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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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 Have No Interest in Doing a TED Talk With You.

“Wait, let me explain,” you said as you grabbed my arm in the store the other day.

I’ve seen you many times in the last few years because while all your counterparts have moved away, you still live in the town we grew up in.

And I thought I was over it. I thought I was because I’ve looked you in the eyes and told you that I forgive you, I’ve helped you pick up things that I caused you to drop when I quite literally ran into you, I’ve stood in front of you in the checkout line as I told you what God’s done in my life.

I thought I was over it. I thought I was.

But I’m not–all these years I’ve been repressing and it’s been festering. And all it took (and I say all in the most sarcastic way possible because it’s not a small problem; it’s a huge problem) was being sexually harassed every day for three months for the problem that I’ve been ignoring to explode.

So, no. I’m not interested in what you have to say. I don’t care for your explanations and your smack-in-the-face apologies. Your you wouldn’t have PTSD if you had just killed yourself like we wanted explanations for your you started it because you wouldn’t go out with me behavior.

And you are absolutely mistaken if you think I’m going to do a TED talk with you. I know this one woman did this one time, and maybe she’s a far better person than I. I can put up with you: I can see you in the store and be fine. Heck, I can even sort of stand to see you in my church like I did a few months ago (although, secretly on the inside, I’m glad you haven’t come back).  But, I have no interest in hearing your side. At least not right now.

“Wait, let me explain.”

No, let me explain.

Let me explain how much what you and your “friends” did to me ten years ago has impacted my life. (And I use the term “Friends” lightly because from what I saw throughout high school is that after what you did to me, you five never talked to each other again. A guilty conscience is easier to bear alone.)

Let me explain in no uncertain terms how much I’m hurting right now because I thought I was fine. And then my therapist said, “Actually, you’re traumatized, but one part of you tried so hard to block it, and the other part of you remembered all of it.”

And he was right: I am traumatized. Because even as I sit here writing this, I feel like I’m about to break. I’m trying to keep the tears inside my eyes at least until I finish this. Because it’s really hard to write when all you want to do is cry, when all you’d rather do is break.

Because I am traumatized to the point of being suicidal, and the biggest problem with this right now is that anytime I get triggered in any way (That is, as soon as I’m reminded of what you did to me), I want to drive into a tree.

Which means, right now, my therapist won’t let me go to the gym. Because every time I go, especially by myself, I end up sitting on a bench for an hour or two solely so I won’t get behind the wheel of my car. I shouldn’t have to protect myself from myself.

So, I’m not interested in your explanation, in your you’re making mountains out of molehills because I am not.

I haven’t slept through the night in who knows how long because I keep having nightmares about school bathrooms and dripping faucets and hands all over my body. About bite marks and being choked. About things in my mouth and words in my ear and things in my body that no was unable to stop.

And I am fighting so hard to be ok. I’m fighting so hard to prove you wrong, to rewrite the definition you gave me.

I’m not interested in your explanation because the truth is, for so long, I blamed it on myself. Sometimes I still do.

If only I..

If only I..

If only I..

And the truth is: it’s been a week since I self-harmed (the second time I stopped. The first time was seven years ago, but then the shit hit the fan). Because I would cut myself open in the places you touched me when I felt your hands on my body because physical pain has always been easier for me to deal with than emotional pain.

And the truth is: I’m hurting. I’m broken.

And I don’t want to be. I don’t want to feel this way. I don’t want to keep being reminded of my past: I don’t want to have to worry that some guy touching my hand will send me into a panic. I don’t want to have to worry that some guy in the store looking at me for too long will make me want to drive into a tree. I don’t want to have to worry that I’ll have a panic attack in the waiting room as I’m waiting for therapy because some guy on the phone has a voice that sounds like yours.

But that’s where I am right now: simultaneously living in the past and present, unable to look to the future because I’m not sure I’m going to make it that far.

Because I feel broken and dirty, discarded and used.

And here’s where the disconnect is between reality and what I perceive to be true: none of the sentence above is true. But that’s how I feel.

That’s how you made me feel.

I’m not interested in your can I send you flowers because I remember what it was like explanation because I’ve tried for so many years to forget.

