Here’s to the Ones Who Try So Hard

One minute you’re sweating your face off at the gym, and the next thing you know, it’s twenty minutes later, and the fingernail-shaped crescent moons dug into your arm are the only thing grounding you in the present, but this time, even that isn’t enough.

One moment you’re on the treadmill all too aware that you’re the only girl in a room with five guys (and those numbers are enough to make your stomach turn). All you want to do is leave. But you can do this. You can do this. You can do this.

You’re so close to finishing your workout when you catch the glimpse of one of the guys in the window. He bears a vague resemblance to one of the guys who raped you, not enough that would normally bother you, but enough to push your already anxious self over the edge.

Suddenly, you can’t breathe. Your heart catches in your throat. The room starts to spin. As you step off the treadmill, the room starts to go black. You bend over, trying to catch your breath, trying to keep the memories away long enough to get the heck out of there. As you go down the staircase, which is basically a metal tube, you hear voices behind you. They’re talking and laughing, not about you, but about weights or basketball or something, but in your panic-stricken mind, it doesn’t matter. Immediately, you’re transported back to that school bathroom, and suddenly, the ceiling starts closing in on you; you feel like you can’t breathe. You can’t get out of there fast enough, running down the last few stairs, pushing the door at the bottom with as much strength as you can muster, and walking as fast as you can down the hall, finally collapsing on a bench.

You try to catch your breath; your heart is pounding out of your chest, and all you want to do is keep those memories at bay. But no matter how hard you try, you can’t keep them away. You don’t know how long it’s been–seconds, minutes, years. It feels like seconds. Someone may have walked by asking you if you’re ok because apparently, you look spaced-out. But you don’t hear them: you’re so far into the own memories of your past that the only thing you can hear is: Bitch. Slut. Worthless. All you can feel is their hands on your skin, which you realize later is your own finger nails digging into your arm so hard that they leave marks that are still there 24 hours later. And you can’t breathe, partly because your lungs are on fire and partly because you feel like their are hands around your neck.

You drink water bottle after water bottle to get the taste of shame out of your mouth, and eventually, the memories start to fade. But the pounding in your chest is refusing to quit, and your lungs are refusing to stop sprinting a mile a minute. Your leg is sore from the bouncing it’s been doing for the last twenty minutes. And all you can think is: I’ve got to go home. I’ve got to go home. I’ve got to go home. Which really translates to, I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to get out of here.

You start to head down the hallway to the locker room, trying to keep your hand from shaking by rubbing it up and down your leg, but, you get a quarter of the way down, just to the door of the weight room, and you feel sick like you’re going to throw up.

You turn around, and head back up to the hallway, alternating between leaning against the cool wall that feels so good against your sweaty, panicky skin, and pacing up and down the hall. Every time you try to take a step down that hall towards the locker room, you feel nauseous. So so nauseous.

It’s been half an hour now, and you’re wondering what the heck you’re going to do. You need to go home. You need to. You need to. But you can’t face the locker room that’s so similar to the bathroom you avoided for the last month of middle school.

You don’t know what to do. You’re so close to just going to the weight room and sitting down, not to be creepy, but because you need to be around somebody, anybody. You’re gathering up the courage when all of a sudden, you see a girl you know–someone you knows your story. Someone who, without hesitation, when you asked them to go to the locker room because you’re having a flashback and panic attack, went with you and talked with you for another hour as you tried to calm down.

And that’s how long it takes: another hour. It takes another hour to calm yourself down long enough to drive home, another hour for your heart to stop racing the demons, another hour for you not to feel like you’re going to pass out. Another for you to stop thinking about everything you’ve spent the last nine years trying to forget.

And then you get home and take the hottest shower your skin can stand. And then it takes who knows how many hours to fall asleep because every time you close your eyes, you’re transported back, and all you have this time is a prayer that this time, you’ll fall asleep. And you do.

When you wake up the next morning, you don’t know where you are. You don’t really even remember what happened, until you look at your arm and realize that the fingernail-shaped marks are still there.

