To love myself, I cannot hate the experiences that shaped me.

I have not been here in a while. I have written, but I have not posted those thoughts here. However, last week I finished a paper for graduate school. I was asked to think about how my gender or race shaped my life and experiences, and how those experiences shape my thinking. I wrote hard and clear about what hurts, my treatment, and experience as a survivor. I wrote about how life looked alone, with others, and how my experience differs as a woman than it would as a man. If it rubs you the wrong way, please consider that you may very well be someone I am talking about because you have not handled my story that I trusted you with, appropriately. 

There was a lot I left out that didn’t feel like it belonged there but I can briefly share here, including how I do not pursue people anymore because I am so tired of rejection and hurt. How my health continues to deteriorate. How I have lost people close to me since we got married in June and how much it hurts that the people we trusted to stand next to us on our big day, turning away from me for unknown reasons confirms to me that I can’t trust people because this is the way my mind works at this point in my life. How I have panic attacks that find me in the random and mundane because something takes me back to that place: in a TJ Maxx, my bachelorette weekend, in the car, etc. That my flashbacks have grown more vivid in the last year for some reason. Finally understanding my need for overachieving and it’s links to what I went through. Yet also constant feelings of being able to do nothing right- literally nothing, but understanding that constantly seeking validation is obnoxious to everyone around you. Anything about my depression and how close I have come to relapse in the last year. 

Anyway, here’s the paper:

To look back at my life and how race or gender have affected the events and my reactions to these events, my focus is drawn to events that center around being assaulted when I was in high school. November 2019, marked ten years since my assault, and I often find myself looking at events in hindsight and realizing that my assault and my gender have determined how I have been treated, as well as the ways I have acted as a survivor. I have watched for ten years how my assailant and others have exercised the power of my assault over me, whether purposefully or as a result of the socially-constructed rape-culture we live in. 

As a preface, I was assaulted when I was sixteen. I knew my assailant, I had dated him for over a year, although at the time of the incident we had been broken up for many months. It was an openly known fact that my family did not approve of him, so when continuing to see him, I did so without my family’s knowledge; as a newly-licensed driver, this became relatively easy. He assaulted me in a public space, I am petite so I did not have a lot of force to fight back. I did scream when I saw someone passing by, the woman looked in our direction, and kept walking. At that point, I went into “freeze” mode and tried to make myself mentally anywhere, but there. Later that week, I told one male friend, and then I did not speak about it until January 2012. I did hear that my assailant told people he took my virginity and there were some rumors and name-calling when I was not around. This is why to this day, I am really only friends with one person from high-school. The same people who had watched this boyfriend throw me against lockers for speaking to a male colleague during class and did nothing, willingly believed I had lost the most special part of myself to him, and this told me all I needed to know about any of them. I did not know at the time this was the beginning of the different reactions towards sexuality when it comes to men and women. That even though I had done nothing, because it was rumored I had, I was called a slew of names, while he was patted on the back for bedding a cheerleader and beauty queen. In January 2012, I was watching television with the boyfriend of the year, a rape scene played on screen, I told him, “I think I was raped.” Within a month, I had ‘come out’ to my family, friends, and church, and I was seeing a counselor. I also had encountered my first experiences with victim blame and rape culture, my personal favorite being one of my bible study friends saying “Wow, you must have sinned really bad for God to have punished you like that.”

My gender has been a defining factor in the reactions I received from the day it happened to today. I understood within a few years of speaking up, although I never reported it to the police, that survivors are very often blamed, and just as often, not believed. What drove home how many people in my life, and around the nation, did not have empathy for survivors was the testimony of Christine Blasely Ford. It was terribly phenomenal to scroll my social media and read people I trusted with my story discussing how Justice Kavanaugh was the true victim. The election of Donald Trump and the dismissive nature of our nation towards the slew of women who have accused him of sexual misconduct has opened a can of worms in my life that will never be closed. I have learned things about people I love, that I can never unknow. I can say with complete confidence that my assailant, as a male, has never been asked the things I have, like what I was wearing, if I did anything to imply I ‘wanted it,’ if I was sure I had not done it then regretted it, or if we had done it before and now I was just mad at him and trying to make everyone hate him. I have had jokes and comments made about assault in general, and about me specifically, to my face and on social media. All of it has defined who I have become with my family and friends “at home” because if I cannot trust them with the worst thing to ever happen to me, they do not deserve to be trusted with any of the good either. It also makes me very sad to be that cynical. 

My cynicism and my anxiety carry into school, both my workplace and my education. I have been asked to leave a class for a scathing review of one of my professor’s book on sexual assault in the twentieth century, and how he took part in rape culture by writing it. [Sentence removed here for legal reasons]. I had a hard time with the thought of returning to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s campus after the shooting last spring, because new trauma can cause one to feel other trauma-induced feelings. I can find myself in highs and lows in defense of the people like me who live with our specific type of pain daily. I do see how my gender and my experience have positively affected, as well. 

