It’s Ok to Not Be Ok

Do suicides go to heaven?

I was four the first time I saw a dead body. It was my great aunt. My great uncle picked me up at her open-casket funeral, placed his hand on her arm, looked at me with tears in his eyes, and said: “She’s in Heaven now.”

Do suicides go to heaven?

Heaven. I learned that Heaven is a place people go when their bodies are cold; they look slightly different: like at any moment they could come back alive—suspended animation—toeing the line between there and not there. Like at any moment they could start breathing again.

Breathing again. Am I ever going to learn how to breathe again?

Every funeral I’ve been to since, the passage of time has been spent counting the number of breaths not taken for every breath I took. Wondering how it would feel if I too had a crest-fallen chest.

Why won’t they breathe? Why can’t I breathe?

Trauma has this way of sneaking up on you, camouflaged in the shadows of okayness. One minute you’re laughing and smiling and singing in the shower. The next minute it feels like a tree is being pulled out of your chest, unaided

by sedation, burning, screaming, God take the pain away.

Is this what drowning feels like?

It’s easier to believe God doesn’t exist when you’ve experienced hurt or pain. It’s almost easier to believe God doesn’t exist. Because if He did exist, if an ever-loving God exists in an imperfect world, why, why do bad things happen? Why does He allow bad things to happen? Why?

You’re moving forward. Stepping out of your shame, owning your story, living your story.

But maybe those are the wrong questions to ask. Maybe it’s not why do bad things happen? Maybe it’s what do I do when these bad things happen? Maybe it’s how do I move forward? What is my purpose within all this?

You know, somewhere deep down, I feel like this is all my fault. Somewhere, deep down, I feel like I don’t deserve to be here. I can’t remember a time when I wanted to be alive.

You see, trauma sucks. And sometimes, I still blame myself for all that has happened in my life. I feel like, maybe, if I had done something different, none of this would have happened: I wouldn’t have been raped, gotten pregnant, had a miscarriage, had a mental breakdown.

How can I want to die but still be doing everything I can to live?

If none of that had happened, I might not have been diagnosed with anxiety, OCD, and Depression. Things I’ve struggled with my whole life but made worse by life—chemical imbalances exacerbated by circumstances. I would have spent my whole life wanting to die without ever getting the help to fight it.

It’s ok not to be ok.

I’m learning how to be ok with not always being ok. Trauma is not a prerequisite for mental illness. I had one long before the trauma, and I’ll have one long after the trauma is worked through. But it doesn’t define me. I am more than my past, more than my present, more than the battle raging inside my head.

I am suicidal. And for so long I tried to hide that, until I couldn’t any more. I just have to make the part of me that wants to live louder.

I thought being baptized was going to fix me. It did not. It just gave the negative voice in my head I call Gertrude more fodder: you aren’t worthy of being a child of God. You’re a terrible person who will never get to Heaven because of what happened to you.

Do suicides go to heaven?

Could my purpose be to write about God and mental illness? Because there’s still a taboo about not reading my Bible enough, not praying enough, not having faith enough. Do you know how many Bible verses I quote throughout the day just to keep me going? How each day is one continuous “God help me” prayer? How much faith it requires for me just to put one step in front of the other?

Dying is easy. Living is hard.

It’s so hard to live when every fiber in your body is telling you to die, every memory in your brain is telling you that God made a mistake. But God didn’t make mistakes—He doesn’t make mistakes. Every day I choose hope, but hope really isn’t a choice any more than your heart beating is a choice. Hope is inherent in all of us: our body tries so hard to keep us alive. Our wounds heal themselves; our cells regenerate; our DNA multiplies and divides to keep us living. Having hope is easy. What’s not easy is stepping out of shame into hope.

Do suicides go to heaven?

What about all those people who keep on living even when they want to die? I spent so much time wanting to die, I forgot how to live.

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Dear Child,

This is an assignment long overdue, and I apologize for that. What do you say to a 4-year-old child when the 24-year-old adult doesn’t know what to say to herself?

I’ve been told to write this letter many times, to validate you, to make you heard because for so long you thought you had to be quiet, not take up space, not ask for help.

The only way to navigate life was to do it alone.

And you did it alone. For 19 years, you struggled quietly, sobbed behind closed doors, let yourself waste away until you were just a hollowed-out shell where your purpose used to be.

But sweet, beautiful, little girl, who laughed at life and stole animal crackers off the snack cart before dinner, you were never meant to walk this path alone.

Little girl with big blue eyes opened in wonder at the world, your teary eyes were never meant to cower in the dark.

You see, life. Life. Life is alive.

What to say about life except that it’s alive, ever changing, fluid. What’s true one day is not always true the next.

And what’s true is that one day, you’ll be hurt, and you’ll be hurt some more.

But sweet, sweet child, it’s not your fault. And the years of pent-up emotions blocked by numb feelings aren’t your fault either.

You adapted because you wanted to survive.

And survive you did. You made it this far. Farther than you thought you would. Farther then you hoped you would. Farther than you dreamed you would.

Right now, you’re 4-years-old, and some days you wake up and wonder why you’re alive. Sometimes you forget to look both ways before you cross the street. Sometimes you don’t want to get close to the edge because you want to jump.

Sweet girl, I hear you. I see you. I validate you.

One day, you’ll be 24, and you’ll be sitting in your therapist’s office crying because you don’t want to be here. Alive. Breathing. Above ground.

You’ll dare cars to hit you. Hit me. Hit me. Hit me. (There’s a reason you’re not allowed to make dead jokes.) You’ll hold the extra pills in your hand, hesitating before you put them back.

But. You are worth it. Your therapist reminds you of this as you sob in his office. He’ll whisper it through tears as you break down, letting the years of hurt and pain wash over you.

