Tag Archives: resilience

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.

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Absolutely gorgeous. Thank you, Lindsay!

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.

 

the calculus of resilience

graffiti of green balloons, a person grabbed on to one, next to the words "schnapp dir auch einen!"

(grab one, too!)

In my dream I had signed up for a tennis tournament, even though I 1) didn’t have any clothes to wear for such a thing, and 2) didn’t actually know how to play. I put off and put off letting them know that I couldn’t participate, and wasn’t at all sure that I wouldn’t take my turn, let my ass get kicked, and then just be done with it. In my dreams, as in my real life, I often like to wait and see what’s going to happen.

I am moving through a small depression here, one that has allowed me to rally for workshops and love, but still sinks down into my bones when I’m alone, that brings with it the messages of persistent failure and sadness. I had such big plans for the months of November and December, such bright visions for the first part of 2013, and now everything has changed. I’m overwhelmed by the work emails and phone calls that are waiting for me — it’s almost time just to wipe the decks clean and start over — and I’m missing the friends and community I’ve been mostly out of touch with since the back spasm at the beginning of November. Physically, I am worlds better than I was even a week ago, and I can see light at the end of this tunnel — but that means it’s time to get back in the saddle, and that still hurts.

This morning, however, my little orange apartment actually feels like Christmas. There are bunches of wrapped packages of cookies, homemade xmas cards, wrapping materials (both new and saved/scavenged), a small rosemary bush snipped into the shape of a fir tree (draped with small Tibetan prayer flags), and a few cards from friends and family. Continue reading

the gifts of radical breaking

graffiti of a hand emerging, strong and full, from a just-cracking-open eggGood morning this Monday morning. Outside my window the thick grey fog is just beginning to lift, and the song birds have returned themselves to my feeder (now that I’ve replenished the seed stock). I’m back in the saddle today, even if the saddle has shifted, even if I am sitting in it a bit oddly in order to accommodate the pain that’s still wrangling with me. I’ve got the tea and the candle, I’ve got the quiet apartment (outside chainsaws and jackhammering notwithstanding) and I’ve got the pull into these words.

How are you rising into your (creative or other) saddle today?

This morning I am thinking about how different this month turned out from what I had originally planned. After leaving my day job back at the beginning of the month, I fully expected to erupt into busyness. There was so much I needed to do, now that I was my working hours were going to be devoted only to my writing and to writing ourselves whole: I’d opened conversations with many folks around the area about new writing workshop ventures; I had promotions work to do for the workshops scheduled to begin in January; there are two (just two?) books to write; I needed to figure out my weekly schedule, exercise every day, calendar lunch/coffee dates with friends and colleagues, run the puppy, go go go go go.

And then guess what happened? I’ve spent the month recovering/recuperating from a back spasm that hit me on the fourth day of my new life. Instead of continuing on with the busy that I have built a worklife and work-identity around, I was forced (allowed, allowed) to find a new way to interact with my work as my body took full-on precedence in my every day. Continue reading

balance happens

graffiti: to the far right, the word Balance, then a grey circle, the, to the far right, a blue bass drummer, marching away

Up at 5 this morning, and actually got out of bed before the first snooze went off. This morning’s tea is nettle-dandelion-mint-anise-cardamon. This morning’s candle is blue. This morning’s thinking is vision and balance.

F! and I pulled our cards last night, the first time in this new place; is that right? I pulled Temperance, which in the Medicine Woman Tarot is called Balance — could it be more perfect, given yesterday’s blog post?

I could hardly think of a question for the cards, just something for right now, about work or school or relationship or… yeah … any one of those. And she gave me Balance, Synthesis. Here’s what the text says: “You have acted, you have tried, now you must integrate the experience with everything else that is you.” And: “You are the actor, I am the integrator of your actions. Take time for me. Temperance, the Divine Blending, happens automatically whenever you relax.”

Oh. Right. (Wait — really?)

So this goes right back to the self-care maintenance thing I was thinking about yesterday — it’s not just that we need moments of quiet, of relaxation, of deep breathing or other forms of mindfulness and conscious embodiment to maintain a well-being, to lower our stress levels, to help us stay out of the crisis zone, but also this: balance happens naturally when we relax.

