From #MeToo to #WhatNow? – After You Share Your Story

Hello fellow #MeToo human. It’s been a tough year, right? I mean, after years of dealing with something that seemed pretty hopeless, there’s this light. This organic light created by people like us who have been hurt and fought to be heard and finally said NO MORE SILENCE. It’s…

Well, that’s the thing, it’s SO many things. It’s exhilarating. It’s exhausting. It’s emotionally wrenching. It’s impossible.

It’s a lot like surviving in the first place.

I’m not here to tell you what will work for you, because 1/6th (or more) of the planet has been here and I have no illusions that I know the different factors that make up your life. I’m going to tell you what worked for me. (And if you want to skip all that and just get to a list of resources, click here.)

Me: I’m a person who was abused, assaulted and harassed, both in childhood and as an adult. I told the first person what happened to me more than 20 years ago. I’ve been very open about it since the late 90s and, probably more often than most folks would care for, it’s the focus of this blog.

I did tell people. I did try to make a police report. It didn’t work. I have complex PTSD, which I deal with pretty well, except sometimes when I really don’t. I keep trying to “fix” myself, which I realize is both problematic AND what is expected. I lean more towards depression than anger. I am held together by planning and sticky-tape.

That’s me. That’s not you.

So with all that in mind, here’s what I’ve learned from my 20+ years of saying #MeToo.

It Will Normalize

I say this rather than it will get better, because better is a lie. The body longs for homeostasis. The brain wants you to make sense of things. It takes a lot of time and it’s hard on the system, but there has been, for me, a normalization of the experience. It’s not gone, but it lives deeper. I’ve piled stuff on top of it. I’ve given my brain other experiences to pick from. I’m sure the right meds helped, but honestly, it’s just time. Which is shitty, but worth holding on to. Time doesn’t fix it, but it dilutes it.

Get Help but BE CAREFUL

Get help. You probably hear that one a lot.

But also, be cautious. If you are hurting, it’s easy to jump at anything that promises relief. If you’re not careful, though, it can cost you a lot of money and sometimes make things worse. Anyone who claims they can cure you for a cost is probably lying. There’s no cure for this. It’s not something you can leach out or fix with something you buy in a health food store. We are a big demographic. There’s a lot of money to be made from our desperation to feel well again. Lot’s of folks promise to make it all go away. Before you spend your money – before you tear off a scab and expose your wounds to someone – consider this:

  • Does this approach match who I am as a person?
  • Does this approach cost so much that it puts my well-being in other areas in danger?
  • Is it regulated? Do some research. See what folks are saying.
  • What are the results? Don’t trust their stats. Places like MedLine are set up to offer vetted medical information, so consider searching on there for another POV on the treatment you’re considering.
  • Am I safe? This is a big one. Are you comfortable with the neighbourhood the treatment is in? Are you comfortable with the staff? Are you trusting your alarm bells or silencing them just to get through it? Let those bells ring.
  • Is the person just well-intended or are they well-qualified? This is a big one. Lots of folks want to help but their desire is not the same as qualifications. You are not someone’s project.

All of this is not to say don’t seek help. Over the last 20 years I’ve had some success and some stuff that set me way back, emotionally and financially. Filter from the get-go. I understand wanting to feel anything but what you’re feeling, but the system isn’t in place for a perfect path to help and healing. We have to navigate some really gross waters to get to the other side. Be safe. Be picky.

Be safe (it was worth saying twice.)

I’ve include a list at the bottom of this blog of places that are considered reputable. Some may work for you. Some may not. Feel free to explore them, but trust that part of you that’s telling you “this one isn’t for me.”

People Will Say Shitty Things

People will say you should have said something sooner. They will say you shouldn’t have said anything until there was a trial. They will say you are looking for attention. They will say you should get over it. They will say that you are ruining lives.

They will say it can’t have been that bad. They will say you asked for it. They will say you are lying. They will say it is not fair to make them choose between you and the person who hurt you.

They will ask what you were wearing. They will tell you what you could have done to avoid it. They will tell you what they would have done had it happened to them. They will tell you that your abuser seems like a nice person.

They will tell you it happened so long ago and wonder why it still bothers you. They will tell you that they find your pain inconvenient. They will tell you that you are too intense. They will tell you that you seem fine. They will tell you that you aren’t special. They will tell you that they don’t believe you. They will say “innocent until proven guilty.” They will say “due process.”

They won’t say anything at all. They’ll pretend they didn’t hear. They will give you the look. They will stop calling. They will unfriend you. They will forget to invite you to things.

People will say shitty things.