The day after the worst panic attack you’ve had in months and the worst one you’ve ever had in public, you go to a wedding. Trying to hide the fact that your hand is shaking from the anxiety you still feel. Trying to hide the fact that you still feel nauseous. You dance the Cha-Cha slide and the Cupid Shuffle, and you walk to your car by yourself at night. Halfway there, when the panic begins to set in again, you look up at the sky, and you see the stars, and you remember that God is there no matter what.

A day-and-a-half after the worst panic attack, you go to Church, still feeling the residual effects: you’re exhausted and anxious and your heart is still pounding. But then God has this way of reminding you that He’s got this. You can climb this mountain.

And now it’s a few minutes past the 48-hour mark, and you’re just starting to return to normal. Your heart isn’t pounding as hard. You’re not as tired. You feel less and less nauseous as the minutes tick on. You no longer feel like the world is caving in around you.

And you’re trying so hard to convince yourself that you’re not crazy–other people feel this way sometimes, too.

Here’s to the ones who try so hard, who are so scared of being vulnerable but do it anyway.

Here’s to being vulnerable because sometimes, being vulnerable, allows others to know your story. And with others knowing your story, they can pick you up and walk alongside you when the going gets tough.

Or, in my case, walk with me to the locker room and spend time with me on a Friday night, instead of with their boyfriend, when it felt like my world was falling apart.

Here’s to the ones who care for the ones who try so hard.

 

 

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Six Years and Losing Control

Today marks six years since I last self-harmed. But, if I’m 100% honest, which is what I want to do on this blog, that’s not entirely true. Six years ago was the last time I pressed a sharp object to my skin so hard it drew blood. Six years ago was the last time a sharp object was pressed to my skin so hard that, when I lifted it away, the mark left behind scarred. There have been nights since then, not many of them, but nights that come around once in a great while where I feel every emotion at once, and yet still feel so numb.

And I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense. But imagine this: imagine being burned so bad that every nerve is exposed, and because every nerve is exposed, you feel everything—the changes in temperature, the air pushing against your body, just everything, you feel it all—your body feels so much pain that it shuts down.

That’s how I feel on those once-in-a-great-while nights. Those are the nights when there is so much emotion flooding through my body I can’t focus on anything else: the emotional pain trumps all. So, I need a controlled release—a way of drawing out the pain in a way I can control, not too much, not too little, not too fast, not too slow.  A paperclip rubbed back and forth on the skin a few times does the trick, leaving a scratch raised and red behind which lasts no more than an hour.

And I’m not proud of that, but it’s the only way I know how to control my pain. I can’t control what I feel emotionally, but I can control how I feel physically—what I do to myself. So, it’s been six years since I last self-harmed deep enough to draw blood, but I don’t want to remember forever how long it’s been.

I want to let myself forget—how long it’s been since I was raped, how long it’s been since I tried to kill myself, how long it’s been since I stopped self-harming, how long it’s been since I started eating again. I don’t want to live my life in terms of anniversaries of my past when I know the anniversaries of my future are so much better. I want to let myself forget so I can rejoice in what tomorrow has to offer me without placing it in the context of my past, without forgetting my past.

I’m never going to forget my past, but I want to stop living in terms of it. My past has made me who I am today, and it’s who I am today that will have a bearing on who I am tomorrow. What happened to me in my past matters simply because it happened to me. It’s part of my story, but it’s not the most important part of my life—it’s not the most interesting thing about me. Sometimes I treat my past like it’s the most important thing.

I have more to offer this world than my retellings of what happened to me. Sometimes I think people will only like me because of what happened to me, even though I know that’s not true.

So I want to forget. I want to stop framing my present in terms of my past, but forgetting means letting go, means losing control. And I’ve fought so hard to control what I can because for so long I had none.

I had no control over what happened to me in a school bathroom. I got control by not telling anybody what happened.

I had no control over the voices in my head telling me I wasn’t worth anything. I got control by counting calories, by starving myself.

I had no control over the way I felt nothing, nothing at all. I got control by cutting myself open.

I had no control over my body when I tried to kill myself. I got control by fighting like hell to survive, to live.