I worry all the time that I have too much going on and not enough time to reflect on what’s happening, on all the different pieces of my life, on how things fit together. Here’s what this card is reminding me: balance comes when I make time for it to come — and I can’t force balance. This feels like a paradigm shift for me: It’s not something I can work on. It’s not something I can make happen. Balance happens when we slow down; reflection occurs naturally during moments of quiet, meditation, exercise, conversation over dinner. Integration of experience is something our bodies and consciousnesses know how to do — just like our muscles know how to integrate a new movement or stretch, with periods of tension and release. We need the release.

Constant busy-ness (tension) keeps this reflection, integration, at bay — and sometimes that is a survival strategy. It certainly has been for me: let me always be too busy to really slow down and let the feelings catch up with me. (We also have an ethic of over-busy-ness in our different communities, particular social change and activist communities — if you’re not exhausted and burning out, you’re not doing enough. This ethic isn’t helping us do our work better, unfortunately. ) Slowing down, even for a moment, can become frightening. I spend so much time running, I don’t know what I’m going to get hit in the face with if I stop for a second and turn around.

Turns out, when I do, it’s just my body, my sensations, wanting to catch up — this history, this conscious self that catches up and catches her breath.

It’s difficult to believe that it’s not my job to make everything happen right — to force myself to balance, to integrate, to relax. Just reading the second half of that sentence makes me chuckle, but only a little: that’s the feeling so many of us have, I think — that we have to make it happen. But balance isn’t forced. It just comes naturally when we give it breathing room, when we take time for a walk, when we make time for things we love: cooking, swimming, time with friends, long baths, phone calls, reading, art, walks, craft time, morning meditation… we get to let it happen. There’s some trust involved here, and practice, I think. Always practice.

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What’s a prompt around this? One might be not to write at all — but to set down the pen and rest for 5 minutes. Just close your eyes and let the breathing come, let yourself notice your breathing, let yourself just notice what thoughts come and let them pass through. Notice if any tension arises, notice where in your body you are feeling tensed, where you are feeling relaxed. Notice how it feels to be supported by your chair, notice how your hands feel on your lap or on the table or wherever they are resting. Set a quiet alarm for 5 minutes, if you want, so you don’t have to worry about the time. Or simply let yourself rest with your eyes closed for a few minutes.

It can be powerful, too, to write a vision of what your or your character’s life would look and feel like if it were more balanced — take 10 minutes and see it on the page: what does your or their morning look like? What’s your ideal, most balanced day? How do you or they feel, going through this day? What people are there? What smells, sounds — let all your senses out on the page. (Notice, too, what people or sights or sensations aren’t there, but don’t spend a lot of attention on this part — let yourself vision what you want!)

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Thank you for the ways you support balance in others’ lives, how you nurture and care for friends, family (chosen or blood or both or…). Thank you for the slow, deep breaths you take for you, too. Thank you for your inherent creativity, the brilliant stuff you were born with and that no one can take away. Thank you for your words!

Safetyfest 2011 is less than a month away!

Promo Poster for Safetyfest 2011 - April/Abril 14-17, 2011

Mark your calendars: CUAV’s second annual Safetyfest is coming, April 14-17!

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From CUAV‘s Safetyfest Blog: Safetyfest is a 100% free festival celebration of all the fierce ways queer and trans people in the Bay Area stay safe and strut our stuff. Our communities already have so many of the tools we’ll need to end violence and be truly safe in all the ways we deserve to be–we just need to share them!

It’ll all kick off with a sexy launch party in Downtown Oakland, followed by dozens of amazing free workshops, cultural events, and art and healing activities on both sides of the bay, and wrap up with a hella fun closing party in SF.

The first-ever safetyfest took place in 2010 and was super fabulous beyond our wildest dreams–over 300 people attended! This years festivities will build on last year’s strengths and deepen the impact of what we can do together. We’re bringing back the most popular workshops from last year like self-defense, sexual consent, writing, BDSM, Bay history bike tour, and more, and adding new workshops based on feedback from attendees and other folks in our community. What do you want to see at safetyfest this year? Send your ideas to safetyfest@cuav.org.

