It Happened to Me

Whether you remain anonymous or not, sexual violence is beyond humiliating.

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This is hard for me to write. A large part of my ego is screaming at me to stop right now, turn around, go back, delete, think of your job, think of your friends and family, think of your reputation! Ego. That coping mechanism we use when things are hard and we want to hide from them.  That voice inside my head that stops me dead in my tracks from saying something that might make me completely vulnerable and strip me of all pretense; baring it all in front of anyone and everyone witnessing the breakdown.

What am I doing? Why am I writing this?

With the recent ridiculous and disturbing slap on the wrist a Stanford student received for raping a woman I can’t help but fall back into memories of my own experiences. The ones I’m not supposed to talk about. The ones that should remain buried. The ones I still blame myself for. The experiences that shaped who I am today and many of the battles I’ve always fought and am currently fighting against myself.

I’m so proud of the victim in this case, speaking up; telling her story- it’s completely terrifying. Whether you remain anonymous or not, sexual violence is beyond humiliating. The act of writing or talking about it can cause you to relive the whole experience.  I wish I didn’t have to say she’s brave. I wish the stigmatization of rape didn’t exist. I wish we could all talk about it without fear of repercussions. I certainly wish it didn’t happen to anyone.

Two weeks ago, during a quiet drive in the rain, I started to dig into why I have such crippling insecurity. Taking stock. Why do I continue to require validation from others? I know this behavior started when I was a child from  the abuse that was part of my daily family life; but I feel most of it came from experiences I had from 13 years old until I met my husband at 18. Five short years is all it took to break me down.

From the time I was too little to remember, my Dad was a preacher. When I was 12 we moved to an area that still gives me panic attacks (we avoid it like the plague any time we’re near it).  My first truly negative and painful experience took place the spring/summer of 7th grade.

I had a crush on a boy at church. He may have been one of the most sadistic people I’ve ever met and to be clear he moved away and I don’t believe he ever moved back to that area. Further, there were plenty of boys I dated during that time that were incredibly sweet, but this guy- he scared me. The more he scared me the more I was drawn to him. He knew it and capitalized on it taking every opportunity to tell me I was ugly, stupid, fat, worthless and then end the insult with “Just kidding” so that would make it OK. It wasn’t OK.

I was very close with his sister and he’d frequently tell me to get away from him when I said hi or tell me to stay away from his sister because I was gross. He got pretty creative with the insults and eventually stopped saying he was kidding. The more he insulted me the more attention I paid, trying to get him to like me. After a couple months he switched to telling me I was pretty and even beautiful. For a few seconds my heart would soar until he brought it crashing down by saying “Just kidding.” He’d flirt with me relentlessly to get me to sit next to him in church. When I did he’d punch me in the arm, grab my hand during prayer and bend my fingers and wrist back, give me what he liked to call shark bites by pulling up my skirt and pinching and twisting the skin on my inner thigh or behind my knee between his middle and index fingers as hard as he possibly could, always resulting in tears and severe bruises. On two occasions he broke the skin by flicking what he’d pinched until I screamed and finally wrenched myself away. He smiled and laughed when he saw the blood and told me I must be on the rag.

He was older, a foot taller than me and had a decent amount of strength to work with; he would use his size against me frequently. He’d tell me to hop on his back and then jump up and drop me, kick me if I bent over to tie my shoe (while calling me fat ass), punch me in the arm hard enough to leave a knot, even pushed me off of a dock into the river once. On multiple occasions put me in a headlock.

You might be saying, why didn’t my parents notice? Sometimes they did and I quickly developed a reputation for being clumsy (even had to start tripping or bumping into things on purpose in front of them so they wouldn’t suspect). To this day I laugh at the “she ran into a doorknob” jokes when I have a big bruise, but inside all I can think is if they only knew. His sister helped me cover for him. She said that since he met me he’d stopped abusing her as much and this admission completely cemented my decision not to tell anyone what was going on.

My brother knew something wasn’t right. My best friend at church knew something wasn’t right. They both asked me about him frequently and even threatened him with bodily harm if he didn’t leave me alone. He told me if they said anything else to him he would tell everyone that I was a slut, hurt my little brother, and never talk to me again. The thought of anyone hurting my little brother or anything happening to him absolutely mortified me. I’d never let that happen.