I didn’t have a lot of control over my past, and I have very little control over what may happen in the future, but I can control who I am now—what I remember.

This all sounds ridiculous, I’m sure. But I’ve fought so hard to remember the dates where I started healing because I want to remember how far I’ve come when the going gets tough, when I feel defeated, when my intrusive thoughts return.

I want to remember what I’ve been through without being tied to anniversaries because when I think it’s been “six years since I last self-harmed,” I think “it’s been six years, and I’ve only come this far. It’s been this many years, and I haven’t done this.”

I don’t want to think about what I haven’t yet accomplished. I want to think about what I still have yet to accomplish. I have big goals, big dreams, big hopes that seem so far away. And I know that thinking in terms of the past isn’t going to get me there.

I know I have to let go and Let God, as they say.

But letting go and letting God requires a level of trust that I’m not sure I have. I think I might, I maybe do, but I want to be sure.

Yes, there’s always room for doubt, doubt is good. But the last time I doubted God, I almost died—almost killed myself. However, I’m going to trust God anyway because he saved me when I couldn’t save myself.

I’m going to let Jesus take the wheel, even though I’m terrified of giving up control (although I might still backseat drive from time to time. Hey, I’m only human).

So, Jesus, take me. Take me as I am. I’ve been broken into pieces and put back together, but there are still a few cracks left to be filled.

I’m giving up. I’m giving everything I am to you. I don’t know if I trust you completely,yet. But I’m trying my best.

Do with me what you will.

I don’t care where you stand on gun legislation or LGBTA rights.

Dear Orlando,

I’ve been trying to figure out what to say in response to the mass shooting that occurred in your city, but how am I supposed to figure out what to say when I can’t even make sense of what happened? How can I figure out what to say when there are communities in mourning—not just within your city, but within our country, within our world? How can I figure out what to say when all the major issues in our country are so divisive, when we can’t even have a civil discussion about the issues events like this bring up? How can I figure out what to say when the two major political parties can’t agree on anything—even when it comes down to the value of human life and how to save it—when their candidates are using this tragedy to advance their own campaigns, draw attention to their own successes?

I’ve been trying to think about what to say, mulling Saturday’s events over in my head all day Sunday and most of day, letting my thoughts fester like an open wound, feeling the pain—both my own and second hand pain from the communities affected by this: both the LGBTA and Muslim communities. And after all this time of reflection and thinking, I’m still not sure that I know exactly what I want to say; I’m not sure that I have the right words.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe there are no right words. Maybe there are just words, opinions really, that are either harmful or good. I’m all for supporting opinions and free speech—after all, it is our right as Americans to say what we think, and because of this right, I posted what I thought last night on Facebook:

response

After sleeping on it (which didn’t actually happen because I was too busy mulling things over to actually sleep), I’m standing by what I said, but I’m also going to add to and clarify things.

First of all, I want to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry that this happened to you—both to your city and the LGBTA and Muslim communities. I’m sorry we live in a world where this keeps happening, i.e., Terrorist attacks. I’m sorry we live in a country where this keeps happening, i.e., mass shootings. I’m sorry we live in a country where certain groups are targeted based on race, sexuality, or religion. And I know that we are not the only country where things like this happen. I know that, but, as a US citizen and a citizen of the world, I am concerned with where we are headed.

Second of all, Radical Islam is our enemy. But so is Radical Christianity. So is Radical anything. The very definition of the word “Radical” proves this to be true. According to Merriam Webster dictionary, Radical is” a :  very different from the usual or traditional :  extreme b :  favoring extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions c :  associated with political views, practices, and policies of extreme change d :  advocating extreme measures to retain or restore a political state of affairs.”

Not all Muslims are terrorists. Not all terrorists are foreign born. Not all terrorists are Muslims. Not all Christians are the Westboro Baptist Church. And yes, statistically in the United States, most of what have been labeled ‘Terrorist Attacks’ have been carried out by Muslim extremists. But there have been other attacks in our recent history that have not been labeled Terrorism that fit the bill. (the Charleston church shooting comes to mind, attacks carried out by a young Christian, white supremacist Male.)