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Visit www.cuav.org/safetyfest to We need your help to make safetyfest a reality!
, check out the  full calendar, get updates and learn how you can participate! (And, speaking of participation, visit http://www.volunteerspot.com/login/entry/322345634360052045 to learn how you can volunteer with Safetyfest!)
Please also visit the Safetyfest Indiegogo page at http://www.indiegogo.com/safetyfest-2011 and donate, donate, donate! Safetyfest is free to all attendees, and we need your help to make safetyfest a reality! While you’re at the Indiegogo page, make sure to watch the incredible video that CUAV/Safetyfest staff & volunteers put together so that you can learn more about this amazing, revolutionary event and why it’s so necessary for you to be a part of it!

allowing ceremony

graffiti: a white flower, a bluebutterfly and a big purple arrow, surrounding the words, "planting the seeds of change"It’s a Monday morning here, and beautiful — slow blue filling the sky, and I keep my eye out for the deer that like to stroll along the hill behind our apt building, munching on grass and weeds, keeping a kind of watch.

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Thanks to all who came out for this month’s Writing the Flood! We had a fantastic gathering of folks in a new, gorgeous, peaceful space over in Berkeley — I’m imagining, for a time, that maybe we’ll move back and forth between San Francisco and the East Bay for this workshop. Our April Writing the Flood meets on the 9th, which is the second Saturday of the month — on the third Saturday, I’ll be celebrating good friends getting married, then will head south for the Body Heat: Queer Femme Tour!

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This morning, I am thinking about the ways that we who have experienced trauma, in maybe any form, reinsinuate, reintegrate ourselves into humanity, into our communities, into something called family. This maybe isn’t writing that I can do on the computer — it’s too big and messy for the containment of typed letters and a little blog box. I don’t have an answer to this question; I still, often, feel outside of humanity — not above, but other(ed), unwelcome. That there are people, and then there’s Jen. That, too, the people around me know something about being human that I missed out on learning during the years our stepfather controlled almost every aspect of our lives, essential things about being a friend, being a coworker, being alive.

How do we undo this experience? I know I’m not alone in this feeling, even as that’s the point of the experience: to isolate. Those outside of the pack get taken down by predators.

And intellectually, I know I’m not outside of humanity — I, too, know that some friends, who are not trauma survivors, sometimes share this feeling of being outside, being other.

So I’m curious about the ways we are welcomed back into humanity, if we are at all. I think there used to be ritual, in the old religions/spiritual ways/ways of human engagement — I think there used to be ceremony to welcome, for example, the warrior back home. We need those rituals now. And what are the ways to welcome the raped woman/man/person, the child abused and neglected, back into connection and community? Rituals that would apologize and make amends even as they washed and said, we want you here, if you want to be here. What are those ways?

What are the ways you have found, to reengage with community, to again let humanity feel like a part of who you are (if, indeed, you ever felt inside of that experience)?

I have found it through political organizing, through social change work, through creative engagement/writing with others, through risky conversations with friends. I have found it sometimes when I was drinking, when alcohol let me drop that inside guard down — now I want to find the way to bring down that inside wall without need of drunkenness/selfmedication.

But there’s more that I want. I want a ceremony. I want a gathering of all the people, all my blood family on my mother’s and father’s side, friends of mine and my sister’s from elementary school,. jr high, high school, college, after college, friends and colleagues of my mother and father and stepfather (but not to have my stepfather there at all) and I want to be on open land near the sea, and I want candles and sunlight and blue sky, and I want us to tell our stories. All of us. This is who I was, this is what I went through after my mother remarried, this is who I am now. I want to spill it all out and be free of it, let it be out of my soft gut and low intestines and throat. I want to know that they all, all these people, all these connections, all this human family, help hold this story with me. What happened to us happened to all of us, happened to everyone who loved/s  us, happened to our whole community. When does our whole community, our whole enormous extended (human) family, get the chance to heal? And then I want to know their stories. I want to know what I can hold along with them that is too heavy for them to carry alone. That is a part of my experience and understanding of community and family. I want us to be fed well and joyfully, to have times to walk by the sea and lots of time to rest. I want dancing and hugging. I want someone facilitating the process, someone knowledgeable in the ways of loss and ceremony and human desire and spirit; I want to know that something bigger than us is there, holding us all, watching and grateful or at least nodding.

This is a big fantasy, but it could be a much longer write, with much more detail. Fantasy serves us very well sometimes, allowing us to step into desire that we can’t or might not want to or aren’t yet ready to act out or have come ‘true’ in the physical plane. Sometimes, fantasy is realization, too.

