bees and butterflies  in the wildflowers that have begun to blossom again, little fish have come back out of hiding, eventually, we can be restored.. The landscape, the habitat, is never returned to exactly the state it was before the disaster — but it can heal.

I know I’m taking this metaphor too far, but I can’t stop today. Rehabilitating a wild ecosystem is an enormous undertaking, one that takes time and money and resources that we might have otherwise devoted to other efforts, other work, other interests, other curiosities. And it’s an effort that often goes almost wholly unseen.

And it’s one thing if we are rehabilitating something in the aftermath of a natural disaster, but instead we are trying to take back what another human being — or, sometimes, a whole society — decided to try and ruin, to take for themselves, to spill all over and into and leave covered with his garbage. We, the ecosystem, the landscape, are not garbage. We are not trash, and we deserve all of the effort at cleanup. We deserve to have every bit of our ecosystem attended to during the cleanup process — every microbe, every biological organism, every single-celled paramecium, every shellfish dug into the mud, every clump of wild rose, every spray of tidegrass, every layer of water that expands and contracts through winter freezes and spring thaws and the hot labor of summer — every bit of ourselves deserves attending to. And the truth is that we might have done something else with all of that time and attention. And it isn’t fair. And yes, we do it anyway. We ought to have been able to do what our classmates or neighborhood friends did and just turned our attentions outward, toward our curiosities, our growth and potential, we ought to have just been able to sit back and nurture the wild complexity that was our inner self and, while continuing to tend to all of the layers, inner and outer, deep water and treetop, birds and fish, then live into the complex diversity that would emerge in us and of us.

Do you understand what I am saying? I am trying to find a language for what is stolen from us — actually taken. It’s not our souls — our souls are always with us. What’s stolen is our time. We have precious little time in this life, and that is what they take from us. That is what is irreplaceable. Our bodies and hearts recuperate, because we are extraordinarily resilient, because we are capable and adoring, because we don’t take no for an answer from the bits of inside self that want to give up and die. Many of us don’t die. But our trajectories are forever altered. Our lives are interrupted, turned. Our sovereignty is inflicted upon, eroded, the life we were becoming gets aborted, in favor of cleaning someone else’s mess.

They don’t have to clean us up, those who wreak the havoc in the first place. They’re off in their lives — maybe unimpacted, maybe continuing to create destruction elsewhere around the world, and in and on others, maybe confined to a cell or in the absence of other victims, having only themselves to desecrate. But they are not the ones who have to clean up after themselves. What would that look like? What would a system of justice look like that would demand that those who perpetrate intimate violence have to make it possible for the mess they made gets cleaned up — and they are on the hook until their damage is righted? Not that we are property that has been damaged or broken, but that we are a habitat that needs to be restored.

Of course it’s not too late — it’s never too late to be the selves we might have become. e.e. cummings is said to have said, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” We become hybrid — old and new selves, old and new growth, and we take strength from the labor, the effort, the attention paid, lessons learned, from blisters and aching backs, from sorrow at what has been lost, and joy at what emerges from the ashes. For life persists in the aftermath of destruction. That’s what they can never fully kill, and what brings us rising to the surface, again and again and again.

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.)

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.)

§•

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.

extra:ordinary – Creation is the Opposite of Destruction

graffitileaf(This week’s contribution to the extra:ordinary project (stories of everyday surviving and resilience) comes from Marissa Korbel of San Francisco, CA. In her piece, Marissa talks about the power of namings —  the pain of being named, and the necessity of finding our own names for our own experiences. After you read her powerful piece, you can find out more about Marissa and her work at marissakorbel.wordpress.com.)

Creation is the Opposite of Destruction

I didn’t call it was abuse when it was happening. This was confusing later, because it was reported as abuse. After that, I let everyone call it abuse because that word made sense to them, even if I found it confusing; I was confused about everything anyway. I had labeled it all wrong to begin with. I was usually wrong.

I told a few people about it while it was happening, but it was like telling your friends about the guy you were seeing. Sure, he was 43. Sure, he was our teacher. But I talked about him like I talked about any boyfriend. Giggling. Bases. None of them seemed surprised; I got who I wanted usually. Seducing a teacher seemed like a natural progression.

Then one day, it became abuse. Someone else’s word slapped onto my life. I was powerless. She told because, she said, she had to. I couldn’t stop her. I couldn’t save him. I felt like a victim then, but not his victim. Hers.

I always imagine police at his door. The handcuffs. The charges. The rape word. I imagine the wife crying, and the baby crying too. I feel bad that it happened that way, but I didn’t know how to change it. Still don’t.

The first therapist said that my consent was a delusion. She called it lying to myself. She told me I was confused. She said I was raped, but I didn’t feel raped. She said I was wrong. I wanted to punch her in the face. She looked right past me.

I got another therapist.

This one let me say what I wanted. She let me say consensual. She didn’t talk a lot. I paid her to listen because my friends were all tired of listening — they’d already told me so. Listening was her job, so I didn’t feel guilty when I talked the whole 50-minute hour. I always left the money on the side table. It was an economic exchange.

I survived by making it a cocktail party story. I tell it when I’ve had enough to drink that the world gets  fuzzy and warm. I say: Want to hear something crazy? When I was 16, I slept with my married teacher. Oh yeah, he got in trouble eventually. Oh yeah, he’s still around.

I survived by casting myself as Lolita. I told a poison ivy story, an erotica story where the sexy older dad goes down on the babysitter while the kid’s asleep. I survived by making it a positive. I survived by magical thinking: I had all the power. I ruined his life, not the other way around.

