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.


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…





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.