If there were a ceremony that you could design, that could bridge your way  (or your character’s way) back into a sense of community and/with humanity, what would that look like? Who would be there? Where would it be held, and at what time of year? Climb into the details, if you want to, and don’t call it ritual or ceremony if that’s triggering or doesn’t work for you — use the language that you prefer and like. Call it gathering or church or party or — give yourself 10 or 20 minutes. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want to go.

Thank you for your persistence and generosity of spirit. Thank you for all the creative ways you have allowed humanity to hold you, even when it has disappointed and failed you. Thank you for your words your words your words.

following the signs

street art: a cut out of a soaring bird, with a human form soaring withinI don’t know if I could be more grateful for the weather we’ve been having.

House hunting is not one of my favorite things to do — it’s about as much fun as looking for a new therapist, with more anxiety, sometimes, at least for me. Every time we have to move, suddenly everything is thrown up into the air — where do we want to live? where could we live? we could live anywhere! And so we scan and consider rentals from Mendocino to Santa Barbara — it’s hard to stop looking at craigslist. And then there are the visits: where will we go look? do we apply here? why did we drive all the way up to Santa Rosa if we really don’t want to live here? but would we have known unless we’d taken that couple hours on one of our few precious weekend days this month?

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Writing the Flood is this Saturday! We’re meeting on the 2nd instead of the 3rd Saturday this month, so that we can have one more meeting in the Flood Building. A few spaces are still available (this will be a smaller group this month) — please let me know if you’d like to join us!
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The hawks are following me (or, I hope, I’m following them) — there are a couple in residence around the  neighborhood, and I hear one calling now. They spread their big brown wings and float over the ball fields across in the park, then up to the enormous pine tree behind the b&b across the street, and I feel welcomed, or blessed, or encouraged, or just grateful. Right: pay attention. Yesterday, on the way to my appointment with my former employer, with whom I wanted to talk about therapy and Lacan and Wittgenstein and writing and graduate school, the hawks lit on the lightposts like sentinels. Or cairns. This is my own meaning-making, I know — but that’s what we do every minute, we humans: we use and engage with signs, symbols, shorthands.

I’m walking through a heavy time right now. Old pain, old loss and sorrow and rage, is with me like it’s new. Of course, it isn’t just old: it’s right now. It’s present as I am. It’s present because I am. And I remember times, when I first started openly dealing with being an incest survivor, that I wondered if “it” would ever get better: if I would ever stop crying, if I would be able to smile again, if I could pay good and close attention to other people, if I would be ok. And it did get better — the pain lightened, shifted, took on different shapes and weights. And then it wasn’t better: but when it came back, the pain, it was different — I could do a different kind of work. I think you’ll understand this, but I wish I could be more precise in this language. Yes, it gets better and it gets different: and it’s ongoing work. It doesn’t ever end, because it’s us. It’s this life we’re walking through, that history and how we tend to it, the layerings of our selves throughout.

Because I still struggle with it, I want to dispel this myth that someday we get perfectly “fixed.” Someday it’s all done, we’re healed, and the rest of our lives are just about struggling with normal things: bills, drivers cutting us off in traffic, getting a promotion, that kind of irritating thing that your brother does when he’s eating.

But it doesn’t go like this. The work is ongoing, because life is ongoing, and we carry what we carry. How we carry it and deal with it changes, how we process and deal with it changes: for instance, I’m less likely to punch a wall or drink myself into a blackout at this point in my life. At one time, those were necessary survival strategies. Now I have more resources available — or, more accurately, there are more strategies that I’ll try now. I pay different attention to my own signs, the messages my body sends me.

So, right now, I’m going slow and eating well and resting and walking a lot. I’m talking on the phone, and doing lots of crying. I’m taking care of this now self and that (those) past self(-ves) as best as possible. The writing is coming hard, but still I put myself down in front of the page. That’s #1 on Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way Rules of the Road: “Show up at the page. Use the page to rest, to dream, to try.”

What about an exercise: Do you notice that you deal with old struggles differently now than you used to? What has that change looked like? What about for a character you’re working with — how do they engage with the memories that hurt them? How did they used to deal with those things? Write about the old ways with as much gentleness and respect as possible: those ways got us through to here.