DON’T TAKE IT IN. I mean, you will. It will hurt. That can’t be helped. But know that we ALL hear these things. We hear them because people are new to not being shitty about this. Write them down and throw them out. Have a bonfire of shitty things people say.

But also, write down all the supportive things people say and carry them with you. Pull them out of your wallet every time someone says something shitty.

I know that these things are like repetitive strain, like water torture. One hurts, a hundred makes you want to die. But seriously, fight this. Repeat truths until you drown them out. Sometimes, because I am a geek, I just say “I am one with the force and the force is with me.” I mean, it’s not perfect, but it works for me. Find what works for you.

And friends of people going through this – call out folks who say shitty things to your friends so they don’t have to. It helps.

Don’t Hurt Yourself

This can mean a lot of things, but first of all, survive. Seriously. It can get that bad. It might get that bad. It did for me. I wish I could say there was a safe place to go, but there isn’t always. Call friends. Call helplines. Make someone help you survive.

Don’t be around people who aren’t determined to help you survive.

For a long time, I carried this comic by a friend around in my wallet and I pulled it out whenever my brain forgot survival was better. Find your talismans. Find your songs. Find your humans. Find a chocolate bar that is worth surviving for and go buy it. Find a movie. Find a smell. Find something. And if you can’t find anything, talk to a doctor. It will probably suck and won’t feel like surviving and the system is a mess, but YOU NEED TOO SURVIVE. That is literally all that matters.

As to the rest of it, remember what I said about normalizing stuff? Well, sometimes our brains try to normalize pain by keeping it going. This can mean self-injury, dangerous decisions, punching things that are harder than our skin.

We all have scars and sometimes it feels good to make them external.

Our brains can take that experience of someone hurting us and decide to pick up where they left off. If they said shitty things to us, we keep up the narrative. If they hurt us, we hurt us. If they made us feel unsafe around sex, we jump into unsafe sex. We can use all kinds of substances to obliterate feeling anything at all.

It’s hard to stop that pain train once it’s in motion. It’s exhausting. It’s not a simple thing to just say “don’t do those things.” For me, it was a lot of trial and error, a lot of mistakes, and a lot of the time, standing in my own way and saying, “nope, not cutting today.” 20 years and it’s still a fight. But I’m still fighting.

Fight that shit.

Again, if it’s too much, I’m posting a bunch of resources at the bottom of this. If they help, use them to survive. If they don’t, find other ways to survive. Please survive.

Find an Outlet

This one is super personal. It’s about finding a way to exorcise the overwhelming nervous system/emotional response that can feel like Schrödinger’s bomb in your body. I like to write. Sometimes I smash things in a semi-controlled way. Then I make art out of the smashy bits. I have a friend who boxes and another who weight-lifts. Neil Gaiman recommends making good art.

If you’re low on cash, it can be hard to find an outlet. After all, axe-throwing costs money. I think that’s why writing was my thing. Paper was cheap. And after you let it out, pamper yourself. Go to a park. Swing on some swings. Get your hands in some dirt. Take a bath. Whatever works for you. Soothe your system.

Let it out safely and treat yourself kindly afterward.

It doesn’t make it go away, but it can go a long way to helping with the last bit – the not hurting yourself bit. It can calm the bomb.

That’s it. That’s what I’ve got. I wish I had more. I wish I could make this anything but a shitstain of an experience. I can’t. You can’t. It’s the fucking worst. I’m sorry you’re hurt and I’m proud of you for dealing. I’m proud of you for surviving. I’m glad I lived to see the #MeToo moment and sad that we need it.

For a bit of help with #WhatNow? here are some resources. Remember, be picky. None of these make it go away, but one of them may help you deal. Be as well as you can.

#MeToo,
Heather

American Psychological Association
Getting help, what you can do, news, etc.

Assaulted Women’s Helpline (Canada)
“The Assaulted Women’s Helpline offers a 24-hour telephone and TTY crisis line to all woman who have experienced abuse.”

Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres
We are a Pan Canadian group of sexual assault centres who have come together to implement the legal, social and attitudinal changes necessary to prevent, and ultimately eradicate, rape and sexual assault.”

Edmonton Police (Canada)
“What you can expect when reporting a sexual assault”

FORGE
“FORGE has published four guides specifically to address the needs of transgender and non-binary individuals who have experienced sexual abuse or assault; loved ones of trans survivors; and facilitators of trans support groups.”

Kid’s Help Phone (Canada)
“Remember: sexual assault is not your fault and no one has the right to touch you sexually without your permission. You can call Kids Help Phone 24/7 if you need to talk at 1-800-668-6868.”