You’ll hear it from your adopted big bro over and over and over as you’re the first one to leave events to protect yourself from trees.

You’ll hear it from within. Because there’s a part of you that wants to thrive, not just survive.

Child, you are worth it. Despite what people will tell you years from now. Despite what the hands tracing your body on the bus tell you in a year. Despite the whispers in your ear 9 years later in a school bathroom. Despite the emptiness in your stomach where a baby should have been.

Child, you are worth it despite all that. Because that doesn’t define you.

It hurts and healing sucks.

And I still don’t know which way healing’s going to go, what it’s going to look like: is it gonna be some bright light, weight lifted, crying because we’re free? Probably not.

It’ll probably be acceptance: radical, life changing acceptance.

Child, I hear your sobs in the night. I see your tears in the locker room mirrors. I see the moments you look in your eyes and don’t recognize me looking back. I hear your whispered no’s. I hear your silent prayer for God to take you in the night.

I hear you. I see you. I’m validating you.

I feel the ache in your heart to be loved, to feel understood, to feel wanted.

Child, you are all those things.

All those things and so much more.

Child. You have a future brighter than gold. You care about others, and one day, you’ll even laugh again (trust me, on this. You’ll be a big punster).

Child. Life will be hard.

Child. Life will be beautiful.

Child. Life will be tears of sadness and laughter.

Child. Life. Life will be.

Breathe.

You. You will be.

The Trauma Tree

I thought being baptized would solve the problem. I thought that if I publicly declared that I was “giving it all over to God,” I’d stop wanting to drive into trees.

But the thing about trauma that makes it dangerous, that makes it so hard to work through, is that sometimes the only way to get past it all is to let it destroy you.

Trauma is pervasive and a darn good liar. It gets into your head, rolls around a little, and then sets up roots in the center of the belief that you don’t deserve to be alive, you deserved everything that happened, you’ll never be more than what was done to you.

Here’s the thing I’ve learned over the last 7 months as I’ve aggressively worked through everything: in order to get past the past, in order to start living in the present for the future, you have to actively work through the trauma, digging down deep to pull the trauma tree up from the core of your identity by its roots. And I’ve found that the deeper I dig, the deeper the roots extend–the more damage they’ve done. It’s not just a single event that happened ten years ago; it’s a lifetime worth of things I’ve pushed aside, little things I’ve ignored, big things I’ve blocked.

And each time a new root is discovered, each time a core “belief” I’ve thought about myself is challenged, the more my foundation is shaken. Trauma takes away a person’s identity. We start to define ourselves by the trauma. And as we work through it all, we become more lost, more confused.

At least I have.

At the moment, I have no idea who I am.

And that’s ok. That’s ok because there’s one thing I’m sure of: I am a Child if God.

As I work through dismantling the foundation on which I built my life–the bricks that told me the world would be better off without me, that I wasn’t important, the from the age of 4 told me how I felt would never be important–as I work through all of that, I’m learning how to validate the 4-year-old girl who wanted to shrink herself into oblivion, how to validate the 13-year-old who wanted to be anywhere else but that bathroom. I’m learning how to validate the parts of myself that I’ve invalidated for so long.

Trauma has taught me how to live in a world of disconnect; I can separate my feelings from my existence and live in numbness. Until I can’t, until the weight of all the emotions I haven’t felt come crashing down around me, and I want to drive into trees for no other reason than my head telling me “you need to,” and the deepest hurt telling you that “that’s the only way to make this heaviness disappear.”

I feel alone in groups of people because I don’t feel real, like I’m watching my life play out before me, like I exist slightly to the left. I can’t connect my emotions to my trauma. I know what happened to me, logically. But there’s this disjoint: my emotional connection to what happened is misplaced. I can talk about being raped without getting emotional, but then the smallest thing happens–a guy makes a creepy comment, I do something embarrassing, some one criticizes me a little bit–and I become suicidal: displaced emotions, delayed response, a rush of feelings amidst the numbness of existence.

It’s this emotional disconnect, this traumatic disjointness that has my therapist most worried; that has him scheduling 2 or 3 appointments at a time, not just one. If I can make it this long…

It’s the suicidal ideation that’s always been present. But it’s hard to talk about because “what 4-year-old wants to die?”

It’s a chemical imbalance exacerbated by trauma. A trauma that has defined so much of my life.

And I’m working on it. Because I don’t want it to define my life. I don’t want to be sitting at my desk and all of a sudden think “I should drive into a tree” because even if I’m not thinking about my trauma consciously, I’m thinking about it emotionally.

My emotions are playing catch-up. Because for years I lived in numbness. Not allowing myself to feel was the only way to deal.

But now, I have to feel in order to heal.

And I’m feeling it all: pain, shame, hurt, sadness, anger, humiliation. And it’s making me panic–making me operate at a constant level of anxiety that I didn’t know was possible.

There’s a tension in my head, and it’s all valid.

I’m valid.

And this wasn’t the post I wanted to write. I had another one planned. But I started typing, and these are the words that came out.

Trauma and humor go hand in hand. I use humor to relieve tension (real or made up). And there’s this tension inside me all the time: the battle between the traumatized “you’re worth nothing side,” and the rational “you have value side. And it’s this battle, this constant never ending war that makes the healing difficult. The more I uncover, the stronger the traumatized side gets, and the more energy I have to put into the rational side of me.

Because the fact is: I do have value. I deserve to be here. And one day, I’ll discover my purpose for existing.

I have to reconcile the two parts of myself: the traumatized part and the part that wants to move forward. Because right now, my brain is still protecting me from the past even though the past is not currently happening.

I’m learning how to exist in a world where my past doesn’t define me, learning to live in the overlap of pain and hope.

