And Now, I Go. 

Today is one of those darker days. I’m triggered and disgustingly sick and feel deflated even though I know this feeling will pass.

New memories surfaced yesterday. They still hit me like a train every time. It’s been a while so I fell pretty hard. The breathlessness. The panic. The pain. I spent five or six hours throwing up and shaking last night and this morning, mainly pissed that this isn’t over and frustrated that I feel so out of control when it happens.

My morning was spent laying on my bed just breathing, feeling my heart beating and my head pounding in unison. It feels terribly self-indulgent but sometimes I just need to remind myself that I’m alive and I survived; that was then and this is now.

Separate.

Between retching episodes and the deafening drumming in my head, the fog begins to lift but that’s when the memories try to return through the cracks. Then I panic and either dissociate or wait to throw up. I feel trapped in a shitty cycle; wanting to feel better but not wanting to remember. The rational part of my brain takes a hike and all I can think to say to myself is, “Don’t throw up. Don’t think about the memories” which in turn makes me feel nauseous and makes them resurface. Catch 22.

I’m confused. I don’t know why the brain forgets things that seem to be so entirely unforgettable. Well, I do know, it’s a fascinating survival mechanism, but twenty years later I don’t want to know. I don’t want to feel it all over my body. I don’t want to hear it and remember it all over again. But I have to. Because PTSD decides how you experience the past. It feels like an assault on my brain and while that may be a petty response, it is real. I’m not angry, though I’m told I should be. I’m confused and disgusted by the things that I did. That were done to me. My body feels like a crime scene once again and I don’t know what to do with that feeling. Tears fall from my eyes and run into my hair. I hear them crackle as they fall into my ears. I lay numb and feel pretty broken. I don’t understand.

I feel mad that I feel so shitty. I am lucky to have all that I do and I’m surrounded by amazing people and things, yet right now it just feels like crap. But it’s fleeting. I know that. Part of me writing this is to give it an intermission. To write an actual period on a page, to end this moment. I already feel lighter for it.

It is a normal day. I feel like total garbage but I am still me, and I still have shit to get done.

And now, I go.

.

Dear Me.

Dear little one, it’s a shame that you look in the mirror and all you can see are flaws, as though the body you were born into is wrong for not living up to standards of beauty. But remember, your reflection does not define who you are; a beautiful soul, though perhaps not visible, will shine through and cast a shadow on all of the world’s ugliness. You are not simply the skin you live in; you are a GODDESS both inside and out.

Dear little one, it’s a shame that society has led you to believe that you are not successful enough, as though money is the only indicator of prosperity. But remember, a smile in the face of adversity, a deep breath in the face of fear, a step forward in times of despair are all proof that you are wildly victorious in all that you do. You are not a failure; you are RICH beyond your pay.

Dear little one, it’s a shame that your self-worth has been diminished by people’s cruel words, as though you are ‘less than’ in all realms of this life. But remember, those who speak ill of you are projecting their own deep insecurities onto someone more fierce and bold, their heinous remarks are a weak attempt to shake your sturdy roots. You are not a waste of space; you are ENOUGH in all that you do.

Dear little one, it’s a shame that you feel like you must face your demons alone, as though nobody wants to see your darkness and the world needs you to be nothing but light. But remember, those who suffer in silence are still suffering, reaching out in a time of need does nothing but highlight your true strength, sharing your story can unite a world torn apart by shame and secrecy. You are not weak; you are a WARRIOR.

Dear little one, it’s a shame that you regret the things that you did in order to survive, as though doing your best with what you had wasn’t good enough. But remember, you were young and fragile, your fear took charge and shielded you from the horrors of your reality, it was not your choice and is not your fault. You are not what happened to you; you are a SURVIVOR.

Dear little one, it’s a shame that you grew up in a world of turbulent uncertainty, as though you had no control over what happened in your life. But remember, that was then and this is now, you are behind the wheel of your own journey and you are free to live bold and wander far. You are not a slave to other people’s dominance; you are FREE to be the fierce spirit that you are.

Dear little one, it’s a shame that you believe you are not worthy of being heard, as though what you want simply does not matter. But remember, your voice cannot be tamed, you have things to say that will make people listen, your words deserve to echo infinitely through time and space. You are not bound to silence; you are a LION.

Dear little one, it’s a shame that you learned early in life not to trust others, as though offering your faith in people only brings about pain and betrayal. But remember, a single leap of faith, a loosened grip on the illusion of control, the willingness to let other people show up for you can be the difference between stagnation and emancipation. You are not destined to be let down and hurt; you are WORTHY of reliance and support.

Dear little one, it’s a shame that your masks were all you were brave enough to show for so long, as though who you are at your core isn’t what the world wanted to see. But remember, the real you has never been altered, she remains untouched, unharmed and innately pure. You are not what the world demands from you: you are PERFECT just the way you are, scars and all.

Dear little one, it’s a shame that you are too afraid to try, as though succeeding in anything would only open the door for people to find error in your triumphs and to reveal the truth that you simply aren’t enough. But remember, there is a podium with your name on it, a space for you at the table, you are allowed to show up, give it 100% and still fall flat on your face. You are not an accumulation of your shortfalls; you are the sum of your efforts, perseverance and GREATNESS.

Dear little one, it’s a shame that you gave up the things that you loved, as though there is shame to be held in the things that make you happy. But remember, other people’s judgment is often laced with jealousy or envy, their acceptance is secondary to your joy, and this life is too short to live out someone else’s dreams. You are not what other people say you should be; you are the BOSS of your own life.

Dear little one, it’s a shame that you are scolding yourself for being at a crossroad, as though everyone around you knows exactly where they’re headed and you are failing to navigate your own journey. But remember, nobody knows what the fuck they are doing, everyone around you is winging it just as much as the next guy, it’s just that some are doing it with more conviction than others. You are not clueless and falling behind; you are a HUMAN finding her way on a map of overwhelming opportunity and hope.

Dear little one, it’s a shame that you lost who you are for a while, as though life had torn you away from the person within. But remember, you can find your true you again if only you’d allow yourself to reach into your inner self and love what you discover with every fibre of your being. You are not lost; you are HOME in your soul, exactly where you left yourself all those years ago.

Dear little one, it’s a shame that I treated you as poorly as I have, as though hurting, chastising and tormenting you would numb you from the hurt of the outside world and erase all that has happened to you. But remember, we are a team, we are in this together and I am trying to learn to like you and honour all that you have been through. You are not a stain on my existence, you are US, and together we will do this.

Dear little one, it’s a shame that I try to silence you, ignore you, replace you with bad things when you show yourself and remind me of the past. But remember, I am working on learning to love you and forgive you. You are not what I call you in times of panic and fear; you are a MESSENGER, trying to teach me how to process and move beyond our past.

Dear little one, it’s a shame that it has taken so long for me to write this and I still can’t actually apologize to you. But remember, that day will come and when I want to give up and throw in the towel, I will remember your strength and courage and take from that what I require. You are not my past; you are ME, and that is exactly what I need.

Dear little one, I cannot wait to watch you grow, as though you are that phoenix rising with wings as wide as the Earth. You are not destroyed; you are HEALING.

Photo: weheartit

Shame is a Shame

Sometimes I get homework.

Sometimes I avoid the crap out of homework because I know it will make me feel, and feelings are bad because they make you pay attention to the truth. I know, ‘the truth will set you free‘, blah, blah. But, in my experience, the truth will actually tackle you to the ground and cover you with seventeen tons of shit until you’re laying face-down wondering how the hell you ended up there and how long you’ve been down and out for. But alas, two years ago I set out on journey towards a radical commitment to the truth, so I shall eat my words and enter the shit-storm of reality.

My homework this time was to write about SHAME.

Even reading that line back makes me want to crawl into a hole. As the Queen of Bullshit (it’s a magical kingdom that has probably taken me fifteen years to build), I am extraordinarily good at convincing myself that I have no emotions. I can say this now, because I’ve slowly learned how to identify some feelings, but there was a time – like, twenty years’ worth of time – that I had no idea what an emotion was. Around five years ago, I had found myself part of an online support group for survivors of abuse. It was a strange dynamic at the best of times but probably saved me from the depths of my craziness more often than I’d care to imagine. There would be daily online support chats, and every time I’d sign in, someone would ask the question that I fear the most; “How are you?“. This wasn’t the kind of community that was open to bullshit and avoidance, so merely answering that you were okay was generally not an option. At that time, I quite literally had no idea how to answer the question, though. I didn’t know what an emotion or feeling was. I didn’t know how to notice when I was feeling anything or when I was numb. I couldn’t even figure out whether I was feeling positive or negative let alone name an emotion.

