On Rape and Rape-ish, Angrily, Regretfully, and unRemorsefully

Trigger warning: rape, sexual assault.

This article is about rock music and rape, so it’s not something you’ll understand.

At its core, it’s about being taken advantage of, when you’re young and naive and vulnerable, at a point in your professional career when you’re on the cusp of something wonderful, and that’s something I understand in a very profound way.

That’s where I was. I was on the cusp, the perfect target, easy prey. Pathetic. (Not me; the man who took advantage of me. I didn’t have a choice. I wouldn’t have made that choice, not that night, not ever.)

Later in the article, the author talks about telling the mom. I didn’t tell my mom for months after what happened in New York. I tell my mom everything. I didn’t tell her that. I hated myself and I hated my shame. I hated what happened. She knew something was wrong, but she had no idea what it was. She knew, but she didn’t know. She cried when I told her; I hated breaking her heart. I felt worse inside because I let her down, because I was broken and it wasn’t something that she could fix. I wasn’t the same and I wouldn’t ever be. I wasn’t hers anymore. I hurt her, and I hated that more than anything.

That’s part of why this article touches my heart so much. There are things that happen in an instant that change you. After them, you’re never the same. You’re darker, you’re different, and you can’t explain it. You can heal, and move forward, but there’s no forgetting. Sometimes I wonder if there’s ever a time when you can forgive.

People say they do; they say that all the time. I haven’t, and I never will. I hate who I became that night. I hate the person who woke up that next morning. And that’s the person that I am today. I don’t get to go back. I don’t get to atone, because I’m not the one who made that choice. I have tried to embrace love and happiness and to allow the beautiful things back into my life, but I’ll never be the person that I was on January 29, 2013. I can’t be. I carry something heavy with me everywhere I go now, and I will carry it until I die.

I make light of it now, but not really. At least I don’t cry when I talk about it anymore. But it cuts me every now and then, when I least expect it. Like tonight. I read this article and I cried. Hard. My therapist told me that these things happen – it’s a roller coaster, and sometimes you don’t see it coming. He said that one day, this would just be something that happened to me, rather than the only thing, and he was right. That’s all it is now. But it’s not nothing and it never will be.

When I told the new dude about it, he gathered me up into his arms and held me, and I felt safe and loved and healed and stupid for even feeling anything about it, for even telling him about it. But tonight, I read that article and the parts of me that are so together fell apart. I hate that these things happen. I hate that I “just had some fun” (not my words – the salesman’s words) with a middle aged married salesman when I was 24 and drugged, and I don’t get to erase that. I hate that I’m left with that scar, because I don’t want it. I don’t deserve it. No one deserves it.

Here’s the quote that got me — that hit home so fucking hard:

“I know from personal experience how all these things can eat away at you. They can take vibrant young people and turn them into something else.”

Tonight I’m crying; my palms hurt in that deep tingly way and the tears are hot and full and dripping out of my eyes. It’s real again; it’s visceral and it hurts. I will wake up tomorrow and this will all be a bad dream, but it’s not a bad dream and I know it. I refuse to let it consume me, the way it did for so long, but I will allow it to touch my heart so that I remember. I will never forget, and I will never forgive. I’m sorry — but I’m not sorry at all. I don’t have to forgive. It’s not a prerequisite for progress; it’s not something that I have to do.

I’m not kind in that way, the way I’m so kind in so many other ways. I will never forgive that disgusting man or my old bosses. I will never forgive them for what happened or how it exploded, destroying my career and shattering my soul. I don’t have to to be a take-the-high-road kind of person and I won’t be; not today and not ever.

I hate that I hate them so much. I don’t like to hate. I thrive on love and good feelings, good feedback, and gratitude. But I take exception here. I smile and laugh and pretend that I’m not hurting. Usually, I am all good, the embodiment of good vibes and positivity. It’s long forgotten, something that happened to me and not THE thing. But every now and then, it creeps up on me, like if there were such thing as a silent hybrid freight train.

Here’s the song I listen to when I’m upset. I don’t know why, but it calms me. Tonight it’s been on repeat for almost a half an hour.  