I don’t just want to exist. I want to thrive.

This tree is heavy and digging it up is painful and dirty and it’s leaving me open and vulnerable.

But sometimes the only way to move forward is by clawing your way out, fighting tooth and nail to ignore the voices in your head, yelling at them: “you may be loud, but I am stronger.”

Because sometimes, the quietness of hope is the loudest thing of all.

And sometimes you find out the tree that was protecting you from pain was actually blocking you from growing.

To the Baby I Lost

This is not the blog post I started out writing, I had 1000 words done on a different one, but what I’ve learned since I’ve started writing is that sometimes the story we think we want to tell is not actually the story we need to tell.

And I was going to tell you about when I was raped and found out I was pregnant. And what it was like buying a pregnancy test at 13, knowing it would be positive before I even finished peeing, what it was like for me to walk across the parking lot and across the street to my house, hearing my backpack stuffed full of contraband mocking me every time it hit my back with each step: shame, shame, shame.

And I was going to tell you all of that: the thoughts of a thirteen-year-old who got pregnant and then lost the baby; but instead, I’m writing this. These are words I need to say because I’m trying to move past the shame and guilt I’ve been feeling for the last ten years.

To the baby I never had:

I hope you can forgive me for saying this, but my life is better without you in it. Not that I wouldn’t have loved you if you had been born because I absolutely would have. But I wasn’t ready to have you: I was too young, too naïve, too childlike to be an adult. I grew up in 15 minutes, and I was terrified to bring you into a world where your mother went from being a child to an adult in less time than it takes to watch an episode of FRIENDS or to take a quick power nap.

I hope you can forgive me for keeping you a secret for the last ten years because I’m trying so hard to forgive myself. You see, I’ve been running from you for the last ten years. Running so hard and so fast in the darkness of shame and guilt, I’ve quite literally wanted to drive into trees and jump off parking garages and swallow pills by the handful to try to get rid of the pain.

I hope you can forgive me even more for what I’m going to say next: I would love to say that those thoughts started after I lost you, but to move forward with my life, I cannot. I must be honest: they only intensified after I lost you. The first time I wished a car driving down the side of the road would hit me as I was walking was when I was walking back from the store after buying the pregnancy test I didn’t need because I knew you already existed, were already real. And it hurts me to say that. Because when there’s going to be a new life in the world, people should rejoice. But I felt like my life was over because I was at the age when what should have been sacred was taboo.

I would have loved you. And sometimes the fact that you existed for a brief moment before you didn’t hurts more than the circumstances surrounding your existence. Because the truth of the matter is that I feel like a failure because I lost you. Women are supposed to have babies, but sometimes I forget that I wasn’t yet a woman; I was still a girl, a kid, a baby. And sometimes the shame and guilt I carry for losing you is stronger than the joy I feel that I’m alive.

I feel like a failure because I couldn’t keep you alive.

And I would have loved you.

And I hope you can forgive me for not knowing who your father is: there are five choices, and I have it narrowed down to three viable ones, but every time I replay the events of that day over and over and over in my head, it hurts a little bit more. I can’t keep doing it.

I was raped. But I would have loved you.

I would have loved feeling you kick, feeling your life grow within me. I would have loved hearing your first cry, seeing your first breath, watching you smile, seeing all the milestones that happen as children grow up. I would have loved watching you grow up alongside me. And I miss the fact that I’m never going to see them. Of all the what if’s I need to let go of, this is certainly the hardest.

Because what if:

Would you have light eyes and dark hair like your momma? Would you be left-handed and nonathletic and super punny? Would you be musical? Would you be happy and healthy and laugh a lot?

Would you have loved me as much as I love you?

The truth of the matter is: I do love you.

I love you even though I barely knew you, even though I kept you a secret for so many years.

I love you, and sometimes I find you in the laughter and the new life that comes with each spring. And right now, that is enough.

I love you, but I lost you, which makes Mother’s Day hard. And every year on the date that you were conceived, the guilt and shame I feel become stronger because every year I’m reminded of how old you’d be, how much of life you are missing.

I feel like a failure because I couldn’t protect you. So I try to make up for it by caring for everybody I meet, helping to make their days a little brighter because this life is so beautiful, even on the hard days.

And there are hard days. So many hard days.

But I like to think you’d be proud of me: for how far I’ve come over the last nine months, for finally admitting that I need help, that I can’t do this alone, for learning how to let people in, for accepting people’s love.

Hopefully, someday you’ll have siblings, and I’ll tell them all about you. I’ll let my life be an open book, so they know they don’t have to do life alone. My biggest fear in life is being alone. I’m terrified of being hated, so I don’t let people in, but that also means I can’t be loved. I don’t want that to be there biggest fear.

I want them to know that I’ll love and support them no matter what. That there’s nothing too shameful that’ll make me stop loving them.

They’ll love you the way your family, my family, would have loved you.

And I won’t hide my past from them because I’ve hidden it for so long, and it almost killed me. And I want to live.

I wanted you to live, even if I was 13.

Even if there are school shootings more often than there should be.

Even if this life is so so hard and there’s evil and rape and division.

Even if my fear of letting people know that I got pregnant at 13 caused me to keep you a secret for 10 years.

Even if I know that my life is better right now because I lost you.

And I know that doesn’t make sense; it doesn’t make sense to me because the shame and guilt I have hidden behind for years made me want to die.

But now I want to live.

So this is for you: my life is for you; my future is for you. Because even though I only knew about you for two weeks before I lost you, I’ll carry you with me the rest of my life.

I will do great things because I am your mother, and I’m stronger now because of you.

And I hope, eventually, I’ll be able to forgive myself for losing you before you even had the chance to be.

