Behind Closed Doors

“He hit me and it felt like a kiss

He hit me and I knew he loved me

‘Cause if he didn’t care for me

I could have never made him mad”

~The Crystals, “He Hit Me (and it Felt like a Kiss)”

 

My main passion in terms of sexual violence is primarily sexual assault. Today I am going to talk about another form of violence, that all too often, coincides with sexual violence. I am speaking on the topic of domestic violence and choosing to compose this after a horrific domestic violence situation in my hometown community. This specific story involved an estranged married couple who made morning news involving a murder suicide within their home making the morning news on April, 19th, 2016. The most unsettling part, the murder victim, was a local journalist/broadcaster who told the morning news. The casualties were her life and three young children left orphaned.

Domestic violence is prevalent in our society and something no one wants to talk about. Sadly, its more common place than we think and is all too often not brought to proper attention until severe harm has been done. The recent revamp of the OJ Simpson case in the FX TV Series , “The People vs OJ Simpson” brought back one of the most famous celebrity domestic violence/murder cases of our time. The jury rendered their decision, I like many, have my own personal belief on how justice should have been served. This case brought to light years of domestic abuse shielded due to the male abuser having significant ties to the community, celebrity, fame, and an image that others refused to tarnish. The reality was threats of life, constant verbal abuse, 911 calls made out of fear by the deceased Nicole, and physical documentation of violent beatings leaving her bruised and battered. The reality was a domestic violence situation between and estranged couple that escalated to a tragic ending. Years later the very famous and late Phil Hartman suffered a domestic violence tragic ending. His wife took his life and then her own in a murder suicide. This left behind two children. Today’s events were of a public figure, in a warm community, a breast cancer survivor…that left three children without parents.

Just like sexual violence; domestic violence is often segmented against women as the abused or victims. I had my first brush with domestic violence in a personal matter at the young age of 24.  I was dating a man who, to put it lightly, was “the devil in disguise.” He lied to me about every part of his life from the beginning. He fabricated his entire life, his age, his values, his intentions in the seriousness of our relationship and more. He truly was one of those people who become stories on Dateline NBC about living a double life. Part of his controlly mechanism ( I was too young to recognize at the time) was to emotional abuse me and manipulate me in every way possible. Once his reality started to come crashing down around him, the lying turned to threats and more. A long story short, I was terrified he was going to harm me. I couldn’t eat and lost an enormous amount of weight, I was working two jobs, barely sleeping, and in a constant state of “on alert.” What’s sad was everyone kept complimenting me on how “great I looked” losing all this weight! I look back into photos and stare into the eyes of the myself then and it breaks my heart. My self esteem was at all time low, I was beautiful. I was thin, constantly tan (spray tans from the 3 weddings I was in that summer), smiling, on the go, progressing professionally, in a large group of friends, and suffering on the inside. During one of the busiest times of my work time (change over of apartments in the property management company I worked for) the final straw of months of torture came to a jolting end. I had blocked his number and yet he phoned me and left over 10 minutes of haunting voicemails.

Long story short, I found myself in front of my (amazingly supportive) supervisor, with tears running down my face, explaining how bad it had gotten and why I needed to leave work. She looked me in the eye and said,” take care of YOU and please check in with me tonight.” The threats he had made against me were not something I took lightly. I was allowed to leave work during my busiest time, went down to the nearest courthouse and filed for a PPO (to start the process.) My very good friend who had met this man, stayed home, and was as stunned as I was, came to stay the night on my couch to help me feel safe. I will never forget her asking me when I opened the door, “Why are you dressed so nicely? You went down to court? You’re supposed to be a mess!” nacks, and comfort and recall replying, “I wanted to look like I was okay on the outside so I put on this dress and some make up.” Her eyes of sympathy bore into me. I couldn’t believe I had wound up in this place.

Looking back at this moment and reflecting upon today, I can understand so very much about domestic abusers and their victims. Its hard for me to think about, much less share with anyone. I wound up being legally protected from this man, and even offered support to the other female victim he was further hurting (told you he had a double life.)  He eventually went to jail for stalking her some 6 months later. I supplied information to her lawyer to help. Stalking is a felony in the state of Michigan (thank God!) I finally slept the first night I knew he was in there. Finally felt peace. Finally felt the eyes of worry, concern, judgement and more go away. I am reflecting on this as I heal from my sexual assault six months ago, absorb the news of this beautiful female piller in the community, and think about how close to home domestic violence may be to all of us. It was for me, and I’ve always valued my strength and feminist independence.

(The picture below is of me the summer I went through the turmoil of everything in 2009 at the age of 24. Pictured in a wedding with two of my best friends. These photos are a reflection of external portrayed happiness and internal despair. A true oxy moron)

 

The bottom line is that as a culture we do not wish to intervene into the cues of perceived notions or clues of abuse. Often times the person who tries to help a victim out becomes the enemy or the threat of violence worsens.  As a culture; we have not successfully closed the gaps of women being victims of abuse and violence. All of these encompassing emotional abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and sexual violence. We owe it to ourselves to do more.

The statistics are haunting and staggering.

Were you aware that every NINE seconds in the United States a woman is beaten or assaulted?

Did you know that domestic violence is the leading cause of inury to women? This is higher than car accidents, muggings, and yes even rapes combined.

For those of us with Human Resources, domestic violence victims have to call into work more often; enough to constitute nearly 8 million days of pair work annually. This is ust in the United States. (Look around your professional work space, take a deep breath and think about who amongst your professional peers may be in the category.)

A number as high as 92% of women surveyed wished for reduction of domestic violence and sexual assault as their TOP concern. Not equal pay, not maternity leave as paid family time, but violence of their own gender in this capacity.

