The Phoenix Rising… Sort of.

So… I guess I wrote some of the mess. 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. But, onwards and upwards. 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 get your story out and be heard, but for some reason it is currently really, really difficult. I feel raw and exposed, and I’m having a hard time accepting what I’ve just done. 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 will discovery who I am and they won’t like it. However, 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. Ugh.

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 after doing that for a year it turned 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. So, fuck that.

I’d moved back into my parents’ house and for the most part I hated it. Having been raised in a weird, 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. Six hours a day 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. Or so I thought.

Then 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 still is – so frustrating to have an impaired memory. They call it dissociative amnesia in the medical world, which sounds made-up, but it is disgustingly real. 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, 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.

The next part of this shit-storm story is still relatively fresh in my mind and I’m not even sure how to put it into words. It’s messy and raw. I’m not even convinced I could put it all in a neat little bundle. I guess I’ll just put words down and see where it goes.

In 2012 I went to dinner with a guy. We had met at a random event where we both got shit-faced and made out all night like sex-hungry teenagers. We went our separate ways 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 therapist decided to destroy my life, and that sex 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 finally 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. It wasn’t unpleasant and I tried to stay open minded. 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 arm 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 and the substandard date. 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.

Ughhh. 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. I hated it. One night 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, again, because PTSD. 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. I laughed at first until I realized it wasn’t accidental. He knew what I was thinking and he looked 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 left and tried to forget it.

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 and rape before I could even take off my shoes at the door. Eventually, 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 even more incessant. He told me not to drive to work and that 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 my apartment 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 cracked. I needed to move. 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 a lot of 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 during the summer, 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, the head, etc. I don’t recall all that happened, but I ended up unconscious and didn’t come around until almost two days later. Scared shitless, I didn’t seek help. 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 from him so I 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 so 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 so amazing. He tried to support me as best as he could, connecting me with police 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, despite being threaded with murder should I ever do that. I drove three hours to another 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 after he came back again 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’m 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. 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 this ‘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.

I was, 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 doom. I mean joy.

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10 thoughts on “The Phoenix Rising… Sort of.

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  1. i only wanted weather. im signed up to blog, trying to unsubscribe, find this. the puruit of badassery. of course, the title catches me
    the phoenix pulls me in and the woman on the cover asks me to stay. the descriptions of how you feel. disgusting, was one. all listed, is me. my life, now. had been with him 13+ years. i feel ‘overwith’ ‘dun’. if you watched 187 with samuel jackson you get ‘the dun’. if not, watch it. so i guess ill sit in my corner and watch this. see what is out here. ive seen, saved, love the brene brown talks you listed. how do make it ‘mine’ ?! keep asking my therapist this to..thank you for sharing. for touching my frozen heart. lending a bit of direction to my lost soul.

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    1. Thank you for reaching out, b.a. I’m so glad that it sounds like you managed to leave ‘him’. I’m sorry that you were ever with ‘him’ in the first place but you are also a phoenix. Your heart won’t be frozen forever. Just know that you’re not alone.

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  2. Jesus.i just finished the reading the blog. had stopped after the self descripts, to comment. it almost is my life. in feeling. its fn scary. i have to get the books. have to.

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    1. Books?
      It hurts my heart when I hear that others have been through similar struggles, but it is a comfort to know that we can all be in this together. I hope that just reading that you’re not alone is at least somewhat of a comfort to you, too. Thank you for taking the time to read something that you stumbled upon by accident.

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  3. Jesus.i just finished the reading the blog. had stopped after the self descripts, to comment. came back to investigate all this. it, almost, is my life. in feeling. it is! its fn scary. i have to get the books. have to.

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