Around the same time I had been sent on my wonderful ten-week assertiveness course (mentioned here) by my boss who was tired of me being afraid of anything and everything. During the two or three sessions that I actually decided to go to (instead of sitting in a bar drinking wine and pretending to have gone), we were given a handout titled, ‘The Blob Tree‘ and were asked to say which ‘blob’ character we currently identified with. As I sat with this piece of paper that had clearly been designed to help five-year-olds learn about emotions, I stared blankly at each blob trying to understand what they each represented. Honestly, I had no fucking clue. The women before me had all talked for an uncomfortable amount of time about the deep emotions their ‘blob’ was representing and how every aspect of their lives felt as raw and unbearable as the picture version of themselves. I’m fairly certain my internal response to each of them was something along the lines of ‘Literally what the fuck are you talking about?‘ It was my turn. I attempted to will the building to explode to no avail. Trying to psychically make the ticking of the wall clock speed up so the session would be over did not work either. Eventually, after my face had felt like it was on fire for long enough, I somehow decided that I was the blob on the top-right of the tree. It looked adequately indignant and I guess I was hoping the facilitator would think that I was just an angry asshole and would choose to leave me alone so as not to cause an outburst. WRONG. Well, not wrong, she did think I was an angry asshole but she wanted me to elaborate and share with a group of strangers – who all seemed to be in competition about whose lives were the worst – why it is that I chose that blob. Mumbling that I didn’t know wasn’t very well received and she pushed again to get an explanation. So, I did what any put-together, responsive and mature adult would do; I grabbed my purse and jacket and ran the fuck away never to return again.

So, it is safe to say that I’m definitely not well-versed in this realm. But slowly, through the help of a few more advanced badasses, I’ve been able to recognize certain emotions over the years. I say that, it’s actually usually me being stubborn and avoidant and generally an asshole and them having to pull me down and tell me which emotion I’m projecting and to stop being a douche. During some of the harder (real) conversations, I’d say that nine times out of ten I end up being completely smothered and derailed by shame. It washes over me like a dark wave of tar and I often enter panic mode because of it. It is the hardest feeling for me to process and overcome, and I usually need to be dragged out of it by someone who can see it happening to me from the outside.

Shame for me has manifested in so many ways since I was a really young child. Messages that were the result of things that happened to me became ingrained in my mind and they literally shaped the way that I view myself, my worth, the world and my place in it. One core message has been echoed in so many aspects of my life and it has served to solidify my ‘truth’ for years. The message is this: ‘What you want doesn’t matter‘.

What.

You.

Want.

Doesn’t.

Matter.

When a child becomes forced into situations beyond their control, when they cannot defend themselves, cannot think straight, cannot fight hard enough or loud enough and cannot verbalize to anyone around them what they are going through, they become stuck. Stuck in the belief that what is happening must be a result of them being innately bad at their very core. A result of them being unworthy of good things, deserving of pain and soul-destroying abuse, because if they were better behaved, or more grown up, or stronger or louder, then the abuse wouldn’t have happened. Ergo, everything is their fault and they should be ashamed of themselves for being such a disgusting, powerless, eight-year-old idiot. Forward twenty-plus years and you have an adult who still fundamentally believes that what she wants doesn’t matter. Everyone else’s feelings, needs, requests come before theirs and because she is inferior in every way, she must not even entertain her own desires and needs. Why? Because since that eight-year-old supposedly dug her own grave by not being good/strong/quiet/loud/[insert blank] enough, the abuse cycle continued, bullies got the better of her, anyone with any kind of authority or social superiority scared her into a corner of helplessness and fear, comparison became a daily toxic battle and she doesn’t know how to get out of the shame cycle long enough to stand up for, or believe in herself. And the thing that started it all? SHAME. (I’d like to interject with the fact that my mind just went to an episode of Friends where Phoebe was put in charge of cups and ice for Rachel’s Birthday party: “Check it out! Cup hat, cup banner, cup chandelier, and the thing that started it all, the cup!”).

Segue. Did I mention my fantastic attention span?

So, shame. When I am triggered into PTSD reactions (fear, numbing, avoidance, dissociation, flashbacks, hostility, isolation, hyper-vigilance), I get beyond frustrated. Even simple things like having a really terrible memory and feeling like I’m letting people down when I can’t remember recent conversations sends me into a spiral of shame. Like I’m not even good enough to remember important things about the people I care about, who the F does that? Oh, right, selfish, bad people do that. When I’m experiencing body memories of things that were done to me, I want to hide in a dark room for weeks and avoid everyone because I feel like people will know what’s happening inside and will tell me that I’m a disgusting piece of crap. My body crawls and my bones ache and I want to rip the skin off of me until I can escape the shame. Some days when I struggle to get out of bed and lay staring blankly thinking about all of the terrible things that I’ve done, I can feel the shame pinning me down and I feel trapped, all-consumed by this dark ‘thing’ that I can feel but I can’t touch.

This morning was one of those days. Two days ago my employer told me that I was a disappointment because I had turned in my resignation letter. I went home and cried and threw up. The shame-cloud has been low and heavy. I am a disappointment, I have let people down, everyone will hate me, I don’t deserve a better job, I should have stayed and continued to be miserable every day. Last night I had gone for a run with some friends and became triggered early into the loop – we were supposed to run in trails for a short portion of the route and I was irrationally full of dread. I wanted to slow down because my breathing was becoming shallow and my stomach began to cramp. Every headlight from a car felt like it was piercing my eyes. Every bell from a passing bike caused my spine to tense up and for me to enter panic mode. Every pounding of every step on the sidewalk felt like the thudding of my racing heart. The reassurance from a friend did nothing to calm me down and I ended up stopping and throwing up all over the floor of the bathroom in a building that we were running past. Instead of being kind to myself and trying to be compassionate, all I could feel was shame. I’d ruined a friend’s run because she was kind enough to stay with me and make sure I got back safely. I’d embarrassed myself by puking and not being able to continue the run. I tried for a few moments to convince myself that I’d stopped running because I was too fat and that I threw up because I was out of shape. Good one. I hated myself for ‘letting’ PTSD ruin someone else’s evening. I was paranoid that she would tell everyone that her run was cut short because of me, and that nobody would ever want to run with or near me in case I wreck their training, etc., etc., etc.. I made it to a yoga class after the run and dissociated for most of it. I went straight to bed when I got home and woke up with a blinding headache that is still trying to kill me. My very first thought when I opened my eyes was, why did you do that to your friend? I rolled over and saw that I had a text from her telling me that I hadn’t destroyed her run and that she was glad she was there to make sure I was okay. My reaction? Bury my head under my pillows and utter words of self-criticism and self-hate for two hours.

Over the years I’ve done some pretty dumb shit in an attempt to rid myself of shame; purging, over-exercising, laxative abuse, drinking until I black out, meaningless sex, filling my time with helping others and consuming myself with other people’s needs, purposely triggering myself into dissociation for days at a time so that I wouldn’t have to feel or live the shame. They’re all coping mechanisms with the sole purpose of trying to avoid feeling or processing the shame or uncovering the true feelings and emotions. I’m told time and time again – sometimes daily – that the shame is not mine to bear. The shame belongs with those who chose to abuse/assault me. But hearing those words provokes a body reaction that I can’t stand, the feeling of true hurt and pain, and so I fight it, I get bitchy and hostile, I project my pain onto the people who are trying to help me and I argue and kick and scream in an attempt to convince people that I’m right and that I am disgusting and do deserve all of the shit that has happened to me. Because, in all honesty, it seems easier than the truth that they try to open my eyes to.

But then I’m asked to think about a child that I know who is the same age as I was the first time I was molested. It’s usually easy as I have a beautiful goddaughter who is three. I’m asked to picture her and to imagine how I would react if she had come to me and told me that somebody was hurting her. How would I react if I found out in five-years’ time that a grown adult was abusing her on a regular basis. I usually feel like I’m going to pass out when I think about it. Would I blame her? Absolutely not. Would I tell her that she is a disgusting piece of shit and that she should stay quiet and small and not tell anyone else because nobody would believe her and everyone would run away from her? Nope. Would I be mad at her? No. Would I hate her? No. Would I try to convince her that she should harm herself and become secretive and destructive and deal with things alone? No way. So how can I possibly justify doing any of those things to myself, to the small, innocent child that I was? Because shame tells me to. Because the knowing adults told me that they were raping me because I wasn’t able to make them climax quickly enough. Because I was told that if I was better or smarter or more cooperative, then nothing bad would ever have happened. Because I was told that I was a slut. Because I was told that if I did X, Y, or Z then A, B or C would happen and it was always true. Because I was told that if I screamed and someone heard me I would be killed. Because as an adult I was threatened that worse things would happen if I went to the police and that they wouldn’t believe me anyway. But when I think of it from an outside perspective, my double-standards are glaringly obvious. I can’t deny them or argue them away. Shame has created an impossible standard, impossible rules and impossible ‘truths’ that dictate my life and prevent me from being or achieving my true potential. And it is bullshit.