MedlinePlus (USA)
A site of vetted medical information with links to other resources.

Men & Healing
“We are one of Canada’s leading agencies in a male-centred approach to psychology and therapy.”

Multicultural Women Against Rape (Toronto, Canada)
“TRCC/MWAR run a variety of peer support groups throughout the year. Groups are available to those who have experienced sexual assault.”

Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC)
The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) is founded on the collective goal to enhance, promote, and foster the social, economic, cultural and political well-being of First Nations and Métis women within First Nation, Métis and Canadian societies.”

Ontario Human Rights Commission
“Sexual harassment is against the law. The Ontario Human Rights Code Code prohibits sexual harassment in employment (and in services, housing, and other “social areas”).”

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (USA)
“RAINN is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.”

Toronto Police (Canada)
“A guide for sexual assault survivors.”

Women’s College Hospital Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Care Centre (Toronto, Canada)
“The Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Care Centre (SA/DVCC) available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is a comprehensive service that assists women, men, and trans people who are victims / survivors of sexual assault and domestic / intimate partner violence.”

There are more resources out there. This is a starting place. If you know of any good resources I missed, or any that are useful internationally, please let me know. I’ll add them.

And remember:

SURVIVE.

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The Gift of Gravitas

I frequent geeky circles. I appreciate comics and films set in space and stories in which young heroes defy the odds. Because of this, I follow geeky news. I am also a human with a mental illness. Or two. Or three. Because of this, I follow news of madness.

These worlds stumbled over each other when a young actor, Jake Lloyd, was diagnosed with the ever shifting condition of schizophrenia. Predictably, some of the commentary around this has been low-brow, ableist and cruel. This is the internet, the wild west of communications. However the overwhelming commentary has been sympathetic – even empathetic. I’ve seen people voice regret for the way he was treated. I’ve seen well wishes. I’ve seen writing that blames his parents, his early work experiences and, yes, the geeky public. Overall, the discourse has tended toward a respectful gravitas, appropriate to finding out a fellow human is suffering.

I’ve found a similar response to recent reports of Ronald Savage‘s abuse at the hands of one of HipHop’s more respected creators, Afrika Bambaataa. Here we see some cruder content, usually homophobic in nature. Still, very few sources reporting on it, or even users commenting on it, call into question the veracity of Savage’s statements. No comments are made on his looks, few on his honesty and still fewer defending his alleged abuser.

While I am grateful that  both of these men are being believed, I wish we could extend the same courtesy to women in the public eye who experience mental illness or abuse.

I think of Britney Spears, whose symptoms are still the punchline of jokes decades after her mental illness emerged. I think of Anne Heche and Mariah Carey, whose stories were told by smirking entertainment reporters complete with hilarious “cuckoo” sound effects. What strikes me most is that neither the women nor their illnesses are granted the same gravitas and respect as Lloyd is receiving in the public discourse.

The same is true of the women who spoke out about their victimization by comedian Bill Cosby. Artists like Damon Wayans took to the air to call them “un-rape-able“. In the recent Ghomeshi case, women who couldn’t recall emails they’d sent ten years prior were called liars, rather than what they are – human beings who, just like me, cannot recall every word penned in the last decade. Heck, I’ve forgotten swaths of what I’ve written on this blog. That said, I remember with clarity the smell of the detergent of the man who assaulted me. Memory is funny that way.

Gendered words make up much of the commentary in both cases, reminding us that lying, being crazy or being a gold-digger are innately tied to being a woman, being seen as a woman or identifying as a woman.

When we say we want equality, what some of us are saying is we want that same weight of gravitas applied to our more serious experiences – illness and assault among them – that we see offered to our male-identified cohorts. We want the language used to describe our experiences to match the experiences themselves, especially while wading through all of the complications that come with surviving them. We, of course, expect this same courtesy to be offered to male survivors, along with a curbing of the gendered narrative that tells men to buck up and be strong through these experiences.

All of this requires a dismantling of the idea that our gender should determine how our victimization is perceived, how our assailants are treated and how and if we are able to move on in our lives afterward. We should all be offered respect, care and gentility when the world rolls over us. We should all be offered the gift of gravitas.

 

Breaking Sleep

Trigger warning, I suppose.

On an abstract, social level, I believe most people think that sexual assault is wrong and that it is harmful. At least, I hope that it true. If it isn’t, then apparently I’m not pessimistic enough, and I doubt that.

Lately I have been dealing with a very practical after-effect of having been abused. I cannot sleep.