When I worked in Residence Halls on a large college campus I observed an influx of what I perceived to be forms of domestic abuse at an alarming rate. I believe the new generation coming into the world and the exposure of social media opens them up to a new type of domestic violence and abuse. I would often hear students state, “he hacked into my Facebook again and threatened all my male friends to stop talking to me.” “He was able to see exactly where I was due to my instagram…that is how he found me there and dragged me out to talk to me.” “He couldn’t handle the rejection of us breaking up so he kept making up new screen names to harass me, call me names, and threaten me.” “I’m not allowed to have my own passwords apart from my partner, that would make him/her very angry.” This is all abuse in my opinion. Its a hidden form of abuse that is condoned as misuse of technology and another control tactic. Where does the line get drawn between healthy sharing and controlling another person?

This morning I awoke to an unsettling news story that opened with reports of a “murder suicide.” I instantly felt an icky feeling in my gut and thought how awful. The idea of things don’t happen like this in our small town crossed my mind. Then there was a face put with a name and a community in shock. I put out there some of my own brushes with domestic violence and have been very vocal about sexual violence that came into my world. I have grown a lot since I was 24. I now understand what are forms of emotional abuse and control are (and NO they are not love.) I also sadly still witness them in relationships around me and wish I could intervene.

The person that chose to inflict violence on me last October was a complete stranger. As difficult as it is to move past what happened; today I had a thought. How much harder would this be if the face of a stranger was replaced with a partner I loved? With a boyfriend? With a friend? With a husband. Sadly, many victims of severe domestic violence, sexual assault, and escalated domestic violence (usually resulting in death) are at the hands of a person that was once of love, affection, and comfort. How difficult is that thought to swallow?

I am thinking tonight about what happened and how as an individual, as a woman, as a community, as a MAJORITY we need to take a stand that the very behaviors that lead up to domestic violence will not be tolerated. I think far too often we see the aftermath, the guilt, the shock, the disbelief, and the photo of the smiling woman who no longer has a life with us. We see the person we used to make eye contact with at the grocery store and smile at. The woman who always volunteered at our children’s school and was so sweet to the children. We seem the high profile cases and faces of those like Nicole Brown Simpson. We think about how senseless this control game of violence was that escalated into taking their lives.

As I close this piece, (which I admit is a bit rambling for me) I have to thank a few people. These women stuck their neck out on the line for me and made themselves available. My supervisor in property management during my trying time who made it very clear to me, “she would support me in any way she could, that no job, busy time in housing was more important than my safety and well being. That she would be there for me day or night and could help find me a place to stay if I didn’t feel safe.” She was an amazing women and supervisor. She also could’ve dismissed my concern, put the tireless hours of work in housing first, and potentially even disciplined me for missed time in office.

To another friend, who worked with me at the same company in my first office location starting there. She was bold enough to pull me aside and say, ” I don’t care how busy/on the go you say you are and trying to be healthy. Something isn’t right with you and I suspect I know what is going on. I’m your friend and I’m worried about you. If you lose another pound I am going to sit down and hope you will really talk to me. This isn’t about work, its about YOU!” What a rare find and the first to not “celebrate” my shrinking appearance.

To my dear friend who stayed with me during this time and listened. She did not judge. She was just as alarmed as I was at how rapidly the situation escalated and how deceitful this person really was to me. She was reassuring with words like, “who cares what they think!” (when the mutual friends that introduced me and this man turned on me during this mess.) “Anyone can paint a pretty picture, you know the truth and are using the law as your tool for justice and safety. You are making sure this never happens to another person at his hands again.  You’ll get through it.

Lastly, to the women who moved a community with her zest for life, drive to use her own experience with Breast Cancer as a foundation for philanthropy/awareness, a mother to three children, a daughter, a friend and more; you deserved move. You will be missed and I sincerely hope whatever kind of good can come from something like this prevails.

Resources because LOVE should never hurt:

http://www.thehotline.org/

http://www.aardvarc.org/dv/states/michdv.shtml

http://www.michigan.gov/som/0,4669,7-192-29941_30586_240—,00.html

http://safeplace.msu.edu/

And for Denise:

http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2016/04/radio_host_murder_suicide_leav.html

 

Statistics obtained from domesticviolencestatistics.org for proper credibility

http://www.domesticviolence.org/

 

 

 

Broken Wings to Flying

broken_angel_wings_by_madretierra-d31e0bo.jpgYou live you learn, you love you learn
You cry you learn, you lose you learn
You bleed you learn, you scream you learn

~Alanis Morissette, You Learn~

The number thirteen has never been arbitrary to me. I came into this world on Sunday, May 13th, 1984. Nearly three weeks late on Mother’s Day. As I child I would count to thirteen of specific things to separate them out and make this number a good omen. I was aware of the stigma of black cats, the number thirteen, and superstitions at a young age. I will be sitting at my desk wearing the grey/pink striped maxi dress I set out in 13 hours from now. Its been 13 years exactly since I started my amazing journey at Michigan State University. One of my favorite shows, Grey’s Anatomy was just renewed for its 13th season. My first childhood friend Keith Herman was born on April 13th; exactly a month before I was. I’ve learned to clear my mind during meditation for a solid 13 plus seconds (this took MONTHS!) In thirteen days from today it will have been six months. Thirteen days from this moment will bring me to the half year anniversary. The anniversary of my horrific sexual assault.

Thirteen.

Although my number is thirteen, I have to stop and reflect on six months. SIX MONTHS. Half a year has gone by. How is this possible? How did I get here? What did I learn? Am I okay? Have I moved forward? Do I acknowledge this? As a victory, as a small notation in my planner? As what? I may not want to, but I have to acknowledge how very many things I have abosorbed, hated, cried about, accepted, loved, embraced, failed at, exceled at, and integrated into my life the past six months. The past six months that in thirteen days changed who I was forever.