Why didn’t I just ignore him? I tried, but his sister would get upset because he and I couldn’t “get along”. If I ignored him she’d get defensive and angry. He’d tell me to apologize for being so sensitive and get over it. So I’d apologize and the cycle continued. His Dad even went as far to say if I couldn’t get along with him that I couldn’t be friends with his daughter any more and told my parents that I was the problem (to which they lectured me and I, of course, didn’t stand up for myself). He’d broken my confidence down to nearly nothing at this point, so what did it matter?

The whole horrible 5 months came to a head the night before the family moved. Our families were close so we had them over for pizza to say goodbye. My brother, his sister and I were hanging out in our backyard talking. It was pitch black, no lights on with the exception of some street lights down the hill. I swear he was hiding there in the dark. Stalking me. Planning how it would all go down.

I hear a quiet voice drift out of the darkest part of our yard, “Hey Gen, come over here.” My heart leapt into my throat. He sounded like he was being nice. After all the physical and mental abuse I could tell when he was baiting me and his tone sounded genuinely nice.

I walked toward his voice, away from my brother who called after me, obviously concerned. I told my brother everything was OK, I was only walking a few feet away. He continued to protest that he couldn’t see me and I assured him it was OK. I took a few steps and my leg bumped into a reclining law chair. He was in the chair. Waiting for me.

I still have nightmares about that moment.

I stood over him. “What?” I asked, trying to sound tough. If this was a joke I wasn’t going to fall for it.

Very softly he said, “Sit down.”

“Where? I’m not gonna sit on the grass, we have dogs back here.”

“On me!” He said cheerfully and patted his lap.

I’m completely suspicious at this point. “I’m not gonna sit on your lap. You’ll push me off.”

“I won’t push you off. Come on, I promise. Please?” He sounded whiny, like he was trying to give back some of the power he’d stolen from me for so long.

I continued to say no. He resorted to begging. It worked. I sat down on his lap.

“I’m too big, I’m gonna squish you.” I started to get up.

“You’re not squishing me. I’m fine. Now be quiet.” He pulled me back down and put his hand on my cheek, gently turning my face toward his. He kissed me. I felt like my head was going to explode! I was so happy. I asked him if this was a joke and he said no, he’d always liked me and wanted me to be his girlfriend.

I already had permission to spend the night with my friend in their RV, provided that her brother spent the night in their house. He snuck me out of the trailer and I spent the night with him. We didn’t sleep. I had a lot of firsts that night, some that ruined certain things for me until I met my husband. Most that made me feel deeply ashamed (part of being a preacher’s kid is a healthy dose of shame on a daily basis). I snuck back into the trailer to get ready for church in the morning.

I went home with them again after church. The three of us decided to go for a walk in the trees in a nearby park. That’s when it happened. That’s where it happened.

We laid down a blanket and he told his sister to go away. She asked me if I would be OK and I told her I would be. She walked away toward the water. We started making out and he took my clothes off. He held me down. I said No. He said no means yes. I said no again. He didn’t stop. I was silent and before long I heard leaves crunching. His sister came back and said it was too quiet and asked me if I was OK. He shouted that I was fine, she countered with disbelief and rushed over, pushing him off of me. She pulled me away while gathering up my clothes. Although I did bleed that night he didn’t complete his mission, she got to us before he could technically take my virginity. Over the past months he’d taken a lot more than that.

That night I tried to apologize to him at youth group. I still tried to get him to pay attention to me. He told me to get away from him, told a group of our friends that I kept following him around, wouldn’t leave him alone, thought I was his girlfriend, was in love with him, that I was gross and fat and generally horrible. His sister apologized for everything. I was physically bruised and emotionally eviscerated.

I was 11 the first time thought about and I tried to kill myself. A group of girls were bullying me on a church trip. One even suggested I kill myself. The second time I made a plan was that very night. I didn’t go through with it, but the guilt of what happened to me sat like a 200 lb weight on my chest for another 4 months.