I am your mother, your mama, your protector until the end, and you will be my baby until the day I see you in God’s arms because I know your life is better there than it could have ever been on earth.

I’m Sorry: A Reflection on 10 Years

“At least we didn’t get you pregnant,” he said as he slammed my locker shut on the last day of eighth grade, just like he had done every day before.

The truth is: I was going to wait to post this. I was going to wait to post it until May 19th, 2018. 10 years to the day after I was raped in a school bathroom by some guys I thought were my friends.

But in all actuality, the truth is: I never wanted to post this, never wanted this story to get out. I wanted to keep it under lock and key in a trunk, buried away under the deep recesses of my memory, never to be open. Because people can’t hurt you if they don’t know you, can’t hate you if you don’t let them in. People can’t love you if you don’t let them in.

And I’m terrified of being loved.

Because the truth is, as much as I’ve spent the last (almost) 10 years trying to outrun my past, trying to forget it, there’s a part of my story that I never wanted to admit, too painful even for myself. What happened in that bathroom is one thing: I relive that every day with flashbacks and triggers and panic attacks and random encounters at Dick’s Sporting Goods. And I’m almost to the point where I can say, “This is what happened to me. This is what they did. But I’m stronger now.”

“At least we didn’t get you pregnant,” he smirked at me, his hazel eyes and nicotine breath forever seared into my mind. But what he didn’t know, what I’ve spent the last 10 years trying so hard to outrun, the secret that’s literally killing me is this:

Just a few days before the last day of eighth grade, just over a month after being raped, I had a miscarriage.

I had a miscarriage, and I feel ashamed:

ashamed that it happened; ashamed that I’m sometimes glad it did.

ashamed that I wonder what my life would be like if the baby had been born; ashamed that I think my life is better right now.

ashamed that I was 13 years old and terrified to tell my parents, my entire church community what happened because how would they respond?

ashamed that I was 13 years old and secretly glad that I lost the baby because I didn’t want to face the stigma of being a pregnant teenager, especially in the church.

ashamed that at 23, I’m still worried about what my church would have thought 10 years ago if I had shown up to Sunday morning worship pregnant, the whispers, the stares, the shunning. What happened? Are you going to put it up for adoption? This could ruin your life you know.

ashamed that at 23, I still feel ashamed for feeling guilt and shame over things that aren’t my fault.

And I’ve gone over the “what if”s in my head over and over and over again. What if

What if

What if

And now that the cat’s out of the bag, I feel as though I have to apologize:

Sorry for telling you; sorry for not.

Sorry for feeling guilty; sorry for knowing it’s not my fault.

Sorry for feeling shame; sorry for knowing that I’ve come so far.

Sorry for letting you in; sorry for feeling like a burden.

Sorry for regretting not jumping off the side of the parking garage that Monday back in September when I drove myself to the ER (because there are days when I regret that, and then feel guilty for regretting it).

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry..

I’m sorry…

I apologize a lot because I’m scared of living, scared of taking up space, scared of breathing.

I know how fragile this life can be, and I know how delicate the line between life and death because I walk it every day.

And maybe, if I apologize enough, invalidate myself enough, my impact on the world will be lesser, the crater I leave behind won’t be as great: a great void narrowing instead of expanding.

People can’t miss you if you don’t let them in. People can’t miss you if you never existed in the first place: invalidate yourself into oblivion.

I’ve come so far in the last nine months, the last four months specifically since beginning work with my current therapist.

And what we’re working on is Radical Acceptance: it is what it is.

My life is what it is. My past is what it is. My future will be what it will be. This moment is filled with me typing this post, backspacing again and again, trying to get these words right. Maybe lessen the blow because, after all, words do hurt, despite what that childhood adage might say.

And last month, I got baptized, signifying that I was ready to let go and let God. I was going to give up control, give up my story, give up my past, and let God work in my life, through my life, in spite of my life.

But, I’m stubborn. And I’m scared:

scared of living.

scared of loving.

scared of being loved.

scared of giving up control because I’m afraid I won’t be able to find my way back out.

I’ve spent the last (almost) 10 years of my life just surviving: moment by moment; too scared of the future to even plan for one.

But I want to live. I want to thrive. And holding on to these secrets, the parts of me I’m sure will scare people away if they knew, the parts of me I deem unlovable or too ugly or too broken are literally killing me.

“You want to drive into trees a lot,” the full weight of these secrets are on the gas pedal, and I’m not strong enough to pull them off.

Not alone.

Because that’s the thing about secrets: they weigh a lot more than the truth, and they’re harder to carry over the distance of life.

Many friends make light work.

And all I can do is shine a light on my broken parts, reveal them for what they are, for who I am. Because take me or leave me, I can’t keep apologizing for who I am.

(I’ll probably still say sorry a lot and continue to invalidate myself because trying to dig through 10 years worth of garbage to move what I know to be true from my head to my heart is a long process, painful, sometimes unending process.)

“You inspire me,” my therapist, Brandon, said to me today. “Do you realize how strong you are? That you have a purpose in life?

Because I don’t look at you and see your baggage. I see a young woman with a bright future who’s trying her best to navigate the storms of this life, who’s trying to process her past and move forward, who’s fighting so hard to stay here, who loves deeply and cares fully and feels wholeheartedly, who’s unabashedly wholehearted: who gets up in front of people and says: This is me. This is what I’ve been through. This is how I’ve been hurt. But I still get up in the morning and try my best to get through the day.

And to me, that is inspiring.”

This is real. This is raw.

This is me.

Love me, hate me, pray for me, complain about me. It doesn’t matter.

Nothing you say to me can be worse than what the voices in my head say to me on the daily, but I’m working on it.

I’m working on so many things.

And right now, what I’m working on is this: fully illuminating my past so that it can be a light for my future.

