Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Hear Us Roar 2016

I had the honor to be invited to share my story at this event.  Hosted up at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan, a group called Women for Women puts on this speak out every year.  Not only does the speak out raise awareness in the NMU community, it creates a safe space for survivors to share their stories.  I was surprised to be invited since I wasn't a current student or alum of NMU, but that's the amazing part of the event.  It doesn't matter whose story it is as long as it is being shared for the greater good.  I gleefully prepared for the 6 hour drive.

The drive up was boring.  Dead looking trees and slow speed limits.  I was getting tunnel vision which on the highway is particularly obnoxious/dangerous, so I started making lip sync videos.  I was wondering the whole time how emotional this would be for me.  I have written about my story.  I have talked about it in a room full of people I knew.  But I had never talked about it in a room full of strangers.  The performer in me was hoping to bring emotion to my performance.  The genuine nerves kicked that in just fine.

I finally got to meet all the amazing people I had been messaging with for months.  Coming from out of town, I missed all the practices.  So by the time I got up there, I hadn't actually performed it at all.  I figured me having a meltdown on stage would be more sincere *snort.* I couldn't help but be overwhelmed by hearing others share their stories.  You see people every day, and you imagine what their life is.  You imagine the person they are, and how they go about their day.  But you never imagine what horrors they have endured.  Unless you know.  Then, that often becomes the image by which you know them.  I met these amazing women (and one guy, but I already knew him) and I would never look at them somewhere else for the first time and think, "Yeah, I bet she's been raped." Because in the habit of projecting lives onto other people, we don't usually project the bad.  Or certainly that level of bad.

But in reality, the people you see every day are survivors.  They carry that with them.  Usually quietly, or shamefully, because of the society we live in.  Because that's what life is.  Every person I met on this trip has become part of my heart, because I heard their stories.  And I was there to be support for them as they shared it with the room.  And they were there as I shared mine.  The world won't won't change unless enough people stand up, raise their voices, and demand it.

This clip is the opening of Hear Us Roar 2016. It includes statistics and a poem about sexual violence.

This clip is the first half of my story.  It includes alcohol and sexual assault.

I'm so touched to have been able to share my story (especially without vomiting or passing out). I felt so supported by everyone involved, and I hope that they felt supported by me too.  I was honored to hear their stories and share in the moment with them.  I can't say that I'll always want to make the drive up to Marquette, but I hope this continues.  I hope it makes a difference, even if only the mind of one person that people suffer in silence and stigma every day.  The organization I volunteer with, the Listening Ear, is holding their own speak out April 28th.  If you're in the Lansing area and interested in attending, check out our Facebook page here.

Left to Right: Preston Hagerman, myself, Allie Kay, Kaitlyn Tramp, Taylor Blackmore, Liz Sommer, and Sarah Eggleston

Stigma: Love It, Hate It, Learn To Live With It

1. a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one's reputation.

I didn't understand this idea until I was in college and saw the world around me, realizing that so much of my life that I've kept secret would be criticized by others.  While some struggles I have learned to be open about, others I have kept only to myself.  With April being sexual assault awareness month, I knew that I wanted to write about my assault.  While I have written about it before, there is always more to the psyche, particularly with my recent participation with Hear Us Roar 2016 at Northern Michigan University.  So allow me to delve into the depths of my life and tell you all about it.

I started struggling with depression when I was a kid, but didn't understand it.  I felt isolated and lonely most of my childhood, but I put on a brave face for everyone around me.  I had one friend that I was very close to, but felt completely alone besides her friendship.

During that time, I began to self harm.  I had a very elaborate and shamefully sneaky way to go about it.  I pricked myself with pins.  Very voodoo-esque. I would manipulate the pin under my skin to cause discomfort but drawing very little blood.  I would often use scissors to scrape and scratch my skin but not enough to leave a mark anyone could see.  Even into my adulthood, the compulsion to self harm would get very strong during a depressive episode.

The summer after 8th grade, I attempted suicide.  Knowing very little about medication, I didn't understand that in order to kill yourself, you had to take far more than the recommended dosage.  Not just 4 pills.  I always figured dying in my sleep would be the easiest way to go.  Just sleep and never wake up.  Well, I disappointingly did wake up.  After that, I tried to move on and let it go.  But after a week, I wanted to try again.  I held a large knife in my hands and rolled it over and over.  I wanted to die, but I also wanted to say goodbye.  I called my best friend at the time and told her.  She made me put the knife down and talked to me for hours.  She saved my life.