We’d moved to Idaho, settled in with my Grandparents and a church I’d gone to on and off since I was a toddler. I was finally feeling safe again. I was watching Oprah reruns one Saturday afternoon. My mom was doing the dishes in the kitchen. Rape and attempted rape victims told their stories. Victims of date rape and rape by strangers. I sat straight up, watching the show attentively, feeling my heart racing and hot tears spill down my cheeks, the lump in my throat so large I didn’t think I could breathe, let alone talk. I tried to calm myself, I knew my mom might come in the room any minute and ask me what was wrong.

It wasn’t long before she did just that. I explained that the Oprah show made me very sad. It was so sad those things happened to other girls. I had a friend it happened to. I began to tell her everything under the guise of another girl in our former church. My mom listened quietly, urging me to go on when I couldn’t. When I was done she narrowed her eyes, looking at me intently and asked, “Are you sure this didn’t happen to you?” I insisted it was another girl, it wasn’t me. My mom said that she hoped the other girl would tell her parents and told me that if something ever happened to me I wouldn’t be in trouble and I could talk to her. I saw the look of concern and scrutiny on my mom’s face. I was afraid I would break her heart if I told her the girl was me. I thought I could save her from the pain I was experiencing. I thought about how I would feel if I had a daughter that had been raped. Most of all, I thought about the possibility of my mom telling my Dad, tracking down the family, eventually getting the police involved. My mom went back to the kitchen to start dinner and I thought about these things for another hour or so. Finally, I got up and walked to the kitchen. I saw my mom standing at the sink, holding a dish towel limply, staring blankly out the window.

I crept up behind her, “Mom?”

She continued staring out the window. “Yes.” she sighed heavily.

I could barely force the words out. I started to say never mind, but screwed my courage up the best I could. I choked it out haltingly, that lump threatening to smash my vocal chords.

“It was me.”

She turned and ran to me, took me in her arms and said, “I know. I knew there was something wrong with that boy. I knew something happened. It was that night you spent the night over there. I knew it had to be.”

We held each other, we cried. She explained to me that it wasn’t my fault, that I didn’t do anything wrong, that I didn’t make this happen, that the things he said weren’t true. I made my mom promise not to tell my Dad until I was ready. I made her promise not to do anything, not to get the police involved (although she wanted to). She then told me about her own experience, something that had happened to her at 16. She understood every ounce of my pain and had already felt it herself.

I’d like to say that was the last time something like this happened to me. I’d like to say that I was more careful as I grew older and became sexually active. I’d like to say that I listened to my gut when it said someone would hurt me. I’d like to say that I fought off the next person who brutalized me. I’d like to say I never thought about suicide again. I can’t say those things.

I believe this experience and others are all part of the tapestry that makes up the dark and light sides of my personality. The voice that’s always there to tell me I’m not good enough, I’m ugly, I’m fat, I’m worthless. That shadow that plagues me during my deepest bouts of depression. They’re also the magnet that draws me to those with similar experiences. Throughout my life I’ve had more friends that have experienced sexual or domestic violence than have not. I’m drawn to give love and understanding to others that hurt in this way. I have a deep sense of compassion and empathy for any being in pain and I’m crushed if I feel I’ve cause that hurt myself. It’s drawn me closer to Buddhism and given me a better understanding of the term “Do no Harm.”

My husband helped me save myself from these memories. He’s tried for years to help me love myself. He’s taught me that healthy relationships are two people doing the work to make it easy, that the nice guy is nice all the time and is worth trusting (something that has been very difficult for me.) He’s proven that during the toughest times I won’t be abandoned, that he’ll always be by my side.

I know it wasn’t my fault. I know I didn’t deserve it. I know it doesn’t make me a bad person, or a weak person. I know it’s happened to others and I’m not alone. I know it’s helped me raise a son that respects and reveres women. I know it’s helped shape who I am today, and she’s still working on really and truly being OK.

If it helps someone else feel less alone, then it was worth the pain and doubt of writing this post.

 

Anxiety and Stuff

I’ve never been officially diagnosed with panic disorder, I don’t have panic attacks often enough to need medication. Maybe one every couple months and I’ve learned to deal with them by controlling my breathing, self soothing, and being in the moment. I know what to do when I feel one coming on, I know how to prevent them, and how to recover after they pass. I’ve had them alone, with my husband (he’s been there for my most scary severe attacks), I’ve had them with friends right in the middle of a disagreement. The last was awkward because I then had to explain that, even though we’re close, I never mentioned that I have panic attacks.