So now what? Now the work begins. Over the past few years people have confided in me some of their deepest, most painful secrets. Some are stories of abuse, others not. But every single one of them has been laced with heartbreaking shame and fear and stigma. Strangers have thanked me for starting a blog that I truly didn’t believe people would read, telling me that I have given a voice to their story. For the longest time I have been afraid of my voice, of my story, of what my truth meant about me as a person and what others would think of me if they knew the real me. But, in sharing, I have been reminded that I’m not alone and that I have come a LONG way in the past seven or eight years. I have realized that what I have to say matters and that I have a sense of responsibility to be the voice for those who are strugglng in silence. I don’t say the word ‘responsibility’ in the burden sense, but my (and your) healing and commitment to speakng the truth impacts other people whether we care to admit that or not. I’ve seen friends come out of their shells a little more and be bold in their lives. I’ve seen people attempting to be brave in their own journeys, either through sharing their own struggles or by putting themselves out there and sitting in the discomfort of someone else’s shit as a friend or support. I’m fortunate enough to have been surrounded by amazingly accepting people and although a large part of me wanted to crawl back into my hole and hope that my words would disappear from people’s memories, it isn’t going to happen. And that’s okay, because I’m done. Shame can go fuck itself. I will take your shame and tell it to fuck itself, too.

A friend recently drew my attention to this amazing piece of writing called She was Done by Adrienne Pieroth. If there’s one thing you do today, let it be to read this. I was asked as part of this homework to write my own ‘She was Done’-type of list. I don’t think I’m there yet (because I’m avoidant, scared and stubborn, ha, but also because I think the original is perfect enough and I’d likely butcher it), but every single line of that article reached me on a level that I can’t really describe. I could write the exact same thing and really want to fully believe and mean it, but some things in there are a work in progress that I have just started, others are things that have been on my ‘to-do’ list for several years but scare me to say aloud, but they are all things that I aspire to one day be able to say with 100% conviction, that I am done with.

Today, it seems I’m done letting my shame and pain and self-hate dictate every waking moment of my life. I am done feeling guilty for being on this journey called life and I am done apologizing for the path that I’ve walked. No, I can’t wave a magic wand, nor am I naive enough to believe that writing that sentence will transform me into a confident woman who loves herself and doesn’t feel shame or pain. It will be a grueling, miserable, mind-fuck of a process, but I am done succumbing to the helplessness and fear that was instilled in me by sick individuals and reinforced because I couldn’t see past the shame-cloud of sexual abuse. I didn’t choose to be abused, and although there are things that I believe I could and should have done differently, I can say from a purely logical standpoint that I did not pursue any of the things that happened to me, and so the amount of shame that I feel does not belong on my shoulders.

What are you done with today?

 

Mind Over Mat[ter]

I am in an extremely monogamous yet rather tumultuous relationship. With yoga.

Ahh, yoga. What a wonderful, calming, blissful practice it is. For people who aren’t me, at least. Me? I want to throw things at yoga. Yoga is stupid. In the case of my experience “on the mat”, I tend to refer to it as ‘noga’ instead; it’s far more fitting. I feel as though I want to love yoga but it won’t love me back! Last year I began pursuing it because I truly thought I would instantly click with. I wanted to try yoga as a way to iron out the creases in my old[er], less resilient (read: broken piece of shit) body and to find a way to work through some of the mental challenges of PTSD. I thought that I’d attend my first class, fall in love with it and leave the studio skipping while creatures of the enchanted forest sang and danced at my feet. I envisaged fireworks and some kind of musical fanfare to announce to all and sundry that I had, in fact, just won at yoga. Well, it turns out I’m not actually a Disney Princess and yoga is an absolute giant mind-fuck. You also don’t get to “win” at yoga. Um, what kind of BS is this?!

Nevertheless, I wanted to keep at it and try to practice once a week, because I’m stubborn and don’t like losing. But you can’t lose, because it’s yoga. Ugh. After a handful of classes, I knew that I was really struggling with certain aspects of the practice that seemed so simple when they were explained to us. But while people sat or lay breathing slowly and calmly, I was next to them shaking, struggling to breathe and becoming so frustrated that I wanted to kick all the things. So I reached out to a teacher whom I’d met a couple of times and had decided might not try to murder me if I gave her part of my story. I explained that I often felt triggered or, at best, just extremely on edge and unsafe and asked if she had any ideas on how to help. She amazingly offered to try to help and we met over tea to talk about some options and ideas.

The truth is, yoga can be one of the most humbling activities on earth for me. Sometimes I feel like my body is in a pretty good place, definitely not in terms of aesthetics but in just feeling somewhat capable and not completely broken or weak. Then, the very next day, doing the very same sequence, yoga kicks me right in the ass and decides that I was getting ahead of myself. As punishment, my body likes to rebel and tell me via cramps, major discomfort, pain and/or zero flexibility to go fuck myself. All the while my mind is having a party and trying to hijack my attempts to find inner peace by reminding me of less-than-positive memories in a relentless slideshow that surfaces when my body gets triggered or my mind is given too much time to slow down. It can be exhausting at times. I also often find myself becoming distracted by the finesse of those around me; people who – regardless of what their bodies look like or how ‘good’ or seasoned they are at yoga – seem to be in a constant state of euphoria and contentment, moving slowly and fluidly as though their bodies and minds are BFFs. If you are one of those people, just know that I’m behind you trying to burn you with my eyes or willing you to fall out of your headstand. Okay, just kidding. Kind of.

Then we have the breathing, or ‘pranayama’. Ughhh. Considering that respiration is an involuntary action and that 100% of alive people do it all day, every day, breathing is DIFFICULT. The mere act of paying attention to the depth and cadence of my breath feels like I’m being asked to solve a rubix cube while trying to tightrope across a pit of flaming lava. I know that the pranayama portion of yoga is challenging for a lot of people which is somewhat reassuring, but when you’ve had your breathing restricted by things or people beyond your control, what should be extremely simple and calming is actually far deeper and more complex than that. The technique of ‘sama vritti’ was given to me by my yoga teacher as a relatively straightforward exercise to practice and get used to in my own time. In layman’s terms (note: I’m being extremely generous in calling myself a layman here), the technique simply calls for you to ensure that your inhales and exhales are the same length as each other. Easy, right? NOPE. Why not? Because my body and mind are assholes.

Here is a snapshot of my sama vritti experience:

Brain: “Okay, it’s just breathing. We do this, like, all the time. We’ve got this.”

Body: “Mmm, relaxing would be so good. I’ll stay calm and we can own this shit. Inhaaaaaaale… Exhaaaaaaale…”

Brain: “Hey, so, I don’t want to sound rude, but I can hear you breathing, Body, and it’s really distracting. Stop that.”

Body: “Yeah my bad, Brain. I know that’s hard for you, I’m being an asshole. Roger that.” [*Holds breath*]

Brain: “Thanks, dude.”

Body: “Yeah, so, um, about that breathing-life-thing… I’m now wondering whether breathing might actually be fairly integral to this whole ‘being conscious’ thing?”

Brain: “NOPE. But while you’re here, let’s look at that time that guy had his hands around your throat and take a moment to remember how awesome it didn’t feel to hear your breath trying to escape through a non-existent trachea.”

Body: “I don’t want to remember that! Oh fuck. We’re dying. I’m dying. Literally right now, we’re about to die. HEY, HEART, help us out here!!”

Heart: “Oh heyyyy guys! What’s up?! Thanks for the invite!” [*Starts pounding and dancing to the rhythms of Africa – the really fast ones*]

Brain: “Oh wait, I just found a way better one! Let’s remember when you were suffocating under a pillow. That was a classic!”

Body: “WTF is this?? I’m on fire. Everything is burning. I don’t know where we are. I don’t know what is real. It hurts. Everything is spinning. I’m scared!!!”

Heart: “Don’t worry, Body. I’ve got this!” [*Ups the tempo to something that would make MC Hammer feel like a power ballad singer*]

Body: “FUCK YOU ALL!!!!”

Brain: [*Evil laugh*] “Oh my actu-. Guys. Guys, check this one out!”