I survived by writing. Finally, on the page, I was angry for me. For the first time, I saw what was wrong with 43 year-old him fucking 16 year-old me. For the first time, it wasn’t a love affair. For the first time, I saw power and loss and I was so furious with everyone else for once. Finally it wasn’t my fault. It was my parents. It was my teacher. It was the reporter. It was the social workers. It was the criminal justice system. Everyone had failed me. I deserved better.

And then.

I started writing a whole book. A memoir. I listened to my coach who said that I had to make myself a heroine. I made myself a literary character. I gave myself choices. I let everyone off the hook. I had compassion for my parents, for my teacher, for the reporter and the social workers and the criminal justice system. I forgave them all as I rewrote my book.

I forgave myself the most.

Here’s my advice. When you’re ready, make something. It can be anything at all, just let it be yours. Make art like lemonade. You don’t have to drink it if it’s bitter. It’s the making that’s important, not what you do with it after. You don’t have to share it. You don’t have to keep it to yourself either. But when you can, as soon as you can, make something. Because creation is the opposite of destruction.

(Right on, right on, right on. Thank you so much for sharing this with us, Marissa. Cannot wait to read that book.)

extra:ordinary – the cracks are filled with hard culled gold

(This week’s contribution to the extra:ordinary project (stories of everyday resilience and survival) comes from Jenni M. In her piece, Jenni gives us insight into what it’s like to be a child of a military family, as well as another side of military abuse. So many thanks, Jenni, for your fierce words of survival, recovery, vulnerability and strength.)

The military is wide-open space for children being abused. It’s already Government-sanctioned and employs people specifically  to be violent, and for the military-raised children, there is no protection, as the military keeps its own secrets. I am a military brat and I learned early on that child abuse was something to be hushed up, not told about, and never reported. I learned this when my best friend came to school with bruises on her  face and I told my own parents, one who was a  dad doctor and one mom teacher, about what I saw and they said, that’s a family problem we don’t  get involved. They would be legally mandated to report the abuse then, and now, yet no matter what physical signs there were on my friend that they would physically see, they never reported anything as it was well known that the offender would just get a talking to by his commander and then he  would go home and beat his family more for causing problems within a military career. This saturated me to the bigger realization that whatever was happening in our own household, this was of no consequence to anyone else either. And there was a lot going on.

I survived my parents craziness, their divorce, their hostility, anger, inability to communicate, and then I became a teenager, then was quickly sexualized by society and my mother.

My mother was  then remarried. This man that came into her life quickly then started grooming me to accept his inappropriate advances and tell no one. I was already conditioned  not to say anything as my previous experience saying the truth only brought me trouble and never the other person to consequence. He would push me against the wall, even before he married my mother, while we were both drunk and drunkenly kiss me. I felt that as a 17-year-old  I had a right to drink as I was so European, but now I realize I was just a young  alcoholic. I also was taught that when people drink things happen and it doesn’t really matter because you’re drunk.

The night before he married my mother, he followed  me into my 17-year-old bed single, the only male ever in my bedroom until that moment, he lying next to me  masturbated until he came on me. My mom outside and my aunts who can come for the wedding the next day were just 20 feet away on the sunken patio.  I was in the room just inside on the first floor with the window half-raised above the  patio. No one could see in as I tried to pretend I was asleep. I still hear my mom and my aunt’s voices  in the back talking about the next day and they were drunk also, it’s a family trait.

I had never been taught that I could say no to any adult touching me. Stating boundaries was considered rude and I was taught I should politely just extricate myself from the situation as that’s what Nice girls do. This would’ve worked except he was drunk and I was drunk and my mother was outside and I was frozen as the circumstances themselves were so Otherworldly.

The next day at the wedding I just remember getting more and more drunk. I knew this man was trouble but I knew no one would believe me. And when I did finally tell my mom many many years later that was proved to be right.
He had mean eyes. I would see him drunk and he would do things right in front of my mom to say that this is his household and that we were his domain. Pushing me against hot burning radiators and I would beg  my mom make him stop and she would tell me to not make a fuss, not cause a scene. Her exact statement were I was embarrassing HER at a restaurant. I started having panic attacks whenever I visited her in Turkey, where she lived at that time with him. She was the main breadwinner as a Department of Defense civilian, completely financially independent from him easily, as he had a job as an ESL teacher at a language school but the inequality of income he constantly took out his  frustrations  in mean drunken verbal assaults against her and me. He started physically abusing her and she politely put up with that for a few years, as for her having a second failed marriage was worse than being physically abused until one point he started having affairs with her friends that was for her enough, and it was public, something she would not tolerate.

She left him and I thought this moment would be the time to tell her about what he did to me. I never wanted to say that their marriage broke up because of what he did to me as it was my shame. I felt that wasn’t enough of an assault. But I look back now and see that the  sexual grooming, inappropriate touching, sexual assaults and violence and verbal assaults was abuse.

I survived this time by drinking, blacking out and being on the merry-go-round of “what I did last night drunk ” that was shame ridden, blackout unknown. My alcoholism was very distracting  and time-consuming, yet socially sanctioned by my family. I mired myself in this instead of what happened earlier in life that made me not want to remember or feel my present feelings.

I remember telling my mom after I believe she left him for the last time, and her telling me that it wasn’t that bad and I should’ve said something that night and that, meanly and mainly, I was just imagining it. She also mentioned that I was drunk too so I was also responsible. He was 40 and I was 17.

I now live in the present, I stopped drinking at 26  and started going to therapy all the time. I had a few suicide attempts. Made the rounds of psychiatric hospitals and psychiatric meds, hoping that these doctors knowledge would somehow make these horrible feelings go away.

This went on for a few years and realized that I had to be my own savior. There was no white knight, there is no magic pill, there’s  only the hard work of tears, and anger, group therapy, individual therapy, acupuncture and yoga. And writing.