I can’t hide in the dark forever.

I can’t be scared to live, to exist, to breathe, to take up space.

I’m here. I’ve been hurt deeply and profoundly, and sometimes I feel so unworthy of love.

But I’m not going to stop living.

stop loving.

stop being who I am.

Because I don’t want to run from my past for another ten years.

because a) I have asthma and can’t run very far for very long. and b) simply surviving is so very unfulfilling.

So I’m sorry.

But I’m also not.

I can’t spend the rest of my life dodging trees while running from my past.

This is me: jumping fully in, ready to admit that I was raped and lost a baby, and sometimes I feel 100% at fault.

This is me: starting to recognize that I’m worthy of love.

Sorry it took me so long to catch up.

“Hey, Writer Girl.”

“Mira a esa hermosa gringa. No te gustaría que fuera nuestra jefa? Lo que me gustaria hacer a ella.”

Oh my god. They don’t know I speak Spanish.

. . .

I don’t know how to describe to you the terror I felt every time I walked into that warehouse; how hard it was for me to concentrate on all the technical writing I had to do, knowing that there were guys on the other side of the building waiting for me to walk through those doors to meet with their foreman.

I don’t know how to describe to you the way my skin crawled when their eyes followed me, the way I would be sent into a near panic anytime one of them walked within five feet of my desk on the way to the HR office, how one of them would “accidentally” brush up against me as we passed each other in the hall, smirking as he looked me up and down.

I don’t know how to describe to you how excited I was to start this job: not only was I using my English degree, but I was also using my background in technology and engineering. This job was going to open so many doors for me to advance in this field.

It opened doors alright: to Psych ERS and panic attacks. To almost driving into trees and flashbacks. To therapy and medication.

. . .

It started out innocently at first: passing glances as I walked into the warehouse, whispering amongst themselves. And then, like the way one falls in love: slowly and then all at once, it escalated: leering as I walked up the stairs in the warehouse to the print shop, making crude jokes, and non-specific threats (well, actually, they were very specific threats. And I’m not going to repeat what they said here, but I can guarantee you whatever you’re thinking, they probably said).

But I will tell you one of their jokes, one of their very favorites: What did the bosses do when the intern told them that some warehouse guys raped her? Nothing because they didn’t believe her.

Yes, yes. Very funny. See the spleen through the split in my side? I’m rolling on the floor laughing over here.

Everything they said, I believed. And it terrified me–as someone who was raped, but more importantly as one of the only females who worked for this company. Anytime I was alone in the warehouse–because my breaks did not line up with theirs–I wondered, is this going to be the time?

And it escalated and escalated, and they got bolder and bolder, and they got more and more crude and terrifying.

I didn’t know how to stand up for myself or defend myself, choosing instead to use humor to deflect their unwanted advances:

Do you want to get coffee sometime? I don’t like coffee.

Do you want to get together some Sunday and watch the Bills’ game? Why, so you can disappoint me, too?

And when I spent a week at one of the other warehouses, the Hispanic workers were the boldest, most arrogant, talking amongst themselves right outside my “borrowed from a boss they haven’t replaced” office, not knowing that I understood every word of the Spanish they spoke.

And then one day,  at 4:45, it was just me and the ringleader in the office, as everybody else had gone home, as I exited the bathroom, away from the view of the lone security camera trained on the office area, he exposed himself to me, and then winked and said, “I’ve never disappointed a woman ever.” And then walked out, leaving me alone to finish the last 15 minutes of my shift.

That was the least productive 15 minutes of my life, let me tell you.

I never knew any of their names. They never knew mine, which is the way I wanted it. They referred to me as “Writer Girl;” I gave them nicknames–Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber; and Senor Mirador (translation: Mr. Watcher). Nameless avatars in a crowded world; my way of keeping my identity a secret, maybe they won’t be able to track me down.

Because as long as they called me, “Hey, Writer Girl,” I could continue to exist as Kaleigh. I could continue to pretend that everything they said was meant for someone else–someone who wasn’t me.

But, the irony lies in the way I viewed myself: I felt like somehow, I deserved everything they said, all the unwanted touches, all of the crude jokes and innuendos.

I felt like I was two people: Me and not me. My sense of self had been so damaged by the years of hurt, by being raped, and now by this, that I felt like I deserved to feel like a terrible person. I felt like I was a terrible person.

And I just became so depressed and so anxious and so terrified of everybody, including myself. And the worst person to be scared of is yourself.

I was so scared of losing control, of losing my mind. I stopped eating again. I started cutting again.

I let those men say whatever they wanted to say; I took it. I didn’t want to make ripples, didn’t want to upset anyone, didn’t want to get anyone in trouble.

I preferred being harassed every day to standing up for myself, demanding to be heard.

And therein lies the problem.

. . .

I don’t know how to complete this post. Do I wish I handled things differently? Yes.

Do I wish I reported it sooner? Yes, yes I do. Because I did report it, but it only ended up being about a week before I left that job. Too little; too late (but that’s sort of how I feel about myself. Like, maybe I waited too long to get help for my anxiety and depression).

Did the constant everyday harassment lead me to have that fateful panic attack at the gym in July, which lead me to where I am now? You bet your butt it did.

And now, here I am. Taking medication for the depression and anxiety I didn’t get help for because I didn’t let myself ask, couldn’t admit to myself how much I was hurting.

Here I am: going to group therapy every week, and individual therapy every 10-14 days. Here I am: still struggling with suicidal thoughts and panic attacks and depression and anxiety, having panic attacks everytime I go to the gym by myself because I don’t trust a single guy I see there.

Here I am: working at the church I grew up in, at a place that makes me feel safe and confident and encourages me, with people that support me through my brokenness.

