Sexual Violence

On the Wildly (Un)popular Subject of Racism…

If this title made you cringe and roll your eyes, I dedicate this post to you.

In recent months, I have both read and listened to the literary arsenal of Brené Brown. I have devoured every word she has said and taken it all to heart. I find what she has to offer in Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone most universally relevant in our current political climate, however, it was everything else she has written on shame and vulnerability (similarly wildly unpopular subjects) that I found most relevant to tackling the difficult subject of racism.

Perhaps, because I read (and reread) Braving the Wilderness first, I started to think critically about the political tactic of dehumanization, and face the agonizing truth that both sides are equally culpable of this. This meant, as thoroughly opposed as I was to admitting this, I was just as guilty of dehumanization as the people I dehumanized for dehumanizing others. (Did you get that?)

Point is, I started to realize that you can’t dehumanize a group because you think they are the ones who deserve it. Because both sides thinks the other one deserves it. I had to face the truth that all peoples are just humans, trying their hardest to make it in a terrifying world. And admit that we are all capable of both good and bad. The only real monsters are sociopaths, and truth is that even now, they are pretty rare.

For a couple of years now, I’ve been coming to grips with the pain and divisiveness enveloping the world. As someone in recovery, I had to address, on a national and global scale, what exactly I was capable of changing. Where is my power? How can I make things better? We have to recognize our powerlessness in order to find our power. I cannot control governments. Fixating on the news cripples me from acting. We are so consumed by the powerlessness that we forget there is anything within our power at all.

I started to realize that my journey towards bettering the world had begun when I worked on myself. I started to realize that I impact, on a daily basis, those I talk to or cross paths with. People hear my words. They see my Facebook posts. They see what I do for my community and for myself and others. They are touched by small acts of kindness. I have an impact, one person at a time. I can choose to spread love, hope, and joy; or I can choose to spread anger, pain, or divisiveness.

This is what I came up with in the journey: LOVE. It sounds of the utmost absurdity to everyone screaming at each other and ready to fight, but truth is our power is in love. I had a friend fight and abandon me on this. And when she told me every horrible thing she could possibly think of about me, and why it made me a horrible human being, I simply told her that I understood she was going through a lot and that I loved her anyway. The only response she could muster before walking out of my life was, “I love you too.”

Right now, as much as we want to take up our weapons and go at each other’s throats, the MOST disarming thing you can do to oppose your opponent, is simply to love them.

Look them in their hateful eyes and tell them you love them anyway.

When it comes to the difficult subject of racism, I have experience with both sides of the coin. I am half Mexican. To the world, I am white. You cannot look at me and tell that I am even the least bit Mexican and as a result, I have sailed through life as a white woman, without the racists having a single clue. I have benefited from white privilege and in the years since becoming aware of it, I have wrestled with what I can do about it.

This is where Brené Brown helped me find my power.

Having placed racism into the frame of shame and vulnerability, I have realized quite a bit. And I wanted to share it, specifically for the white people out there, aware or unaware of their own racism, so that it can help us tackle an issue that is most largely ours to tackle.

I, very specifically, remember what I was taught about racism in elementary school. I was taught about the painful history of racism and that we are all equal, and the the color of our skin is irrelevant. And that, my friends, was where the conversation ended. And that, my friends, is where white people would like to leave the conversation. But ah, there is so much more too it.

In recovery, we learn about the peeling away of the layers of an onion. In the beginning, it also seems as simple as getting sober. But getting sober is just the first step. There is so much more work to be done if you are to STAY sober. Truth is, getting sober is but a small step in an ongoing journey of endless work. Self-betterment is not a destination, it is a journey, that we take one-step-at-a-time…. one unlearned negative way of coping at a time.

Our level of education on racism in school was “Racism bad. Colors good. The end.” Problem is, the story ended there… for white people. People of color are finding their voices and saying, “Oh, but there is so much more.” And the large response to that has been, *plugging ears* “la la la la la I don’t want to hear you, my teacher said ______ and teacher is always right.”