But all I did was repress, and now the dam has burst, and I’m sitting here writing this alone, feeling everything, wanting to feel none of it. Because sometimes I’d rather be dead than feel how I’m feeling in this moment (which is why I’m in group therapy right now: to learn how to manage this moment of emotion long enough to work through the larger issue at hand). And the larger issue at hand is how you caused me to view myself.

Because the way I view myself is broken and ugly and worth very little, completely unlovable and unredeemable.

And I know that’s not true because I have a God who’s made me so much more. Who died so that my red could become white. Who loves me so much He literally bore it all for me.

But, here’s the thing: I sent a text to one of my best friends tonight, the one who about two months ago started going to the gym with me so I wouldn’t have to go alone. I asked her “when I’m ready to go to the gym again, would you want to go with me?”

She replied: “Absolutely! Is that even a question?”

It shouldn’t be a question, but it is.

It is because sometimes I think I’m the worst person in the world because of what happened to me. Sometimes I think I’m the worst person in the world for telling people when I’m hurting. Sometimes people have made me feel like the worst person in the world for the way they responded when I told them I was hurting.

And here’s the thing: I’m trying so hard. So hard.

But I am so tired. Because the truth is, right now, I can’t go out in public without being reminded of what’s happened to me. And maybe someday, it won’t hurt. But right now, right now in this very moment, it does.

And I’m not interested in your you were better off dead explanations because the truth is: I’m not. Because I’m not scared to tell my story, to tell what you did to me. I’m not scared to tell people that I have PTSD, and as a result have Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety, and am suicidal.

You don’t scare me. You hurt me in profound and deep ways. In ways that I’m going to be working through for a while.

What scares me is people thinking that they have to walk through life alone. What scares me is people not reaching out, not asking for help. What scares me is that somedays, I see myself heading back that direction.

And I’m so so so thankful for the people in my life that won’t let me do that. I’m so so so thankful for those people that say, “Hey. Let’s go get lunch.” I’m so thankful for the ones who don’t let me isolate myself, who won’t let me hold everything in.

Because they, they’re the ones whose explanations I want the most. They’re the ones whose your not a terrible person for feeling this way reminders are the ones that are helping me.

And one day, my past won’t define me. Because I am so much more than what you did to me.

(But right now, in this moment, it hurts so much.)

“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.

Flashbacks of Memories

We like to go through life pretending we’re fine, that everything’s all good and dandy. I do, too. When people ask me how I’m doing, I quickly reply “Fine” because I hope they won’t poke and prod at the facade that I’ve spent so long trying to build. I mean, sure, I’ll make a Facebook post about something I’m struggling with, or whatever, but that’s nothing: I’m still hiding behind this persona of someone who likes to pretend she has it all together.

The truth is, I don’t. The truth is that on Friday I had THE worst panic attack/flashback I’ve ever had in my life. The truth is that it’s still going on, and I don’t know how to make it stop. Because the thing about adulthood is that I can’t just curl up into a ball, wrap a blanket tight around me, and stay in bed all day. I have to go to work. I have to carpe diem and all that jazz.

And it hurts. It hurts so much. It hurts because I don’t want to feel broken. It hurts because all I want to do is be happy and smiley and be someone that people fall in love with. Who could ever love someone who’s broken?

But right now, all I want to do die, not like actually, but I just.. I have this feeling. This uncontrollable panic, this unappeasable dread. I wrote a blog post a few months ago in which I describe my rape. I’m going to tell it again in part here (you can read the full version here). I’m going to tell it again because this is what I felt happening on Friday. This is why I’m still feeling the lingering effects, why my heart is still trying to escape through my ears, and why my stomach is stuck in my throat.

The first time it happened was a Monday at 4pm in a school bathroom. The second time it happened was a Friday at 6:45 in a college workout room. The first time it happened, I was just leaving the bathroom stall and had expected my locker to be slammed shut not two minutes before. The second time it happened, I was just about to finish my workout, trying to convince myself that I could stick it out a little while longer.

I was already on edge.

The first time it happened, I hadn’t seen them walk in. I heard the door open, but I thought it was just a teacher. The second time it happened, I saw them walk in. I heard the door click after they swiped their IDs, and I could see them when they walked in.