Here I am: on Monday, every time a father signed out their child when their hand touched mine as I handed him the “a-ok to pick up your child” ticket, my anxiety would start to rise, little mini panic attacks every five minutes.

Here I am: talking about something I never ever thought I would talk about it.

But that’s what I’m trying to do right now:: be honest and vulnerable, despite how much it hurts. Because one thing I’ve learned over this long process of healing is that it has to hurt before it gets better.

And I’m hurting so much, but if you don’t think I won’t continue to carpe the diem as many days as I can, you’re wrong. I won’t let my fears and struggles stop me.

Because despite all the pain, despite all the hurt, despite my doubts and insecurities, there are people who never left my side, people who have encouraged me along the way, and for them, I am so so thankful.

I’m still struggling as much as I was three, four, even five months ago. But it’s a different kind of struggling. Because a few months ago, I didn’t know who I was–“Not Me” was struggling while not having an identity. Today, I know who I am.
 
It’s easier to struggle in your own house than it is in a stranger’s.
Here I am: I am home.

To Dan and Brock Turner

To Dan and Brock Turner:

Here’s the thing: I’m not a parent, so I don’t know what it’s like to want to protect your child, to want to defend them when they are a victim, to want to soften the blow when they do something wrong. I don’t know what it feels like to raise a child and watch them make mistakes, watch them do terrible things. But I do know this: I know that sometimes the best way to protect your child from future harm is by letting them face the consequences of their actions today.

Humans are not perfect, nor we should we pretend to be. We all do terrible things, and we all face punishment for our wrongdoings, or at least we should—it’s how we learn, how we become better humans, how we become more sympathetic to someone else’s plight. As a child, I was punished if I did something wrong, even if the only person hurt by my actions was me. If I hurt someone else by my actions, my punishment was more severe. As it should be. That’s how I learned not to hurt people, to respect them.

We all hurt people; it’s just a part of life. The question is: do we learn from the hurt we cause, or do we continue to allow it to happen? By defending your son in the way that you did, I don’t know if he has learned anything.

But I know who has: future victims—the young people who have watched this case unfold. The young girls have learned that if they’re raped, which approximately 1 in 4 will be, they’re better off not saying anything. They’re better off not pressing charges, because even if there is evidence, their attacker will get off lightly. It’s better to suffer quietly than to be publicly attacked, to have your name dragged through the mud, to have every decision you make questioned because society needs to justify what happened. Girls who are raped can be as brave as they want, but in this culture, bravery is not enough.

The young boys have learned that if they are white, middle-class and above, athletic, smart, and have a “bright future ahead of them,” they can rape someone and have consequences that do not match their actions. But if you’re a black man who’s wrongly accused of rape, good luck, dude. No one’s on your side either.

I hope I’m wrong about both of the above. 

I also know this: your son is not the victim here. You wrote in your letter to the judge about how your son used to be compared to how he is now. As you put it:

As it stands now, Brock’s life has been deeply altered forever by the events of Jan 17th and 18th. He will never be his happy go lucky self with that easy going personality and welcoming smile. His every waking moment is consumed with worry, anxiety, fear, and depression. You can see this in his face, the way he walks, his weakened voice, his loss of appetite.

That, dear sir, is what guilt looks like. I’ve seen it before. I’ve felt it before, usually in the twilight period between doing something wrong and confessing, the period where I’m sick-to-my-stomach terrified that I’m going to get caught. The only thing your son is a victim of is what he did to himself. He made a choice that night, and I know you and he blame it on the alcohol, but the alcohol is not the problem. It’s not a drinking problem; it’s a societal problem. Rape can happen alcohol or not, “promiscuous behavior” or not; rape can happen, as it did for me, in a Middle School bathroom; a place where I, arguably, should have been the safest, besides my own home.

A murderer can still get the maximum sentence even if the murderer only took “20 minutes.” A rape is still a rape even if it was only “20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.” Mine took less than 15 minutes, but it took more than 15 minutes for me to heal. There is no timeline on healing. 8 years later, and I’m still not fully healed. But I’m getting there, and your victim will, too.

I read her letter. All 12 heart-breaking, gut-wrenching pages of it. It took me three days, a new record. And I read it again and again, letting the words wash over me as my heart broke, as memories resurfaced. I read it first as a sign of solidarity: “I’ve been through this too, and I want to support you the only way I know how.” I read it again because I was amazed at the strength your victim showed as she faced you in court, publicly sharing her letter. I read it again and again because I see something in her I recognize—the sleepless nights, the wanting to leave your body behind, the strength it takes to get out of bed every day–and even though I’m farther along on this journey than she is, I am amazed at how far she’s come.

I don’t know the kind of person she was before you raped her; I’ve only gotten glimpses by the words she’s shared, but I do know who she is now: she is someone who’s walked through one of the toughest things imaginable and has come out on the other side stronger than she was before. I do know who she’ll be: she’ll be amazing; she’ll be shining bright; she’ll be someone who touches the life of everybody she has come in contact with. She’s touched mine, and I’ve only read her letter.

You had a bright future ahead of you. So does your victim. All of us victims do. You were great at swimming. She is great at something, too. I was great at school, until I was raped, and then just thinking about school made it hard for me to breathe.

And, yet, here we both stand: she and I, on the other side, each telling our own story about the same thing. And I’m angry—not about what happened to me—but that it keeps happening, that we have to keep saying the same things over and over and over again.

As for who you were before you decided to rape her: it doesn’t matter. You chose your fate. You were a swimmer, now you’re a registered sex offender and a convicted rapist. The only thing that matters now is where you go from here. How do you learn from this? Can you own up to the choice you made without blaming it on the alcohol?  Can people learn from you? Can you teach others, not about the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity, or about binge drinking and its unfortunate results, but about what rape is and how not to rape others?