A lot of my depression was triggered at 11 when my mom and I were in a near fatal car accident.  Much like any major stressor, my body's chemistry shifted. While I had always been the skinny girl, I was now the chubby friend.  Putting on weight became easy and losing it very, very hard.  I couldn't help but feel ugly and think I would never be someone's first choice to love.  The struggling self esteem still continues its march with me on a daily basis, though at this point, I've beaten it back quite a bit.  However, the lack of self esteem manifested itself as a near eating disorder in early high school.  Knowing nothing about fitness, I believed that barely eating anything would make me skinny.  I would skip breakfast, eat salad for lunch, and often times skip dinner.  Many a night I would force myself to go to bed with a rumbling stomach because I believed it would burn more calories. This did not last very long though, because my depression didn't turn me away from food.  It led me to using food as a coping skill.  I would begin eating my feelings.  Which I sometimes still do, but in more healthy ways.

The self defeating behavior and self loathing continued through high school and into college.  Going through college I started working on loving myself.  It was hard.  When you've programmed yourself to hate seeing your face in the mirror and your inner monologue calls you a "fucking ugly cow" whenever you're naked, it's an uphill battle.  But I eventually believed that someone would be interested in me.  In fact, I decided to let loose.  To do something I would never do.  I went to a frat party and made out with a stranger.  Which ended up leading to a life changing event.  As he would be the same guy to sexually assault me while I was drunk a few days later.

The stigma of being a survivor was quickly brutal.  I learned very fast about rape myths and victim blaming.  And after that, I shut it away.  I put it deep inside me and didn't process it for a while because it was too much.  Once I decided to finally deal with the rape myths and the victim blaming, I frankly just got angry.  Fucking angry.  Angry that someone would tell me it was my fault for being drunk.  Angry that so many people are victims of sexual violence.  But mainly angry at myself for believing any of it.

It was around this time that the PTSD set in.  I would have nightmares or flashbacks.  I would often shake, cry, scream, or hyperventilate.  I could nearly rip out my hair.  It would feel like I was living it all over again, and no matter how many showers I took, I never felt clean.

Shortly after this, I relocated to Alabama.  I had a successful relationship and amazing friends, but that was all I had.  The bitch landlady who owned the house we lived in lied to all of us about her mortgage so she could overcharge her friends.  I was a stranger so she didn't even feel bad for doing it to me.  Truly proving the kind of person she is.  More about that here.  But slowly, everyone else moved out and it was just me and her.  Even with my amazing dog, I couldn't cope.  My relationship also ended and I began abusing alcohol.  I would drink three or four beers every night just to get to sleep.  Or straight chug whiskey.  Or vodka.  Anything to be able to sleep.  I started fairly lightweight, but that tolerance quickly built up. When I moved out of Hell Bama, I was able to get my relationship with alcohol under control, but it wasn't easy.

I worked on moving forward.  I joined an amazing organization, the Listening Ear, and learned how to deal with my emotions.  I learned I wasn't alone and that other people loved me.  I transitioned into a job I felt more passionate about.  Working with teen boys at Turning Point Youth Center was an experience I will never forget.  I got to be on the ground floor of the new Abuse/Neglect unit.  I got promoted to assistant group leader and developed amazing relationships with the kids there.  It unfortunately didn't last.

My relationship with my supervisor deteriorated.  I never felt good enough.  I felt that every move I made was scrutinized and that I never did anything right.  Walking on egg shells is paralyzing, and my anxiety reared itself.  I would start having panic attacks on a daily basis on the way to work.  I would shake, and cry, and hyperventilate.  Sometimes I had a friend there to talk me through the day and be support.  But the days without her were devastating.  Eventually, I couldn't take it anymore and I quit.  When working with teen boys isn't the most stressful part of your job, that's saying something.  So I willingly entered unemployment and job searching.

I had a short lived job, but the New Year would prove the end of it.  And the end of my second relationship. And for two and a half months, remaining optimistic seemed impossible.  Every time I came close to a break, something would fall through.  I spent days crying.  Isolated by my depression and anxiety.  In March, I got a lifeline and started a job in finance.  It's not my dream job by any means, but it pays well and I am massively enjoying it.

But even with my life on the upswing, it doesn't mean I don't have all this still.  It will always be with me.  A part of me.  And that doesn't mean I like it, but I live with it.  Because it's me.  These are my stigmas.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

I Am a Feminist, Liberal, Hippy, Social Justice Warrior; And I Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way

With the upcoming election, my life has been inundated with political propaganda. Some I agree with, and others I do not.  My opinions on politics have shifted dramatically over the short life span I've accrued.  I was raised in a conservative, Republican environment and my political expression consisted of, "That's what they believe, so that's what I believe."  Once I got into college, I started realizing that I what I truly believe is in fact not what my family primarily believes. And that's okay.  I know they have their reasons for believing what they do, just as I have my reasons.  All I ask for is respect.  I do not want anyone to change me, or try to convince me that I'm misguided.  I'm not changing my mind.  So in the spirit of self disclosure, allow me to express what I believe.