The problem with how it was taught, aside from no perspectives of people of color being included in the telling, was that there is so much more to the story than this. You cannot cover it in February and leave it at that. For fuck’s sake, February is the shortest month of the freakin’ year!!!!

I started to realize, reading Brené Brown, that we are dealing with an issue of very deep shame. The only thing white people were taught is that racism is bad. Developmental psychologists are starting to realize the deeply debilitating impact that being called “good” or “bad” can have on a child. It is inextricably linked to shame. The majority of racist people are hard working people trying their best to be good people. So, if you tell them that they are taking part in something as shameful as racism, the response is uninhibited rage or flat out denial. They are hearing that everything they were taught was wrong, and they crumble under the weight of shame. But at the end of the day, all they hear is the worst thing a child can hear, “You. Are. Bad.”

I’m sure if you pose this to anyone who claims to not be racist, they’d deny it. Brown talks endlessly about people who talk to her claiming shame or vulnerability doesn’t apply to them. And again and again, she reiterates that these two things are UNIVERSAL Everyone experiences them.

I learned very early on that you do not appeal to someone who is delusional, by simply telling them their delusions are delusions. That can, in fact, make their entire reality dissolve, which can lead to a total downward spiral.

So, let’s address real quick the “Racist=bad” and “Not racist=good” dichotomy. Here’s the thing, those equations simply equal to “Not white=good” and “white=bad,” and let me explain why. There is not a white person on this planet who has not partaken in or benefited from the system of racism. There is no such thing as a non-racist white person. It doesn’t exist. There are only those who are aware of their racism, and those who are not. Those who are actively seeking a solution, and those who are not. In the current national conversation, there is only the racist/not racist binary. While I am sure, as a result of the frustration stemming from obliviousness of white people, some don’t see a problem with the second set of equations I listed, my opinion on that was back in my paragraph on dehumanization.

Let’s all try to find our power here.

Being told you’re partaking in racists things is not an attempt to say, “You’re a bad person.” Its an attempt to say, “There’s more to this story. The ones who’ve experienced it should be the ones teaching about it.”

Whenever anyone asks me about the traumatic experiences of another person, I simply reply with, “That’s not my story to tell.” I would not want someone else explaining what happened to me when I was raped. No one else knows what I went through. No one else knows how it made me feel. I get my voice and my power back, when I tell my story. It is my healing, and no one else has that right.

And for years, white people have been the ones teaching about racism. But how would a white person know?

All I know is what happened to my grandmother, the history that was passed to my dad. I know how racism affected her, because she told my dad, and he has told me. And I will keep her story alive. It not only wrecked her life, but the lives of my father, aunts and uncles, and cousins, brothers, and sisters. The trauma she went through played out in her alcoholism, which in turn affected them, and now affects me.

That is how racism or terrorism or abuse work. The impact lives on for generations. THIS is why this is still important. This is why, in 2019, slavery is just as relevant of a subject as when it happened. The impact did not end with the slaves or the slave owners. Families are still reeling from the impact.

But do I have firsthand experience of racism? No, I do not. I cannot tell this story. All I know is the impact its had on my family. All I know is what I was taught and what I’m still learning.

There is nothing, I mean NOTHING, more rage-inducing, for me, as a victim of violence than to not have my voice heard. If you want to see me turn red fast, silence me, talk over me, address me like you know my story better than I do. I can go from 0 to 100 faster than a candle flickers if you do these things. So, take that into consideration if you are a white person who denies the experiences of a person of color. The most healing thing you can do for someone is to listen. Or, as they say in the recovery world, “take the cotton out of your ears, and stick it in your mouth.”

White people, this is a call to action, a call to vulnerability. Yes, realizing you are culpable of racism is a deeply painful and shameful feeling, but it doesn’t have to be disempowering. I’ve grappled in my years since coming to understand racism, and coming to understand what I’m capable of changing in this world, how the two work together. I’m living proof that change is possible. Brené Brown has taught me to challenging my fear of vulnerability spits in the face of shame. The only way to combat the shame of realizing your racism is to get working on vulnerability.