Deep Breath.

Here Goes.

  1. People will still let you down and hurt you. One of the hardest parts of my journey post assault was the people I thought would forever be there for me no longer being in my life. I have this image of myself as a baby robin that has fallen out of its nest and broken its wing. A baby robin can fly again with proper nurturing, healing, and support. I had a supposed good friend tell me when my “wings were healing” that they “could no longer be engaged in this friendship anymore with me. That I am not a terrible person and should know that. This is too emotional for them and they can no longer engage.” This was after I thought I was going to come into town, reconnect with this friend, and even stay the evening at their home (confirmed over the phone as okay.) This person avoided me for a few days after this conversation and finally responded to me after blocking me on all forms of media (yes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you name it.) I finally emailed this person directly and asked “why?” I got my response. I replied that I wish to respect how a person feels and the boundaries they need for their own emotional needs in their life. I cannot put into words the amount of hurt this caused me or the tremendous set back this caused me in my journey to heal. This was a friend who trusted me to watch their children, I openly shared everything with, I texted back and forth quite frequently, I picked up (they don’t like to drive), used to work with, and I thought was forever going to be in my life. I may understand on some levels why they chose to protect their own feelings and emotional stability; however I will never understand their approach. I stand behind what I said in writing in this same email, “I wish you would’ve stated to me how you were feeling before taking such drastic measures so I could have been supportive to you as a friends.” I still let this friendship “divorce” and person cross my mind daily. I know me. I’m a loyal friend to a fault and have to acknowledge the deep hurt I experienced. I never thought someone could kick me while I was down or my “wings were healing…..”
  2. Moments of happiness accompany moments of guilt. I’ve had this happen so many times. I have a great day, things click, I feel confident, interactions with others go well, and I smile to myself about the blessings I have in life. Then I have the burden of guilt that comes with it. I question myself. “Am I allowed to be happy?” “Whoa, can I feel this way. Does this mean I’m forgetting?” When something tramatic happens to a person there is a blank slate placed in the person’s mind (in my opinion) and its often filled with negative, binding, overwhelming thoughts of how I should feel. I’m not supposed to smile at my reflection as I notice my new concealer covers my scar and I am starting to resemble who I used to be. I’m not supposed to feel content, happy in the moment, or catch myself laughing along with others at something humorous. The dichotomy of these feelings blending together can be overwhelming. Grief for my former life comes with guilt associated with new happiness.
  3. I still have hope. I experience butterflies for the first time in about a year this past week. Butterflies associated with presenting in front of others for the first time in a long time. Presenting and public speaking is a huge part of my professional identity. I relish in it. I’m confident in saying I am good at it! I gave up on this portion of my life when this happened. I had a physical scar and an emotional scar to my soul that ran deeper. I never thought I would be comfortable in front of an audience ever again. These butterflies proved to be a beautiful reflection for my soul. Somehow in my pain, my healing, my attempt to move on; a seed was planted. A small seed of hope that I failed to recognize. A seed that proved to be a late bloomer…but a bloomer. The self-actualization/self-realization that I still had apsirations and hope for myself was one of the most postitive points in my healing process to date. I still have a voice that believes in myself. I still have hope for more. Even more important, the seed planted carries roots growing that I am worthy of and deserve more.
  4. I make people uncomfortable. Lets just call a spade a spade. I am open about what happened to me. I acknowledge it. I address it. I write about it. I have a streak of teal in my hair as a symbol of advocacy for sexual assault awareness. My not sweeping this part of my life under the rug makes other people uncomfortable at times. My growth and attempt to move forward openly isn’t as well received as I would have hoped. In an evaluation setting, a person of HR status said to me, “you have a streak of green in your hair.” (Mind you I have had this since November, but depending on how I wear my hair could be overlooked.) I casually stated, “You mean my advocacy streak?” He stated yes, that streak of color in your hair and inquired the meaning of its advocacy. I replied matter of fact, “My streak of teal is two fold. It stands for Sexual Assault Awareness in April and Ovarian Cancer Awareness in October.” My response as a knee jerk, “Good for you!” The burning of this person’s cheeks were a blatant physical indicator to me that I had made this person uncomfortable.   I am aware that both of my causes that I strongly advocate evolve around women’s issues. one is due to the physical make up of men not having ovaries. The other is that we further stigmatize male sexual assault survivors and “demonize” women as the victims of this. I am aware that hair is not a protected class in the State of Michigan (thank you Dr. Tina Riley for my CHRS from MSUHRLR certification training!) I am also aware that the more openly I wear my advocacy and show for cause; the more uncomfortable about it. Is it I make people uncomfortable, or perhaps issues segmented towards women make people uncomfortable? I say this on Equal Pay Day April 2016 as the only person in my professional setting to ask if this is recognized. I was generally curious, and the question make others uncomfortable. My advocacy, openness about being a survivor of a brutal physical, sexual attack, a physical attack on my right ovary (a sex organ) make people uncomfortable. I think I am going to try to trend the hash tag #awkwardsilence or the 80’s song lyric #enjoythesilence! Get comfortable with the uncomfortable people!
  5. Social Media has become my backbone. I am tremendously overwhelmed by the amount of online support and new online friendships I have formed. I anticipate the day I meet some of these people and cannot wait to hug them and let them know how very much they have helped me grow as a person. I have a support system nearly 24/7 at the touch of my fingertips. Thank you to all of those who have been there for me. I look forward to my weekly chats and touch points with people. I consider these folks to be my friends and lifelines! I encourage anyone struggling and wanting to reach out to what survivor conversations are out there to tune into a few. The hash tag: #SolidarityChat is a weekly chat every Monday done by Hannah Stein. This is a fabulous group of individuals who cover these tough topics and connect. I look forward to it, engage, process, and use this as an important way to heal. I’m forever grateful for Social Media and opening up my eyes to other victims/survivors out there.
  6. I don’t sweat the small stuff. I was a nanny the summer I was 20 years old. This was not a typical nanny situation, and I will also reflect on this as one of the hardest jobs I will ever have in life. I was a nanny to a family that had lost their mother in a horrific auto accident in January of that year. I started working for their Father, son at 6 1/2, and daughter of 3 that May. This family had grandparents (maternal) that had moved across the street and a grandmother (paternal) who lovingly went by the German variation of Grandma “Omi” that I spent a great deal of time with. This family was also in the process of building a beuautiful new home on Lake Michigan’s beach. There was a lot going on. Early into this position I had spent the morning with Omi and the little girl at Omi’s house (down the road.) A crazy storm came through, turned the sky black as night, ripped trees from their roots, caused us to loose power, and sent a large tree crashing down 6 inches from the home we were in. Omi called her son (my boss) immediately to come check the damage as it was over. He was already on his way. She and I were both very shook up as the 3 year old was napping in the room where this happened. Her son calmly hugged his child, and told his mother, “We will just have to get a chainsaw to chop this up later this week.” Totally calm. When he left, Omi looked at me and stated in her warm accent, “When you have been through the things my son has, you don’t sweat the small things or make a big deal.” This moment has forever stuck with me. I now understand it. I am a planner and bit of a control freak. A stain on a shirt, delay in travel, meeting that runs over and more used to rattle me. I no longer care about these things and can now assimilate with my former supervisor. Trauma and grief change a person. The things that used to make me fret and worry are no longer the large scale items I used to create stories about being problems in my mind.  Moments that used to cause my high strung, perfectionist self to unravel no longer hold the same meaning to me.
  7. I am forever Changed. I have had stubborn moments of utter denial that I have changed as person. You must understand, I used to fear change. Change meant my planning might not be going the way it was supposed to. Change means I have to accept I am human. Change made me very uncomfortable. Change brought out triggers in my myself that also initiated my go to “withdrawal/put up walls approach.” Its the oddest thing, I am not afraid of confrontation when going to bat for a cause I believe in or for a person that doesn’t have the courage to speak up. I am often the “go to person” for matters of difficulty that need to be discusses and have a them of change or advocacy. Applying these same rules to myself have never been the case. I have a different perspective on change now. I still have growing pains, I still have anxiety and stress about the unknown, and I still have curiosity about what could be. I will face days I have firm denial anything happened. I have had these days.  Days I wish my fears weren’t my reality. I am changed. I cannot be the person I was before. I can’t be that person ever again. That person had never lived through what I went through. I have had to dig deep and embrace change. After all; “you plan what you can and adjust to the rest…”