It makes sense.

I was assaulted in bed. I was assaulted around bed time. For me, the late evening was a time during which anticipatory fear set my nerves ablaze as I wondered if I would be assaulted or not that night. I’ve come to realize that sleep is not a scenario that had a win for me. If he came to my room and I was awake, then there was a good chance I would be assaulted. If I was asleep, then I was not aware and could not control my surroundings or know what was coming.

It is this dichotomy (sleep! don’t sleep!) that has made the last month particularly hard for me.

What I realize, as well, is that when I discuss sexual assault with people, they think I’m talking about something that happened to me, when, in truth, I am talking about what was changed about me. What is still happening with me.

Photo of Sleeping Children taken by Richard Croft

Photo of Sleeping Children taken by Richard Croft

Lately I’ve been trying to find ways to mend sleep. I’ve tried sleeping in different places. Sleeping with noise or silence. Sleeping with and without medication. Sleeping with or without lights. Windows open. Closed. All of these offer varying levels of success, and no strategy has proved consistent. In the end, when I put head to pillow, I do not know if sleep will follow or flashbacks and nightmares. I don’t know if my brain will let me sleep or keep me up until the sun rises.

I’m stoic (I know this shocks some, but it’s true.) I was joking with my therapist and I described, with a chuckle, my schedule: “Get up, drink coffee, complete tasks I don’t care about until I’m exhausted, drug myself to sleep, have nightmares, wake up and do it again.” I smirked.

He didn’t smile back. He looked sad and said, “That must be exhausting.”

I am the little engine that could. I will keep pushing on because what the hell else am I going to do? I will be glib and crack wise and shock the world with my resilience.

And someone looks at me and says, “That must be exhausting.”

I cry. Something I don’t do very often.

“Yeah.” I hide my face in my hands, “It really fucking is.”

What Changes and What Stays The Same

This is my first post since my world changed again. I say my world and immediately I want to take it back. What hubris to give so much breadth to my own experiences. What single-mindedness. What writerly liberty.

When I wrote about moving forward in a previous blog, I did not expect that events would move and I would be swept along whether I was ready for them or not. That is not to say that I did not make choices (something I am generally loathe to do as a human raised in a religion where choices can mean literally burning for eternity.)

Still, I made choices and I changed things that were delicately balanced and they fell in. This is not, in itself, a bad thing. It was not a tower built on good things.

What I have not lost:
My love
My home
Myself
My words

What I have lost:
Faith. So much faith. I know now that there is no karma, no higher power that will protect us. I knew it in my mind, but now I know it in my bones. This means it is on us to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

This is convoluted bullshit and I’m saying next to nothing.

Still, it is 2:00 AM, so one must forgive me if I am not clear.

—-

I just realized that there is something else I have to say. I throw in here a trigger warning, because my pain is mine and yours is yours and if we mix them it has to be by mutual consent.

What I have to say has to do with being believed, heard and understood as a survivor of sexual abuse. People often do not believe me and I could tolerate this if I didn’t have to carry around the proof inside my head all the time. I can remember it so clearly that I wish I could export it. The grey bedspread with the matching pillow. The mirrored headboard. Porcelain dolls, the ones that scared my sister, as witness. Smells. Being a child and knowing what a man smells like after a day of work. There is no way I can move this proof anywhere useful. It is trapped in my head where everyone can ignore it and I cannot escape it.

When people ask how someone can believe a human was hurt if there is no proof, I go back there and look at the Bambi picture and the Sweet Valley High books in the room and know that my experiences were as real as those books and pictures were. We were in the room together. The truth is contained.

—-

One further thing: I am still here. The weather is warmer. My husband’s eyes are still more beautiful than all the greens of spring.

And I am still here.

A Letter To Myself

I wrote this a few weeks ago, while feeling particularly sunk. Sharing because being misunderstood sucks. Hesitating to share because, well, intensity, honesty, vulnerability – and really, who wants to see this stuff?

Sometimes the only way to expunge a nightmare is to write it down.

Sometimes the only way to expunge a nightmare is to write it down.

Text:
Here’s the deal, self, because I think you are feeling pretty broken and misunderstood right now – You ARE broken and misunderstood. And that’s a good thing, because ALMOST NO ONE will have shared your experience. I mean, when you asked him why, why, why he hurt you so very, very much, he said this:

“The brighter a light is, the more I want to snuff it out.”

Hope to all great fuck that you’re misunderstood, because the alternative is that people understand and have, at some time in their life, when asking, “Why are you destroying me?” heard the answer: Because you are so beautiful.