Body: “Yeah, no I can’t do this. Peace out.” [*Floats to a land far, far away*]

Brain: “Wait. This isn’t good. I can’t even make it stop. I’m sorry!!! Heyyyy wait for me!” [*Joins Body on a calm and quiet adventure while Heart holds the fort and tries to keep it all together*]

So, breathing is not fun. And meditation is just so alien to me right now that I’m not even sure WTF I’m supposed to be doing during it. I’ve asked my teacher and she tried to explain it but the concepts are so foreign that it’s actually frustrating to even try. Because I don’t know what I’m trying to do. Or see. Or not see. Gah! A friend sent me a link to ‘F*ck That: An Honest Meditation‘ a few days ago and it’s legitimately the only meditative practice I’ve managed to pay at least 70% attention to. It seems to speak to me on a far more basic level and will in no way improve my yoga practice, but if nothing else, it made me smile and hate meditation slightly less!

Then we have the postures. This is by far my least troublesome area of yoga in the sense that I don’t feel quite as incapable or defeated by them as I do breathing and meditation. That said, it’s also harder for me to sense red flags during the physical elements, and triggers are often out-of-the-blue or completely nonsensical in terms of their relationship to a traumatic memory. A simple twist of the leg, a cramp in my hip, a pain in my arm, being on a mat next to Breathey McBreatherson (imagine Darth Vader in Spandex), can all start off a chain of carnage. Then if I don’t either calm down or dissociate quickly enough, the worst ending happens – a public flashback. YAY! Then, before I know it I’m coming back to reality in a different room with someone else trying to calm me down and no recollection of anything that’s just taken place. It’s pretty awesome. Just kidding. It’s humiliating, it’s frustrating, it makes me feel vulnerable and deeply ashamed of the things that have happened to me. Not only could I not control things when they were actually happening, I’m now struggling to control the aftermath that is PTSD and I look like a fucking head-case.

But, there are also times that I can feel notable strides in my progress; an improvement either in the way my body moves or feels, how steady I can make my breathing, or in the amount of focus I can sustain during class. If I make it to the end of a class and have managed to at least participate in all of the postures and breathing techniques and remain somewhat present, it feels amazing despite it being the least impressive achievement from the outside. I think one of the biggest challenges right now is simply staying present – being in my body, in the room, focusing on the sensations that I’m feeling, the sounds that I’m hearing and not falling into my old friend, dissociation. It’s something I’ve been trying to work on with a therapist and my yoga teacher because dissociation is such a huge mechanism that I’ve used for so long that most of the time I don’t even realize it’s happening. I’ll just be in my own world, an arm’s length away from the surface of my mind, barely in touch with reality but my body and mind are still able to function relatively autonomously so it often goes unnoticed. Luckily I’ve serendipitously ended up at a yoga studio full of amazingly kind, patient and attentive teachers and they can usually spot the signs long before I do. I feel like I should have a far better handle on it but I’m just not really there yet. I often lose chunks of time, I won’t remember parts of the class or how I got into a certain posture, or I won’t know why my teacher is squatting in front of me asking me whether I’m okay. It’s a mindfuck that takes second-by-second concentration and it can often feel like running a marathon (I do not like running, nor will I ever voluntarily run a marathon, because that’s stupid). I’m not even sure whether it’s something I’ll ever be able to fully overcome or control but I’m working to at least be aware of it happening right now. Then I can try to figure out how to bring myself back into the moment, and eventually I’m hoping I will be able to sense it happening before I’m already in that space and can use techniques to stay present. Even the thought of being able to do that gives me goosebumps. Time will tell, I guess.

So, that is where I’m at with yoga right now. I hope that I can one day look back at this post (jklol I’ll never re-read it) and see that I have been able to make strides in the right direction and feel like I’m in control of what happens on my mat, and not the other way around. A work in progress, and absolutely one of mind over mat[ter].

Watch this space! Or don’t. Whatever.

Namaste, bitches.

The Phoenix Rising… Sort of.

So… I guess this is blogging. Holy Fuck.

If you’ve ever seen Brené Brown’s Ted Talks on ‘The Power of Vulnerability‘ and ‘Listening to Shame“,  you will be extremely familiar with the phrase “vulnerability hangover”. That is my current reality. Ugh. (If you haven’t seen the Ted Talks, go and watch them, NOW). My head is pounding and I feel like I have a hangover without the awesome partying that should’ve preluded it. I’m feeling pretty overwhelmed by the number of messages and gestures of support I’ve received since posting the first post. I never proof or re-read posts like this because I know that I’d regret all the things and delete it. This will be a bit of a ripping-off-the-band-aid kind of gig for now. I think it’s supposed to feel great to be accepted and heard, but for some reason it is currently really, really difficult. I feel raw and exposed, and I’m having a hard time accepting the kindness and compassion.. That isn’t new, I usually throw compliments back in people’s faces, but today they’re stinging way below the surface. The cloud of shame that I’m feeling today is pretty thick. The way I’ve learned to understand much of the world is to presume the worst.

People are only being kind because they want something from me.

It isn’t compassion, it’s pity.

Everything is going to change and people will feel sorry for me and tiptoe around me.

People think that I’m weak and fragile and that I need their help.

Everyone must think that I’m disgusting or stupid for having gotten into so many shitty situations.

These are the stories that I’m making up (another shout-out to BB for bringing that phrase into my life) and I’m acting like an asshole. A rational part of me knows that I’m just projecting the messages that were ingrained in me from a young age and this is just another thing that I need to overcome. In talking with a friend this morning, she reminded me that I cannot control how people respond, and nor should I. Whether positive or negative, the response to your story is secondary to the purpose of putting it out there for your own growth, and I should just accept and appreciate people’s support for what it is – just that. So, whatever your opinion about me or my story – thank you!

I’ve shared most of my story with a few people on this planet and survived (albeit kicking and screaming the entire way), so I’m 99% sure this blog won’t be the reason for what feels like my imminent death, but my current reaction is certainly not what I expected. Nevertheless, this is a journey that I have chosen to embark upon and I will continue to put one foot in front of the other, one word at a time until complete badassery has been achieved.

I’ll preface what I’m about to write with something I’ve had to really pay attention to over the past few years. I’m finding that I’m having to remind myself of a fact that has been drilled into me by therapists and fellow survivors time and time again: victims of childhood sexual abuse are statistically at far greater risk of experiencing future assaults and abuse as teenagers and adults. This is a fact that I refused to accept for a LONG time, convinced that everything was my doing and was a result of being a disgusting piece of shit. But in hearing others’ stories and reading a lot of books and research on the issue, I am coming to peace with the fact that I was setup for a less-than-stellar experience the very first day that I was molested. This isn’t an excuse. I know that there are things that, in hindsight, with my amazing 20/20 vision, I should have done differently, but some things were possibly totally out of my control. Okay. Here goes…

So, I’m 24. I have no fucking idea what I’m doing with my life. My Master’s degree finished with an underwhelming bang and absolutely no sense of accomplishment. I resented the education system, was totally checked out and had no clue what I wanted to do next. I had thought that I wanted to become a full-time lecturer, but it turns out that grading assignments and exams until stupid o’clock every night is actually the polar opposite of enjoyable. I’d say it’s probably akin to how I imagine it feels to run yourself over with your own vehicle. Twice. Plus, when you go out partying until the early hours and see your students at the bar, it’s kind of inconvenient. Except when they buy you drinks. Then I guess it’s fine. But still, fuck that.

I’d moved back into my parents’ house and for the most part I hated it. Having been raised in a strict, overprotective bubble, when I moved out at eighteen I’d discovered the innate, disgustingly independent, stubborn and fiery side to myself. At the time I felt like the phoenix rising. I was free and my job was to conquer the world and annihilate anyone who got in my way. Now there I am six years later, having to relearn how to answer to people and do as I’m told. I’m having to justify my every move while trying to maintain a calm exterior and hide the inner turmoil of the recent rapes and childhood memories. It. Was. Torturous. My eating disorder got pretty out of control and, in a desperate attempt to cover it up, I’d go to great – and often hideous – lengths to not have anyone find out. I’d purge into grocery bags in the middle of the night and then empty them into the sink or the drains in the street so that nobody would hear me vomiting into the toilet. I’d take food from the refrigerator or cupboards and later drive somewhere in the village and throw it in the trash so that my parents would think I’d eaten breakfast. Dinner time was always a family affair, and losing more weight would only draw attention to my issues, so more often than not I’d just sit and eat like a regular human. My issue was never with food or eating, but more about ridding my body of feelings that I couldn’t otherwise control, so sometimes it was just nice to be able to sit and pretend to be a normal family unit.

