You 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.
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.
- 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…..”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…