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being real

The glitz and glamour of sexual assault

[I wrote this last winter, shortly after the second debate. I don’t remember why I never published it. I also don’t know why I’m publishing it today. Maybe because I can’t seem to write anything else coherent and this is an easy way out – posting something I already wrote. Maybe because this topic is always worth addressing. I suppose the why doesn’t even matter, anyway.]

I posted this on Facebook, following the debate a few weeks ago:

Just a friendly PSA: women don’t come forward for fame. Women come forward to bravely speak their truth so they can survive and be free.

A friend commented [sarcastically], “Nothing like the glitz and glamour of sexual assault.”

Yup – I know that’s what I always wanted. You too, right?

It is infuriating and terrifying to think that people out there still believe that the only reason a woman would share a story is because she made it up while trying to get in the spotlight.

Absent a serious mental condition, women don’t go around making up stories to ruin someone’s life in the interest of fame.

Newsflash: the reason so many of us don’t tell, or didn’t tell for so many years, is because we didn’t want to be in a spotlight.

It’s not a club that anybody wants to be in. But we find ourselves there – and so we find a way to survive. And that often happens by sharing our stories. Not because, “Ooh! This would be so cool to talk about, and maybe I’ll become rich and famous!”

There was nothing exhilarating or glamorous about anxiously sitting on a couch in front of a friend, trying not to throw up or panic, trying to look her in the eye, drenched in the shame I thought was mine, as I spoke the words and told her my stories. There was nothing fun and exciting about sitting in therapy and working through the years and the memories.

It was freeing. Liberating. Relieving. Terrifying. Worth it.

But not glitzy. Not glamorous.

That’s not how this works.

Sometimes, a survivor does become famous. But when that happens, they’re not famous because of what happened to them, or because of who hurt them. They’re famous because of their bravery in speaking their truth. Because of the hope and courage they give others. Because of the freedom they then feel, and inspire in others.

The problem is, the people who are going to read this are the ones who agree. The ones who have the same thoughts. The ones who don’t get it, who are still so ignorant, those are the ones who will never see these words. But we write, and we talk, on the off chance that someone reads something, and talks to someone who talks to someone who talks to someone who had a different opinion, and through the grapevine, they are educated and enlightened. 

Lessons learned. Again.

You know how when there’s a leak in your house you usually fix it right away, but sometimes you just ignore it? Because it’s really not doing that much damage and it’s probably only leaking because it’s raining and it’s going to stop raining eventually.

Right. Except.

The thing is, you don’t know when it’s going to stop raining. Or when it’s going to start raining again. And how hard. Because despite your best efforts, and the best predictions and forecasts, sometimes storms just come. And sometimes they come out of nowhere, and you haven’t fixed the leak, and it makes an even bigger mess.

And then you have to figure out how to fix the damage from the leak. There’s no point in wasting time wishing you had fixed it earlier. Hindsight is 20-20 and all you can do is deal with what you have in front of you.

So you get mad at yourself, and you complain, and maybe you cry, but then you do the Next Right Thing. You call the repairman, and tell them that even if their schedule is crazy, you need to be fit in. And you don’t, you can’t, feel bad about it, because that’s their job. And you have to fix the damage to your house. No amount of avoidance or wishing is going to make it go away.

And you remind yourself: next time, for the love of all things holy, don’t ignore the leak. No matter how tempting avoidance is, remember that the likelihood of the leak just stopping is slim to none. Patch it. Fix it. Face it. Call the repairman. Well before the damage occurs.

The intimacy of a panic attack

There was a recent episode of “This is Us” that had people talking (this is not a spoiler, not to worry). It involved Randall coping with anxiety that quickly increased in severity, and eventually showed him in the midst of a full-blown panic/anxiety attack.

It hurt my heart. It was gut-wrenching and painful and beautiful, too, because during his panic attack, his brother came and sat on the floor with him and just held him.

There are few things so vulnerable, so intimate.

I can count on one hand the number of people who I have wanted to see me in the middle of a panic attack. Some people have witnessed it just because it happened when they were around. But usually? I prefer to ride it out on my own, touching base after the wave has passed.

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to do it. You get through the hard times however you get through them. Some people want to be physically hugged through a panic attack – others push loved ones away. You do what you need to do.