I feel better. It’s over. It’s done. It’s not happening right now and it hasn’t for a long time. I can’t change the past. There is only forward.

My roommate in college had a wise mom. She always said that when something was upsetting you and you couldn’t solve it, you should sleep. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do. The nest of blankets and my cat son should do the trick. Tomorrow is a new day.

There is only forward. I am who I am. I am not what happened to me. I am still me. I am good. I desire and deserve love, even now.

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On Parenting and Educating, Symbiotically

I’m not a parent; I know that I have absolutely no ground to disparage parenting in any way. That being said, I’ve been a babysitter since I was twelve, and I’ve been around a number of very different parenting styles. While I understand the motivations behind each and every parenting choice that the parents I’ve worked for make, I really do question quite a few of them.

This article showcases an emerging trend in parenting psychology. It’s worth the read.

I babysit for one kid who struggles with social interaction and behavioral issues (I’ve babysat for many just like her), and I know that her mom struggles with “the problem” on a daily basis. Over the course of our time together, I’ve instituted a “no-nonsense” policy: if the kid is not going to do her homework, I calmly tell her that until we do the homework, we’re not going to do anything else. Then I sit down at the table and pull out the homework. I start doing it, slowly. (I realize this in itself is a problem.) I tell her that until she helps me with her homework, we’re not going to play, and I withhold the promise of dessert or playtime until she’s put in demonstrable effort. Lo and behold, it works. She ends up completing the homework, at which point, I give her double high-fives and tell her how proud of her I am.

If she’s going to say mean things to me, I’ll take a page from my mom’s book and tell that I find her speech to be inappropriate and hurtful and tell her that I’m not going to listen to her until she can speak to me in a more calm, polite manner. A few minutes of ignoring does a world of good – the kids want the attention, even negative attention, and so reminding them that they need to be respectful about it changes their approach immediately. Being ignored is the absolute worst, and when we continue to give the kids the negative reinforcement, we’re teaching them that attention can only be achieved through negative actions. Of course, this is a call to parents and caregivers to make sure that they are giving plenty of positive attention to children as well, so they don’t feel compelled to act out in order to get the attention that they crave.

On multiple occasions, I’ve pulled a kid aside, taken both of their hands into mine and looked into their eyes. I tell them that I know how hard it is to do things that we don’t want to do and how proud of them I am. I tell them that I appreciate their cooperation and compliment something in the homework that I think they’ve done fabulously, like counting or coloring or whatever. I want to reinforce the positives and applaud their choice to do the homework, not because I feel that they’ve done anything spectacular, but because I know that they’re not getting that reinforcement elsewhere and I want to at least entertain the idea that good work gets good results.

Sometimes, a child I’m babysitting for will get frustrated. Instead of trying to figure out a solution, they’ll dissolve into child-hysterics (duh, they’re children), crying and wailing without any real reason. I’ll calmly remind them that there’s another solution to their problem and I’ll ask them what they think will help solve it. We talk it out; we find a solution. If the jar won’t open or the toy won’t work, we look to see what might be done about it. (Personal note: only after exhausting most options are tears acceptable and sometimes encouraged. I get that. I’m all about a good cry-it-out session. Those sometimes are the best solutions.)

The same goes for diner. I have parents who cater to their children’s every demand when it comes to food, or alternately, completely ignore basic food groups and then wonder why their child is struggling with issues such as attention, energy, and general behavior. I have found that by limiting the choices but offering something that the kid will enjoy and eat (that’s simultaneously healthy or at the very least semi-nutritious) will go a long way towards obtaining the desired results.

I love children. I understand that each and every child has issues that need to be addressed individually.

At one of the adoption camps this summer, there was a little guy who was struggling on the second morning. He didn’t want to leave his dad, and it took me immense amounts of coaxing to get him to come with me. I promised him that I was not going to leave him until lunch (letting him know that he had someone that was going to be with him was important), and that if he didn’t want to, he didn’t have to have ANY fun. I ended up getting him away from his dad (“dad’s got to go to boring parent stuff; he’s not going to have any fun either.”) and getting him to hold my hand and come with me. He was apprehensive about joining the group, so he and I took a walk around the building and I tried to find some common ground. I asked him if he had any siblings. He told me he had a dog sister. I asked about the dog’s name and what she liked to do, and then I told him that I used to have a dog named Acorn. The little guy looked up at me quizzically, and then giggled when I told him that we used to call him “Corn dog.”