The first time it happened, I was standing at the bathroom sink, washing my hands, when they snuck up behind me and grabbed me, putting a hand over my mouth before I could even muffle out a “No.” The second time it happened, I was lying on an exercise mat, doing my ab workout, when it started to sneak up on me, wrapping me in my past before I could ground myself in the present.

The first time it happened, I wanted to be anywhere but there, so the drip drip drip of the bathroom sink that I didn’t have time to turn off became the ocean waves, and the nose plugging until I opened my mouth to gasp for air–which is what they wanted, an open mouth–became me drowning. The second time it happened, I wanted to be anywhere but there, but I powered through. I hopped on the treadmill and tried to outrun the memories that were closing in faster, which is what they wanted anyway–for me to remember forever.

The first time it happened, there were 10 hands, 5 tongues, too many teeth, and 5 I-didn’t-want-them-anywhere-near-me. The second time it happened, it was just me, alone in the hall, surrounded by echoes of memories.

The first time it happened, I was 13, almost 14. The second time it happened, I was 23, just barely 23.

I can tell you so many things about the first time it happened: who they were, what I was wearing, what they smelled like, how long it lasted.

  1. It doesn’t matter who they were, but I’ve learned to say their names.
  2. A hoodie and a pair of jeans.
  3. They smelled like sweat and sawdust and orange juice.
  4. It lasted 15 minutes, but it felt like an eternity.

I can tell you so many things about the second time (because that’s what it feels like. It feels like it happened a second time, and I wish I knew why): who I was, what I was wearing, what it smelled like, how long it lasted:

  1. It doesn’t matter who I was, but it matters who I am right now, even if I don’t know who I am. Maybe they were right when they told me I was a bitch, a slut, and called me worthless.  I’m hurting, and I wish I wasn’t.
  2. Workout leggings, a sports bra, and a smelly tank top.
  3. I smelled like sweat and sawdust and peaches.
  4. It lasted an hour and a half, but the first 20 minutes felt like 20 seconds. And I guess, technically, it’s still going. 

I can tell you that the first one ended with me getting off the bathroom floor, cleaning myself off, and not telling anyone for a year. I can tell you that the second one ended with me collapsing onto a bench, pacing back and forth, and finally telling someone about half an hour in.

I can tell you that the first one lead to self-harm and an eating disorder. I can tell you that the second one lead to finger-nail shaped crescents in my right arm and this feeling of nausea that won’t subside.

I can tell you that for all the things I remember about the first one, there are some I don’t remember. I hope I never do.

I can tell you that the panic attack/flashback I had was full of the worst possible I can’t remembers.

I can tell you that on Friday, I’m so glad I ran into a friend who was willing to walk with me to the locker room, willing to sit with me and talk with me until I was calm enough to go home.

Because I can tell you that on Friday just walking down the hall towards the locker room that reminds me of a bathroom was enough for me to feel like I was going to throw up and pass out.

The last blog post ended with me talking about forgiveness, and healing, and how God loves me, and I’m beautiful and strong and worthy of being loved.

I can tell you that this one does not. This one ends with me being unsure if I am actually healing. This one ends with me still feeling nauseous and panicky, and maybe I can’t forgive them quite yet, and maybe I’m not beautiful or strong or worthy of being loved. Because I definitely don’t feel very strong right now, and I must definitely don’t love myself. This ends with me feeling oh-so-very weak.

But maybe that’s ok. Maybe it is.

Right now, all I can take are baby steps. Yesterday, I spent the same amount of time at the gym as I normally do, except I spent 45 minutes trying to convince myself that I could walk up those stairs I felt closing in on me on Friday; I spent 10 minutes working out before it all became too much, and then I spent 20 more minutes convincing myself I could walk back to the locker room.

Tonight, I did the same thing over again: except I only spent 30 minutes trying to convince myself; I spent 20 minutes working out, and I spent 20 minutes sitting in the rain, hoping there would be a rainbow.

And I waited and waited and waited, and there was a rainbow.

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And then I cried, because I’m in a tough spot right now: the thunderstorms are coming in, and they’re bringing an overwhelming flood.

But God. God creates rainbows.

I don’t have a rainbow right now. But I do have baby-steps. And I hope to the God who loves me and has provided me with the best friends, that that is enough.