Legalize Marijuana Use

If marijuana is completely legalized, you can tax it the same way you tax cigarettes.  This will bring in government revenue to be used for public programs.  Marijuana is less dangerous than cigarettes and alcohol, so let's gain a little perspective here.  It would also put less taxes into the correctional system which by the way, is where your money goes a lot of the time.

LGBT Rights

People love people. People are not all the same. Why is this difficult? Everyone deserves to feel safe in the world and in their own skin.  Figuring out who you are is a difficult process anyway.  But when people spew hatred and vitriol, you can feel isolated and scared.  Newsflash: someone who is trans has already used the same bathroom as you.  Guess what? You're fine. Newsflash: you've interacted with someone who is homosexual. And I'm guessing you're fine.  So let them be fine too.

Women's Rights

This is something that will never change for me. First, the idea that life begins at the moment of conception is a religious belief.  Which means, it has no business governing politics. Separation of Church and State. It's a thing, shockingly enough.  Second, for the government to enforce their belief means it has more autonomy over my body than I do. Which is akin to rape. Taking control of my body away from me, is what a rapist does.  Lastly, I was sexually assaulted.  I was lucky I wasn't raped. But if I had been, and I had gotten pregnant, there is no doubt in my mind that I would have gotten an abortion. I have rights over my body. When raped, that is taken away. Telling a woman who has gotten pregnant from rape that she has to keep that reminder for 9 months is heinous. I respect any woman brave enough to carry a child of rape. You are stronger than I can even imagine. But no woman should be forced to do so. I can shorten this argument quite easily: No Uterus, No Opinion.  Unless you've got the materials, keep your mouth shut about mine. I'm equal to you.  We're all equal. So can we legislate to make sure women are actually treated as equals?


America is the great melting pot.  Or now at least, it's the great melting pot for the white people who usurped the Native Americans, but no one else.  Especially not brown people.  What makes America great is the collection of people and ideas and cultures that make us well rounded and informed.  If you don't want that, you are free to leave and usurp someone else somewhere and make your own walled in country.  I hear Siberia has lots of space.  Lady Liberty still stands, with welcome arms.  That's why people want to come here.

Respecting the Earth

It is truly mind boggling that people don't believe in global warming when we can quite literally see from photographs that ice is melting and ocean levels are rising.  Earth's resources are finite.  Conserve energy. Recycle. Don't have five fucking cars. Take a bus. Walk. Bike.  Do what you know you can do to make a difference.  It may be small.  It may be fucking minute. But it's a difference.  If everyone in the world made a minute difference, think of what we could actually achieve.  If animals raised for slaughter were actually treated like living beings and respected?  If food wasn't pumped full of chemicals? If we all actually gave a damn about the planet that we continue to suck dry of resources and fill the air with chemicals? What if everyone just cared?

Money Stuff

Did you know, that when a person has more money, they spend more?! Quite insanely logical, right?!  So this whole notion that raising the minimum wage will cripple the economy is utter and complete horseshit.  A person who makes more money can afford their bills and have money to spend on other shit, which stimulates the economy. I don't understand why this is so fucking hard to comprehend.  If you're going to spend thousands of dollars a year eating McDonalds, the person flipping your damn burger deserves to be able to feed their own family.  Just because a person is poor doesn't mean they are a welfare junkie sucking the life force from your tax teat.  Have you ever stopped to think that maybe they were born into poverty? Is that their fault? Is it their parents' fault? What about theirs? Or theirs? Here's the thing: an unequal system perpetuates inequality.  You have to fix the system and continue to help people along the way.  Everyone pays for everyone else in this country.  My tax dollars go to the roads you drive on, and vice versa.  Stop bitching about your money sucking welfare "queens."  It goes more towards corporations than anything else.

So you might be wondering why I've put this together.  Why I am putting my views out there so plainly?  Really, because this is the first election I have felt confident in what I believe.  I've grown into who I am and what I believe, and I refuse to apologize for it. If you're going to post retorts, don't bother.  I'm not changing my mind and I'm certainly not going to stoop to arguing. Accept me for who I am, or walk away. That's it.  I'm a feminist, liberal, hippy, social justice warrior. And I wouldn't fucking change it for anything.