There have been very, VERY few times in my life that during a panic attack that I have actively sought out someone. It is hard to be that vulnerable. It’s hard to be that intimate. It’s hard to let someone bear witness to your struggle.

What I CAN tell you, is that the times I have sat in front of someone, allowing them to see me at my most vulnerable, as I shook and sweat and gasped and hyperventilated and felt the color draining from my face – those times ended, interestingly, with me feeling more empowered after. I think it’s similar to how being upfront and telling it like it is in a medical setting has a positive result. There’s something very empowering about thinking, I could not be more vulnerable right now – and yet I’m going to let someone bear witness to my struggle. I’m going to trust them to love me through it and I’m not going to tell them what to do or what to say. I’m going to ride out what’s happening right now, and they will figure out how to help or what to do. It’s empowering because it’s allowing me to be me, and not feeling shame or embarrassment about it.

Like I said – it’s rare. I much prefer to handle it on my own. But from time to time, there’s something special about it. There’s something beautifully intimate about experiencing a hard time with someone else, and something powerful about embracing the struggle, and letting it float out there freely, letting it move through you, and not feeling like you need to hide.

You be you. You do you. You embrace you. And the right ones, the loved ones, those special ones that are in your tribe for a reason, will love you for it, and love you through it.

Use your voice

And use your voice, every single time, you open up your mouth.

(My Chemical Romance)

One of the most empowering moments of each week is at the beginning of my yoga class. We stand at the top of our mats, with strong legs, rooted down. As we reach up and bring our palms to heart center, our teacher invites us to gaze down or close our eyes. She tells us we are going to open class with the sound of a single ohm, and then she says:

“And as I always remind you: of all the things to fear in this world, do NOT let the sound of your own voice be one of those things.”

That reminder, that statement, sends chills up my spine. It makes me grow a little taller, breathe a little deeper.

I used to fear the sound of my voice. I used to keep opinions and thoughts and worries and fears and dreams and desires and stories to myself. It’s scary and it’s vulnerable to speak, to make noise. It invites in the possibility that we may be quieted, diminished, dismissed, ignored, berated. Amidst those possibilities, it seems safer to wilt and hide from the sun.

The thing is, nobody is every really ready to use their voice. Nobody walks into yoga thinking, “Today I’m ready to chant ohm with my class.” Nobody wakes up thinking, “Today I’m ready to tell the world my story.” If we wait until we’re ready, we will be waiting our entire lives. This is the truth.

So instead, we have to just do it anyway. Sometimes in small whispers and sometimes in loud bellows. Last winter I posted a baby step post, and then I told my stories, and then one day I just said, “It’s time.” And then I wrote it and sent int into the world.

Turns out, using your voice, speaking your truth, doesn’t break you. Quite the opposite, in fact. It sets you free. It connects you with others. It invites in conversation. It helps dispel others’ shame. It sets off a ripple of bravery. It’s all good, wonderful things.

The other day I said to Laura, “Remember when we thought that we would go to the grave with it as a secret? I never, not in a million years, thought I’d be here. But look at me – standing in the sun.”

Using our voice gives us power. It raises us up. Makes us grow. Dispels fear. Washes away shame.

So, maybe you don’t feel ready. It’s okay. Go ahead anyway. Chant that ohm. Tell your story. It will not break you. Stand tall, root down, turn toward that warm sun.

On not fleeing

Last week, my husband and I were flying home from vacation. I hadn’t been feeling well the morning of our flight – my stomach was a little upset and I felt slightly dizzy. On the way to the airport the car was warm and I overheated and felt faint, my pulse was high, and I was emotional about vacation being over and leaving loved ones. When we walked into the airport, Husband asked if I was okay and if I needed a minute, and I said I was fine – because I was, in that moment.

But as we waited in the line for security, I felt it start to come on. Fight-or-flight kicked in. While it almost always happens during medical situations, it can also occasionally happen for seemingly no reason at all. Shit, I initially thought. It’s panic or it’s a vasovagal syncope, but either way this is not good. My heart began to beat too fast, I started to sweat, and I felt that horrible hot sickening feeling wash over me – the one that signals, You’re going down. Literally. So I tried to lengthen my exhales as I took off my coat and shoes and put my carry-on on the conveyor belt. But that hot feeling kept coming in waves and I felt my stomach start to tighten – I was going to throw up, or faint, or need to use the bathroom immediately.