 

Dear Anonymous

 

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You left me this comment on my most vulnerable blog yet–the post in which I describe, in detail, how you raped me. You left it nine years to the day that you raped me, and the problem is, I don’t know which one of you left it. I have my theories because I’ve been keeping tabs on all of you. A few years ago, I even messaged one of you saying I forgive you, to which you replied, “I’m sorry.”

Over the years, I’ve seen you in stores; I’ve watched you pop up into my Facebook feed as a mutual friend of ours comments on something you post; I’ve watched you pop into my life at the worst moments, and I’ve had many sleepless nights because of what you did.

But here’s the thing: I’m not bitter. I don’t hate you. I hope God works in your life the way God has worked in mine.

You see, for years I struggled with my self-worth. I struggled with self-harm and an eating disorder. But God stepped in and showed me how much I was worth. He’s rescued me. He saved me from myself when I attempted suicide, and He carries me when my depression gets so bad that I feel like I can’t move.

Two months ago, I saw one of you in Target, and by ‘saw’ I mean, “ran into,” literally. I ran into you so hard that you dropped everything you were holding. I stopped to help you pick it up, like God stopped to help me pick up the pieces of myself that you left on that bathroom floor nine years ago.

I hope one day you help someone else pick up their broken pieces. We’re all broken; we all need healing, and we all need those who can help us carry our burdens.

When I first got that comment, it didn’t bother me, but it chipped away at me over the hours before I went to bed that night. It resulted in a long, sleepless night filled with panic attacks and what ifsWhat if you find out where I live? What if you show up? What if it happens again? What if nobody ever loves me because of what you did to me?

And then, what if it doesn’t matter?

It doesn’t matter because I’m not scared of you anymore. I’m especially not scared of someone who can’t even post their name. I’m not scared because God loves me despite what I’ve been through, despite what will happen in my future. He loves me even if no one else ever will.

Two months ago, a few days after I ran into you in Target, a few days after I looked into your hazel eyes and memories came flooding back, and I felt like I was on that bathroom floor all over again, a few days after I wrote that blog post you felt the need to comment on, I was in church.

One minute, I was singing some songs, and the next instant, in the blink of an eye, I was sobbing at the prayer rail, my dad’s hand in mine. All the pain and shame and worthlessness I’ve felt over the years came flooding over me. In the next instant, it was all gone, and a voice said to me, “You’ll be ok. I’ve got this.” In that instant, an overwhelming peace came over me, and I sensed God in a way I hadn’t felt Him in years.

I wish I could describe that feeling better for you. I hope one day you can experience it. And I don’t know if you believe in God or even want anything to do with God, but I hope He moves in your life like He’s moved in mine.

I know one day you’ll see this, because I can block you on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, but I know you still read my blog. You keep tabs on me like I keep tabs on you, sometimes.

Since you read my blog, dear anonymous, I hope you read this too: I forgive you, not because people told me to, but because I’m called to. I’m praying for you. I hope one day you’ll understand what love really means. I hope one day you’ll find God.

And I hope that one day, you’ll forgive yourself.

 

 

The Recovery of Memories

It was a Monday around 4 pm. There were not many people left at school since the after-school period ended around 20 minutes earlier. I can’t remember why I was there that late. There may have been an event I was helping set up for. I may have been working on an art project or a tech project or another time of project. Whatever the reason, it was late. The school was mostly deserted. I had told my dad that I probably wouldn’t be ready until about 4:20, which was fine. My locker had become extremely disorganized, and since there was only about a month left in school, I decided that those twenty minutes could be spent cleaning out and organizing my locker.

When I got to my locker, I was expecting it to be slammed shut, like it was every time I opened it. There was the boy, I’ll call him Z because that’s not what his name starts with , whose locker was close to mine. (darned alphabetical order) He slammed my locker shut every single time because apparently, that’s how middle school boys express their affection. Yuck.

This time, it wasn’t slammed shut. was nowhere in sight, although I could have sworn that I had seen him a few minutes earlier. I wasn’t eager to see him. Earlier that day he had asked me out, and I had said no because a) who wants to date someone who slams your locker shut and b) I had a serious crush on my then best guy friend.