I  confronted my mom about what he did and she still does not really believe me, She says “words,” these words that make these  sentences. “It was 27 years ago can’t you stop blabbing about it.” But it wasn’t 26 years ago because he still is my mom’s Facebook friend until last year,  six years ago he called in the middle of the night, knowing I was at her house, threatening to kill himself. He still had her number across all these  continents and years. Five years ago he asked to be my Facebook friend finding me under my fake name  looking at pictures under my mom’s Facebook contacts.

I survived both of them, Yet the cost has been very high. I don’t really trust that when I am in distress  or physically in danger that anyone will respond.  I distrust being around people who have had a drink  who are not even alcoholic. The relationship I have with my momster  as I call her is one fraught with anger. She has never accepted  any responsibility for her part in this monster man, and  she felt the need to be Facebook friends with him until I told her that she could have one relationship either him or me. She unfriended him on Facebook in a magnanimous effort of redundancy.

She  has remarried someone with the same mean drunk eyes and demeanor and wonders why I don’t want to visit when he is there or  demand the need for locked doors.

In her mind even today I am over-sensitive and dramatic, she devaluing every emotion that she does not find acceptable, and the only emotions she finds acceptable are pleasant, kind, and polite. The stabbing jobs of womanhood and the expectations that follow.

I have survived, I have two cats, I’ve traveled around the world knowing that as long as I don’t drink (13 years and counting ), I can have great boundaries, see danger, remove myself.  Trusting  my intuition, knowing that the end of the day I keep myself  safe and sane and no one else can do that for me. I completely endeavor myself to the world  of books, movies, crafts,  and photography. I have a wonderfully close friends for over 20 years who help me laugh ,see the absolute absurdity in my past , travel to far-flung places with me, who have seen the arc of my alcoholism my psychiatric destabilizations and my fractures of self  and still love me and support me. I am one that is not exactly whole but the cracks are filled with  hard culled gold and the broken is  continually accepted  by me alone as whole.

(Much gratitude to you, Jenni, for this powerful piece!)

extra:ordinary – “The fire of survival is the strongest heat within me”

(This week’s contribution to the extra:ordinary project (stories of everyday surviving and resilience) comes from Ami Lovelace of San Francisco. In her piece, Ami vividly describes the reality for a young child living in an abusive household, and how she has found the capacity to continue living. Connect with Ami about her powerful story at her facebook page, or leave a comment below.)

Suicide is hard. Trust me. I know. It’s one of the few things in life I’ve actually failed at when I tried it.

I don’t think I ever identified with being a victim. I’ve been a survivor, always, even at 16 when I slid that ridiculously dull blade across both my wrists, tears streaming down my cheeks, but the cut just wouldn’t go deep enough to stream the blood. Being a survivor has never been a choice. It was a have to. It is a have to. Innate and involuntarily. The beatings, the rage, the alcohol reeking from his breath, the sheering and stripping of my emotions and spirit, it never registered to me as OK, as normal, as a matter of deserving it. It was always wrong. Somewhere, way deep down in the solar plexus, before I even knew what that was, in the body of a tiny little child, with big green eyes and light brown hair in pigtails, or curls, or some family chopped bowl haircut, his fists pummeling away at my flesh like his own boxing gym, or the knife cold and huge against my mother’s neck as I cried from under the kitchen table, while he swore he’d tear her throat open in front of me, I knew it was wrong, and I hated him for it. And hate, hate is a very powerful thing. Sometimes seemingly more powerful even than love. After all, isn’t the world now run by hate, when we wish really that it was shepherded by love. That seedling of hate, of wrong and resentment maybe sprouted from watching him with my brother. His real child, his real family, and sometimes with my mom. The softness in his hands as he held my little brother, the smile on his face and words filled not with malice, but pride, joy, tenderness. Maybe being a survivor was born somewhere in the mists of jealousy? Of needing to be good at something, to be better at this, getting through, rising above, breathing still, even in the thick of it, of getting attention, even if it was just the wrong kind, the kind that affronted and offended, that incited more beatings and more blood. Survival, before I even understood the concept, spewed from my mouth as a rebellious ten year old, sticking up for myself, defending myself against a man, a presumed man, four times my size, even as he lumbered over me, sharp edge of a clothes hanger lashing into my face, thrown and held against the kerosene heater until I could smell the back of my own thighs burning. The constant barrage of insults, the devolution from human to animal to creature to nothing, all through his words. An entire childhood lost to the obscure corners, too dark for even his cast shadows to reach.  But that was then. And even then, in my bloody rebellions, I did not want to cede power to him. I did not want to be eclipsed by him. I would not shrink away.

I remember moments of that last stand. The day I really tried to fight back. In the dark living room of our ranch style home, arms swinging, I charged, a battle cry whelp from my lungs, received wholly by a quick steel-toe carpenter boot to the face. Who was I defending then? Me? My mother? The only thing that I know for sure was that it wasn’t my brother. It was never my brother. Everything after that shrivels away into the recess of memories I cannot access anymore. That year after the piping hot potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil being flung at me from the doorstep as I stood on the curb unable to enter my own home, to stepping between his boots and Pepper, the puppy black lab, he let loose into the neighborhood, hoping she’d be hit by a car, and telling us exactly that (she found us anyway, smart thing, pawing at the sliding door of the kitchen of our neighbors house, two and half blocks down where my brother and I had relocated and listened through the open windows, still hearing his voice pummeling my mother while she still [tried] to leave the house), the multiple 911 calls and the police officers who showed up and did nothing, with some small town first responders brotherhood loyalty bullshit as their defense for ineptitude —he was a volunteer fireman, after all— sometime, after all that, and on a day I don’t remember well, my mother called my aunts, and we walked, each of us on our own legs, my brother looking over his shoulder, leaving for the last time.  I kissed a childhood I remember only now in brief flashes, goodbye.