These are a few thoughts I have had after a busy, complex, somewhat overwhelming, emotion laced week. I had a thought today. Do I wish this never happened to me? The answer is of course. The second internal question was further complex. Do I regret my journey since then? I don’t not for a second. I embrace some of the lessons, heartache, and realization I’ve encountered. I go back to the salon tomorrow to get my highlights redone. Something I’ve been doing since I was 16 years old. Here is the thing though, now I get my teal streak touched up. I didn’t even blink or think about it while getting ready for tomorrow. Who I am as a person was drastically changed 13 days to six months ago. The person I’m growing into is going to be even better. I’ll be even better and with a fabulous streak of teal in my hair. I’m “toughasteal” and working towards 13 days to 6 months…

 

 

 

Springtime and Setbacks

“I’ve felt the coldness of my winter
I never thought it would ever go”

Led Zeppelin, The Rain Song

 

Sunlight lasting past dinner. Robins chirping. Sprouts of green grass poking through a winter of isolation. The first warm day that allows you to open up your windows and breathe fresh air into the stark staleness of winter. Spring cleaning to purge your world of clutter and rejuvenate physically, mentally, emotionally.

Ah, Spring is finally here! We bundle up in the Great Lakes State for months, submit to dark hours in the morning en route to work and during our commute home, and pop Vitamin D supplements to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder.

“Finally! Spring cleaning!” I thought as I pushed open the window to my bedroom, took a long drag from my Cinnamon Role flavored coffee, rolled up my “Saturday sweats” and plopped down to sort through a stack of clutter. I moved unexpectantly during a turbulent time in my life and have been pining for a morning just as this to organize so many things. I put on my Apple Music. and set out to Covey method style through my list. Halfway through humming one of Adele’s newest hits I came across it.

Spring reverted back to the gloom of winter. I felt like the past five months had been erased in a gust of wind. This was no longer a happy moment of Spring organization. I felt polarized. Literally. Polarized by cold, fear, emotion, and recall of the past five months of hard work I had put in to heal.

My hospital paperwork. My god damn hospital paperwork and the 11’000 plus bill I had to fight with insurance to get paid. Proof of what happened to me on October 21st, 2015. Solid medical proof that I was attacked, beaten unconscious, raped, and left for dead by a stranger. The paperwork I had never wanted to see it again. At that moment it all came back.

I tried to make myself get up and walk away from what my eyes were pouring over. I couldn’t though.  I was transfixed. I am not sure if I ever read through the entire paperwork of what happened to me when I begged a complete stranger for help. When I was raped, knocked out cold, knocked on a stranger’s door, and was then wheeled into am ambulance. The ambulance serves as a metaphor of the hell my life became after that. My life was sparred, but my descent into darkness began that day.