You are vulnerable when you admit you’ve benefited from these systems. That’s a success! You are vulnerable when you listen to the stories of people of color, without the need to say something. That’s a success! You’re vulnerable when you see something racist happening, and you challenge it, despite the risk. That’s a success! You’re vulnerable every time you get a chance to say to a white friend, “listen, you said something the other day that I want to talk to you about.” Its a scary thing, especially when you’re committed to maintaining a relationship, or paralyzed by people-pleasing, to have a compassionate talk with someone about what you’ve learned about racism, but the main thing missing from the conversation on racism is compassion and empathy.

Here’s your chance to change that.

Because truth is, you’re a part of this conversation whether you want to be or not.

 

 

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Dying to Wake Up The Child Within

Saturday, September 22, was the 3 year anniversary of when I was raped… most recently. Let me explain. This was not the first time. I have a long history of surviving these experiences, starting as early as the ages of 3 and 5. And this is not uncommon. Many people, especially those who started their lives as victims, are victimized again. Predators have a keen sense of who would be a good victim, and those who were victimized in their formative years know no other way of being. It has taken nearly a decade of intense therapy to unlearn the things that I was taught as a child victim.

I hear a lot of people substitute the word “survivor” in place of “victim.” In the years that you are just surviving, this is very accurate. You’re a victim when it happens, and a survivor in whatever you do afterwards to keep yourself alive, moving forward. I developed addictions, an eating disorder, and other self destructive behaviors to survive. My brain could not cope with reality. How could it? Reality was a living nightmare. Pure hell. These are the things I did to survive. To kill this thing inside of me. To get by despite it all. I thought I was doing pretty well. I didn’t realize the extent to which these experiences were destroying my life, until my behaviors came to a head. It was life or death from there. Keep doing what I was doing and let it kill me, or fight and as a result, live. My problem was, I didn’t want to live. I had no interest in it whatsoever. Which is why I nearly died numerous times. But there was some sort of secret spark in me. It was the bane of my existence, and it wanted me alive, when every other part of me wanted to die. It was my incurable hope. And thus, this blog was born, to document it. To explore it.

Today, I don’t see myself as a survivor. I am beyond that. I use the terminology, because it is what people are familiar with. Today, I am a thriver. My life, my success, my flourishing, is my big “fuck you” to everyone who hurt me. Though, today, I’m not angry or bitter. I let that go. It was too heavy. I punished myself with it long enough, believing that I was somehow punishing them by doing it. All I knew was someone had to pay. But I forgive myself for that now. I didn’t understand. I forgive most people, but contrary to popular belief, forgiveness is not necessary for healing. Some things, only God can forgive. I am only human. Today, my heart hurts for that little girl, for every little girl still living and suffering. Not just those who are still being abused, but those who are now grown women, with little girls still trapped inside, reliving it daily. Punishing themselves for the acts of others.

Look, I’ve come a lot further than a lot of former victims ever do. I’ve been blessed. But I do know this: I am supposed to share my experience so that the others know it is possible to not just survive, but to thrive. To use the pain as fuel. To live your meaningful lives. These are things you CAN overcome. As a matter of fact, there’s now even a name for that: posttraumatic growth. And you can achieve it. I promise you, you can.

I don’t want to make it seem like these these things won’t affect you for the rest of your life. They never go away. They will always hurt. At times, they still haunt me. But it is possible to get to a place where they no longer control you. Where they do not shake you. Where you can observe them from a distance that will prevent you from broken by them every. single. time. You’re heart can hurt for the child within, but you will be equipped to comfort her with the compassion you never received. You. Can. Heal. And you can help others do the same. Once you find that love for yourself, you will want to share it with others. ALL of us who were victimized deserve that.

The shirt I made in treatment in 2012 for The Clothesline Project.

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My Sister and Me at a local suicide prevention race. 🙂

Beyond My Power

As adamant as I am about the issue of sexual violence, I feel that maybe my take on it can come off misleading.  See, because of my own history with sexual violence, it is hard for me to actually be a part of the fight.