I swore Then, never again. And never has it been that a man has laid an unwanted hand on me. And rue the day any man tries. The fire of survival is the strongest heat within me, smoldering still now, just under my ribcage, ready to leap up, and flame into uncontrollable inferno, engulfing anyone in its path, if ever again it’s needed.

I thought about writing a book, a memoir, about the abuse, about growing up somewhere between love and bruises, scars and smiles. Years ago I wrote down that first chapter. Ten Days in the Gray, that what I had thought it was going to be. That it was going to chronicle the story of Then, and the 10 days post the miserable attempt at suicide, hospitalized in the psych ward. Because I had wanted to be. I had chosen to be. I had asked to be.  But then I told myself, who wants to read about that? Who wants to read my story, as a child, in a shitty situation who grew into a teenager with emotional issues hidden beneath the surface of the faded scars and disappeared bruises? I didn’t want to dwell on Then. I never want to dwell on Then. Besides, it’s not about the Then. For me, it’s been way past the story of Then, since Then. It’s about the now. It’s about the me in this moment, the me that I am, and the me that I want to be. It’s about the remembering to wake up each day, every morning, and tell myself I am valuable. I am important. I matter.  And some days, I forget.

The struggle now is not in the defense or the physicality, it is the worth and desire. A desire to live, each and every day, with my face to the sun. And to remember that I am worth that feeling of the rays on my face, warm and perfect in the moment. That my breath, as I take it, matters. Each one. To someone else, to the world, and above all, to myself. And that to think differently, even in a fleeting moment, is to pass off that power that as a child I clutched so dearly to, back to him. And to remember that there is strength in me, worth in me, that no other person has, through each memory, each scar, each tear.  I am not grateful for having gone through it, for experiencing any of it, but I am ever thankful, and grateful for how I have come out of it. For myself, for that little girl me, who even before she could intellectualize what she felt and what it meant for her, with no thought to danger, since it was already so present in her life, fought anyway, and fought hard through bared and gritted teeth, for the inner desire to live, to be, to more than just exist, that still today, on off days, I sometimes forget I have.

(Thank you for that remembering, for this honesty, and for your fierce creative power, Ami. Thank you for sharing your story with us.)

extra:ordinary – May It Be so

(This week’s post for the extra:ordinary project (stories of everyday surviving and resilience) comes from a crone from California, and I am so grateful for this fierce and formidible writing. Please know, as you enter into this piece, that the story explicitly and powerfully names experiences of ritual violence. Thanks to you, Crone, for sharing your survival and resilience with us.)

 

May it be so

I am sixty one years old. I have survived such extreme violence of my body, heart, soul and psyche that I am sometimes amazed that I function in this world at all and sometimes, yes sometimes experience love and joy.

I long to be the kind of person who brings joy and humor and grace to all situations. I long to be someone at peace on this earth. I have come to understand that I have a choice and sometimes that makes it harder, to accept me as I am. Angry. Scared. Scarred. Judgmental ( that is the hardest to admit ). I walk around with attitude a lot, scared.

I want someone to see and understand my inside world. I am not alone in this, far from it. When I am good and loving, I still want someone to know how hard I have worked for what I have and where I am today. But where is that? Alone. Fighting for my breath.

I want to be the kind of person who sits here and writes beautifully and is inspiring. I want to be someone who feels whole and has something to give. I want to be free of fear. Here I sit and if I try to write anything about love, I get an anxiety attack. I was taught to hate myself and I learned the lesson well. I sit here and laugh, thinking “don’t I sound like someone you would love to know?” meaning it with extreme sarcasm. Come close and I will glare you away. Or I will just be soooo very nice, yet not there at all. Out of body, back in five minutes, years, centuries…

I am sixty one years old. I have survived such extreme violence of my body, heart, soul, psyche that I sometimes feel such extreme compassion for suffering, I am amazed at the possibilities of love. I am smart and sometimes funny. I challenge people and sometimes, every once in a while, someone listens. Someone hears me. Someone sees me. That is soooo f’n frightening. If I am seen, I am dead. Or worse, if I am seen, I will ultimately disappoint you with who I really am.

Some days I realize that death will come eventually, so maybe I can enjoy this ride while I have to be here. At least participate in this life the best I can.

Ah, my story: I was raped so many times by so many different men, by the time I was 10 yrs old, that I lost count. I saw animals tortured and heard their screams. Sometimes I still hear their screams. I am relieved to know they no longer suffer, just me as I remember, alone. I saw kittens get their baby necks broken, could feel my brain crack. Did you ever feel your brain crack? Nauseating. I was used as a party toy at “adult” parties. Locked in the bedroom for any drunk, sadistic, party animal to enjoy, fuck, laugh at, abuse. Tied to the bed, listening for the door to open and knowing someone new was there with their own inventive ways to humiliate and hurt me. Dread. Dread. Fear. Wanting to die.

How old? I was eight. I was nine. I was ten. I was eleven… I was three when my father started to abuse me openly. Before that it was energy, vibes, sick desire, filling my world and the air I breathed. Then I guess he could hold back no longer.

I am going to stop here. Are there more stories? Oh yeah, lots. I am traumatizing myself by going on and on. Therein lies the rub. If I hold it in, I am so alone it is unbearable. If I say/write this out loud, I feel the terror and trauma and grief and I can barely function. Choices? I have choices… healing is a choice. The road is paved with land mines, emotional, psychic land mines. But you know what they say, if you are in hell, keep going. It is the only way out: through hell into the arms of love.