By the next session, I had worked him into the group and helped him make a car out of recycled materials. After that, he did some art therapy. By lunch, I brought him back to his dad and asked him if he’d had any fun at all that morning. He broke into a huge grin and said, “No.” I was so pleased. That’s the feedback I need, the feedback that makes all of that time worthwhile.

At the end of the day, the dad came up to me and thanked me for helping his son feel more comfortable. I answered honestly that I wouldn’t have had it any other way. One of the parents who was standing next to us turned to the dad and said, “That’s why we call her the ‘child whisperer.'” I blushed, filled with pride and happiness. I absolutely adore little kids and I do feel as though I am able to connect with them, simply because I understand what they need. They’re full of all the fear and apprehension that I felt as a kid, and so I think that’s what allows me to be able to respond to their individual needs.

That being said, I think we’re in a time where we overindulge our children. My mom worked really hard to create resilient children, and she did so through consistency, unconditional love, and determination/patience. Recently, one of my friends who has a terrible mother was going through a rough time and I insisted that we call my mom. My friend was crying and was terrified that she was going to “screw it up.” I told her that that’s the thing about moms, you can’t “screw it up.” You can call them crying (oh god, a million times have I called my mom in tears only to have her tell me that she can’t understand me and I’m going to have to use my words…) and they’re still going to love you.

By creating a space where we allow children the freedom to evaluate their own emotions and create genuinely productive responses to them, we create not only stable children but functional adults. By establishing systems and routines for assessing emotions, we allow children to plumb the often-neglected depth of their own feelings and provide the opportunity for them to help create a response that’s going to be fruitful not just now but in the future.

One of my mom’s favorite stories is from when I was very young. We were part of a camp or after-school program or something and we were at the local YMCA doing swimming. I remember being absolutely terrified (my general state of being as a small child), and she recounts that she came to pick me up and I looked at her and asked, “Why do I cry?” She knew immediately that we needed a new plan for swimming lessons, as the group setting wasn’t going to do it for me. By tailoring her response to my emotional assessment (such that it was), she was able to set me up for swimming success by giving me a different learning setting and a more tailored lesson plan.

That’s good parenting. It wasn’t indulging in tantrums or ridiculous behavior; it was catering to a specifically outlined need as a result of my own communication of my feelings. It allowed both of us to feel comfortable, although one of us ended up lighter in the pocketbook for it. But to this day, when I swim, I think of my swim teacher and I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to learn and grow at my own pace, rather than in a group setting that somehow made my child-self profoundly uncomfortable.

Schools and school staff are becoming increasingly more responsible for parenting. The integration of positive efforts to affect (and create the desire to effect, too) behavior and help regulate children’s emotions and reactions are more necessary than ever. I understand the frustration that a teacher might feel when they’re constantly obligated to single out a child for poor behavior in the classroom due to any number of factors, including learning disabilities, disorders, and home life, but I do believe that consistent application of tools – particularly emotion-based ones – can not only affect classroom stability, but the overall wellbeing of the child.

If we’re able to provide the resources, then why are we not implementing these programs as part of a well-rounded approach to learning? (We do waste enough money on ineffective programs, and I understand that there are budgetary constraints, but in order to create and maintain the results we desire, it’s imperative that we be proactive rather than reactive about our approach to educating the whole child….rather than teaching to test scores or attaining specific metrics. I firmly believe that we can attain the results we desire if we’re able to establish consistency, so let’s figure out how to allocate the funds for these programs….ugh, which is another issue, of course.)

Each child will face innumerable struggles between socialization, education, and personal growth, and it’s up to the parents as well as the school system to foster the links between all three. By endeavoring to create more awareness in our children, we’re allowing them to help be a part of the educational system and their own maturation, which is not only necessary, but entirely empowering.