About two minutes into cleaning out my Spanish binder, I went to el baño. I went in, and a few seconds later, I heard the door open and close, but I figured it was just a teacher who was freshening up before driving home. As I exited the stall, I approached the sink. But before I could even put soap on my hands, I was grabbed from behind. A sweaty hand covered my mouth before I could even muffle out a no.

I knew in that instant what was about to happen. Z had brought along four of his closest friends because he wanted to show me what I was going to be missing, I guess. One of them held me down while the other four pulled up my hoodie and t-shirt and pulled down my jeans. There were four sets of hands grabbing everywhere and everything, pinching and grazing, groping and stroking. There was teeth biting, hair-pulling, name-calling, a heart pounding and a thirteen-year-old girl imagining that she was on the beach because she wanted to be anywhere but there.

And when I refused to open my mouth, someone pinched my nose closed so hard it left a bruise. Somebody forced their tongue down my throat and then something that was definitely not a tongue. (the one time my gag reflex refused to work, of course. Life has a cruel sense of irony.) There were hands around my throat, warm breath on my skin, stars in my eyes, my hands were wrapped around their whatever-you-want to call thems, there was one between my legs. And I must have blacked out because I can’t remember everything. I don’t know that I want to.

It’s been nine years, and I can still remember the words they called me, what they told me: Slut. Bitch. Worthless. No one will ever love you. No one will ever believe you. 

It’s been nine years, and sometimes I can’t believe it happened. But then I wake up in a cold-sweat, and I know it did.

I don’t know how long it lasted–it felt like hours but it was probably fifteen minutes, tops. As quickly as they started, they finished. After they left, I cleaned my self off as best I could. The sink was still running from before because I never got the chance to turn it off. I was able to hide the evidence of what happened under my clothes. The bruises didn’t form until the next day. The ones I couldn’t hide under my clothes got hidden by makeup. 

I walked down the empty hallway, opened my locker, picked up my backpack, walked out the door, climbed into my dad’s car, and never said a word. 

He still slammed my locker shut. He still sat behind me in English class. His breath on my neck was enough to make my heart shudder. He still smirked at me because we shared a secret that he thought I’d never tell. On the last day of school while we were cleaning out our lockers, he whispered to me, “At least I didn’t get you pregnant.” like that makes everything better.

I didn’t tell anybody because who would believe me? I didn’t tell anybody because maybe I brought this on myself. Maybe I shouldn’t have turned him down. Maybe I should have said no when the rape started. But in the moment, I didn’t because a simple ‘no’ had brought the whole thing on.

I didn’t tell anybody about the self-harm or the eating disorder, about the cutting open of the skin where I was forcibly touched, about the wanting to make myself less because maybe then I would be invisible.

I didn’t tell anybody until the first flashback. My then boyfriend (who was the best guy friend I had a crush on) snuck up behind me, and I freaked. It was at that point that I knew I had to tell somebody.

It was at that moment that healing began.

Healing has a way of sneaking up on you. It starts off with little things: wearing turtle necks and scarves, starting to wear your hair longer, eating one meal and then two and then three. It’s not wanting to throw yourself off the fifth floor of a parking garage when you’ve always wanted to before.

It’s messaging Z on Facebook telling him that you forgive him. It’s not freaking out when you see him in public. It’s smiling at him because it throws him off. It’s helping him pick whatever it is he dropped when you ran into him because you were texting. It’s looking into those hazel eyes, having a flashback, and still telling him to have a nice day.

It’s knowing that despite all this, despite what I’ve been through, God loves me through it all. It’s knowing that on the days when the memories of where I’ve been are too much, God will carry me through life.

It’s knowing that I am beautiful. I am worthy. I am a surivor. It’s knowing that God has big plans for my life, and that someday, somebody will love me for who I am.

 

Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces in the age of Donald Trump 

It’s really hard being a rape victim when Donald Trump opens his mouth and says what he says about women.

——–

As I’m writing this, it’s 12:39 AM. And I’m having a panic attack–it’s not the first one I’ve had in the past few months, but it’s certainly been the worst.

It started because of a video I saw on the news, but it didn’t start right away (they almost never do). They develop over time, like a romantic crush: all of a sudden it hits you, and you’re like, “Oh, no.”

It started because of a video about Donald Trump. You know the one. The one he dubs “locker-room talk,” a “chat between guys.” But, in reality, it was more like the opening sequence of a sexual assault scene.