I sucked in my breath and reminded myself to breathe out. I have severe asthma/luncg issues since infancy. I have to be able to breathe to function. I know this. I took a deep breath, and settled into very single typed word of this document….

I let my mind wander…my mind wandered not to the songs of yesterday I loved so much…but 5 months prior….

I moved on. I moved literally back to my hometown. I have done everything I can to climb out of my depths of shame, depression, hell, guilt, and more that came with my world 5 months ago. I lost my entire life the week of my assault. I lost independence. I lost a best friend. I lost my dignity. I lost a person I thought would always be in my life.

My heart was  broken.

I have a new job. I started running long distances again. I read, I wrote, I spoke with others, I put down roots, and I TRIED to move forward. I combed through my favorite authors at the library and wrote down things I have learned from these readings. I worked so hard to “make do” with my new life. I embraced it; but was still haunted.

Finding my hospital paperwork was my single largest setback I’ve had to date.

I’ve never read through it all. I couldn’t. I lived through it. Do I feel proud of myself for being in a better place? Do I digest what happened? Am I back to being that shell of a person on the morning of October 22nd, 2015? Do I hold in anger towards not only going through this, but fighting an enormous bill for my injuries?

What really is moving forward?

It was at this exact moment that I realized something. I can transition to countless new careers, continue to run 100s of miles, read every piece of literature I think will help me and so much more. I can tune out this part of my life, but I can’t make it go away. This is now a part of my truth, my identity, my past, my everything. I will feel this moment again. I will continue to move forward, but I will have a moment of setback and painful hurt.

I will cry.

I will hurt.

I will continue to survive.

I embrace a scar on my left check socket everyday as a part of who I am now. A scar left from my attack. I exude advocacy with my self appointed streak of teal in my blonde tresses. I have physical reminders I chose to and some I don’t chose to have.

I have just realized a hard cold fact. Spring cleaning will never be getting rid of this part of my story. My past. My identity as a survivor, woman, and more. This part of my truth will always be that pair of jeans we hang onto every year. The pair that once brought us happiness, made us feel confident, we will never wear again, but we hang onto year after year.

We hang onto as there is that slim chance we can capture that moment in time again. I may never capture that snapshot again, but I will continue to move forward.

After all, doesn’t fashion recirculate?

If not that I can still embrace classic Jimmy Page guitar…”It is the Springtime of my Love…”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Scars are Souveniers you Never Lose…”

Cross posting to my toughasteal account for sexual assault awareness!

tableforonedotcom1

Scars are souvenirs you never lose, the past is never far
And did you lose yourself way out there?
Did you get to be a star?
Don’t make you sad to know that life is more than who you are?
Grew up way too fast and now there’s nothing to believe
Reruns all become our history
A tired song keeps playing on a tired radio,
And I won’t tell ’em your name
And I won’t tell ’em your name
And I won’t tell ’em your name

~Goo Goo Dolls~

I went to meet a friend for lunch today and had a phone call from the detective working on my case. He is a very kind man and doing the best he can with his job. The department is very happy about how cooperative I have been (how could I not be?) I was told over the phone that the executive…

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No I Won’t Be Afraid…Just as Long as You Stand By Me

I am reblogging this for sexual assault awareness month and to help spread forth my mantra of #toughasteal

tableforonedotcom1

“If the sky that we look upon should crumble and fall

And the mountain should crumble to the sea

I won’t be afraid. I won’t shed a tear.

Just as long as you stand by me.”

-John Lennon-

I will start off by stating this might be the hardest, most powerful, and shocking piece of writing I have ever composed. Some of the details are not for the faint of heart and cover sensitive topics (to give warning.)

I turned 31 on May 13, 2015. At this point in my life I had been unemployed for over a month, living in East Lansing alone with my two cats, and ready to embark on new adventures in career and personal. Waking up with pink eye in both eyes should have been an ominous sign that this year was going to be a struggle. They say that rain on a wedding day is…

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Victim Blaming 101. What Not to Say to a Victim of an Assault

judgementspointingfingercolor{Please note that this is an official trigger warning that some the themes, language, and vocabulary used in this revolve around sexual assault and sexual assault survivors.}
Language is a universal way of communicating to one another. Language is learned during the formative toddler years usually through listening to the familiar settings around us. Children are like sponges, if you say it, there is a chance they will repeat it. This is part of why it is so important to be deliberate and precise with the language we subject our youth to. Refraining from using slang, derogatory, racist, sexist, and inappropriate language teach a child that this is the decorum they should be communicating to the outside world. The funny thing about language and verbal communication is the idea of “intent versus impact.” A person can mean to express something and have it conveyed in a separate manner. The use of technology and the subjective nature of texting/emailing has further hurt the communication lines between parties.
Part of what I wish to express today is the impact I have felt regardless of intent post assault. I am a single, 31 year old women who was the victim of a very violent stranger sexual assault on October 21, 2015. To say my life turned upside down after this would be an understatement. Nothing in my world has been consistent, comfortable, or “easy” for me post assault. I have days where I do great and nights where I lose sleep reliving my nightmare. Every morning greets me with the scar I have under my left eye socket from the attack. I try to strive to call myself a survivor rather than a victim to challenge myself to rise to the occasion with strength. A paradigm I cannot seem to understand though, is the amount of verbal, non-verbal, and subliminal “victim blaming” I feel I have been subjected to. Further reading and research confirm to me that this is not an isolated (for just me) case.

 So I got on my computer to fully understand, “What is Victim blaming?”