I eventually found temping work that was so far from being even remotely related to my degrees or previous work experience that people laughed at me. How could I spend so much time and money on an education and then end up working a shitty admin job surrounded by misogynistic men and women with no aspirations? But it was a job, and it kept me busy for eight hours a day and for that I was thankful. After several months, one of my old professors-turned-friend managed to find me a job in my field back in the city where I’d studied. He’d told an organization about me and really fought my corner and they subsequently created a position for me. I leapt at the opportunity and within the week I was back there, determined not to once again fuck everything up. I moved into an apartment with one of my ex-athletes who had turned into a good friend, and things were feeling pretty positive. I quickly resumed the role of the perfectly put-together person, one who was indestructible and could do anything. I tried to numb the memories and ignore all of my issues and reverted back into who I thought everyone needed me to be. Things seems to calm down and I was glad to be back.

For a few months, I’d held my shit together relatively well. Work was demanding –  as a graduate I was thrown in head-first and didn’t really have a clue what I was doing, but I worked hard to do my best and just stay afloat. I had no confidence in myself, though, and a lot of tasks seemed daunting and unfamiliar and that would often send me into a moment of panic. Procrastinating on the tasks that filled me with the most anxiety often got me in trouble, but I would work around it for the most part. I was back playing sport for several hours a day, swimming before work, running or playing tennis on my lunch break, personal training after work before practice. It didn’t seem excessive and I loved it. As part of my job I was allowed – and sometimes required – to flit between university campuses and the local college and take part in recreation activities. It was amazing. Until I’d collapse periodically and wind up in the hospital. But apart from that, it was a dream.

December 2011 happened. We had a Christmas party for our student-staff in the neighbouring city. We went out for dinner and then for drinks at a bar and things were great. I don’t remember a whole lot about the evening but I remember being in one of the bars, standing in a crowd and talking to my roommate. To this day I don’t know why but I randomly glanced behind her, and through the crowds of people a man was standing and had locked eyes with me. I knew immediately who it was and felt my entire body go ice cold and numb. I handed my drink to my roommate and tried to escape but physiology won and I collapsed on the spot. I was in the same room as my rapist from the night of the awards evening. I opened my eyes on the ground and had a bunch of people around me trying to help me and give me water to drink. I was dizzy and disoriented but still knew that I needed to leave as quickly as possible. I freaked out and two of the guys picked me up and carried me outside. The rest of the night was a big, fat mess and was the first time that anyone in my daily life became wise about anything that had ever happened to me. The following months truly sucked and I HATED that people knew some of my shit. I resented everyone and everything.

Dissociation was now a pretty huge part of my daily life and it began to really affect things. Friends would tell me that I didn’t care or pay attention to anything they said because I’d forget every single conversation within a matter of minutes. My attention span was non-existent and my boss would get frustrated when I’d forget to follow up on things or wouldn’t be able to recall important information in meetings. It was – and is – so frustrating to have an impaired memory. There were also cracks in my mighty-fine exterior and I was PISSED that people noticed them. Making phone calls or answering my phone was still massive issue. At the office we shared a phone between two people and luckily my coworker didn’t mind picking ours up but I would run to the bathroom and hide every time it rang so I wouldn’t have to speak to anyone. I’d also procrastinate for several days if I needed to make a phone call and would have to wait until nobody was near me before I could do it. My boss got wise and forced me to attend a ten-week ‘Assertiveness’ course which required me to sit in a roomful of equally-destroyed women for three hours every Wednesday morning and practice eye-contact, talking about myself, discussing feelings, etc.. It was quite literally the absolute worst thing I’ve ever had to attend and I threw a tantrum after week two or three. After that, every Wednesday I would simply sleep in, drive to the city where the course was being held, sit in a bar and drink a glass of wine (okay two), then head back to the office and tell them about the great things I’d accomplished in the course that morning. Towards the end of the ten weeks, two of my coworkers even commented on the changes they could see in me and that the course seemed to be really working. The Queen of Bullshit reigned supreme. Again.

Hmm. The next logical place for me to take this isn’t fun. I want to write about it. I’m just not sure how to start. It’s suuuuuuch a long story. Plus it fucking sucks, so there’s that.

One single step.

In 2012 I went to dinner with a guy. We had met at a random event and he’d taken my number. We texted back and forth for weeks before I finally agreed to go on a date. I’d only slept with one other guy since the therapy situation and that never really ended well, because, PTSD.  So my desire to trust men or allow someone past the walls of my guarded exterior was pretty much non-existent. But, dating is normal and I wanted to be normal, so I agreed. We went for dinner and drinks and he was fairly pleasant but I remember thinking that he seemed kind of boring. It doesn’t help that small talk and forced conversation makes me want to rip my arm off, but I decided to stop being a judgmental bitch and persevere. He tried to kiss me at the end of the evening and I instinctively pulled away. I felt like an asshole and also couldn’t really understand why I’d done that. He sighed and let go of my wrist as I got out of his car. Before I’d even made it to the elevator in my apartment building he’d already text me telling me he had a great night and that we should do it again. Ten minutes later, my phone rang. It was him. Still ever-fearful of the telephone conversation, I muted it and continued talking to my roommate about her day. He text again. I don’t remember what it said but I recall thinking he was super eager and I decided in that moment that he must have had his heart broken by a girl and was just really insecure. Again, days went by and we would be texting back and forth until date number two. Dinner again. The server probably came to our table five times to take our order but I still wasn’t ready because he’d spent the best part of half an hour basically interviewing me about my previous relationships and the men in my life. I’d try to deflect by reciprocating the questions but that didn’t seem to achieve much.

Hmm. I don’t know how to write about this yet. I actually don’t believe that the gory details are what’s important, so I’ll opt for a [not-so-]summarized version. We dated a few more times. When it came to sex I was hesitant but did it anyway, because that’s what normal people do. Then, one day when I said I wasn’t in the mood he got irrationally angry, kicked the wall and yelled until I left. The texts came through thick and fast, calling me a lot of names, telling me that I’m fucking with him, etc.. I told him we’d talk about it the next time I saw him. The next time, the same thing happened – things turned intimate and I said I didn’t want to have sex, but that day he decided that what he wanted was more important than what I wanted and did it anyway. He called me a piece of shit afterwards because I’d been too overwhelmed to move or actively participate in the way that he wanted. I told him I didn’t feel well and that I was going to go home and as I got dressed he pushed me into his dresser and I fell to the ground. He look absolutely horrified. He ran to me and helped me up and apologized over and over. I wasn’t hurt and told him it was okay. I went back, again and again, because that’s what you do when you’re fucked up and don’t know what you’re worthy of or what you deserve, and things got worse. Regular angry outbursts. Shoves turned into headlocks, kicks and punches. A conversation about whether or not I’d like to have sex turned into violent force. Finally, enough was enough. As shitty and broken as I felt, my only concern was that someone would find out, so I stopped answering his texts and stopped agreeing to go and see him. The texts and calls turned incessant. He told me he’d pick me up from work or after practice and that he wanted to see me. Several mornings as I was leaving for work he’d be outside my apartment building, threatening to do things to me if I didn’t talk to him or see him. Over the coming months I’d gotten a really bad reputation for being late to work because I wouldn’t want to leave in the mornings. I remember driving to another city hours away for a work meeting in the middle of a weekday and seeing him driving behind me in my rear-view mirror. I pulled over on the highway and he pinned me against my car with his hands around my neck and told me to promise I would go and see him when I was back. I did as I was told and it didn’t end well. Eventually, I looked for jobs far and wide. I had two interviews in two cities at opposite ends of the country and another in a different country. At this point I didn’t really care where I went, I just wanted to get away.

I was offered two of the three jobs on the spot and took the one that felt right for me. A month later I moved and took everything I owned with me. I definitely felt lost for a while but luckily had moved in with an old friend who happened to live a feasible commute from my new place of work. As it happens, what I thought would be my dream job was actually a massive pile of shit. My position was funded externally by the government and my employers clearly just saw the income and extra member of staff as a bonus. My boss was a bitch and I worked with some truly horrible people. I wasn’t aware that adults actually bully other adults but I was surrounded by it. But, before I’d realized the level of douche-ness (because that’s a word) I was now working with, the person who I’d tried to escape had tracked me down.

What. The. Fuck?