Which, unfortunately, is almost exactly like how my rape played out.

Picture this: a guy grabs an unsuspecting girl from behind while she’s washing her hands and punishes her for daring to reject him.

Don’t want to picture it? Yeah, neither did I.

But I had no real warning, no way to prepare myself. One minute, I was watching coverage on Hurricane Matthew, and the next I’m listening to Donald Trump make a lewd, rapey comment. The only warning was “Next tonight, we have an audio tape of a conversation Donald Trump had about a woman,” which I guess in hindsight should have been enough.

It’s now 1 AM, and I’m still fighting the waning panic that came from the unexpected audio clip.

Two hours ago, the hour-long panic was a lot worse than it is now. Now it’s a dull ache, then it was a roaring freight train. It was feeling heavy and light all at the same time–like two wings trying to carry a boulder weighing a ton. And I know that doesn’t really make sense, but imagine how you feel when you have a fever, simultaneously feeling hot and cold at the same time. It was like that, but it was like my person was trying to fly, but my body was weighing it down. My mind was in the past but my body was in the present, and the disconnect between the two created a whole body tingling sensation underneath my skin of cement.

And I was anxious and achy and dizzy and teary, and a million other things at once that I don’t have words for, but I wish I did.

I wish I could convey to you how it feels to have a panic attack, especially if you don’t understand, especially if you constantly bemoan the “sensitive millennials and their need for safe spaces and trigger warnings.”

To those of you like that: I pray to God that someone you love never goes through something so traumatic it changes the way they interact with society.

I wish I could adequately explain to you how it feels to have a panic attack because they’re exhausting, and they make sleep impossible and coming back to reality is an ordeal in itself.

And, oh my gosh, how I wanted to self-harm so badly last night. Because the sensation of a razor would have provided more physical pressure than tracing “I’m ok” over and over again with my finger. But trace away I did–130 times.

And when that didn’t work, I wrapped myself up tightly in my blanket, arms wrapped across my chest, knees bent, rocking back and forth, humming to myself, like a stereotypical old-timey insane asylum resident.

But I’m not crazy. I need something to ground me in the now. To remind my time-traveling mind that it’s safe with my body in the present.

Oftentimes the added pressure does the trick, which is why I like hugs. But if the pressure fails, I look in the mirror as the last resort because nothing draws my mind back to the present like a staring contest with yourself.

It’s 1:38 AM. Three and a half hours later, the panic is gone. Three and a half hours that I’ll never get back, where I could’ve been sleeping.

It could’ve maybe been prevented. Maybe not completely, but I could’ve been warned, could’ve prepared myself.

“The media’s not going to warn you if they’re going to discuss something like this.” They warn people when they’re going to show graphic videos or images where there’s blood or gunfire.

Why is this different?

Safe spaces and trigger warnings aren’t to stop us from talking about tough things, being challenged, being uncomfortable, and engaging in society. They exist to save us from ourselves.

You can’t be challenged if you don’t feel safe.

I want to be challenged. But I’m scared to be challenged if people are quick to dismiss the racial and gender issues in the country just because they aren’t part of them.

“There’s no race issue.” Says the white man.

“There’s no rape culture.” Says the man.

Donald Trump is rape culture personified. He can say whatever he wants and do whatever he wants when it concerns women because he’s a wealthy man.

Rape Culture is thinking women owe you something for being nice to them or being a man or being beautiful.

Rape Culture is grading women on their waist and bust size.

Rape Culture is calling women you don’t like “pigs and slobs.”

Rape Culture is ascribing worth to a woman based on how attractive they are.

Rape Culture is being jailed for six months after committing a sexual assault because “he has a bright future ahead of him.”

(I used to think I had a bright future ahead of me. Now I wonder if my past will ever stop blocking the sun.)

Rape Victim is 1 in 4.

Rape Victim is someone you know.

Rape Victim is afraid to go out in public because “not all guys” but enough do.

Rape Victim is scrolling through Twitter realizing how many people there are just like her.

Rape Victim knows that there’s more to being safe than having access to guns. And right now, we don’t feel safe because our past continues to slap us in the face whenever Trump speaks.