“Victim blaming occurs when the victim of a crime or any wrongful act is held entirely or partially responsible for the harm that befell them. The study of victimology seeks to mitigate the perception of victims as responsible. There is a greater tendency to blame victims of rape than victims of robbery in cases where victims and perpetrators know one another.” (Wikipedia.)
This was the very first definition that appeared in my google search. I have further belief that many crimes that demean females as a gender are key components to the theory of victim blaming. All genders are effected by rape, domestic violence, emotional battery and more. Yet women are the primary victims of these crimes. They are also rarely taken fully seriously. A vast number of police task forces lack the employment of not only females or minority law officials. In short, most female victims of these horrific crimes are already at a disadvantage when having to deal with white, heterosexual males. (Please note I am not advocating that white heterosexual males cannot complete their job without bias. This is my own experience.)
I have to reflect back and use my own examples and experience to further reiterate how I felt that I was the recipient of victim blaming. The spectrum across the board of how many people used language and assumptions baffle me. I will first dive into the conversations during my initial police interview I cooperated in. First of all, there is a reason for a follow up interview as I found out. Most victims of an attack, assault, or horrific crime are put on some type of sedation medicine. I was hysterical and given a prescription drug meant to tranquilize me. You could have told me Santa Claus was my brother and I may have believed you. In a police investigation, instant action is necessary to divert the potential of the crime reoccurring and to gather information fresh from the victim.  These hours were a blur to me. I heard statements such as, “we take this very seriously have put an alert out to the city (which made me cry),” to we need to know your relationship status and your full disclosure you didn’t know your attacker. Before I had even pieced together the past 48 hours of my life, I was already in a spotlight of withholding evidence. I remember straining my mind and doing my best to answer while maintaining some integrity. “What were you wearing? Did you have on a bra? Is this a normal location for you to be present?”
Rape is an ugly word and one of the few crimes where the victim is assumed to have held some guilt or responsibility in the matter. Its a cultural epidemic and became apparent to me from the start of this. So how does one avoid falling into this trap of victim blaming? I will share some advice I have based off of my own personal experience.

Experiences I had with Victim Blaming:

“Well I’m sure if you hadn’t had any wine, you would not have put yourself in that situation.” This from a strong female family member that I never would’ve expected to hear this from. Wait a minute, you are supposed to be on my side here! The situation was that yes I was not 100% sober at the time. I also was not in an unfamiliar, unsafe, or unstable environment. I was not wearing a sign saying please attack me, rape me, and knock me unconscious. Even if I was, the situation was an aggressor took shameful action for whatever his reasoning. I cannot begin to tell you how hurtful a small comment like this was and how closed off I felt towards that person afterwards. If a strong female family member saw a portion of this being my fault, then who wouldn’t. Please think about language like this before making any comment to an assault survivor. These words stick and are detrimentally impactful.
“I know you don’t want to talk about it, but please be honest and tell if you knew this person. I think you are covering for who it was.” Ouch. From the get go there was an underlying assumption that I was lying to cover up for an ex-boyfriend or relationship. The fact was I was covering up these names out of commonality of respect of not wanting these people questioned. I can understand in hindsight that stranger attacks are much rarer and all avenues of did I know this person had to be explored. The fall out of this was beyond devastating to me. I wound up having to apologize to ex boyfriends and terminate a situation. In order to comply with the investigation, I reluctantly gave out the information to contact the parties inquired about. The comment above was from a friend who has suspicions I was covering for someone. So now I was the victim and a liar. This was consistent in many conversations after this. A better way of talking about this is saying you are there if a detail comes back into your mind or you wish to open the floodgates. Please do not assume that I went through this process, hospital, and embarrassing details to cover for a man I knew. Intent of finding the perpetrator versus impact to me personally….again.
“I wanted to reach out to you, but didn’t know what to say. You must feel terrible.” Okay, something is better than nothing. I will give this person that. Sometimes just being there is better than nothing at all. I will advise being VERY careful in the language used to express your own discomfort with the situation to the victim. They very possibly might internalize further guilt during this situation prompting them to push you away or regress into a shame fueled frenzy. I cannot speak highly enough about self care and nurturing a person who has experienced what I have. A very dear friend came over and slept on my couch the evening this first happened so I wasn’t alone. She brought a care package of random goods (pretty much one of the few things I choked down that week.) She didn’t make me feel isolated or worse than I already did. She was without judgment and just there. Having a neutral presence is key to being a support system for someone in this instance. Make no assumption about feelings or healing. Everyone has their own course and I know I certainly didn’t want to be compared to anyone.
“No one is looking at that scar on your face and judging you the way you assume they are. You should be going out in public and not hiding.” The cruelty of my attack was a large hook shaped bloody, mess or a scar on my face. I will never forget going to the grocery store alone for the first time after this (in broad daylight.) I was on a mission to get some nurturing and wholesome food for myself. I attempted to conceal my face and put on a baseball hat. The second I walked into the Meijer, it felt like the world was spinning around me. I felt like everyone near the entrance of that store was staring at my face and they knew why it looked the way it did. I practically ran back to my car; injured legs and all. It was the most surreal moment of my life and a moment that I will never forget. Healing physically is one thing; time takes care of that. Wearing a badge from my attack took a huge chunk of my confidence, self esteem, and self worth. I felt ugly. Period. Instead of making me feel worse about the state of my face, offer comfort.  If someone would’ve said “hey, I would love to treat you to a manicure, lunch, etc,” it would’ve meant the world to me. Flowers, thinking about you cards, and yes even chocolate and wine would’ve been great. Its important not to impose how you think the victim should feel post attack and to understand those feelings are their own. The moment I spent hiding in my car feeling isolated from the world was part of my experience. I remember feeling doubly punished that this had happened and now I was afraid of the outside world. Gentle urgings and kind gestures are great. Again, be very deliberate about what you say.
“You shouldn’t be exposing what happened to you on any type of social media.” I have said it before and will say it again, my page, my accounts, my thoughts, AND my accountability. Part of not hiding behind this was to show myself that I was not going to let this person take things from me. I also wanted to see a silver lining of what potential good can come from this. I have actually found a network of individuals through blog accounts and on social media that are supporting me and have also been victims of sexual assault. I see the absolute good in this and am grateful for the connections I’ve made. Many of these individuals are standing up for causes and beliefs similar to my own. We read each other’s work, talk about our own experiences and connect. In short, we do not feel that we are alone. I do not feel that I am alone. The day my assault happened I took a picture and put it on social media that stated, “this is what sexual violence looks like and it should last no more.” I did this not for attention, but to take back a part of myself and say this was not okay. I had support from others I hadn’t heard from in years. I had anger towards those who saw me as acting childish. The bottom line is my being open and talking about what happened to me made people feel uncomfortable. It was about their feelings and moving on not mine. Instead of scolding me, why not open up a conversation. Something along the lines of “you seem to be very passionate about working through this publically, how are you doing/feeling/how can I support you.” Never tell someone what they chose to share with their world about their truth and hurt is wrong. My pain, feelings, and association with this are my own. I own this and will continue to advocate for the sexual assault awareness. I will not play possum (victim) and sweep this under the rug. That is not my path to healing. (Please note I do also understand everyone chooses their own path and support anyone’s path they find comforting.)
“Well you are the one that almost got yourself killed.” I literally laughed at the family member that said this to me. I laughed and shouted are you kidding me? This was as blatant as it gets and couldn’t believe my own ears. I think its very difficult to have a family member go through an attack or assault. You feel hopeless, angry, infuriated, angry again, and completely helpless. Channel that energy in a different way and never point the finger at the victim. The main issue is someone chose to harm this person. The location where I was attacked is a “safe” location where I had often gone running during early mornings. It shouldn’t matter. What should matter is that we should not be part of a culture where rape and sexual assault are acceptable and the victim’s fault. If this were true, we would all lock ourselves up and never go out. I did do anything but fight for my life at that moment. I’m aware of how close to a potentially fatal situation I was in. You wouldn’t blame a person who was not a fault for a horrific car accident would you? The same premise exists here.
My point for using these examples and touching on the subject are how important our words, actions, and attitudes are towards sexual assault victims. I have not included everything that has been said both to me and behind my back. I do not believe that anyone had malicious intent behind things they said and were hurting themselves. I saw what I looked like after the attack. It would be hard for me to see a loved one in that state of physical and emotional pain. I will revert back to the topic of language and how we censor our words around young children. Carry these thoughts over to your loved ones. Say something in your head and decide if there is any connotation of judgment towards that victim. If you think a toddler is fragile, image the psyche of a sexual assault victim. They want, crave and need your support. Intent and impact….it really does matter.