May it be so.

(May it be, yes yes yes. So much appreciation to you, Crone, and to you, readers, for sharing this space and the grace of your healing.)

extra:ordinary – self-made

(This week’s contribution to the extra:ordinary project (stories of everyday and ongoing resilience) comes from Jen L. in Denver, CO. Jen shows us what it’s like inside the survivor who excels as a means of resistance, and yet can be perceived as utterly unaffected by their trauma. Thank you, Jen, for this powerful piece!)

self-made.

i am 28 years old. i have three (sometimes four) part-time jobs. i am in a full-time graduate program, have a 3.89 GPA, presented a poster at an international conference this fall, and am starting to look at PhD programs. i have a maybe-girlfriend (we’ll probably define that relationship soon, but there’s no rush). we laugh pretty much every day. i have built up an incredible network of very good friends who have stretched my heart across the entire country, from maine to massachusetts to florida to ohio to minnesota to kansas to colorado to california to washington state. six years ago, a family, not at all related by blood, gathered me into their fold, giving me a place to call home. my apartment is filled to the brim with book-friends that i’ve collected and hugged close over the last seven years.

i dated a girl recently who had an amazing apartment with an 8th floor balcony that faced west over the park, the perfect vantage point to watch the sun set over the mountains every night. she had a great car with heated leather seats. a sweet kitchen stocked with organic and natural everything. an enormous tv with satellite cable. an adorable dog who was fed specialty food. and she paid for none of it. her parents, who were generous and kind and loving and lived near napa valley, paid for everything. as far as i could tell, she walked through the world with no weight on her shoulders, with no baggage strapped to her hips.

we did not last.

i am 28 years old, and i’ve crafted and molded this world from the ashes that were left when i burned my family down to save myself.

i grew up with an abusive mother and an older brother who followed her lead. our house was always filled with people we took in, mostly college students who lived too far away to go home often and so they found a home in our handyman’s-special house by the creek. they never knew what happened upstairs, in my bedroom, in my parents’ bedroom, in his bedroom. these strays were the kids she could mother because they didn’t need her, they were the people she could love because she didn’t birth them. she took in strays like they were her own, while her own hurt each other in ways we didn’t know how to talk about.

i learned how to manipulate, growing up in that house by the creek. i taught myself how to harden my heart. i taught myself how to turn my tear ducts into deserts. i taught myself how to starve my desperation away. i taught myself how to shut down, and when that didn’t work / when that worked too well, i taught myself how to shock the pain out of my body with cuts or bruises or burns. i taught myself how to feel only what fit within my limits. i taught myself how to function in impossible situations. i taught myself how to see in the dark.

i taught myself how to find solace in writing suicide notes, in fantasizing about finality with all of my loose ends so neatly wrapped up. i taught myself the skills i would need to believe that i was at fault (i.e. that i still had control) after i was raped in college. i taught myself how to keep believing that it was my fault / that i still had control after i was raped again, less than a year later. i taught myself how to keep up appearances while my heart crumpled in on itself; i got scholarships and wrote brilliant papers and graduated just-shy-of-with-honors from an elite women’s college, all while writing poetic and brilliant suicide notes and hiding them from everyone around me.

i learned all of these things in that house by the creek.

down in the creek, though, i learned how to trust. it started with my oldest friend in the house just down the creek, and then exploded onto other friends and teachers and nurses in the hospital. in a creaky old house by the cemetery, i taught myself how to trust therapists with my story, and in a creaky old repurposed factory building by the river, i taught myself how to trust therapists with my crumpled-up heart. in a high school cafeteria, i taught myself how to rely on friends to fill the holes my family of origin had left in my soul. on a boat dock in the finger lakes, i taught myself what a home was; i learned how to identify that warm feeling that starts above your belly button and expands up through your shoulder blades as “home.” (i’ve felt that warm belly twice since.) on a rock by a lake in massachusetts, i taught myself how to let someone mother me again. in every place i’ve lived, i’ve taught myself how to let people in, how to build family from the ground up. on a mountain in virginia this summer, my brother and i started to teach ourselves how to find a connection with each other in between the light and the dark of our relationship. on these mountains in colorado, i’m teaching myself how to live a life that allows the dark to coexist with the light.

Jen L.
Denver, CO

extra:ordinary – “I am one hell of a survivor”

(Today, I’m sharing another powerful submission to our extra:ordinary project (stories of everyday resilience) from Lindsay in Columbus, OH. )

Be easy with you as you read – know that this piece includes some strong, vivid, and explicit language around sexual violence. Thank you, Lindsay, for your experience, truth, wisdom and hope!
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1) Do you identify as a victim or a survivor?


I don’t think I identify with either of these categories on a regular [basis]. I feel that I pretend I moved beyond the label in an effort to assimilate my experiences into a daily, functional life; to take ownership still while hiding. Well, that is how I think of it now, but that was not the original motivation behind my rejection of the identities of victim or survivor – to claim one was to admit I was one, any category. I desperately didn’t want to be different or broken. I didn’t want to be a victim or a survivor because those identities made the violence and the shame public; it brought it to the front and made it tangible. I believed that picking a category would make these instances of inappropriate violence, sexual exploitation, and accelerated maturity defining characteristics of myself in the most negative light. I have been in counseling for over a decade and have reached the point where I am comfortable with the defining capabilities of my traumatic experiences because I know that I am more than just these scarring instances; I am complex, I have interests, and I have taken the time to explore and develop them, often under the suggestions of various counselors, making them my own with little twists. I currently keep pretty mute on my traumatic experiences – I do not openly talk about it unless it is incredibly relevant and with company I feel safe with. I recently relocated to Columbus, OH from WNY where I had spent the first 26 years of my life. It’s been about a year and a half and I still don’t really have anyone here I would talk to about my trauma besides my counselor. There are instances in the past when I have shared my story – in college and graduate school – I spontaneously chose survivor to describe myself in every instance. Isn’t that the ultimate instance? That innate, muscle reflex when put on the spot; so that’s the answer – that ultimately, deep down inside I know that I am one hell of a survivor.