Maybe no more than a month into my new job, one day after work as I walked to my car I saw him standing, leaning against the driver’s door of my vehicle. He saw me notice him and turn around and he ran after me, telling me he was sorry for everything that he’d done but that I shouldn’t have avoided him, that we could fix things and that he loved me (good one). I don’t really remember much but people were around and he knew that I’d make a scene. I told him to leave and that I wasn’t going anywhere until he did. Needless to say, his stalking skills got better. He would be everywhere. He’d threaten me, try to grope me or get me to have sex with him, hit me, shove me, follow me in his vehicle, etc. He’d text me telling me to go and meet him at different hotels and that he needed to talk to me. When I didn’t respond he’d tell me how much of a c**t I was and that he’d be after me and that I should watch my back and then within hours would send more apologies and tell me how much he loves me and wants to change.

Before long my boss, as horrible as she was and despite probably seeing her a total of three times by this point, noticed that things weren’t good. I came into work with a black eye one day, then the next week had hurt my back and my ribs to the point where I couldn’t sit down, then had a head injury and collapsed in the hall and was sent to the hospital. She took me for lunch and asked me what was going on, and I came up with an elaborate excuse. She knew I was playing contact sports so that explained away most of it. But she’d come to my office more regularly and ask how I was doing, and I was losing my mind. The rest is actually a massive blur. My mechanisms kicked into action and things still get jumbled in my mind. In short, I started getting messages telling me that if I ever went to the police he would kill me. At some point my roommate went to Africa for three-and-a-half weeks. During this time he managed to get into the house and punched me to the ground, kicking me repeatedly in the ribs, etc. I don’t recall all that happened, but I ended up unconscious and didn’t come around until almost two days later. Not long after that I discovered that I was pregnant and I actually wanted nothing more than the world to end. I think a combination of stress and violence were to blame when I miscarried at around nine-weeks. Maybe I’m a terrible human but I felt nothing but relief.

Again, I needed to get away so found another job in another city five hours away. Same shit, different place. He found me and the stalking and violence continued. After just a few weeks at the job I confided in a coworker after being assaulted the day before. I couldn’t sit at my desk and just didn’t want to be there and needed to let someone know I was leaving. I left town for a week and went to stay with friends. When I got back my boss knew what was happening and was amazing. He tried to support me as best he could, connecting me with liaisons and other resources and putting in safety plans at work and getting me a secure parking lot where there were cameras and security. This seemed to deter him from coming to my workplace but he’d show up everywhere else. Eventually I agreed to go and talk to the police. I drove three hours to a city in case he would find out, and I’d confided in the person who I deemed to be the most level-headed person in my life – my old supervisor from university. She didn’t ask any questions about what was happening and didn’t ask for information so I immediately felt no pressure to talk about my story. I just said I was in a bad situation with a guy and needed to go to the police. I don’t know how long it took for me to set foot inside the station, but it was a long time. The officer at the front desk was a total jerk and I walked out saying I didn’t want to do it. Eventually I was talked round and met with a Detective on the Domestic or Sexual Violence Unit (I don’t know what it’s called). She was really kind and very fucking patient. I sat in silence for almost 5 hours, nodding or shaking my head to her questions. The fear was beyond excruciating and she knew that I probably wasn’t going to be able to write a statement and do a recorded interview that day. I left with her contact info and she told me to email her the next day and that we could take things slowly and do it in my own time. She urged me to go to the sexual assault centre in my neighbouring city to give forensic evidence. I said no, but a few days later I called them, got in my car and drove there.

When I say that I think the reporting and evidence-collecting processes need to be seriously reviewed, I am not joking. I understand that crimes of this nature are intimate and you will obviously be required to have people examine you thoroughly, but holy fuck. First, they wanted me to write down everything that had happened and wanted to call the police to come and take a statement. I told them I wasn’t ready but they wouldn’t stop telling me it would be best for me to report it. Um, FUCK OFF. After three hours of the advocate and a trained doctor coming into my room periodically trying to get me to eat, or talk, or write, or do anything other than sit in a panicked ball in the corner of the room, the doctor explained what the rape kit would entail. It sounded horrific. I didn’t want to do it, but I didn’t want to not do it. Another few hours went by as I sat by myself. the advocate came and told me that they were expecting another person to arrive and that they’d have to conduct their rape kit first because they were reporting to the police so were a higher priority. I wasn’t offended by this and was actually relieved. I don’t know why it shocked me to later hear the police talking to the victim as they walked down the hall past the room that I was in. The victim was an adult male. I’m not naive enough to think that sexual assault never happens to men, but I am grossly aware of the stigma attached to this subject, and couldn’t even fathom the amount of courage it was taking him to go and seek justice.

Another hour or so later, it was dark out and I knew it was late. I was tired of the internal battle that I’d been having with myself. I still refused to report the crime, but wanted to go through with the rape kit. I had to sign some forms and couldn’t stop the pen from shaking in my hand. We walked down the hall and into the most hideous room I’ve ever been in. A huge, clinical, white-lit room that smelled like a hospital and looked like a science lab. There was a bed in the corner with monitors and screens all around it, drawers full of god knows what and it was cold. I was handed a gown and asked to change in the shower room and to take off my underwear. I got as far as the gown but my underwear was still on when the doctor knocked on the door to see if I was okay. I hadn’t locked the door because they were worried I was going to pass out, and I said she could open it. She had to take my hand and walk me out of there because my body had frozen and no amount of willpower was moving it. The advocate had taken out what looked like a hundred envelopes with numbers on them, pieces of paper, test tubes, swabs, etc. and had laid them all down on the counter. I had to remove my underwear and my gown and stand completely naked in the middle of this huge, cold room. I’ve never felt more humiliated or ashamed in my life. I’m shaking even thinking about it now. The doctor looked at every single part of my body, closely, touching me, moving my limbs, asking me about marks on my skin, cuts, bruises, asking if she could take photos, relaying what she was seeing to the advocate who was writing it all down. It felt like it lasted for days. I then had to lay on the bed for the pelvic exam and swabs. It was bad. She was so good, and patient and really attentive. She knew when I was dissociating and would stop, cover me up and talk me back to the present, checking whether I still wanted to continue at every step of the way. It was hideous. First she examined everything down there, and said she needed to take photos. I don’t know if anyone has ever had to lay and look at their own genitals on a giant screen with a stranger’s hands down there with a camera, but FYI, it feels like total shit. It actually felt worse than the abuse. She had one hand on me, and was trying to reach the keyboard to the computer at the end of the bed to take the photos but she couldn’t reach. She tried multiple times but eventually had to ask the advocate to come behind the screen and hit the buttons, because clearly one person staring at it wasn’t enough. I must have dissociated after that because I don’t remember much, but after about an hour the worst part was over. The final part was taking DNA swabs from my mouth and back so that they could match it with the other samples. I was allowed to get dressed and they checked in on me to make sure I was okay. They wouldn’t let me leave until I’d eaten and had something to drink so I sat for ages trying to force toast down my desert-like throat and was finally allowed to leave. They gave me a bunch of information to take away with me and told me that the evidence would be frozen and available whenever I was ready to report.

The following months sucked. I numbed out and spent most of my days dissociating and barely functioning. I would come home from work and if he hadn’t shown up I’d just lay in my bed and not come out until the morning. Every. Single. Day. Not knowing what the fuck to do I applied for a visa to move abroad. By some miracle it was accepted and now I just needed to save enough money to make the move. Eventually, I moved again, this time in with my friend and her family. I worked for them for several months, saving on rent and being able to put some money away. In the summer of that year I booked a one-way flight to a new country and never looked back. The first year or so was amazing. I felt free and finally thought I’d escaped. Wrong. Somehow, he had fucking tracked me down and was emailing me up to 30 times a day. I no longer had a car that he would track, I obviously had a foreign number so he couldn’t call or text me but somehow, he knew which country I was in. I never in a million years thought he’d figure out the city or where to find me but he was good. He came after me three times. None of them ended well. I would often run to a friend’s house to sleep on their couch because I was terrified that he’d be at my house. I contacted someone that I knew who worked for the police and together we drafted a statement. I would only be able to report the things that had happened in this country because my home country was outside of their jurisdiction, obviously. I still couldn’t go through with the formal reporting and she agreed to keep the statement in a sealed envelope in her desk for when I was ready. Summer of last year came around, and to cut a long story short, unlike his previous false threats to kill himself if I didn’t respond to him or go and see him, this time he took his own life. I didn’t believe it at first. A tiny part of me is still struggling to believe that it happened, but I did my research and found his old company’s social media accounts which stated that they had in fact suffered ‘the loss of a great man, friend and colleague’. UGH.