I remember my first attack, I was six and had just had my tonsils out. I woke up in a foreign environment without my mom and found that I couldn’t move or breathe. My fear built until I was gasping for breath and I began to thrash about as I regained movement. I started to scream, my mom came in and tried to comfort me- didn’t help. Nurses came in to check my vials and I later heard from my mom they accused me of being spoiled and throwing a fit for attention. This lasted for what seemed an eternity, my mom says it was only half an hour (that is an eternity to a panicking six year old). For years I assumed this was a reaction to anesthesia until I started to compare those symptoms to what I now know is a panic attack. It all makes sense.

I take an anti-depressant that also helps with anxiety. It can keep the panic attacks at bay when I avoid triggers- although sometimes there’s no trigger to be avoided. It helps with macro anxieties but not micro anxieties, and there are many of both. Macro: pat down and search by TSA (every time- WTF?!); micro: waiting in line for TSA, checking a bag, getting to my gate, boarding and possibly smacking someone with my purse. Macro: posting a selfie; micro: comments, likes, lack of comments and likes, fear of judgement from others, showing insecurity to others. Macro: going to see a band, in public, with a crowd; micro: running into people who remember Joe and not me, finding a place to stand/sit, wearing the wrong thing, being judged for the music I like/lifestyle in general (how can I like pop, metal, rap, elitist sub-genres all at the same time). That last micro anxiety pops up over and over again in my life.

My husband and son would never consider me fake or insincere- they accept me for who I am and sometimes laugh at my weird seemingly conflicting tastes. I always hope my friends see me as eclectic and real, but I’m often not sure. Woefully so with peripheral friends, those I don’t know too well or talk to very often. I love makeup, designer clothes/bags/shoes, reality TV, good food, dance, Stephen King, YOGA PANTS, Starbucks, Victoria’s Secret and I’ve now had plastic surgery. All things that those who enjoy items from my next list tend to write off as vain, trivial, roll their eyes at, BASIC. I’m passionate about art, collecting books and toys and whatever originals or prints I can afford. I’ve amassed a wealth of knowledge about Low-brow and pop-surreal artists. When I love something I research it voraciously. I’ve been fascinated by and live for music, underground or popular- doesn’t matter. I love Beyonce and Pinback, Mastodon and Neko Case, NWA and Built to Spill. I often feel like I’m being judged for this dichotomy of what I consider musical genius. “You can’t like both of those bands.”- not something that anyone has said directly, but it’s inferred. I devour movies and television- often horror. Sitcoms and documentaries. British factual shows. All of it. I feel less anxious about this, but there’s certainly times when I love something everyone else considered trite resulting in a feeling of “something is wrong with me.” I love clothes and I don’t have a specific style. Some days I dress like a pinup, other days I’m boho, sometimes I wear pentagrams, I have a collection of 100+ band and geek t-shirts, I also have more lingerie than I’d ever need (me: can’t find my favorite bra, husband: don’t your other bras get jealous?) I just want to look the way I feel at any given moment. Having a lot of options helps. I’m sure that money could be put to good use elsewhere and I worry that others feel the same.

So what can I do with micro anxieties? Seems like they take over my life and are often caused by Facebook (although a significant amount of anxiety is caused by face to face interaction). I can’t avoid all of my anxieties. I’m not going to stop enjoying whatever I want. All I can do is let that shit go and tell myself “this little anxiety is just stopping by to say hello and it’ll be gone soon.” Doesn’t always work, but it offers some comfort.

We all deal with anxiety and worry (can’t even start on the anxiety I feel with my son becoming an adult). Realizing you’re not the only person who feels this way and having a good support system makes a big difference. Understanding that your feelings are totally normal and trying to avoid triggers can make life much easier. If you can’t avoid your triggers then learn to deal with them by caring less about what others think.

Don’t avoid yourself. Love who you are, you don’t really get to be anyone else.