2) Tell us a bit about your experience of abuse — what was it like for you?


The first instance of sexual abuse happened when I was six or seven, too young to understand or even identify that what occurred was sexual or wrong until later in life. My mother and I were visiting family in Pennsylvania when it happened. I was spending the evening at a cousin’s house to hang out with kids my age. The father was not related to me directly but took an interest in me immediately, playing with me on the floor, hands going in places to tickle. We all went to bed I was put in a very open space with a guest bed. I woke up in the middle of the night to hands in my nightie and my panties were missing. He talked to me so gently, so calmly as he “explained” what he was doing and how much he cared about me. My gut was in knots during it all, tears quietly dripping from my eyes. When I think back to it I remember feeling conflict. Conflict of how my body was physically reacting, how I thought I was suppose to trust adults, the shame I felt for being wrong about what was “right” about child-adult relationships. I don’t remember everything that happened the night. I didn’t recall the incident until I was in eighth grade, keeping quiet still another two years until I told a friend what I remembered. What I remember is touching, and guidance, and exploration, sharp pains and shh shh shh’s when I made sounds. I remember lying awake later, trying to go back to sleep, staring at the ceiling as he lay next to me in the big guest bed. I remember jumping on the bed in the morning with my cousin Eric (name change; we were waiting for pancakes, I could smell the cinnamon. They were shaped like little men. I will never forget those pancakes) when he found his father’s shorts in the sheets. I stopped jumping and turned red. I’ll never forget his response, “Don’t worry Lindsay, I heard last night. You won’t feel weird about in a few days trust me. You get use to it.” Throwing the shorts into the corner, Eric started jumping again and I followed suit. I have always felt guilt about not talking until I was much older because I maybe could have helped my cousins. Eric had a younger sister. But it is silly to believe I could have saved them. I was working on saving myself. When I got home I tried once to tell my Mom – while she was closing the drapes in our living room one evening. I struggled with describing the event not really understanding what it was that happened to me. She quickly brushed me off saying not to worry about it, that she was sure I was fine. So that is what I became. I made myself feel fine. So fine I forgot until a summer day after eighth grade when I was being tickled and I had my first panic attack on a vacation with family friends. Then I felt terror and disgust because I understood the flood of memories triggered. I felt dirty. It was a feeling that I honestly believe led to my next traumatic experience.

I was in tenth grade and I had been dating a very sweet guy named Ben (name changed) for a few months but we had hit a wall. I couldn’t make out with him. Our physical contact was limited to holding hands and kissing hello and good-bye. Not very exciting for Ben obviously and he was wonderful about but he obviously kept on trying. I eventually told him about my uncle incident and he again was nothing less than amazing but even that wasn’t enough for me. I broke up with him because I was quietly mortified that he knew how dirty and broken I was. These same feelings were also motivators to find another boyfriend as quickly as possibly to ultimately create the same feelings over again. I ended up with a guy a year ahead of me in school – I met him in my technical drawing class. He was nerdy, he had acne, was awkward, and incredibly smart. I ran into, predictably, the same problem with John (name changed) except he was not as accepting of it. At first he would gently push to go farther, stopping when I would start to cry or scream. But after a few weeks he said he was owed to go farther. I would try my hardest, holding my panic in as long as I could, it would come out and then it was ignored. My screams and panic were irrelevant. It was forced intimate progress. He’d hold me down. I would be bleeding sometimes when he was done. We broke up and went back out – he was so manipulative. He would say no one would want me; he was doing me a favor being willing to love someone so broken.  He would get angry, I mean furious – throwing things, pushing me hard into walls and doorframes. In my mind, I alleged that I deserved the bruises and the tears because I was indeed broken and less than worthy of many. We finally broke up after a big incident, John was really heated up, angry and throwing things and drying to burn off some steam with some physical satisfaction; I obviously was not into this and was trying to dodge the opportunity. Become angrier and frustrated with my weak attempts he just picked me and carried me quite accurately kicking and screaming up the stairs and into his bedroom. No one heard me either; no one ever seemed to be at his house despite living with his mother and sister. He put me down in his room near his bed and I immediately tried to run out – it was small room crammed with furniture. Despite not having must to work with I tried to escape while kept me trapped as he laughed, shuffling across the floor on top of dirty cloths. He lunged and got me pinned on my back – I squirmed and vocalized. I could feel him tugging at my panties; my shorts were already off. A power of panic surged through me and I punched him – hard. He was caught off guard and rolled off me easily. I grabbed my shorts on the way to the back door. I was putting on my shorts in the kitchen when John appeared in the door way, we both ran, he caught my arm, swung me around into a doorframe, he wound up to punch but dropped his fist, starting to cry. After a few very uncomfortable minutes watching him sob, I quietly and cautiously ducked out the back door of his house. I had a few more moments of violence John but this was a major moment for me. It was a moment of fight. While I know what he did to me is rape. I was forced to do things against me will. I was penetrated. He made me bleed with his nails on purpose. It was physically torturous and cements the idea for me that physical expressions of caring that are sexual are terrible. Always and he replaced uncertainty with fear, supported by shame.