Thank you for your patience with yourself, for your infinite capacity for strategizing around your healing and being in this life. Thank you for your words.

what resilience and growth look like

femme conference 2010 -- logo and dates! August 20-22 in OaklandGood morning!  Today is Friday and according to my post schedule-thinking that I did earlier this week, I should/could be talking about writing ourselves whole in general, as a business. WOW-biz or something. It’s going to be a quick post this morning, ’cause I’ve got to get in the shower and get ready for FemmeCon, though, so here’s what I want to say about the business of running a business — I can’t believe that it’s something I’m doing.

For many (many) years, my main work-related goal was to have the easiest possible taxes; my only goal was to be able to file a, what’s that called, an EZ form every April, or to not have to even file the form because I didn’t have anything new or interesting to tell the government about my financial situation.  Now I’ve got this thing that I’m doing for love and for part of my livelihood, and I’m working toward having it be all of my livelihood, this writing, workshopping and talking about all of it.

I’ve been in the midst of this organic growing process (or not growing so much, often), and this year I’ve taken a number of major leaps toward having writing ourselves whole be all of what I do with my work life/time: first, applying to Intersection for the Arts’ Incubator project — as a part of the Intersection Incubator, I get to be fiscally sponsored, which means I’m sort of in this excellent inbetween land of nonprofit and not, where I can have access to grants only available to nonprofits and can accept tax-deductible donations, and also continue to do other social entrepreneurial work, grassroots work — that is, not be tied to the nonprofit model. I’m grateful to Intersection for the opportunity to participate in this amazing program, and also to my friend and colleague and role model, Peggy Simmons of Green Windows Writing Groups as well, who investigated and participated in Intersection’s Incubator program first, and shares continually of her wisdom, her learning, her ideas.

The second thing that’s happening right now is that I’m asking for help. It’s not that I haven’t had a lot of help over the last eight years with these workshops — from workshop participants and friends and colleagues passing the word about the workshops, folks offering space to hold workshops in, making donations, coming out and helping to publicize fundraising events, sharing prompt ideas, and so much more. What’s happening now is a little bit different: I’ve hopped off the “I’m doing this all by myself” train. As I begin to work with Lou Vaile and with Jianda Monique (of SugarMama PR!), and possibly others too (!), I will have grown writing ourselves whole out past the bounds of my own, individual capacity — it’s going to be at a place where I can no longer return to doing all the work myself. (Note that I haven’t been doing all the work myself for awhile — My Mr. helps so much, even when I’m weird about it, and then there’s so much that’s just not getting done.) So that’s exciting and terrifying and I can’t wait and I also want to, a little part of me wants to, just go back to 8 years ago when there was just one workshop and I was just getting started and that’s all I was doing.  But that’s not the way the work works — humans grow and like to expand and learn. Here we go!

What else do I want to tell you?  Today I’m doing a workshop at FemmeCon for femme survivors called Wild Geese  — yep, after the poem by Mary Oliver. One of the things I hope we’ll get to explore is this intersection of identities: femininity (however we wear/live it) and survivor (however that rings true for us).  For me, these identities inflect each other powerfully, and an enormous part of my struggle with returning to/reclaiming a ‘girl’ identity was the fact that, for me, ‘girl’ was entirely born up with victim, vulnerable, powerless. My girl identity and my girl body (and I love that I think of  Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha‘s amazing piece, “gonna get my girl body back” in Brazen Femme, everytime I think the phrase ‘girl body’ now) has everything to do with my trauma, and so I didn’t want this girl body, and stepped into a butch-boy body for nearly a decade.  Not everyone, of course, takes the same path–today, together, we’ll get to think about how these pieces shape and influence each other, all the different ways femme resilience looks like.

And then Saturday’s the August Writing the Flood workshop — can’t wait for that one!  I’ve got new exercise ideas (thanks again to Peggy and others) and poems and and — will I get to write with you?

What’s resilience and growth look like for you today?  I’d love to know what you’re thinking about that –

Thank you so much for being there, for reading and for writing –

pay attention to all the different facets that truth has

crying is ok here - graffitiI’m afraid to start writing again this morning. There’s this fragile peace within me, something inside that’s just barely standing on its own two feet, and I don’t want to shatter it or shake it up or push it back over.