Third of all, this was more than just an act of Terrorism. This was a Hate crime against the LGBTA community, which happened to be committed by a US born citizen who became a Radical Muslim. The attack was planned; the venue was not. He had a hatred of gay people, or at least an aversion to them—an animosity so great he decided to act. It was a terror attack and a hate crime all wrapped into one horrific event. Which makes this whole thing more confusing. 

There’s nothing black or white about any of this. It’s more than just liberals vs conservatives, republicans vs democrats, Muslims vs Christians, the Western World vs the Middle Eastern World, guns vs no guns. This whole thing is a big mess of a murky grey color.

Which means there are no easy answers. And we as a nation, as a world have to be ok with that. Because we have a much bigger problem on our hands than ISIS, Terrorism, and gun violence.

Our biggest problem lies in the rhetoric of our First Amendment right—the freedom of speech. We are each entitled to our own opinion, but over the years our opinions have become so divisive, so polarizing, so stuck.

There is nothing inherently wrong with having opinions; the problem begins when our opinions led to people, actual HUMAN BEINGS being killed.

We have, as a society, become so headstrong, so defensive, we can’t engage in civil discourse about the most pressing issues of our time. We can’t see the “other sides” side of things. Perhaps, most importantly, when it comes to arguing issues, each side isn’t even arguing about the same thing—each overarching issue has many different points, and each side is arguing a different point, which means no discussion can happen.

And this lack of discussion is widening the gap between “us” and “them,” driving a wedge between both sides of an issue. Which leads me back to where the problem really lies: our “us vs them” mentality.

By referring to those who are as “us” and to those who aren’t as “them,” we are doing a disservice to those who are different—we are isolating them, ostracizing them, making them afraid to live their lives.  After 9/11, attacks against Muslims in the US rose, rising again after the Paris attacks. Attacks against the LGBTA community are also prevalent in today’s culture.

“Us vs Them” is dangerous, creating divisions, Grand Canyon sized rifts and wedges between populations of the world—wedges which really allows ISIS to be the most effective. Westerners aren’t the only people affected by ISIS; Muslims in the Middle East are affected more than the Western Countries are (I googled it for you). ISIS capitalizes on the rift between Western Christians and Muslims because our tendency in the West is to loop all Muslims in the “Terrorist until Proven otherwise Category,” which allows ISIS to swoop in and save the day for the Western Muslim. (Picture a street kid who is bullied joining a gang for protection and a sense of identity.)

So, no, there are no easy answers. No, I do not have any of the hard answers. Nor do I have any suggestions on how to change policy because at 21, I am too young to even know where to begin. But at 21, I am old enough to see that we have to do something because I’ve seen enough violence to last a lifetime.

I don’t even know how to begin to enact the change as a world on the macro level. But on the micro level, the change begins with me. And it begins with my words.

As an English major and a writer, I have learned to be very careful with the words I use when writing—I try my hardest not to use words that will isolate my reader. As a Christian, I am even more so—because there is no “us and them” in the eyes of God. There is only us; We the people; we the Children of God.

So, no. Now is not the time for frivolous arguments that will get nowhere—you can only beat the dead horse so many times with the same useless stick.

No, I do not care, nor do I want to hear about your opinions about guns and the LGBTA and Muslim communities today. Our opinions have caused so much hurt already. Now is the time for unity.

And to those who are hurting today: my friends in the LGBTA who are afraid to hold hands with the person you love in public, who are afraid to come out to you family and friend; my friends in the Muslim community who are now afraid to leave your house, I want to say I am sorry.

I’m sorry for everything.

And I know words can only do so much. But I want you to know that you are my neighbor.

We are one People; one body.

Sometimes we forget that we are not the only victims. The same things we suffer from, you do, too.

I will try not to forget anymore.

And I am going to try my hardest to help you in any way I can, even if that means reaching out, being a friend to those who are different from me. If there’s one thing my life has taught me, it’s that those who are different from us are the ones we can learn the most from.

 

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

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.