Embracing Imperfection with Every Step

“Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it.”
Oprah Winfrey

My Dad sat me down mid-summer before I was to be a junior in high school. He said, “let’s talk about what you are going to do in terms of sports for this Fall.” He was doing this from the mentality of “using your best strengths for success.” I was playing three sports a year and really only excelling in Track every Spring. I have my Mom’s genetic height of 5’1 and a naturally petite build. I also have a personality that thrives on competition, winning, and giving everything in athletics 100%. It was during this conversation that my Dad and I first spoke of me running Cross Country this fall instead of Girl’s Basketball.  I remember thinking huh; this could be a real thing.

So at this age I embarked on my newest hurdle in life and joined the school’s Cross Country team. Lake Michigan Catholic’s all male Cross Country team. I didn’t just make my first feminist move at the age of 16 I set a personal challenge to myself. There was teasing, some struggles, and many challenges associated with this new adventure. Some of my peers thought I had completely lost my mind. I didn’t take this new endeavor lightly and challenged myself in every practice, with every weight repetition, and at every meet to give it my best. My hard work paid off. I was all conference (the old Red Arrow conference) by the end of the season and I had the support of my team behind me.

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(Photo of me after our Cross Country banquet with all conference medals)

I look back at this time and am grateful I followed my parent’s guidance to work on something I was already good at and to become greater. This was also something I loved to do and loved the challenge it brought. I continued on with Cross Country my senior year as well. My love affair with running continued and enhanced when I began my undergraduate education at Michigan State University in 2002. MSU has an amazingly beautiful campus; in the Fall especially. I am a small town girl who graduated from a small private high school. Running gave me a sense of inclusion and community as I daily lapped around campus. I felt my body growing stronger and my confidence with my decision to choose MSU strengthened as well.

The toll of life happening took running as a norm out of my daily routine. I would occasionally hit the trails, but not for long enough to build endurance, a routine, or get back into the mindset of running I once had. I kept in shape with healthy eating (the best I could), group fitness classes, outdoor am boot camp, and walking as often as possible. I am a workaholic by nature and often put work ahead of making time to exercise.

You could say I lost my identity as a “runner” along my way in my late 20s.

Last October I was attacked in a way no human being should ever be. I will not go into details of this, as I wish to respect the East Lansing police department’s investigation and my desire for justice to be served.  The spiral of events at this time had me relocate back to being with family. To say I felt lost would be an understatement. As I sat in the back seat of my parent’s SUV during a trip of moving some of my belongings home; we saw a young women running. My Mom pointed her out and said to me, “that is exactly what you need to be doing, that would be very good for you right now.” I allowed my mind to swirl back to the scenery of my favorite running locations. I reflected back to my cousin saying to me, “what do you mean you don’t run anymore? That has always been your thing.” She was not the first person to point that out to me in the past year. “Why DON’T I run anymore I thought?”

I didn’t have a good answer.