In 2009, I had a therapist tell me to “stop watching the news.”  So, I did.  Around the time, I had become fixated on the Shanyia Davis story.  A mom sold her 5 year old daughter into sexual slavery.  The daughter was later found raped and murdered, then tossed on the side of the road, like trash.  I was dumbfounded and destroyed by this story.  It pretty much shattered my world, and I couldn’t stop following it.  How could someone do that to a child?  How could a mother do that to her own child?  I couldn’t understand it, and it made a frightening reality come to light for me: there is evil in this world, beyond my comprehension, and even with what I’ve been through, I’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg.

I wish I could tell you that when I stopped watching the news, everything got a little lighter for me.  And maybe it did, a wee bit.  Even to this day, I go online, and pick and choose headlines based on their triviality.  “Reality TV is going down the toilet–literally”  The more serious stories, I avoid.  I know enough just by the headlines.  “Police: Florida man linked to up to 1 million child porn videos, images”  The headline says enough.  I don’t need to read about this pig, and start to mull over the fact that those 1 million videos and images, mean that tens of thousands of children were forced to participate in sexual acts to make that stuff.  I know that already.  Although, maybe some people don’t.  Maybe a lot of people are completely desensitized to that stuff, and don’t even consider those children when they read a headline like that.   For them, I say: READ THE ARTICLE, and think about it.

For those of us who have survived similar experiences, I say: Don’t torture yourself.

No, I understand enough without subjecting myself to it.  I heard tidbits about the Steubenville rape case.  Enough to get a gist.  I cannot read an article about it.  I simply can’t.  Maybe this makes me a hypocrite, or maybe it makes me self-preserving, I don’t know.  All I know is, I just can’t stomach it and hold my world together.

Similarly, I write about the fight to end this stuff, because I cannot actually participate in the fight.  I’ve been on the front lines of the battle, and I know how hopeless it is there.  For those of you who can stay there and fight this battle, I thank you.  I know what it feels like to notice that the army is lacking in numbers, and that all the people at your side are survivors.  A lot of times, it is survivors like me, who cannot manage to stay and fight and hold their own lives in tact, but they fight anyway, their very livelihood falling by the wayside.  I understand that.

It feels like screaming endlessly in a sea of people, who know you’re there, but choose not to acknowledge you.

I cannot actively delve into the numerous cases of sexual violence and survive.  This is what I learned in recovery.  If I want to survive, I have to take a step back.  Sometimes, this makes me feel helpless and useless.  Most of the time, I know it is what keeps me breathing.

I learned that in recovery, but I also learned something from my relationship with God:  This battle isn’t just a physical one, or an emotional or mental one.  This is a spiritual battle too.

Now this is where my two worlds collide.  I know a lot of feminists working without God, and a lot of God-loving people, working without feminism.  For me, these two worlds are not mutually exclusive.

I cannot be out there fighting emotionally, mentally, physically, or judiciously, but I can fight like hell spiritually.

I’ve started praying feverishly on the subject of sexual violence.  I learned from my relationship with God, that the fight to end sexual violence isn’t hopeless, it just can’t be fought alone.  Human beings simply don’t have the power to end it based on the sure will of the fight.  We aren’t that powerful.  But I fully believe, that with God at our backs, this battle can be won.

I pray for the victims, that they find healing and wholeness despite their experiences.  And I pray for those who are on the front lines fighting, that they have the strength and ferocity to not back down, no matter what.  I pray for the un-listening, uncaring world, that their eyes and hearts are opened to this battle, and that they join in the fight.  I declare miracles over this battle, that it be won by the side that is good.  And I rebuke evil’s grasp on so many of us through such violence.  I declare victory against evil, and an end to sexual violence.

For those non-believers, you probably think this is useless.  But that’s ok, we all have our opinions.  Maybe prayer isn’t for you, but luckily, there are plenty of ways to join in the movement.

For those believers, I hope you’ll join me in prayer.

We have the power to end this battle.  We just have to claim it.

 

Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Do You Care?

Sexual Assault.  Do you have to go through it to care about it?