My final incident happened when I was in college. I was twenty and it was the week before my academic junior year. I had worked the summer prior at a summer camp. We were a sleep-away camp so the staff became very close. I had invited my co-workers to my college apartment for a celebration before we all broke up to other lives. It personally had been a rough summer, two of my friends had tried to kill themselves while another actually succeed in suicide. My own mother had a near death operation and all of this honestly occurred in a twenty-four hour time period. I was sent spinning for the rest of the summer for that incredible time chunk. I ended up getting put on an anti-depressant to help. That fateful evening I was drinking; my camp friend Ivan from Sweden was getting me my drinks as he was getting mine. Everyone was having a good time. I had friends from home at the party too as well as college friends. Things get hazy after a few memories of the evening. I remember making out with a female friends. I had a boyfriend but that was considered okay. I was apparently taking into my own bedroom by Ivan and was being used when people walked in to make sure I was okay. I was passed out during all of this. Ivan was chased from the house, being driven away by another friend from camp. Ivan even sent a text message the next day thanking me for some excellent memories. It makes me feel slimy just typing that. My boyfriend broke up with me after it. His best friend had been at the party and he did not believe my claims of not knowing what had happened. I tried to kill myself that night, my best friend sitting on my as I begged her to help me, endless tears falling. That was once I started to sober up. And I could remember little things, hands on the small of my back, on my thigh. Tidbits being added by friends – he switched to water after one beer, he had bought condoms before he came, he said he was going to take what I had been teasing all summer. I had no idea. I hate calling this incident rape. It as again penetration that I did not consent; another instance where I lucked out in way that makes me feel worse, it was short, I was saved in an instance by friends. But those friends know. All of them knew that this was a third incident for me. A third time I had been violated. I was beginning to wonder if I had a sign on my forehead, they had to be doing the same.

I began to identify myself as just another statistic. I fit the statists of one in six of American women who has been a “victim” of rape or attempted rape. I am the 15% sexually assaulted under the age of 12, the 44% under the age of 18.  I am more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, to develop PTSD, abuse alcohol and drugs, develop eating disorders, to contemplate suicide, to get raped again. I still don’t understand why it’s happened to me and I am starting to accept that I don’t have to. But this is a step out of the darkness. I had to walk to a lot of darkness to get this point. To write down what happened to me.

3) How did you survive?


I survived by ignoring it. Being older now I know I never really ignored it – I let it manifest in various ways – in high school it was counting calories, vomiting on command, cutting and burning myself – but all of this was done quietly. Only a few friends knew what I was doing. They knew about my phases of being suicidal. I tucked all of this behind straight A’s, student council, presidency of clubs, organizer of volunteers at the soup kitchen; I had lots of friends in different circles and different grades. I even had a job on top of babysitting. In my senior year I started college early, I won seven scholarships (by applying to 65) and I did this all while wanting to die. I just did what was expected despite what I may have felt.

I approached college the same way. My vices changed – I added alcohol and marijuana, kept the calorie counting, and lessened the cutting; but my general approach of acting like there was nothing wrong continued. It was most comfortable that way. I hated taking about it to friends- I always felt like delivery of what has happened was too comfortable, like I didn’t express it right, that I left something out. I worried it wasn’t “traumatic” enough, that my want to share it all was like a statement of importance, that what happened to me was important. I knew it was but I felt like it wasn’t supposed to be. By this point I was in counseling and I had been for a few years. I would start with a counselor, go for a few months, and something would change and for various reasons I would be asked to start over at a new center or with a new person. I felt like I kept hitting a wall with the topic.

Through this I had boyfriends and 1 girlfriend. There were hook ups and flings. They were all disasters in there own way. My counselors have told me that I used them to recreate the emotions, to hide in them, to be comfortable in them. This was how I survived. It’s not how I live now but it was how I got here, today.

4) Did you tell anyone about what was happening to you? Why or why not? What was their response?

I tried to tell my mother when it first happened (I was seven). I remember the incident very vividly. I was very hesitant as I told her something “important” – I had begun the conversation with “I have something important to tell you Mom.” I struggled with words to explain the shorts Eric had found and why they had been there to begin with. She was walking around the living room, closing the drapes as I followed behind here as I spoke. She didn’t really look at me as she cut me off and told me not to worry about it, that sometimes laundry gets stuck together. I was told I was being silly. I remember being upset about it, so frustrated, sitting in my bedroom with hot tears streaming down my face. There was a pencil on the floor – I popped the eraser off and dragged the metal top against the skin of my upper arm.

I remember telling my friends Emily and Lauren (name changes) about John and what he had done to me and had attempted. Lauren cried; she had dated John as well and had experienced similar situations and she hadn’t told anyone out of embarrassment. After dating John, Lauren was admitted into the psych ward at our local hospital. Emily had recently told both Lauren and I about how her brother, someone we knew very well, had been sexually abusing her for five years in her own home. It had turned out that we all had started cutting to help deal with our problems. We also counted calories. We were smart enough to know that what we were doing to ourselves was not healthy. We never encouraged each other to be unhealthy – we did the exact opposite; we were each other’s personal cheerleaders for recovery. Emily hugged us both when I was done telling what I could about John.

Emily was at the party when I was raped in my own apartment. She was the one who kept me from killing myself after it happened. I never had to tell her and I am thankful for that. It’s a story I rarely tell because I was drunk when it happened.


5) How did you get free?


I changed the way I thought. I was never going to be “normal” because normal is bullshit. There was nothing wrong with me. I never asked for these things to happen to me. They just happened. It is not because I am a bad person. I didn’t deserve these things and I certainly didn’t do anything to cause them. It is okay to be angry. It is okay to remember what happened. Use what happened to become better, to be stronger. In a warped way I am lucky because I know just how fucking strong I am. I know how far I can be pushed and I know I can come back, I can survive anything else life has left in store for me. I’ve seen the ugly of human nature and I have been gifted the access to ultimate instances of human kindness. I realized there was freedom in feeling the life I was given without apologies.