There’s a Light

Darkness has surrounded me recently. Depression has shrouded me in a cloak of insecurity and doubt so thick, so heavy I’ve forgotten what it’s like to breathe normally, without this heaviness in my chest. It’s like I’m walking through a maze, and the deeper I go, the darker it gets, the closer the walls seem to be. And to top it all off, it’s raining in this maze. It’s been raining long and hard for days, and the maze has standing water–not enough for normal people to be concerned with, but enough that I’m starting to feel anxious.

And I know that probably none of this makes sense, but hear me out.

My two biggest phobias in life are small spaces and drowning, but they didn’t use to be. Once upon a time, the bottom of the pool was my best friend, and I could play hide and seek in the closet for hours. Once upon a time, I was more scared of heights than anything, but I’m not afraid of jumping anymore (at least not most of the time). As we grow up, we change, and I hope one day I will grow out of these two fears, out of the memories they bring. Right now, they’re things I carry with me.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, and I can tell you the exact moment this all became luggage on my life trip.

It was a school bathroom, late afternoon, one day in the middle of May, almost eight years ago. I was alone, until I wasn’t. There were suddenly too many people, too many hands, too many demands. As the room started to close in, I felt too big, too small, too everything at once. And I wish I didn’t remember what happened next. I wish I could tell you I don’t remember any of it, but I remember most of it.(As I’m sitting here writing this, it’s playing over and over and over in my head. I wish it would stop, but I know the only way to make that happen is to keep writing, get the words out.)  And if you haven’t experienced this, I hope you never do. My world became so much smaller that day. They were everywhere. If they weren’t, they could’ve been around the next corner, or the next one, or the next one.

So, no. I don’t like closed spaces–they remind me of that time when the room I was in suddenly became too small for the memories it carries.

But what does water have to do with anything? It has to do with everything. I can still hear the drip, drip, drip of the bathroom sink I didn’t have time to shut all the way off. (Good thing I didn’t because when it was all done, I cleaned myself up that much faster. Ironic, right?) And I know you’re thinking, “What about the drowning?” So am I. This is a more of a “fill-in-the-blank association” than a direct correlation.

You know how people get you to open your mouth when you don’t want to? They pinch your nose closed.

And I tried, I tried so hard to keep breathing with my mouth closed and my nose pinched. But things started swirling and spinning and fading, and my lungs were begging for air. So, I opened my mouth and started gasping for air, which is exactly what they wanted. (But this isn’t really the time to discuss that.)

So my brain did the math and concluded that “gasping for air” plus “struggling” plus “water dripping” must be what drowning feels like. I became a fish out of water: the Little Mermaid never wanting to go back in the sea, never wanting to feel that feeling again. Even though I know it’s irrational because a) I wasn’t drowning and b) I’m a good swimmer. But, hey, there’s nothing rational about any of this.

I’ve tried so hard to not let my past define me, become me, influence me, but it’s so hard when so much in your life since that day has been directly or indirectly affected by it. It’s so hard to cut ties with the thing that is pulling you down on your bad days when it’s also the thing that allows you to fly on your good days. Because on my bad days, the pain in my chest, my racing heart when I remember this day remind me I’m still alive.

I know none of this makes sense. But I also know that none of this is permanent: this pain, this life, these memories.

I went on a road trip this weekend. And twelve hours in the car gives you a lot of time to look out the window and think. It also gives you a lot of time to compare unfamiliar places in the dark and in the light.

Unfamiliar places are a lot less creepy during the day, they’re a lot more beautiful. But there’s also something about the night that is just as beautiful. 12983928_10209209651944281_5671617332364340475_o

I took this photo as we were driving over the Ohio River, the lights of some city in Pennsylvania can be seen clearly.

This is what is so beautiful about the dark: it’s the light that can be seen shining through at a distance.

I may be in a dark place now, but this is not unfamiliar territory. I’ve walked this road before; I’ve sailed these seas; I’ve made my way out of this maze too many times to count.

I can see the light up ahead, and with God’s help, I’ll make it through this.

 

Rape Joke

“Hey, did you hear the one about the girl who got raped?”

The punchline is that she was 13 years old.

The punchline is that he slammed her locker shut every day because he liked her.