Being a woman, who is okay with feeling her feelings, I have let what happened to me help define the emotions I let myself feel. Without the hurt, I endured that day and every day since then, I would not have the empathy I do for others. I would not care as deeply as I do for my students and their needs. I would not be walking through life with other women who were assaulted in the last year and loving them and telling them it does get easier. I would not have the heart to decide to leave another school, and a master’s program that was almost finished to continue to pursue my heart for education and the kids I get to help raise through it.

My gender has positively affected my experience with sexual assault too because I do see other women who talk about their assault and their feelings. I have women like Christine Blasely Ford, Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, Chanel Miller, and Lady Gaga to look to. One of my male friends was assaulted before we met, and he never felt like he could speak about it because socially it feels like it is even less acceptable to be a male who has been assaulted. It was hard for me to go through my feelings alone for over two years, I cannot imagine what he feels living through it daily, knowing he does not get to share the burden with others, in all the ways I am able to. For as many adverse reactions I have received, there are also people who are empathetic. There are people who think of me and send an email during the news coverage of Biden and Trump’s growing list of accusations to say they are sorry I lived through that and if I need them they are there, but he does not have that. My gender allows me to talk about it and feel my feelings, being a male who talked about his assault would gain him more negative commentary than my waiting and lack of legal action gained me.

Today, I reiterated my story for what seems to be the three-thousandth time, and I felt my emotions. I decided some time ago to follow Ernest Hemingway’s piece of advice, and to “write hard and clear about what hurts.” Being a woman for me means, I live with what he did, every day. The trauma resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as a chronic musculoskeletal disorder called fibromyalgia. Both make sure I am reminded, daily, even if I wanted to forget. My trauma means I live with the anxiety of having children and something similar happening to them. I also wait for the next person in my life to show me why they are not trustworthy. It also means I scream all the louder about the things that matter. It means there is a fire in my belly to pursue my dreams and pursue them fiercely to prove to anyone that I am more than what happened to me. [Sentence removed about perpetrator because of identifying information]. I would never be thankful for him or what he did to me, but I am grateful for being a woman who owns my story and loves myself despite the hard parts. Without my struggle, I would not be me. Without my pain, I would not love so fervently. To love myself, I cannot hate the experiences that shaped me. 

96712709_2537042799896098_1576000724137934848_n*references to textbook were removed.
but I did reference this book we’re using in the course
https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=hflWCgAAQBAJ

 

Accomplishments from 2018

When I have started each year, for at least the last five years, I have started with a list of things I would like to accomplish in that year. The number of accomplishments on that list corresponds to the year that it is, like 18 things in 2018, 17 in 2017, etc. It turns out I have yet to accomplish all of the things on the list that I have set out to accomplish in any of those years. So last year I started a tradition to recap at the beginning of a new year the things that I did accomplish in the previous year- some of them were on my list of things I aimed to accomplish, while others were not.

So here are the 18 things I did accomplish in 2018.

  1. I paid off my third loan. I’ve paid off 3/4 of my debt on my own and I’m really proud of that.
  2. I completed half of my requirements for graduate school and maintained a 3.5 GPA even though I was wedding planning and working full time while attending school.
  3. I read 64 books and got closer to my life goal of reading 1,000 books.
  4. I beat my addiction to calorie counting and learned to eat when I’m hungry.
  5. I said yes to my best friend and we planned a lot of our big day together. I cannot wait to marry him and share those moments with our friends and family! Only 166 days!
  6. I accepted a new job and left the comfort of my first big girl job.
  7. I went to Miss America for the first time (and got to watch one of my dear friends win!!).
  8. I learned to stomach tequila. Okay, that one may sound sketchy, but for a while I could not even smell it in my vicinity without being sick. So thanks to the best bridal shower for a friend, for helping me get over that one.
  9. I was part of my first protest. #RedForEd #MyBabiesDeserveBetter #WeDeserveBetter #NeverthelessWePersisted
  10. I found my voice, again, to speak up for injustice, and refused to let it be silenced, even if it was an attempt by someone I loved.  #MeToo
  11. I learned to walk away from friendships I wanted to maintain when that friendship was not healthy.
  12. I finished my year as Miss Capital City, and even though I did not get another chance to compete at Miss North Carolina, I was so proud of the way I represented that title, and all of the work I put into making a difference through my platform.
  13. I completed my graduate school internship at the Gaston County Museum. I learned a lot, and I gained new members of my family.
  14. I had worked with a lot of nonprofits before, but I had never done so with an official title, or for a prolonged amount of time leading up to an event that I helped bring to fruition, and I was so privileged to do that in 2018- and we raised thousands of dollars in the process!
  15. I judged and presented awards at National History Day, as Miss Capital City and as a student, at UNCC.
  16. I made my first bulletin board.
  17. I taught a new class where I was able to create the curriculum and actually had fun even though it was really hard.
  18. I made it to my five year recovery birthday.