I rang in 2015 on crutches due to a fractured pelvis. I used my injury and physical therapy as a reason for why I was not getting regular cardio. I laced up a few times in the summer to run or sprint intervals. The end result was always being too sore to continue the next day. I often would feel dejected I didn’t have the endurance and speed I’d had at 18. (Because its totally realistic to be in the same athletic shape 13 years later, right?)

Still I had the confidence to start again; why wasn’t I finishing? Why wasn’t I competing with myself and doing something I used to love? “Why wasn’t I running anymore? Where was the mental disconnect?”

I discovered Dr. Brene Brown and her teachings in 2015. As I mulled over my disconnect with exercise and cardio I thought back to some of her thoughts on perfectionism. I reflected back to one of her quotes, “When perfectionism is driving…..shame is always riding shotgun.” AHA moment! I wasn’t running because I no longer loved it, I was fixated on beating myself up for no longer being in running shape. For no longer lacing up daily and easily raking up a few miles. I was fixated on how imperfect I currently was with my running game and not embracing the challenge in front of me (and I love a good challenge!)

I reflected back to myself at 16. I didn’t join an all male Cross Country team because I thought it was going to be perfect. The boldness of making this move was the definition of imperfect….possibly imperfect madness. And boy did I love the challenge of imperfect madness! If I could look beyond perfectionism and be openly vulnerable to something at 16, I needed to break down the barriers I had set up at 31 and do just the same.

I laced up again mid November 2015 with this attitude and the realization of needing some major self-care. I reactivated my Nike Run app on my phone and took off. I also started off slow knowing that the perfect 5K run from day one wasn’t going to happen. Instead of being upset I only went for a mile or two; I celebrated the fact that I ran another day. I set smaller weekly and monthly goals to have mini victories. I tracked every run with this app and relished the small increase in miles. I literally felt myself start to hit my stride!

I am not at my perfect running speed today. I am very proud to have run 70 miles in December, and headed towards more miles in January with 21.1 already logged as of January 8th. I am proud of feeling myself grow physically stronger and faster. I’m prouder of healing mentally and feeling my confidence grow with every run logged. I am the most proud of embracing being imperfect and growing more comfortable in my skin. I know there will be times when I need a “rest day” or may have to adjust a missed run by taking a few longer ones. This is ok. I will be okay when these things happen and continue on my pursuit of running.

My identity as a runner is back. 5K anyone?

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(Photo taken with @NikeRunning app after a run outside in December 2015)

Sometimes it’s hard to keep on running
We work so hard to keep it going ~No Doubt~

 

 

 

The Measuring Stick of Social Media

My Own Personal Musings on Social Media and the Positive/Negative Effects on Self Esteem

Every morning, like millions of Americans, I start my day by tuning into the news, enjoying a cup of coffee, glancing through emails, and checking my social media accounts. I am already in touch with thousands of other social media “friends” or users by looking through my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.  I have a chance to wish friends Happy Birthday via reminders, view posted musings about politics and global news, and smile back at posted photos. So in a nutshell; every morning I have already exposed myself to thousands of others putting their best foot out there. Every morning I have already challenged and compared myself to what others have showcased to the world via their social media accounts.

But why?

Social media is a main connecting point for millions of users. Its a way I can stay in touch with former college friends, past work colleagues, and acquaintances along the way. I see my friends posting their accomplishments of new jobs, promotions, engagement announcements, amazing feats of cooking accomplishments, nights out socializing, fitness milestones, new children, and in my age demographic (31), lots of photos of their young children doing adorable things. I am single, currently job searching, recently moved, and also not: with a cute child to share, engagement photo album, craftathon, 8 layer creation, or more to showcase to the world at this time. So by my own standards of being “enough” and perfectionism; by engaging in social media every morning I have already established I am less than others. I am allowing myself to believe that I am not enough and not living the ideal perfection life I had sought out to live.

So I have to ask myself….Is Social Media fostering my own inadequacies, quest to perfection, journey to break through the façade of perfectionism? Is social media making me feel less than? Is this an overwhelming factor in our society that we are breeding these feelings of inadequacy and creating a measuring stick of where our lives should be?

In an interview between legendary talk show host Oprah Winfrey and renounced shame researcher Dr. Brene Brown, Winfrey talks about her aha moment with perfectionism. Dr. Brown tells Oprah. “It’s… a way of thinking and feeling that says this: ‘If I look perfect, do it perfect, work perfect and live perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, blame and judgment.’ Winfrey had the following to respond to Brown’s statement of perfectionism.

“This was my other aha [moment]!” Oprah says, giving Dr. Brown a high-five. “Perfectionism is the ultimate fear… People who are walking around as perfectionists… They are ultimately afraid that the world is going to see them for who they really are and they won’t measure up.”

AHA!

So in an essence, social media is a way to foster the image of a having a perfect life. Its a cultural identity crisis to mold what we want our social media friends to see. Its how we want the world to perceive our world to be. I am guilty of this too. I frequently post my runs with the Nike Run App. In my mind its a part of holding myself accountable to achieving these goals and allowing others to encourage and celebrate in my victories. To play devil’s advocate there is not a chance in hell I am going to post anything about having a day filled with overindulging in food, and non gumption to exercise. After all, this would make me human and showcase to the world what I perceive as an imperfection. Its the same way that I would not put up an unflattering photo of myself as a selected profile picture. I too am the person that crops the best photo of myself, uses instagram, and chooses to put that image of myself out there. I own this.

So I have to ask if being authentic and human is putting it all out there, what IS the appropriate way to showcase yourself via social media? What are the ways to combat feelings of inadequacies via social media usage? How do we show empathy for an individual sharing a struggle via social media without judgment? How do we engage in social media as a way to connect, share ideas, and enjoy our celebrations of life as well as our own? How do we put down the measuring stick?