The punchline is that when he asked her out, she said, “No.”

The punchline is that he decided to take matters into his own hands, along with the hands of four of his closest friends, to show her what she would be missing.

After it was over, the punchline tried not to make eye contact with her reflection in the bathroom mirror. She tried to clean herself off and hide the bruises shaped like hands and teeth as best as she could. She exited the bathroom, walked down the hall of the deserted middle school, opened her locker (half expecting it to be slammed shut immediately, and when it wasn’t, breathed a sigh of relief). She exited the building, lonely footsteps echoing behind her, got into her dad’s car, and pretended it didn’t happen—everything was fine.

The rape joke is that he sat behind her in English class. His breath on her neck was the only thing she could focus on, making it very hard to concentrate on whatever work of art they read that last month of class, especially that first one: that poem by Emily Dickinson, “My life is like a loaded gun.” 7 years later, she thought it would be fun to take an Emily Dickinson class. She’d be fine. And she was, until that poem when she found herself transported back to that moment.

The rape joke is that her professor asked her what she thought it was a metaphor for. She didn’t know how to say she thought about all the memories this poem brought back, how it could be a metaphor for all of that. “I think it’s just about a loaded gun,” she said.

The rape joke is the way he didn’t threaten her, at least not really. He just said, “no one will believe you.”

The rape joke is that earlier that year, she was taught in Health class how to not get raped. Fat lot of good that lesson did her: she wasn’t drunk; she wasn’t wearing revealing clothes; she wasn’t outside, at night, alone.

The rape joke is that his locker was right next to hers because life likes cruel irony and alphabetical order is the most convenient way to organize everybody (a terrible thing really), and he still slammed her locker shut every day.

The rape joke is that on the last day of school, when they both opened their lockers at the same time, he didn’t slam hers shut. Instead, he whispered in her ear, “At least I didn’t get you pregnant.” And then he dared to smirk: an insult to injury, really. Maybe if you had, people would believe me when I’m ready to tell, when I’m ready to stop pretending this didn’t happen, she thought to herself. Which is a terrible thing to think, but when you’re 13, you sometimes think terrible things.

The rape joke is that the first time she told somebody who wasn’t a close friend or family, they responded, “Don’t feel bad. It could’ve happened to anybody.” Translation: Lucky her; close call, everyone else who’s last name is similar.

The rape joke is that a few years later, she had to break up with her boyfriend because of this joke. Because every time he put his arm around her, she was transported back to that bathroom. And even though he knew what had happened, he didn’t understand she needed space. But she blamed herself really for believing she could be loved in the first place.

For the longest time, she thought she was going crazy. And she was.

No offense.

No offense (that it happened to her).

No offense (that she buried the pain so deep, it took cutting her skin open to feel anything).

No offense (that the words said would echo in her mind for years to come: Bitch. Slut. You’ll never be loved. You don’t have to cut hard enough to leave a scar in order to draw blood).

No offense (that she went crazy, that it took her years to find her voice again but eventually she found it when she started writing about monsters and darkness, caves and loneliness).

No offense (it took a long time for her to forgive).

No offense (it’s just a joke).

The punchline is that she’s not the only one this has happened to. Among her acquaintance group, she knows of at least six others. That number grows every year, standing in solidarity, alone together.

The punchline is that she knows guys this has happened to. Nobody believes them, either.

The punchline is that we have to feel pain to become stronger, but does it have to hurt this bad?

The punchline is that our past doesn’t define us, but it does help make us who we are today.

But no offense.

The rape joke is funny because the punchline is me.

The punchline is at least I was pretty enough for it happen to me, but then how come sometimes it makes me feel so ugly?

The punchline is that this joke doesn’t define who I am.

“Come on. Lighten up. It was just a joke.”

If it’s just a joke, shouldn’t I be laughing?

It took me years to really truly laugh again.

I’m finally laughing again.

But not at this because nothing about this is funny, especially when it happens to you.

 So, yeah. I’ve heard the one about the Girl who got raped.

Have you? 