I evaluated my options – I had one person in front of me before I could go through security, and for a second, I turned around, deciding to let others go before me and sit down before it overcame me. But the security guard motioned to me, and told me it was my turn. One minute, I told myself. Hold on for one minute. And then, whatever happens, happens. I made it through security. And the minute it was over, I ignored my belongings, knowing Husband behind me would gather them, grabbed a nearby trashcan, and sat down on the ground, dry-heaving, spots floating in my vision, bowels clenching.

I stayed seated for a while and Husband came to check on me, but I was okay. A few people glanced at me but most didn’t give me a second look. One woman asked if I was okay, and I told her I wasn’t feeling well. She sympathetically smiled and moved on.

And then I was okay. And I didn’t spend the next hour ruminating on what happened and why and trying to understand every part of it. Instead, we got some cold water, walked to our gate, and then moved on.

Years ago, I would’ve fought. I wouldn’t have even made it through security because the thought of Oh heavens, somebody is going to see and someone is going to know, and they’re going to wonder what’s wrong with me, and I don’t even know what’s happening or why, and it’s going to be humiliating would magnify it immensely. And that fear of someone seeing, of knowing, and therefore of deciding I needed to fight it, just made the situation worse. But facing it, letting myself be vulnerable, is what helped it pass quicker than it ever would’ve years ago.

A few weeks ago I was talking with my therapist, discussing an upcoming situation in which realistically I am likely to have one of these attacks/situations, and she asked what my goal was in envisioning how I’d like it to happen. Was my goal to “be okay” with what was happening in the situation and therefore not panic/not have my body respond in this physiological way?

No, I realized. The point isn’t to make it go away. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but the point is to be okay with whatever happens. So if I have a panic attack – it’s okay. If I throw up – it’s okay. If I pass out – it’s okay.

And deciding to float, to face it, and not to run or fight it – that’s what gets you through. That’s the bigger life lesson anyway, right? That we will be okay. Whatever happens. And we don’t have to run, because it will not destroy us.

Just listen

The minute we got into the room, she put her head down on the table and, sighing heavily, said, “Parents are SO over-protective.”

(Hey, she’s 12. She’s allowed to say stuff like that.)

The role that she needs me to play, as I’ve quickly learned over the weeks, is to be a listener. Think about it – even as adults, all we want is to be listened to, right? Now think back to adolescence and pre-adolescence. We had people telling us we were being dramatic, overreacting, not appreciating what we have. But all we really wanted was validation. So that’s what I give her, while she complains about not being allowed to have social media accounts. She rants about the state of the government, and she talks about how “stupid” it is that people still think that girls and boys aren’t equal. (I know. She’s outstanding.)

We get through a little work. Then she groans again.

“Stupid getting dark early. The lack of sunlight messes with my pineal gland and makes melatonin at the wrong times so my sleep gets so messed up. Ugh. Stupid pineal gland. Sorry in advance if I get even grumpier. It’s not my fault.” I nod. I tell her I so get it.

We do a little more work. We get to a point where she’s going to need to read out loud. She muscles through, struggling to sound out words, struggling to scan to find the part she’s looking for. Most days she’d push through, maybe complain once or twice, but she’d get through it. But lately, things have been getting harder, and she knows it. She’s coming off a bad cold. She’s exhausted. She’s brilliant and struggling in school. And she’s 12.

On the verge of tears, she puts her head in her hands and says, “This is HARD. It’s not fair.”

“I know,” I tell her, as I tell her every week. “I know it’s hard for you. You work so, so hard.”

But this week she keeps going. “It’s not fair. I did so great in 5th grade. And now I’m doing horribly in 6th grade. Everything’s hard. It makes me feel stupid.”

We talk openly, as we always do, about her struggles in school. We talk about how 6th grade is harder. And how her IEP team, including her parents, are working to find out the best ways to help her. We talk about how even if school, particularly reading and writing, are hard, it doesn’t mean she’s not smart. She knows all of this, but we talk about it anyway. Because, how many times have you known something deep down but can’t trust it? Can’t believe it? Need to hear it from someone else? (Me? Only about every day.)