This question always arises for me every April.  I have a lot of friends who know someone with autism, and thus, support Autism Awareness month, which also happens to be April.  This year, I see that friends who know someone who’ve benefited from an organ transplant supporting organ donation.  April is also Organ Donation Awareness month.  What simultaneously inspires and disheartens me is the fact that these people know someone who have been through these things, so they support these causes.  Every one of these people, and the other 400 people on my Facebook page, know at least one person who has been sexually assaulted: me.  And yet, the only people I see supporting this cause are the people who have themselves lived through such violence.

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I think this is a huge problem in our culture.  “As long as I haven’t been raped, then who cares?”  Right?  Why do I continuously find that the only people driven to stop sexual violence are those who have personally lived through it?  Is it really that hard to imagine how awful it is if you haven’t experienced it?  Do you really not care that much about the women and men in your life who have been victimized by sexual predators?

I think a lot of it has to do with the silence surrounding the issue, because it sure as hell isn’t the lack of prevalence.   1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted by the age of 18.   (Finkelhor, David, et al. “Sexual Abuse in a National Survey of Adult Men and Women: Prevalence, Characteristics, and Risk Factors.”)  Are you really going to tell me that you don’t know at least 4 women or 6 men?

No, a lot of it has to do with our silence around the issue.  Anything sexual is taboo.  You know, as long as it isn’t sexual imagery in time square, music videos, magazines, television, movies, or books.  From Fifty Shades of Grey to Abercrombie ads, sexuality is everywhere.  However, when it comes to sexual violence, we best not talk about it.  Virgin ears, and all.

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Or maybe it is the violence part of it.  Although, I recently saw Olympus has Fallen, and it suggests Americans have an endless thirst for blood.  What’s a movie without a good knife through the head, eh?

Nah, it is just the careful combination of sexual and violence that sends people fleeing in a frenzy.

Let me be frank, you know someone, nay, you know A LOT of someones who have been sexually assaulted in their lives.  Not convinced?  Start asking around.  Your eyes might just open.  It is likely that your between your daughter, sister, best friend, mother, aunt, or cousin, at least one has been sexually assaulted.

What then is our problem with talking about it?

I venture to guess that this culture of victim-baming has a lot to do with it.  As most recently displayed in the Steubenville rape case, which has brought out the Ugly and the Brave around the issue of victim-blaming.  Keep her full of shame = Keep her silent = Let’s just pretend this stuff never happens = No one cares about Sexual Assault Awareness month, except for survivors of sexual assault.

Maybe I am being blunt, but I am personally insulted by the lack of interest around the issue.  And I expect a few more people to be displaying their teal ribbons after today.

Let me tell you, from personal experience, about the residual effects of trauma.  After it happened, I could barely sleep.  I stayed awake, alarmed by any small sound in the night.  I never felt safe.  I have yet to be able to trust men.  I have flashbacks, that feel as though I am reliving the trauma over again.  Therefore, I relive it over and over again.  My startle reflex is incredibly sensitive.  When I went to see Olympus has Fallen, I was jerking repeatedly, startled by the loud sounds.  Even a shadow on my computer screen makes me jump.  Whenever I am put into a vulnerable situation, I get disoriented and overwhelmed.  My pupils dilate, and I become sensitive to sounds.  Walking to my car in a parking lot at night, for example.  I avoid situations which might trigger these effects, such as: being around men, being by myself outside, being intimate with someone, or alone at night.  It has been years, and I am still working to undo the harm done.

I’m not saying I am not living a fulfilling life.  What I am saying is that it has taken years of hard work to get to where I can.  And what I want to impress upon you is that my case is lucky.  I’ve had a lot of resources that most people never have.  Such violence haunts a lot of people till the day they die.  It breaks their souls.  And mending a soul isn’t easy.  And even when mended, there will always be scars.

That is all I’m trying to say.  Sexual violence is an issue worth caring about.

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Surviving Elementary School

“Seeds of faith are always within us; sometimes it takes a crisis to nourish and encourage their growth.”           ~Susan Taylor

I don’t typically watch the news.  I have a computer and a T.V. without cable, or even basic access.  I stick to Netflix, and I get my teeny bit of “news” from Philip Defranco, on YouTube.  That’s about as much as I can take.  In 2009, I had a therapist tell me to stop watching the news.  I took her advice.  I had, at the time, become overwhelmed, baffled, and distraught over the Shaniya Davis story.