I didn’t blog last Friday — I got up, overwhelmed and sad, and didn’t have any words to meet me once I sat down at the page. That happens sometimes, and often I write through it anyway. What am I doing here, I type — why aren’t I asleep, I could be in bed, what’s the point of this? Then I get tired of that sort of writing and I move into something else, something more interesting. On Friday, I couldn’t get to something more interesting. Everything fell away from what words could do for me. I hate that place. So instead I went online, I read my email, something I try never to do before doing my writing, because it’s always easier to read than to write, at least for me.

There’s a mailing list I’m on, STAT (Society for Treating Abuse Today), for survivors of extreme and ritual abuse and also for therapists who work with survivors of such abuse. Someone had posted a link to the Franklin Scandal. I followed the link, and found myself reading excerpts from a book about a man, Larry King (not the television star). Larry King ran a credit union, where kids from Boys Town worked. There was a contract between Boys Town and Franklin Credit Union. Larry King also flew kids from Boys Town to Washington DC, where the kids had to have sex with/get raped by prominent public officials, at sex “parties.” This went on in the 80s, and I don’t want to go back to the page again to get all the details — I don’t want to get sucked in again. He provided kids for the parties, and also a photographer — he wanted to get pictures of these politicians that could be used for blackmail. In this scenario, the kids were stage makeup for a higher game — political jockeying between/among adults. These kids were pawns, tools, utensils in a bigger game. Their individual humanity didn’t matter — what mattered was getting a photo of this particular individual, this career politician, this power broker, having sex with some kid. Any kid. The humanity of the kid doesn’t matter to the adults running the game.

One of the kids who finally found themselves able to come forward with information about the abuse, the trafficking, the parties — she was found guilty of perjury and sentenced to 27 years in jail. Larry King went to jail for embezzlement at the credit union, but never charged with, never held to account around, the crimes he committed against kids. Investigators came up murdered during the investigation, and one official body found that the entire thing was an elaborately crafted hoax, envisioned by the young woman who was found guilty of perjury and another person, who’d also been trafficked to the sex “parties.”

Of course I believe this story. There’s nothing at all about it that’s implausible to me. Here’s what happened as I was reading — this wondering: did my stepfather know about this thing? He worked with Boys Town, both he and my mom both, as therapists. Did he know about it and want in? Was he too late and just trying to recreate something similar in his own home? Or is it all just coincidental? I read through the book excerpts, then did some more searching for related pages, looking for his name, any charges made against him and the work he was doing to supposedly help the sexually-abused youth at Boys Town. He said he met his connections from the CIA (he said, yes, he said he’d once been a part of the CIA — because how does a girl from the middle of Nebraska get away from someone who can find her anywhere on the planet?) out at Offut AFB; there’s that connection in this book, both with the CIA and Offut. Yes, coincidence. Or not.

Then I got up away from the computer and I turned it off for a couple of days. There’s no escaping the spinning that starts, there’s no logic-ing myself out of it, once I start slipping down into the “everyone’s a potential associate of some sex abuser and you can’t trust anyone” pit. Because it’s true, of course, and it’s not true — there’s no way to prove, is the point.

I don’t want to be typing this

When I walk out into the world, and meet people casually, there’s no way to prove who knows what, who doesn’t know, who’s safe. There’s no way to know who’s hurt a kid, who’s hurt a woman or a lover, who’s done something stupid and awful (or intentional and awful) that they regret or they don’t regret.

Knowing that, I can either step completely outside the world and live in a cave (I nearly wrote cage), or I can take a deep breath, know how much I can’t know, and move back into the world with my boundaries in tact, listening to my intuition, and attending, too, to how much generosity and kindness exists within humans, even alongside our capacity for horror.

But in the in between, I took some time away from words and hung out with a different creativity. I worked with food, and both remembered and didn’t think about my parents, my family, where this capacity for creativity came from. Apple-Zucchini-Carrot bread, green lentils and quinoa with coconut milk and green onions, kidney bean refritos, soup stock, apple and peach crumble.  It was a good weekend. A weekend of attending to different languages, the subtle interactions of tastes, paying attention to the drift of nutrients in my body, which meant paying attention to my body’s wellness, though not directly.

We learn to listen on a slant, to pay attention to all the different facets that truth has, and sometimes we can use that for our own wellness, right? What do you listen to when all your usual channels have gone to static?

Thank you for being there — I’m so grateful for you.