On Writing About Breaking Up and the Aftermath, Emotionally (Because I Can)

I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I kept myself busy this weekend, trying to keep the mantra of “positive and productive” alive in my head to drown out the emotional white noise. I danced all night on Friday, went out to dinner with my brother and his girlfriend on Saturday, ran errands and took the dog to the dog park on Sunday. (I got to have the dog last weekend. It was lovely.)

Monday came, and then Tuesday, and with them, a surprising sense of lightness and joy. The days were great; the nights not so much. I’d not slept alone in a year and a half, and man, there’s some serious truth to the biorhythm thing. The nights are the worst. They stretch on forever.

Last night, it all caught up with me. I knew it was going to, but I’d been almost reveling in how calm I was, and I hadn’t prepared myself (not that I could have, really). The tears came, randomly, and then they wouldn’t stop.

I’m not going to fight this, I’d already decided that when the sadness engulfed me, I would let it happen. There isn’t anything but time that can fix these things. Even though I want nothing to more to keep muttering “be positive and productive” and channel everything into the future, I know that the pain of losing your other half is immense. And you have to let it happen or you end up bitter. I don’t want that. I have bitten off two of my nails, though, so the stress is starting to get to me.

I haven’t been good at eating or sleeping. I need those things, but right now, my body doesn’t want them. Tonight, I was going to scrub the house with wild abandon, and I’ve been unable to do much of anything. I did start some laundry, so there’s that.

Am I trying really hard to keep it “positive and productive”? Yes. Am I hurting? Yes. Is this for the best? Yes. Will it get better? It has to.

I know that I’m grieving, because the loss of any relationship is painful. I’m not pining for him or wishing he’d come home. But at the same time, I miss him. His nearness. Part of me keeps feeling that he’s just in the next room. The proximity sensors are so out of whack.

It’s just overwhelming for a million different reasons. The darkest part of me hopes he’s feeling as badly as I am. It’s just emotional pain on a totally different depth than I’m used to, and I’m not pleased that I’m feeling it. I don’t want to push it down because that will only create long-lasting and crippling complications, but I’m really sick of feeling it and it’s only been a week. I persuaded my therapist to ballpark a healing date and he said five weeks. He was very nervous about that, so don’t hold him to it, but when I asked him how long it takes normal people to get over a relationship and he said “several months to several years,” I think the look on my face forced him to reconsider. It was the “Oh, hell no!” look.

A friend said on Friday, “It’s just like skydiving. You’re ready to jump on 3 and they push you on 2.” That makes so much sense. So does the friend who told me that she had a boyfriend for five years whom she loved very much. The hardest part of their breakup was the realization that they would each become better people if they weren’t together. I think that’s going to be a piece of advice I cling to. I think we both stopped reaching and I think that being apart will allow us to grow as people.

When you think about it – or if you’d known us both – we are incredibly different people with different values systems. In the long run, there was no way we’d have been able to sustain a happy, successful relationship.  Just wasn’t going to happen.

Blerg blerg blerg. I get it. No one cares. Emotional pain is so self-contained. It’s this funny quality of the human condition, because when you’re experiencing a really strong emotion, all you want to do is share it, communicate it, get it out there, commiserate, be congratulated, be supported, be held, and so on. And yet, both extremes of happiness and despair are frowned upon. Because why should anyone be so happy? That’s some bullshit. And the sadness is not immediate to anyone who’s not forced upon it, so why dwell? No one wants to hear about it, because even though everyone’s been there, they’ve lost the ability to relate on that exact level. If they’re doing the support and commiseration or support and elation thing, it’s because they care, not because they feel it. They do get it, but they don’t get it, if you know what i’m saying. (You don’t. Think about that scene from “10 Things I Hate About You” when Bianca is trying to explain the layers of love, and she’s like, “I love my Sketchers, but I love my Prada backpack.” It’s like that. Never mind.)

It’s much like my mother’s motto for our teenage years: this too shall pass. And with it, so will the emotional reverberations. But for now, they’re bouncing around in my heart and the visceral reactions are alternating between frustration, triumph, anguish, and calm. It’s a hot mess happening in here. I’m okay with it. It’s good because it will lead to growth. But god, growth pains are the worst.