Anorexia: The Long Walk Back

This past week was National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and I wasn’t afraid to share my story. But there was a time when I was afraid to admit that I had an eating disorder. There was a time when I denied vehemently that there was anything wrong. There was a time when I’d rather suffer in silence, waste away quietly than admit to battling a demon with so much stigma attached. There was a time when the greatest compliment I could receive was, “You look so skinny!” There was a time when I ate nothing but a few crackers a day for weeks on end. There was a time when my roaring stomach threatened to eat me alive.

There was a time when I gave up. There was a time that my whole life came crashing down—like, if my life were a chain of dominoes, I could have labeled each one: Sexual Assault, Depression, Self-harm, Anorexia. One domino fell, causing a chain reaction that caused each subsequent domino to fall, completing the circuit, illuminating the sign: ANOREXIA.

But then something changed, subtle at first. There wasn’t some lightbulb “AHA” moment. I didn’t wake up one day and say, “Today’s the day I get my life back together.” It was gradual, so slow and quiet that I can’t even definitively tell you when I began the journey toward recovery.

But I can tell you the day I ate three full meals again: September 24, 2013.

Since that day, it’s been a long, slow walk back to healthy, maybe even a crawl.

It’s been all about finding Happy Mediums, and learning how to deal with the lasting effects (the stretch marks, the cold hands, the extra dietary supplements, the heart that sometimes beats too fast).

When I first started eating again, it didn’t take long for me to gain the weight back I had lost. It also didn’t take me long to gain the “and then some” people like to warn you about.

During my battle with Anorexia, I cared too much about how I looked that didn’t care how I lost the weight. During my first stages of recovery, I didn’t care enough so I gained more weight than I should have. Now, I’m left figuring out where the middle is: how much caring is too much and how much is not enough? How do I lose the weight I need to lose in order to be my best self without letting it—my appearance—consume my life?

I don’t really have the answer, but I think I may have a solution that might work best for me.

I have found that I prefer to recover the same way I enter a pool: easing in.

Some people like jumping right into a freezing cold pool and sending their body into shock. I don’t. I prefer sticking my toes in, then my foot, then my leg, then slowly climbing down the ladder until I’m up to my shoulders, and then finally, an hour later, putting my head under the water, maybe.

If I’m going to reach my goals of being happy and healthy, I have to ease in. Starting with my worst relationship to date: food.

I have to ease into a healthy diet, starting to eat better a little bit at a time, until it becomes second nature. Then after I maintain that, then I can add in the exercise a little bit at a time until that becomes second nature.

And I know this doesn’t work for everybody, and it’s not supposed to–recovery is different for every person.

But I know me. I know that the analogy of dominoes may have worked once upon a time, and it may work sometimes if I want to make my story simple.

Unfortunately, life isn’t simple. There’s nothing simple about Eating disorders and Mental Illness. Because eating disorders are as just as much mental as they are physical. So in reality, there are no cascading dominoes. Instead, it’s a tangled web of events, interweaving in and out of each other until each string is indistinguishable from the next.

My identity is somewhere in that web.

Recovery is untangling that web, trying to find who I really am and who I want to be.

It’s about learning to listen to the voices around you from those who love you, instead of the ones inside you trying to beat you down.

It’s knowing that you’ll fail sometimes and choosing to get up anyway.

The road from Anorexia to Recovery is long and hard. I have fallen down many times, and I know I will probably fall down a few more along the way.

And that’s ok.

Because the journey is a slow walk, and I haven’t walked as far as I would have liked to 2 ½ years into it.

And sometimes I get impatient because I know that at the end of this journey, beauty is waiting.

But where I am now, that’s beautiful, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Open Letter to Wide-eyed freshmen and eager seniors

Sitting at the reception desk this morning, watching all the new students stream into the building for their first day of classes, my heart aches a little bit. I want to be a part of it all: the hustle and the bustle, the reunion of friends after a summer hiatus, the meeting of professors and new classmates.

It is when I look at my bank account and realize I didn’t spend hundreds of dollars on books and supplies that it hit me I’m not a part of it anymore—college life continues without me. I can stay on campus as long as I want, but I still won’t be an active participant: my friends will go to class and will leave me sitting alone. And they did. And they do.