Today, I am coming to terms with all of the above. I’m not entirely sure I’ve processed any of it properly but I’m working on it. I’m surrounded by the most amazing, kind, compassionate, patient and hilarious people who may not have even been aware that they’ve helped me over the past few years. PTSD still kicks my ass on the daily and I know that it’s a long road ahead, but I vowed to make 2017 the year that I kick ass in life. This blog is part of that. I think I’m ready to take back my power, to move through my past, to be honest with myself about who I am, the kind of person that I am, where my flaws are, how I can improve myself and continue rising from the ashes. My goal for the day was to get the rest of the ‘shit’ out, in as brief terms as needed. With two hours to spare, I think I’ve done the best that I can for now. The past is messy, but it sure as hell wasn’t all bad and I want this blog to continue to be a space where I can document the good, the bad and the ugly. Life is truly amazing and I have a feeling that this year will be big, regardless of where it takes me.

I was, am and always will be a sarcastic asshole. I will always find humour in the sheer amount of dumb-ass things that I get myself into and I want to be able to write with humility, gratitude and brutal honesty. So, that’s the bulk of my crap out of the way, and now begins the journey of the warrior.

2017, prepare for a giant can of whoop-ass!!!

 

 

 

“Every Journey Begins with a Single Step”

Sometimes I wonder how I ended up here.

I contemplate the ‘what ifs’ or whether my life would be different had I known what I know now ten years ago. The answer? ‘Probably’. This is a bitter pill to swallow, particularly if you have learned to become as self-reliant, stubborn and independent as I.

There’s the old saying, “Everything happens for a reason” that I often find myself pondering. A lot of the time I hate the phrase and the passivity and helplessness that it conjures up within me, as if to say that we govern nothing that happens to us. Other times I simply try to surrender, attempting to loosen my white-knuckle grip on the illusion of control and hand myself over to the universe. It’s a daily street fight and one that I don’t see myself overcoming any time soon.

But as I continue on this path, my search for clarity and peace, I am humbly reminded that the answers do not appear while you are living the life of another being. Transformation cannot occur while you are at the helm of someone else’s ship. One must reach deep within herself – beyond any realm of consciousness – to the warm glow of her unharmed, unchanged, undamaged, perfect soul. It is only there that the truth can possibly set you free; it is only there that the world as you know it can become clear and understood; it is only there that your true courage can be found, that your voice can boom louder than any scream has ever been heard. It is within this sacred space that you must sit in the shit, through the discomfort and fear, and allow the painful and beautiful truth of who you are to wash over you, untamed by any resistance you have to offer. It is there, in those fleeting moments, that I can begin to acknowledge my truth and seek wisdom and growth from all that I have lived.

I know not how to do this; I am wandering aimlessly here, questioning how best to face my story in a way that will propel me instead of forcing me back into my silence and shame. The truth is messy and confusing. There are gaps and many, many questions. But this is a journey, and every journey begins with a single step, so here I am; this is my step.

——

I’m three years old. A thunderous silence fills my body, echoing within me as I feel myself being pulled back, away from reality. The throes of confusion and fear rattle around in my head, subtly tugging at the feint edges of my consciousness, barely reminding me that I am still here. I struggle to understand the rules of my world and I often feel lost within this paradoxical existence of love and total betrayal. Secrecy is my only solace. Silence is my safety blanket and I’m not prepared to let it go.

Stay small.

Stay quiet.

Do no wrong.

Please everybody and you’ll be okay.

Those were the rules of my world. But my world seemed different. I was different. I would learn years later that around that time I was sent to doctors and speech therapists who eventually diagnosed me with Selective Mutism, a severe anxiety disorder where a person is unable to speak in certain social situations. No more questions were asked, I would grow out of it and on we went with life as we knew it.

For months I retreated within the safe shell of my body, reserving my voice for just a few people. I was happy and content, an otherwise-“normal” child, but I felt a constant murmur of anxiety below the surface, pinching at my core, reminding me that the world wasn’t simply a whimsical fairground of rainbows and fairytales. I have always lived inside of my head; I can be quiet and calm on the outside yet at the same time reeling, observing the constant noise and chaos of my thoughts. I would often try to listen, to tune in to one piece of dialogue at a time and make sense of the whirlpool of chatter in my mind. But more often than not I’d be swept away by the torrent of relentless thoughts, back into the corner of my being where quiet and calm were restored and numbness saved me from the raw sensations of reality. I quickly turned into an observer of the world, content to take a step back and watch as others interacted and conversed. I always had a lot to say, but isolating those things and giving them a voice would fill me with apprehension, a deep ache and a weight on my chest. People’s glances, having my existence acknowledged, comments to my parents about my white-blonde hair and big blue eyes would force me into a space that was difficult to claw myself out of. Being seen would pull me further from the surface, back into a faded existence where only I could go.

I don’t remember much of this time but I had always recalled a neighbour’s Birthday party when I was three or four. All of us children were sitting on the floor in their living room and the party entertainer asked everyone to stand up one by one and sing a nursery rhyme. Sure enough, every child stood up eagerly, beaming from ear to ear as they screeched verses of ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep‘ and ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star‘. Meanwhile, I sat under the table, frozen, screaming inside, wishing with every ounce of my being that people wouldn’t notice me and would move onto another game. I was shit out of luck and was being poked and prodded by the grownups who were relentlessly willing me to come out, join in and to “stop being silly”. My mother was frustrated and getting mad that I was embarrassing her and being “that kid”. My attempt to avoid attention had done the opposite and I was terrified. The tears came in full force and I suddenly felt myself leave my body through the top of my head, a cold rush poured over my scalp and I was floating way above everyone else. I was looking down at myself curled up in a ball, trying not to die from the unbearable feelings in my stomach and chest. Everything suddenly became still and quiet inside and it felt as though I was watching myself in a movie, high on the feelings of euphoria from within. I slowly stood up, a roomful of eyes on me penetrating my core and I did what was required to make the moment end. I now understand this to be one of my first mechanisms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); dissociation.

Flash forward more than twenty years. At this point I had learned to deal with my ‘anxiety’ with a combination of total denial, avoidance, daily purging and by wearing an array of fabulous and functional masks. I could be whomever the world needed me to be; if you needed a compassionate friend to help you through a crisis, to scrape you off the ground after your second overdose or to comfort you all night after your boyfriend broke up with you, I was your girl. If you wanted to go out partying and get wasted every single night, dancing and stumbling home at 4am, you knew where to find me. If you needed me to write your assignments for you, you already had my email address pre-loaded. If you wanted me to be the perfect student/teacher/coach/athlete/[insert blank], I would be there with a smile on my face and no questions asked. I knew how to respond to the demands of my world without hesitation. At the time it didn’t even feel like a burden or anything other than a true reflection of who I was.

Granted, there were definite cracks in the person that I was presenting and I was constantly trying not to become sabotaged by the reality of how far from perfect and fine I actually was. There were some things that I simply couldn’t hide, – especially from my closest friends – but I had a well-versed selection of excuses and reasons with which I could explain them all away. I hated talking on the phone. That fear of the unknown about a conversation that I couldn’t control would send me into a panic. I would always have someone else answer my phone or call whoever I needed to call because I just couldn’t do it. When my friends and I would go shopping, I’d be too afraid to speak to a stranger so I’d hand my clothes and bank card to a friend and rapidly leave the store while they paid for them for me. I avoided doctors like the plague and would hate going into unfamiliar situations alone. I couldn’t understand why I had this crippling sense of fear over the smallest, most trivial things. But the fear was real. Conversely, I loved performing. I was an athlete and had danced for years. I’d always been involved in sport and had been in musical theatre productions and choreographed shows. I had studied Theatre Studies and Phys. Ed. in high school and had no problem being seen on a stage, sports field or athletics track. I had presented my work at international conferences by myself in foreign countries, I was an assistant lecturer and a sports coach. Speaking to large groups of people didn’t phase me in the slightest, but looking someone in the eye in a one-on-one encounter was physically impossible. I had no conscious understanding of why, though; it was simply a kink in my inner wiring that was just there for no reason. Or at least that is what I had convinced myself to believe.

One weekend I was visiting my parents. I’d just completed my Master’s degree and was beginning the gruelling job search during a super shitty economic struggle. It seemed likely that I’d have to move back to where my parents lived for a while until I could find my feet and I wasn’t overly thrilled by that thought. As usual I was being pleasant and witty and trying to get through the formalities of the customary parental catch-up, which often feels more like an interrogation. Talking about myself, especially to my parents, is like drawing blood from a stone, but this time everything felt excruciating. My ears were physically aching from all the noise inside my mind and I couldn’t focus on anything.

But I had to be fine. Because I am fine. Always.