6) What is your life like now? Do you have a relationship with the perpetrator(s)?


I continue to have relationships with my rapists from high school and college on Facebook. In both instances I was friended by them; both of them act as if nothing odd ever happened. My rapist from high school took it a bit father with instances of showing up at my college housing on two separate occasions, a year apart. The second instance was at my apartment alone when he showed up. We had been talking on instant messager when I felt an odd surge of confidence to argue with him about a minor topic. Twenty minutes later he was pounding on my windows screaming, threatening to kill me. I hid in a corner with all the lights off, terrified and crying as I held my cell phone, ready to dial 911. That was the last incident I have had with him recently. He is back to casual comments on pictures and statuses on Facebook.

I recently deleted one from college but he still pops up on my newsfeed because of mutual friends he is still involved with. He didn’t seem to notice.

7) Do people in your life now know about your past? Are you “out” about it?


Yes but a limited “out.” I do not readily identify with a label about my experiences. They only come up when relevant in conversations, but even then I would rather leave my personal moments out of conversations. Sexual violence is something I often speak out against because of my personal experiences of how debilitating it can be. I am most likely to share in situations like that – where I believe my experiences have value, they can help others.

I use to worry people could tell that I was different because of my experiences. I would share when I started getting close to new friends because I felt pressure, not because I felt safe. Today I am much more conservative about who hears about my incidents. It is coming from a healthy perspective of finally seeing myself as more than the sum of my parts; I am very strong and resilient because of my parts and my passion. It’s a limited “out” because I am more complex than just my past.

8) What does resilience mean to you? Do you feel you are resilient?


Resilience has come to mean the act of bouncing past. Dictionary.com says “to spring back” is the act of being resilient but I disagree with this.  When I first began to fall I was so young, I am so different today from that version of myself, I could never go back and I wouldn’t want to. To go back almost seems to lessen the importance of your fall. I fell … hard. I didn’t stop falling for years. But then I finally started to recover. I made some changes for me; I found and set up around myself a network of support. I started doing things that made me happy. I put effort into “my bounce”. But never once was I moving in the direction I once was nor will I ever be. I bounced away from where I was in the forward direction that all lives must ultimately go. I am resilient but not in the traditional sense. I know where I have been, where I once was and I use those experiences and those memories to guide my forward direction. I am trying to be true to myself. I have realized that I am a beautifully complex person because of my past and my momentum into the future.

9) What brings you joy now?


There are surprisingly a lot of things that bring me joy. I didn’t realize how much joy I use to “choose” to miss in my comfort of sadness, frustration, anxiety, and depression.

I find joy in my pets; I have three cats (one is the boyfriend’s) and a dog. When I was living by myself – after my father died and I was getting a divorce – they are the reason I am still alive. The make me smile daily. My boyfriend brings me so much joy. He is constantly making me laugh and touching me gently. I have never been in such a loving and supportive relationship as the one I am in now. My amazing support network – these people are simply amazing; they are an inspiration and they make laugh. They push me and congratulate me. They are truly priceless. I teach – my career is to protect children and nourish their minds.

I find joy in reading – I even find joy in picking out my next read! It’s so exciting- all the potential directions! I even go to libraries and bookstores as treats. I love to cook and garden. My plants give me a deep, full body joy. The smell of dirt, the care they require, the beautiful results – my family owned a greenhouse so growing is who I am. The fact that I made space for plants once again has been such a noticeable difference. I have writing and my art. I take the time for little treats in the shower, the occasional bath or facemask. Yoga makes me feel light and running makes me feel invincible. I have learned how to find joy in the process of making more joy for myself.

10) What message do you have for others who are still undergoing violence and/or are still recovering?

If you are here, if you are this far, you are going to make it. Give it time because your effort will eventually yield results.

~~ ~~ ~~

Absolutely gorgeous. Thank you, Lindsay!

extra:ordinary – learning to trust our truth

(I have continued to gather submissions for the extra:ordinary project — stories from our community of our recovery, resistance and resilience — and I am excited to share with you our next piece from Janice in California. I am so grateful for her words — thank you for holding her words here.)

Child of Sorrows

Infant, uncovered, cries alone.
Defenseless child of sorrows
holds her breath, listens in the dark, and
weeps alone in silence, afraid to fall asleep.

Where is mother when
she calls, “Mama”?
Where is God of love?
“Suffer the little children.”
Why must children suffer?
Why do adults
betray her trust?

From her struggle
in the hush of winter,
she flies on voyages
to the stars
until the light of dawn
returns her to
her body.

How does a toddler distinguish the truth that is taught by the one she honors and trusts?  She is taught holy verses:  The lion and lamb shall lie down together.  Who is the Lord?  The Lord is Our Father.  Obey the Lord.  Honor your Father.  Your Father loves you . . . too much.  Fear not . . . but I was filled with fear and Sore afraid.  Our Father . . . hallowed be Thy name.  Thy will be done.  I don’t understand . . . why does Thy will hurt me?  What does this teach a vulnerable child?  In whom should she trust?  Trust in Our Father?  First she trusts everyone.  Then she trusts no one.  Who can she talk to when her mother won’t listen to “stories”?  Where does a child go when home is not safe?  Who can she trust when she can’t trust her parents?  Can your child trust you?

Am I alone?   That’s hard to believe.  Yet, I, a preacher’s kid, have not located a reference to other PKs who were sexually molested by a Protestant pastor parent.  Are your voices still silenced?   

AWA writer friends know my history.  I am grateful for these safe writing groups, the excellent therapist I had and the journals I continue to fill.

Janice
California