We get through a little more work and then I tell her we have 5 minutes left. She groans. “Why does time go fast when I want it to go slow, and goes slow when I want it to hurry up?” I smile. I tell her I can relate.

She asks if she can draw a picture. She tells me, “This is going to be a picture of what life is like for me.” And she starts to title it (H – E -). She pauses, looks at me, and asks, “Do I need to keep going?” Knowing that “hell” is one of her favorite words, one she usually works into our sessions at least once because she knows I won’t tell her parents, I tell her, “I think I know what you’re going to write.” She then draws the picture. Frustrated with herself for not drawing it correctly, she tells me, “This part is fire, and this part is water. Fire for the horrible and hard parts. Water for the parts that I guess are okay.”

I run with it. “So what are the parts that are okay, or even good?”

She rolls her eyes and recites, like a little performer, “I’m healthy, I have food and water, I have a roof over my head, I have a lot to be thankful for.”

OH, I so know this. Raise your hand if ever you were told those things as part of a reason about why you shouldn’t be anxious/depressed/upset/traumatized/heartbroken/etc? Yup. That’s what I thought.

I look her dead in the eye and I tell her, “No, not those things. What are the parts that each day are good? That you truly love, that make you smile? The smaller things.”

She thinks. “My family,” she starts. “And art.” Her face lights up. “Pottery. Making things.” She names a few other specific things that she loves. She looks at me.

“I’m glad you have those things,” I tell her.

The hour is up and her dad comes in. We fill him in on the work we got done, and in general terms, that we talked about how 6th grade is hard, and how school is feeling really frustrating and more and more difficult. He looks her in the eye and tells her he knows, that they’re working on it, and that they will keep working to help her. After we all chat for a few more minutes, he tells her that they’re picking up pizza on the way home. Her face lights up and as we all walk out, she negotiates for a soda, listing all the reasons she should be allowed to have one.

I just adore that kid.

You guys – when anyone, but especially a child or adolescent, talks to you – really talks, and tells you their thoughts and their feelings and their fears and their hopes – listen. They’re trusting you with their inner storm, and most likely, they don’t share it with just anyone. I promise you – they don’t need you to give perfect advice. They don’t need you to fix it right now. They just need you to listen. To tell them you get it. To hear them. To give them time. To hold space.

No different from what we want, right?

When being different is so hard

I had a conversation with an 11-year-old last week that I can’t stop thinking about. It tugged at my heartstrings because while my story wasn’t her story, I just so get her and I get it.

The minute we sat down together that day, she immediately said, “I’m like a multi-sided die. There are so many parts to me and I’m still trying to figure it all out.”

She happens to be one of the most introspective, super awesome girls I know. She’s brilliant, with an IQ that likely surpasses mine. She’s hilarious. She’s socially awkward. She has trouble in school. She has ADHD. She’s awesome.

She proceeded to tell me about all of the different parts of her – the nerdy part, the quirky part, the studious part, the part who likes art. “And there’s probably a lot more parts that I’m trying to figure out still,” she added.

We got down to work, but later on, seemingly out of the blue, she blurted, “I’m an odd duck. Strange. Peculiar.”

“What makes you think that?” I asked her.

“Because I’m not normal. Because I’m weird. And I have ADHD.”

“That doesn’t mean you’re strange or peculiar,” I responded.

She rolled her eyes. “All adults say that. They say I’m special and unique. But special is just a word they use to mean ‘different’ and unique just means ‘not like anyone else’. It’s just sugar-coating.”

I paused. “I wasn’t going to say that, actually.” I told her. “I was going to say that having ADHD wouldn’t make you strange or peculiar. It’s just a thing. Everyone has things.”

“No they don’t,” she slumped in her seat. “Everyone else is normal.”

I know. I so know exactly how she feels. Think. How would I have wanted an adult to respond to me? 

I took a breath. “Here’s the thing. And you have to trust me on this because I’ve been there. Okay? As you grow up you’ll realize that everyone has something. Everyone HAD something. You just might not know it right now.”

She slid a sideways glance at me. “Because it’s inside. Not on the outside.”

“Right.”

She thought about it for a minute.

“I wish I had x-ray vision so I could see what everyone else has…”

“I don’t blame you,” I told her. “That would make it a lot easier.”

“….but, then I’d be a cheater when I play Battleship.” she finished.

Excellent point, my little friend.

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