I am now that alumni that refuses to leave, the one who, maybe, doesn’t even know how.

So, I sat in the café for four hours after my shift ended, taking it all in—the sights, the smells, the sounds—like a person on a diet, trying to quell their cravings by immersing their senses. Or, better yet, a reader who lives vicariously through the characters in a favorite book.

Looking at the sea of faces in front of me, I don’t recognize half of them. The ones I do, I say ‘Hello’ to. The ones I know well, I hug. The ones I don’t, I say a prayer for, asking God to bless their time at college like he did for me.

I’m a whole different person now than I was when I started college—thank God for that.

I was a wide-eyed freshman who thought she knew everything, and somehow along the way I turned into an alumnus who realizes she still has a lot to learn. Life would be pretty boring if I knew everything.

One day, you wide-eyed freshmen will turn into eager seniors who are just ready to be done: ready to be done with all the all-nighters, ready to be done with the 2 am fire alarms, ready to be done seeing that one professor you just don’t agree with.

Embrace the time you have in college. Trust me when I say that someday that ‘one day’ will turn into tomorrow. Tomorrow comes sooner than you think.

Wide-eyed freshman, there will be at least a few times when you doubt everything. The first will come when you meet someone whose life challenges everything you thought you knew. You may go to a small, Christian, liberal arts school, but the people here are as diverse as NYC. You will meet someone who causes you to question every belief you learned growing up. Embrace these people. Learn from them. Listen to them with an open mind. It’s only after your beliefs have been truly questioned that you can stand firm.

I believe what I believe not because it’s what my parents believe. I believe what I believe because I have questioned.

Wide-eyed freshman, you will doubt yourself again when your senior year draws to a close, and you wonder if you are going to make it in the ‘real world.’ You will. The skills you have learned along the way have prepared you for this moment: you are eager to learn, you can cooperate well with others, you’ve learned how to manage your time. The things you haven’t learned yet, you will learn along the way.

You will doubt yourself many times between these two and many times after. But, remember this: there are people around you cheering you on, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.

Wide-eyed freshman, it might take a while, but you will find the place where you fit. You will find friends you encourage you, challenge you, laugh with you, cry with you, rejoice with you. Hang on to them. The friends you make in college will be some of the best friends you ever have.

Wide-eyed freshman, there will come a day when you stop feeling homesick. Don’t forget about your family. Write them, call them, text them. Let them know how you’re doing. Don’t be afraid to tell them about the hard things, the parts of yourself you’d rather keep hidden. You will make mistakes. It’s ok. We all do.

Eager seniors, you’ve done it! You’ve made it this far, and now you’re ready to be done. I was too, and now I realize how much I’m going to miss (not syllabus week, or finals week, or the all-nighters trying to write the paper that’s due tomorrow that I procrastinated on). I’m going to miss seeing my friends every day. I’m going to miss having conversations that challenge me to grow as a person and an intellectual. I’m going to miss taking time away from studying to go to Taco Bell (because sometimes taking a break is the best thing you can do).

Eager seniors, don’t forget what you’ve learned along the way. Dream big. You will do great things with the talents you’ve been forgiven. When you become rich and famous, don’t forget about the people who helped you along the way. Don’t forget to keep learning, exploring. There is so much world out there to explore, so many different kinds of people to meet, so many cultures to experience.

The best advice I ever received came from one of my favorite professors. One day he said to my class, “Trust me.

Wait, don’t. Don’t trust me. Question everything.”

I went from a wide-eyed freshman to an eager senior to a college alumnus who is still trying to figure her life out. And that’s ok. Because the more I question, the more I learn; the more I learn, the more risks I take; the more risks I take, the harder I fall; the harder I fall, the stronger I become; and the stronger I become, a better human I will be.

That is what college is all about: becoming a better human.

I stayed on campus for four hours after my shift ended, trying to take everything I could in because I’m still trying to become a better human. And the people I met in college have helped me along the way.

continue reading: Unsolicited Advice to Incoming Freshman and Returning Students