There’s a lot I wanted to do in 2018 that I did not do, but that’s okay. I plan to write again in a few days letting everyone know the plan for 2019, and the list of things to accomplish and share some news.

For now, it’s off to start this semester of graduate school.

 

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

I have been debating writing this words for weeks, months,….years.

April is recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Nationally the #MeToo and #TimeIsUp movements have become popular and extremely relevant, especially as many celebrities have been accused of being assailants. That includes one of my favorite actors.

A few months ago, a young woman in my life walked away from a conversation to which I was a witness,  when a young man said “Rape is not real, especially with men, like no man would say no to sex, and women probably don’t either.” … when she returned a short time later, I looked at her and said, “Me. Too” and she said “When?” I responded “16” and she said “I was 14.” and I knew it was time to write this, but I have still struggled to do it.

The “Universe/God/My own life interpretation” told me again that it was time when at the Sweeps Pageant in March I was asked why I thought women didn’t report sexual assault.

So, here we go.

I was 16 (2009). I knew him. It ruined me. I only told one person and swore them to never tell. It was 2012 before I spoke about it again.

I told my bible study group and one girl remarked “Wow, how badly did you sin for God to punish you like that?” Shortly after, I started counseling to deal with it. I learned a lot although my counselor wasn’t the best and projected a lot of her own circumstances and feelings on me. I completed my counseling round and planned to transfer schools; mainly because I changed my major but also a new beginning.

I tried to talk to people I trusted about the incident and was appalled at how many times I was asked what I was wearing, if I had led him to believe I wanted him to do that, if I had been with him before, and if I tried to make him stop. I was so severely disillusioned by the way people, especially “Christians,” treated me. It pushed me so far away from the church (If you know, or ever hear, my testimony, this is the first time I thought I wanted to be out of church and wasn’t sure about God.)

I watched a documentary called “Forgiving Dr. Mengele” and Eva Mozes Kor changed my world. I emailed her and told her about my experience and she responded within hours about how forgiveness also shapes our experiences. I still have that email and read it from time to time.

In late 2012 and early 2013, things got really bad. In 2013, I found God for real for the first time. In 2013, I got saved. I found a new church who accepted my past and my story and the testimony from the test.

In 2015, I spoke to a club at the school I teach at, called “Feeling Beautiful” about what it looked like to be an adult who had been a victim of assault. But it isn’t something I frequently speak about. It was hard. The students there watched me cry as I choked out the words of my story. But I felt like I did what I needed to do.

I still don’t frequently speak about it. If it is brought up, not in my classroom of course, I’m willing to talk about it. But it still isn’t easy. I don’t know if it ever will be.

It’s been over 8 years. I have survived over 8 years. I became determined a long time ago to be a survivor and not solely a victim.

I determined to be the flower. I determined to grow despite the ways I had been crushed. I determined to not let his sinful actions define who I am. 

There are times I still cry about it. Sometimes I still have panic attacks. Sometimes I still have survivor guilt that someone I knew was killed by her assailant, and I wasn’t. I will never know the right words to say about it, or how to make someone feel better if it happens to them.

I still get really bitter. I still get really angry. I still feel like I missed the chance for justice. but I also have a hope that the ultimate justice will be paid out by God. I do feel like God accepts the anger and bitterness and also tries to soothe the pain that I still have.

But some days, I don’t think about it at all. I don’t want him and his actions to be what defines me. I don’t want other people to look at me and that be all that they see. But it does largely shape my political opinions, it does largely shape the way I empathize with people, it does largely shape the way I interpret a lot of what is said and done around me and in the public sphere. 

I’m not sure how to wrap this up.

I guess maybe I encourage you to not take part in rape culture. And let me side note my definition of rape culture: blaming a victim, asking what they wore, asking what they did to deserve it, asking about their sexual history and/or preferences, not believing them that they were assaulted. It is also raising our boys to believe that it’s okay to do something without consent or to coerce a woman into consent.

I encourage you to be empathetic and recognize others and the scars they carry.

“Why do women not report sexual assault?” Women and Men are sexually assaulted. Both have problems with reporting because they are afraid and embarrassed. Colleges have an issue with under-reporting sexual assault statistics hoping future students will still want to come to that school. Victim blaming and rape culture is too common in our culture. With movements like #MeToo and #TimeIsUp perhaps more women and men will feel comfortable coming forward as they see it happens to others; but until we allow victims to feel comfortable and not accused when telling their stories then there will continue to be a lack of reporting and pressing charges…until we allow them to become survivors and not just victims this will be cyclical in our society. And a little Sandra Bullock for you here…every culprit of sexual harassment or sexual assault should be charged, tried, convicted, and punished.

All my love,

L