John Steinbeck wrote, ““I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?”

You’ve already done ill.

I hope you choose to do well. Because that means there’s hope that good can triumph over evil.

And if there’s one thing we could use more of in this world, it’s hope.

Sunrise and Sunset: A Reflection on Six Years

As I was coming home this morning, the sun was beginning to rise. I reached the top of the hill by my house, and as I was waiting for the light to turn green, I soaked in the beauty of the just-beginning-to-stir world.

My world’s not a quiet world. Within walking distance of my house there’s a grocery store, a drug store, five or six banks, a Target, a gas station, two churches, a Kmart, pizza places, coffee shops, and various other ways to spend money. Close your eyes, and you can hear the steady stream of traffic rushing past the house: horns honking, music pumping, mufflers that need fixing. It quiets down at nights sometimes, though (as long as the dogs don’t bark). I live in the “urban center” of my town—like living in the city without actually living in the city. I’ve gotten really good at tuning out the outside world.

My world’s not a quiet world. If it’s not the noise outside my house, it’s the noise inside my head. It’s the insecurities, the doubts, the past playing on repeat in my mind that are louder than whatever is going on outside. They’re impossible to turn off, hard to ignore, but eventually you learn how to cope. I’ve gotten really good at coping.

Here’s the thing: when I started working on this post a month ago, I wanted to give you a month’s worth of reasons not to kill yourself. Because when you’re depressed, life is just a series of days at a time: if I can get through this day and the next day and the next day, etc, eventually you’ll have a month. And then you repeat this step 12 times until you have a year, and then eventually, you’ll have a lifetime.

Who knows, maybe after more writing and rewriting, I’ll end up getting there.

But this is all I know right now: if I had my way six years ago, I wouldn’t be here today.

I’ve struggled with guilt over the last six years, wondering why I got a second chance when so many others have not. And I don’t have an answer. I doubt I ever will.

I’m learning how to be grateful for the second chance I’ve been given.

My world’s not a quiet world. But this morning it was.

As I was coming home this morning, the sun was just beginning to rise. I reached the top of the hill by my house, and as I was waiting for the light to turn green, I soaked in the beauty of the just-beginning-to-stir world.

In the normally heavy traffic area, I was the only car. And through the mostly dark blue sky, streaks of cotton candy pink were beginning to emerge; the sun was beginning to shine through. As I sat there and took it all in: the way the drowsy sun illuminated the world under me, and the way the newly fell snow and icy rooftops dazzled and sparkled under the sun they reflected. As I waited for the light to turn green and marveled at the quiet beauty around me, a sense of calm came over me.

I thought to myself, “What a wonderful day to be alive.”

So, I don’t have a month’s worth of reasons to keep fighting, to keep breathing, to stay alive. I just have one: sunrise.

And I’m so grateful for the six additional years of sunrises and sunsets I have gotten to be a part of. Because nothing is better than realizing that the God who painted the beauty of dusk and dawn decided the world needed me too.

 

Continue Reading: Reasons to Keep Breathing

 

Letter to My Biggest Bully

This letter has been a long time coming—forgiveness has been a long time coming. And it’s not like I haven’t tried to forgive; I have.

I’ve forgiven others.

I’ve forgiven my rapists for what they did to me, for the years of pain and anguish they caused me, for changing the trajectory of my life.

I’ve forgiven God for the injustices I perceived He let happen to me, even though He did absolutely nothing wrong. But when you’re hurting, you need someone to blame.

I’ve forgiven the friends who walked away when I needed them the most, even though they had every right to, because when you’re depressed, you tend to sabotage relationships.

I’ve forgiven those who bullied me throughout Middle School and High School because someone has to. And in order to move forward, I have to step out of the past, even if that means never going to a High school reunion.

I’ve forgiven those who have caused me harm, who have hurt me mentally and physically. But I haven’t been able to forgive you, yet.

Until now.

I had forgiven everybody else, but I hadn’t been able to forgive my biggest bully: me.

I forgive you—I mean, me. And I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for allowing the opinions of others to become the way I defined you. I’m sorry for the way my voice began to echo and mirror what other’s said about you. It’s hard enough to ignore being called ugly, fat, unworthy if it’s someone else’s voice doing the calling, but when it’s your own voice that suddenly becomes your biggest nightmare, it’s next to impossible.

I’m sorry for silencing you. I’m sorry for making you feel like you couldn’t say anything, you couldn’t speak up about what you were going through and struggling with because every time you looked in the mirror, you said something mean about yourself. It’s hard to speak up when every though that sprints (and then trips and hangs around for a while) in your mind is harsh and cruel. You believe in Thumper’s mantra: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all. And you couldn’t, so you didn’t, even if speaking up could’ve saved your life.

I’m sorry for making you hate your reflection. I’m sorry for making you feel unloved and unworthy and how all of that unworthiness translated into not eating. Now you’re stuck learning how to do all of that again, because once upon a time you ate too little, then too much, and now you have to learn how to find the perfect middle. Learning how to love yourself again is so hard, but I promise it will be so worth it.

I’m sorry for making you believe that your whole identity and lovability was definied by your attractiveness.

I’m sorry for allowing you to become some numb and full of hate that the only relief was found in a knife (or a razor, or scissors. Whatever was convenient).

I’m sorry for making you believe that you weren’t beautiful the way you were, and are, and will continue to be.

I’m sorry for becoming your worst enemy when you needed me to be your biggest advocate. I’m sorry for abandoning you, for causing you to lose yourself when you really needed to be found.

I’m sorry for the tears cried, the blood shed, the scars gained, the pounds lost. I’m sorry for trying to die.

I’m sorry for all of it.