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XOXO

Loss and Stuff

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One month from my abdominoplasty and 4 days from going back to work I’m thinking “What have I learned?”

More than anything I learned to deal with loss. Loss of inhibition (contrary to the picture above and most of my selfies I did have inhibitions). Loss of self loathing. Loss of a loved one. Loss of who I thought I was.

Turns out I’m finding myself pulling down my shirts less and less. I’m totally comfortable wearing cute gym stuff  (uh…not that I can go to a gym for another 2 weeks, but a girl gets curious). I stopped over-thinking how I look, now it’s just a matter of comfort and wrangling my binder and boobs to stay in the right place. Stuff I didn’t expect to look different does. Mostly good, but I swear it’s going to take me years to accept this belly button as my own. Never have I been so obsessed with that thing and infuriatingly enough I don’t have a picture of it before I got pregnant with Jadon and neither Joe or I remember what it looked like 21 years ago. It’s on my body now, better get used to it.

The self loathing is still there, probably always will be, but I’ve let quite a lot of that go. I’m still picking things apart about my body, again that will take more mental work on my part. Something so deeply rooted in your psyche doesn’t just go away because some skin and fat are gone. Unfortunately I’ve taken a step backward and allowed myself to absorb some very negative and hurtful things that were said by someone I deeply respect.

That brings me to loss of a loved one, in a metaphorical sense. I never quite knew what it would be like to have a parent walk away from a relationship with me. I expected it to happen one day. I expected anger, bitterness, and frustration to eventually boil over just as I expected my parent’s divorce and my brother’s suicide. All my life I’ve seen relationships careening toward disaster and have done whatever I could to repair, fix, save, or borrow time to keep them alive. I have a 0% success rate, but I also understand that I can’t and don’t make decisions for people. The pain of that loss can be unbearable, especially when it involves your dearest loves. It haunts me, but has brought me closer to my Mom who loves me without limitations, without conditions, without judgement. I’ve learned that my husband and I have raised a son who’s endlessly resilient even when deeply bruised. I learned that I married a man who’s ferociously, yet appropriately, protective. While I mourn this loss, I’m not giving up and will try to mend hearts again. Time is needed.

Lastly, I lost this perception of who I thought I was. I thought I was stronger than I am, that I was impervious to dependence simply because I’m mindful of it. Nope. Pain killers are good for a few days, but not 3 weeks. Turns out when you stop taking them life sucks and seems completely surreal. Floating around on a cloud of pharmaceuticals feels fantastic, not to mention all the energy I had to clean and organize. Coming back down to reality is horribly unpleasant. Now my energy is sapped and I’m coming off of a 2 day chest cold, but I haven’t taken any pain meds today. I’m done with them and my pain is minimal! Starting to feel normal again and the tightening around my lower abdomen is much better and less painful.

Speaking of tightening, turns out you do have to continue to eat a reasonable diet (ugh so much bread…) I can’t drink milk anymore and my body rebels against a lot of sugar- not something you notice when you’re on pain meds. However, NOTHING WILL KEEP ME FROM EATING CHEESE.

Yeah, still a work in progress. Still worried about meeting the expectations of myself and others. Still worried about perception. I think a lot less about how I look and a lot more about how I feel.

I think I’ve gained a lot in 4 weeks.

Thanks and Stuff

I posted a “before and after” picture of my body last night. It was terrifying. As I hit the button to post the picture on IG and Facebook I immediately felt like throwing up. I vacillated between changing the tags, changing the privacy settings, burying it under several timeline postings of corgi puppies and quiz results, or just deleting it completely.

Here’s the pic:

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Me in 2008 at my highest weight. All others taken the night before surgery and yesterday.
My husband, Joe, either checked IG or Facebook, turned to me and reacted with, “bold move, hun.” That was the best way to explain my posting. The fact that he voiced my exact thoughts about the picture comes as no surprise after 22 years together. What did surprise me was how that that statement made me wonder if I really should delete the picture. Was I being too bold? Was I crazy for posting this?
It’s not like I have a huge following (I barely have 100+ followers on IG). I don’t often see more than 60 likes on any picture or FB post. I thought this would probably just fly under the radar and no one would notice. I hoped no one would notice.
For 15 years I hoped no one would notice me. I hoped they wouldn’t notice my weight. I knew people looked at me because I was obese. I saw people turn to each other and giggle or whisper about my weight. Someone even spit on me in the mall once (yeah that happened).
As I lost the weight and my body changed I was left with what looked like melted skin/wax on my torso. I was happy to be healthier, to have more energy, to see better test results on my physicals year after year. I was not happy with my stomach/abdomem. I felt like people were still looking at me because they could see my stomach. I thought people were still giggling and whispering about my stomach. That fear of my appearance constantly being judged was still there. I felt like I’d worked so hard, but had never been able to enjoy it.
Insurance doesn’t pay for abdominoplasty. It will pay for a panniculectomy, which is just removal of extra skin, but only if you have a skin condition or medical necessity. My skin has always been healthy, but it has caused back pain- not extreme enough to result in a medical diagnosis. A panniculectomy doesn’t address the need for the rebuilding of the abdominal wall and is functional only. In order to achieve the results I wanted I would have to pay for a fleur-de-lis abdominoplasty fully out of pocket, including unpaid time off from work. It’s not something we take lightly, but Joe is as committed to my happiness and finally feeling good in my own skin as I am. I’m still recovering after 2 weeks (as of today). It still feels like my skin is being flayed off of my body if I sleep through or forget a pain pill. I still have a drain to remove any extra fluid that builds up around my incisions. I’ve gotten over an infection, but there’s still a lot of swelling and I’m pretty laid up.
When I looked at the before and after picture I posted all I could see was the melting skin/wax that I tried so hard to work off, to hide, to ignore.
That’s not what everyone else saw. I received so many words of encouragement. So many people expressed their support. It was humbling and comforting.
I’m still anxious about the post. I’m still worried that others will think I didn’t work hard enough or lose enough weight to lose my belly fat and skin. That I’ll be judged as harshly as I judge myself (I’m still working on self love).
I waited 5 long years to maintain my weight, to see if the skin would shrink. It never did. I’m slowly embracing and trying to love my body in the present and the past. It’s something I’ve struggled with since I was 10 years old and realized what “fat” meant. That it meant me. I’ll try as hard as I possibly can to block that negativity, to stop assuming what others see when they look at me, to love myself as I am.
Thank you to everyone who has passed on a kind word. To my core support team (you know who you are) and even to those who have looked at me with judgement or cruelty- all of it has shaped who I am today. Pun intended.

P.S. To Joe, my hero, thank you for everything you do for me every single day. Love you.

P.P.S. Thanks to Jadon for taking care of mom and always kissing my forehead when I need it. To Carolyn for my cozy blankie. To Jen for don’t go crazy being bored supplies. To all of my friends. Seriously thank you!

Support and Stuff

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This is a picture of strong, supportive women!

Sometimes what women say to and about each other makes me cringe. Actually, most of the time. Often we as women work against each other. We quell shit talk with more shit talk. We shame each other for not supporting other women. We rarely lift each other up. We tend to be our own worst enemies. It seems we prefer to watch each other fail.
Case in point. I’ve been raw about a friend telling another friend (in not so many words) that my weight loss surgery was basically ‘taking the easy way out.’ It was infuriating! I worked hard, ate right, tried to improve my relationship with food, but while I’m literally working my butt off this bitter person went around saying it was easy. Then I realized something- I SAID IT FIRST! I put myself down in front of the same two friends by saying I ‘took the easy way out.’ I downgraded my achievement to cheating. She was simply repeating what I said first. Self sabotage at it’s finest. My friend wasn’t bitter, she wasn’t jealous, she was being agreeable and I shouldn’t have said something so hurtful about myself in the first place.
It’s not enough that we snipe each other, no we up the ante by calling ourselves out for any and every fault we can find.
Each time you hear another woman put you down, remember she’s done the same to herself and probably ten times worse that day. When you’re on the receiving end of side-eye, remember the woman throwing that hate probably looked at herself the same way this morning before she left the house. When a girlfriend criticizes your parenting skills, be mindful that she’s probably second guessing herself all day when dealing with her own children.
Let’s encourage each other. Compliment each other. Celebrate wins  together.
Wouldn’t that be easier?