And all we want to do is move healthily into the future without being reminded of our past.

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.

This Same God

“Look me in the eyes. I’ve always liked your eyes.”

His words echoed in my ears as I relived those minutes and over again.

They don’t tell you how much it’s going to affect you if it happens to you. Nobody tells you how you’ll start to see hollowed out memories, a broken down shell of a body, a ghost of the person you used to be. They don’t tell you how it will affect everything about you—the way you move, the way you talk, the way you act, the way you are, who you are (you never really liked yourself anyway, so really it’s a blessing, because it gives you an actual physical reason to change who you are).

Nobody tells you any of this, but they do tell you how to prevent it, though. Thank goodness for that because 1 in 5 women will be raped in their life, so clearly teaching women how not to get raped is clearly working.

“Look me in the eyes. I’ve always liked your eyes.” Trust me when I say that’s the last thing you want to do when you are being violated in the worst way.

His words echoed in my ears as I relived those minutes over and over again—a reminder of one more thing I’d have to change about myself to try and forget, to try and stop it from ever happening again.

It wouldn’t be that hard. The depression had already taken the sparkle out of my eyes. All I had to do was hide them behind glasses I didn’t need and not make eye contact with anyone. Ever.

He sat behind me in English class, which became the class I began to dread. Every day he touched my hair, said he loved the way it smelled.

When we were in that bathroom on that day in the middle of May, he couldn’t stop touching it, smelling it. So I cut it. And when it got long, I cut it again.

His locker was next to mine. He stood at his every day, waiting for me to open mine. Slamming it shut, his hand would briefly touch mine. “Your skin’s so soft,” he would say.

On that day, he couldn’t stop touching me. His fingers leaving bruises behind on my skin as he moved from my neck down. (I couldn’t wear turtlenecks or scarves for the longest time). He made me touch him, and four of his closest friends.

….

I don’t know how you get over that, how you get rid of those memories. So I shut down, became numb. I started cutting in places I was touched to create new sensations (because the sharp pain was better than the memory of a touch of a finger, scars were better than bruises). My legs, stomach, and wrist became a garden of crisscrossed lines marking the way back from where I’d been.

I started starving myself, not because I cared how I looked, but because I didn’t. I didn’t mind the dark circles under my sunken eyes, the cold skin, the way I lost my sparkle. I wanted there to be less of me that remembered what it felt like to not have control over my own body.

I ceased to exist in the way I used to, and I didn’t know how to find my way back to who I used to be. So I thought it would be better if I just ceased to exist entirely, if I ceased to be.

Six years later, I’m still here. And if the question is, “why did you get a second chance when so many others do not?” the answer is, I don’t know. Life is made up of too many questions and not enough answers.

But here’s what I do know.

I do know that I am healing.

I’ve started eating again. I’ve gained the weight back, and then some. But that’s ok, because I’ve come to learn I’m beautiful.

(Almost) six years after cutting for the last time, the crisscrossed lines are almost gone. Only a faint few remain, reminding me of where I’ve been, how strong I am.

Eight years after being raped, the memories of what happened to me is still enough to tie my stomachs up in knots, but I don’t panic when I see him anymore. I don’t run away. I don’t hide.

I’ve started wearing my hair long(er) again. I love wearing scarves. I’m learning to look people in the eyes again.  Speaking of eyes, I’ve begun to notice the sparkle returning to my eyes. And when I see it, I take a picture because I need to be reminded of the beauty in life.

And I’ve relearned about the cleansing power of blood, how I’ve been washed clean, not by the blood that poured from my skin as I cut myself open, but by the blood spilled from the Man who died so I could live, the Man who became “ugly” so I could be beautiful.

So, I don’t know why I was raped, but I do know that I am thankful.

I’m thankful not for the act done for me, but thankful for what I’ve learned along the way. I’m thankful for how much stronger I am now.

But most of all, I’m thankful for the way God has brought people into my life to encourage me and support me, and for the way he has provided me with people and opportunities I can do the same with.

Because, yes, some days are hard, some days it’s hard to breathe; it’s hard to get out of bed. But everyday God reminds me of how beautiful this life is, and when I look at the lines on my palm, I am reminded that the same God who created nature, took the time to hand-stitch me together, and that is enough to get me through the day.