A week prior to that – the day before I was to submit my final thesis – I was sitting in a therapist’s office half-heartedly trying to find a way to break through the crippling silence that had consumed me for years. I say “half-heartedly” because I’d already given up on the Mental Health system. I’d been passed around counsellors enough times that even the process of saying my name and address again, knowing full-well it was written in their paperwork, seemed about as appealing as stabbing myself in the eye with a screwdriver. I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t want to know what was wrong with me. I had absolutely no interest in entertaining the idea of trusting a therapist or accepting help. But people were noticing that things weren’t right with me and my bubbly, cheery, got-my-shit-together façade was beginning to fade. This wasn’t an option and I needed to do whatever it took to get back to being “fine”, so I pursued therapy. I had been technically homeless for weeks. The tenancy on my apartment had been up the month before, and without knowing where graduation would lead me, I couldn’t commit to another 12-month lease in my city. I’d had to quit four of the five jobs I’d been working so that I could concentrate on meeting my thesis deadline, something that had seemed impossible to focus on for several months. So, I either slept in the library on campus or in my car. I’d shower at the university gym after punishing myself there for hours every morning. Nobody knew and nobody needed to know. I had a lot of friendship circles so could easily lie and tell each one that I was staying with someone else. I never learned how to ask for help and never deemed myself worthy of it anyway, so the thought of letting people know that I wasn’t perfectly fine and didn’t have my shit together was simply not an option. So, although I knew I had friends who would absolutely let me sleep on their couch or in their beds until I’d finished with school, I never would have asked that of them.

During my short time with this therapist, while trying – and failing – to unravel a seven-year eating disorder and connect it back to the day that I was raped at seventeen, I experienced a second assault while walking home from an awards evening at my university. I hadn’t so much as mumbled a word of this to my therapist, or anyone, because I had learned as a child that talking was dangerous and by this point in my life I knew that I deserved everything that had happened to me. Instead, I worked to simply try to nod or shake my head to his incessant questioning in the hopes that he would stop interviewing me about the personal and horrifying details of my life and either give up on me or wave a magic wand and fix me overnight. He quickly showed great interest in my symptoms and learned what some of my triggers were and what would cause me to dissociate. He would ask question after question about whether his inferences were correct, whether X, Y, or Z were the worst triggers and how flashbacks manifest themselves in me. This level of focus and apparent care was new and, relatively reassured by his attentiveness, I began to reveal more information to help him understand the inner workings of what I was experiencing. Maybe this guy was as good as everyone had told me he would be. Maybe I’d finally been referred to the right person, the one who was going to fix me and make all of my troubles go away. As a result of my desperation and feeble attempts at cooperation and explanations, he had information on what would create a PTSD reaction in me, and how much awareness and control I would have during these episodes. From my naivety and willingness to cooperate, that day he was able to use this information to provoke an extreme reaction in his office and rape me while I simultaneously experienced a flashback of my previous assault. I remained there, silent, paralyzed by fear, unable to react and unaware of the present. The dissociation finally faded and I noticed the sound of his belt buckle scrape the floor as he pulled up his pants. He handed me a Kleenex box and told me to clean up the mess and get out. I was confused, overwhelmed, physically numb and felt nothing but self-hate. I knew it was what I deserved, this is what I was worthy of and so I simply left the building, thanked the reception staff and immediately threw up next to my car. No amount of purging would rid my body of the shame and self-disgust that was creeping in. I don’t know where I went but I drove for hours until dark before returning to the campus library to finish my thesis before the morning. I never returned.

Needless to say, by this point my coping mechanisms were second-to-none. Any hint of a feeling or emotion could be purged out and flushed away down the toilet before I’d even have a chance to identify which feeling it was. Any sign of a memory creeping into my conscience could be dulled by minor dissociation, still allowing me to communicate and present myself as ‘normal’ while removing my mind from the past and into a place where it could once again find stillness and peace. When I was alone, I would often dissociate completely to avoid spiralling into flashbacks. I was exhausted and totally consumed by self-loathing, disgust and shame. But the show had to go on, so I continued to purge the feelings away, numb my body, block out the memories and live in my blissful world of denial and bullshit. Everyone around me was completely clueless, and I even fooled myself most of the time.

On the second day at my parents’ house, they randomly brought up the conversation of a family that I’d grown up with. I no longer had any contact with the daughter, who had been a friend of mine when we were kids. Apparently there had been a court case and she had accused her childhood neighbour of abusing her, but after months of investigations it turned out that her older brother had been a perpetrator instead. The second my parents told me this I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach. Two or three images were cycling through my mind, the feint sound of voices in the background. The memories seemed familiar, as though I’d remembered them before and had somehow forgotten about them again. I was panicked and confused and needed to stop the feelings from surfacing so I made an excuse to leave. I drove to the local supermarket where I downed a litre of water and ran to the public washroom to throw up. I needed to escape whatever was happening inside of my body. It wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t bear to be trapped inside something that felt so raw and crawling with anxiety. No amount of purging or exercising was working to get rid of the agonizing sensations. I couldn’t physically outrun whatever was bubbling under the surface. I could, however, get away from the village and the cloud of darkness and mystery that was draping over my existence there. I packed my bags and returned to where I had been living at university and played it off as wanting to visit friends.

I didn’t think about it again for a few weeks until I returned back to my parents’ house. I’d run out of money so had to move back for the time being. I joined the local gym and a friend and I would attend fitness classes there every evening. The second class I went to, the hall was full with well over a hundred people. I couldn’t quite believe there were that many people and I recognized an uncomfortable number of them; old childhood friends, friends’ parents, teachers, friends of friends, etc.. I’d been away for six years and had forgotten how small this town was. I looked around the room trying to figure out where amongst the crowd to put myself. I locked eyes with a familiar face and sure enough, it was my childhood friend who my parents had told me about. She looked horrified to see me and looked away immediately. Once again I felt like someone had just punched me in the stomach. It felt like my face was on fire and my ears were burning but I didn’t know why. I was trying not to let any feelings surface but was panicking. I couldn’t remember how to tie my laces and the class began while I was still sitting on a bench at the front of the hall, staring at my shoes.

Since that day over six years ago, I have been hit with a steady stream of childhood memories. Flashes of horror, feelings of sharp pain, flashbacks of unthinkable abuse at the hands of my friend and her family. The memories hit hard. They knock me down both physically and mentally, stopping me in my tracks and sabotaging whatever it is I am doing at the time. How had I forgotten 95% of these memories? I must be making them up because it doesn’t make any sense that my mind had been able to eradicate any inkling of four or five years of repeated sexual abuse. There were a few memories that I’d never really forgotten, but had managed to stuff into a dark, isolated corner of my mind, only to have them barely surface a few times during my adolescent and adult years. My automatic coping mechanisms meant that the memories never really surfaced fully enough for them to paralyse me. I knew that I’d participated in sexual activity. I knew that my friend, her brother and their father had been involved. I knew that there were pornographic photographs taken of me, though I didn’t understand them to be that until recent years. I knew that I had done things that I shouldn’t have done and that I would have been in trouble had I ever told anyone at the time. I knew that I was disgusting, an eight-year-old slut who defied authority, who would be a disappointment to my parents and who should be tortured and punished for not magically knowing how to participate in sex and foreplay at a young age. I knew that I was dirty and broken and deserved everything. I knew that it was all my fault so it made sense that it should be a secret and that I should deal with it alone. I’d dug my own grave and everything that followed was because I was, at my very core, a bad person.

What I didn’t know until my mid-twenties was just how much abuse had taken place. Far beyond the realms of ‘normal’ sexual activity (not that any form of sexual activity with  a child is ‘normal’), the things that happened within the walls of that family’s house are still so excruciating to fully acknowledge and accept as something that happened to me and not because of me. The recovery of these memories and subsequent experiences are at the forefront of most things that I believe about myself today. They govern my self-worth, my own inferences about what I deserve and the kind of person that I am. They are deeply ingrained within my inner child and my adult perception of the world in which I exist. But I know that this is not how my story will end, and this is not a permanent state of being. I have recently allowed myself to trust that this is perhaps not the truth of who I am. I have stumbled upon a handful of truly amazing, inspiring, compassionate people over the past couple of years and months, and it has only been through their unwavering support and encouragement that these words rest on this page today. This moment, right now, is the single step that I have committed to take in the pursuit of a life that I want. This is the first tangible action that I will endeavour not to lace with shame and self-hate. I already feel the heaviness in my chest and the racing of my heart, but I know that I am not alone and that I am more than my story has taught me to believe.

To be continued…