But mostly I’m sorry for taking so long to realize how much I hurt you. I’m sorry for taking so long to apologize. I’m sorry for taking so long to forgive you.

It’s hard to forgive others, and it’s even harder to forgive yourself.

But I’m ready now. I’m ready to say: I forgive you. (I forgive myself.)

Most of all, I’m ready to accept your apology. (I’m ready to accept my own apology.)

I’m ready to step into the future together: past me and present me. I’m ready to combine the two to prepare for future me. I’m ready to learn from my past mistakes and apply them to what I will encounter down the road on the journey ahead.

Because I don’t know where this future leads, but I am ready to take that journey—together.

RIP Alan Rickman: Mourning in the Age of Social Media

Yesterday was one of those days that I wanted to end before it even began. Opening my eyes, I instinctively rolled over, grabbed my phone, and looked to see if I had any breaking news notifications. After skimming the numerous headlines on my lock screen, I decided it was in my best interest to roll over, go back to sleep, and hope it was all just a dream.

Alas, when I woke up, a brief 20 minutes later, I was dismayed to find out that what I had read earlier was not just a dream as I had hoped, but was in fact real. There are a few things you don’t want to read when you wake up: first, is that you did not win the Powerball Jackpot. Second, is that there was a terror attack in Jakarta, because even though it’s become almost commonplace in our world today, you still feel pain for all of those affected. Thirdly, you don’t want to find out that one of your favorite actors while growing up, Alan Rickman, died.

It’s this third event that I want to focus on for two reasons: firstly, I wasn’t expecting to win the lottery, so I didn’t even waste money buying a ticket. Secondly, it’s easier to make sense of a single death than it is to make sense of multiple deaths. I haven’t yet been able to make sense with what is going on in this world.

So, I mourn Alan Rickman, while also talking about him.

I know him best as Professor Severus Snape from ­Harry Potter. He’s the actor who brought the not-so-good, not-so-bad, morally ambiguous character to life. You can read a story so many times and still not fully understand a character. Such was the case with Snape. I didn’t love him, didn’t hate him, wasn’t quite sure how to feel about him.

And then I watched the movies. And BAM! Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Snape caused my eyes to open. I understood the character in a way I didn’t before. I understood why he did what he did. He did right things for the right reasons, right things for the wrong reasons, wrong things for the right reasons, and wrong things for the wrong reasons. I understood his actions, but I couldn’t justify them.

Which was ok, because I was still sad when (SPOILER ALERT) Snape died.

I’m even sadder now that Alan Rickman died.

Death is a private event, reserved for a party of one, but sometimes witnessed by family and close friends. Death is intimate. Mourning is public, a collective experience. Especially in the case of a beloved celebrity like Rickman. When a celebrity dies, the earth seems to stand still, like a pillar in the community has died.

The earth stands still, and people begin remembering. All my social media newsfeeds were filled with tributes to Alan Rickman. Twitter and Tumblr were perhaps the most personal, with users sharing how Rickman’s characters got them through a tough time in their life, sharing quotes of Rickman’s that mean a lot to them, sharing stories of interactions they had with Rickman by chance. Celebrities, too, got in on the collective remembrance. Those who worked with him sharing personal anecdotal memories of what it was like to work with Rickman: how funny he was, how truly he cared about the characters he portrayed, how he impacted the lives of his costars.

This sharing of memories is not just reserved for celebrities. I’ve seen it happen at funerals. When my grandfather died almost ten years ago, I distinctly remember a portion of the service reserved for neighbors and friends to share stories about him, stories I wouldn’t have heard otherwise, stories that made my grandfather a full-fledged person, and not just a person with a title: he became a man with a name, in possession of a whole identity other than “Grandfather.”

I’ve become more aware of this with my remaining grandparents, gathering stories about them from anyone who knew them when they were younger.

With celebrities, I don’t’ have that luxury—we don’t have that luxury. We don’t have the luxury of hearing stories first-hand. All we have are the roles they filled.

So we gather stories and memories anyway we can, from whoever we can—memories and anecdotes of how their roles impacted lives, but perhaps, most importantly, who the celebrity was as a person.

It’s easy to place celebrities on pedestals, forgetting they are real people with real lives, real families, real friends. We strip them of their humanity, judge them solely based on their artistry.

Collective mourning as a group, over the internet, allows family, friends, and fans to combine artistry with humanity, creating a whole person.

We forget that people aren’t immortal, sometimes we hope that our favorite people are immortal because dealing with death is difficult. Death is easy; it’s the mourning that’s painful.

I’ve found mourning to be easier when stories are shared. Perhaps Rickman himself said it best, “. . . it’s a human need to be told stories. The more we’re governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies, the more we need to tell stories to each other about who we are, why we are, where we come from, and what might be possible. Or, what’s impossible?. . .”

We tell stories to keep memories alive.

We told them yesterday; we told them today; we’ll probably keep telling them for a while.

And that’s ok.

The people who knew him best—his friends and family—have stories and memories.

We, the fans, have the characters he left behind, the memories of what they brought us through. We read books and watch movies to temporarily forget what we’re going through, to be transported somewhere else.

So, let us mourn.

We’re not only mourning Alan Rickman, the man. We’re also mourning for the characters he left behind: Hans Gruber, Colonel Brandon, the husband who bought the necklace, Severus Snape, and whoever else he had been. We mourn for the characters he never will be.

And I think there’s beauty in the way Alan Rickman was different things to different people, and how, despite the varying degrees of intimacy we may have had with him—whether personally, emotionally, or artistically—all of us are mourning at the same time.

“The pain we all feel at this dreadful loss reminds me, reminds us, that while we may come from different places and speak in different tongues, our hearts beat as one.”-Albus Dumbledore