I couldn’t understand how, someone could do that to their daughter.  I couldn’t understand how someone could do those things to a 5 year old.  I was starting to drown in a sea of headlines and news reports of just how evil this world is.

And it is true.  This world can be a very evil place.

I have spent a good chunk of the past few years overwhelmed by an issue that the rest of the world seems underwhelmed about: sexual violence.  Such violence is beyond an epidemic in our world, and repeatedly, our response is victim blaming, and sweeping it under the rug.  It makes me cringe to know that 1 our of 4 girls, and 1 out of 6 boys will be the victims of sexual abuse by the age of 18.  How do people walk around in their own little bubbles, oblivious of something so heinous?

I don’t know, they just do.

In some of the work I have done, I have teamed with people who had similar experience and ambition, wanting to do something on the matter.  What have I found?  That there are victims out there working toward solving a problem, without even having dealt with the issue in their own lives.  It is like someone with a still gaping and bloody bullet wound trying to fight for gun control.

First, you need to address your own trauma.

The hard part is, no one else is stepping forward to solve the issue.  All of those people who’ve never had to suffer through the trauma have no interest in dealing with something so dark and ugly.

This is just what I have found.

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I look around me, and I see people becoming passionately driven about the issue of guns and asking themselves, “what could of we have done to prevent the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012?”

I would never venture to claim that this question is not important, pertinent, or should not be asked.  I do, however, think that it is too soon to be torn apart by these issues.  Our hearts are still breaking from what happened, and the details that continue to unfold.  Our stomachs are still twisted by what the children of Sandy Hook must’ve witnessed that day.  Chills are still shooting down our spines to imagine what evil it takes to commit such an act.

How have we allowed this to lead to a divide?  What the survivors need right now, is a community to come together in support around them.  They certainly have a long, tough road ahead of them.

Repeatedly, through the past several years we have witnessed tragedy and allowed it to, even for a short time, bring us together in mourning and solidarity.  For the first time in my life, I have witnessed the opposite happen.  That is what breaks my heart now.

I think ALL of us will agree that something has to be done to attempt to prevent these massacres from happening again, no matter what side you’re on.  What that “something” looks like will start to materialize as we work on the matter.  I trust that.

At this point, I don’t care what that “something” is just yet.  I am still far too stricken with grief to start thinking strategy.  Am I alone in this?

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I look at the faces of the victims, and my throat starts to tense.  I hear their stories, and my eyes are filled with tears.  I cannot look at December 14th with a hard heart.  I find peace in my belief that these children are safe and happy now.  I find strength in the stories of heroism in the adults that fought for these kids with their very lives.

I remember too, those who survived, and I give them this message: you can overcome your trauma and live a fulfilling life.  This may be a struggle, but it does not have to defeat you.  This dark moment in your lives can become a place of strength, and a place of motivation.  You are in the thoughts and prayers of so many, and we will still have your hands when the heavy realization hits you of just how blessed you are to have faced and survived a trial that many will never even have to face.

To the rest of us, I say: stand down.  This is not a fight.  We are worn and we are weary.  We have faced far too much as a country this year.  Yes, we must address this issue, but please, for God’s sake, can we take a moment to grieve first?

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To all of us, I plead:  Do not let this destroy us.  We will march forward and we will advocate for the changes necessary to prevent such tragedy in the future, but first allow yourselves to grieve.  Before you stand up to fight, address your own trauma.  Make sure that when your time comes, when your voice rises, that you are in a place where you are strong enough to argue your side.  So many times, I have seen angels fall short here, and lose the drive to carry on.  We can heal.  We can overcome.  But first, we must grieve.

A heart must finish breaking before you can begin to mend it.

It is true that this world can be an evil place, but what is also true is that each of us has the ability to contribute to the good.  If you are going to pour fervently into this world, be sure that what you are pouring is positive.

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Resources:

Post Traumatic Growth

NY Times PTSD Article